If we could all be parents for a minute and think of having a little kid, a young child, if you don’t already. But don’t think of your own kid, just make this impersonal because who knows what’s going to happen to them. So you’re a parent or you’re somebody that can see things with a higher perspective and let’s say more time, more experience. And then you have this child, this young child and there they are and they’ve got that baby, child look on their face.
You know I was just hearing Swami Kriyananda talk about this and he was saying: “What is it that makes babies look like babies?” They could be like a baby dog or a baby cat or a baby person or a baby horse or a baby cow or a baby elephant. They all have this trust or this sweetness or you know what it is? It’s like they’re open hearted. So you can see that in their faces right? the really young ones that we’ve experienced. So there you are, you’re like this caregiver let’s say or who knows and you’ve got this being that has all this open hearted love and the world is interesting to them, the grass is interesting and the sky is interesting and noises are interesting and the most the most plain, mundane things, they’re actually interesting to this being. And so this being wants to go out and experience everything, right?
I remember when my son was little and I could just see this in him. I’ve only had one child and I remember sticking him up in a tree so he could touch it and holding him over the flowers so that he could feel them and smell them. Whatever I saw him looking at, I made it my job to get him there, because he was a little, like a microphone, sticking him into stuff everywhere. We had so much fun. But as things go, as that little being wants more and more to experience the world around it, the reality is that it wants everything, even like it wants to dive into the rosebush, right? but the rosebush is going to poke it and hurt it and make it cry and it wants to touch the flame on the stove, but the flames are going to burn him. Unfortunately this is the world we live and I didn’t create it. But let’s say we want to take them somewhere where they can experience their independence, where they can develop their motor skills and their social skills and so maybe we take them to a little park with other little kids. And so they go to the park and there they are, all these little beings, all these little points of awareness and consciousness and they’re all sweet and they all want the same kind of thing and they go to the park and they play and first they’re like so excited – it’s the most thrilling experience ever to go to the park and to be on the swing or the merry go round for the first time, to meet other children, to be in a new environment. So what they’re doing is they’re expanding their awareness and they’re living, but then they go down the slide and they fall. And they go on the merry go round and the big kids come and then all of a sudden the merry go round won’t stop and they want to get off. So mommy wants to run over there, I mean you need to, right? before your little infant flies off and ends up in a puddle. You need to go get him and protect him from all the other kids. And you only want what’s good for them, you never intended for them to get a bruise on the slide and end up with a mouthful of dirt.
I remember my son was really little, we got him this little bike and we had the most hardly even a hill in front of our house. And he was starting to push around on it a little bit, it had training wheels and he was starting to pedal it and he was having so much fun and I thought you know he’s going to bonk his head, this is not going to be good, right? because he felt so invincible. So I’m thinking as an adult that he’s not going to want to wear a helmet. But of course he thought helmets were cool, because he’s a little kid, he wasn’t jaded yet (that came in about fifteen minutes) but he was still ignorant and he still had his heart open to it. He thought everything was going to be perfect and he picked out his helmet. And so he thought the helmet was so cool, but we didn’t understand what he thought. So he put stickers all over it and he put it on, we strapped it on his chin and I didn’t know this OK? but he thought that helmet was making him invincible. I told him it was to protect him, but he didn’t know, he thought he had like super powers. So I had no idea what was going to happen because he had been peddling this bike around totally safe. He stuck the helmet on his head and he says “Daddy can I go over there?” and I said “Sure, you can over there.” So now he’s out of my reach, he turns around and he starts going down that hill as fast as he can. And I tell him “Hey, slow down” and he’s like “I got my helmet. I’m good!” So he goes as fast as he can, he starts getting all this momentum, he loses control of his bike, he goes over the handlebars and luckily he lands on his mouth in the grass instead of the cement and he gets this huge mouthful of dirt. He’s crying his head off. He tears the helmet off his head and this is how you know he’s my son, he’s got my blood. He says “Stupid helmet!” That helmet thing lasted very briefly. It was helmet bliss for about ten minutes. He got that big mouth of dirt and he’s like “It doesn’t work, Dad!” and he never wanted to wear it again.
So from his point of view, at that moment, life was unfair, life was cruel, right? because he had his heart open to it, he didn’t have any bad intentions and he got a mouth full of dirt and he was bummed at his bike, he was scared to ride it after that, he thought that the helmet had absolutely no purpose, so why would you ever wear it? It didn’t save me. So he was very confused. Now, as a parent, I want to give him the experiences that he needs to grow and not be afraid, but at the same time he has to learn life’s lessons and so to learn to respect that you can get hurt and nothing is going to make you invincible, right?. And so then you go who knows what the next thing is.
But the idea of the playground that we’re all on, like children, is that we’re here to learn stuff and when the lessons come, like my son, it’s actually a pretty good example, is that from his perspective if feels absolutely unfair, it feels absolutely cruel and at the moment life feels hopeless. I mean it just feels like why should I do anything if that’s how this is going to end up, if that’s what this world is going to do to me. So we’ve all lived through that and we’ve seen it enough in our own lives to know that that example is relatively true, ok? Then the next thing, it’s the next sport or whatever it might be or it might be when you’re older and you know he’s a boy or maybe when you’re way older and it’s like stuff happening in school, in class, at first school is fun then it’s scary or meeting girls or dealing with peers in our wonderful school system. So the lessons keep coming and the topic was “Why bad things happen to good people?” Because this used to drive me crazy in my own life. I actually didn’t consider myself a very good person, but I knew people who had really pure intentions, that were less selfish and crazy than I was and I saw bad things happening to them: health problems, car accidents and I didn’t have any spiritual perspective and I was like “God, of all people why did it have to happen to that person? What are they getting out of it? They feel totally confused and everything.”
I could make this like a real talk I suppose if I was a real teacher which I’m not and I could dig up all the scriptural stuff and this saint said that and that saint said this, but I’ll just give it to you from my own point of view and I’m not the only one that feels this way. That life is a school. Life is a playground and a school, it’s the same thing. And it has a purpose and we come here to learn and we come here to learn who we are and eventually we come here to learn it because what drives us is that we want to be happy. And we want freedom, we want to be able to ride the bike as fast as we can and feel like we’re just free. Everybody wants to be free. So adrenaline people are using hang gliders. People who aren’t so adrenaline oriented and more virtual may get their flying experience with the drone or it might be a social thing like in your knitting and crochet group or with your team or with your hobbies or all these things that we get involved with and we’re always looking for happiness, we’re looking for fulfillment, we’re looking for a sense of purpose, why are we here. And the reason that bad things happen to good people is because there’s some lesson in there.
Like my son fell and he ended up with a mouthful of dirt. So you can’t get all mental about it like – oh, don’t eat dirt or it might be sure,to be a little more careful when you’re riding your bike, but at the end of the day when those things happened, again remember the idea, the image of the way children, young babies look in their faces, that sweetness and that wide eyed wonder that they have and then when you look at adults, it’s gone. It’s totally gone. Even like when I’m talking about them like adults, you can see the fear, the worry, the concern, like where is this going, I don’t trust anybody, what’s the agenda, how much longer is this going to last? I mean as adults we get pretty cynical, right? OK, and so for my son it’s like “Be careful with your bike when you’re three years old” but for us, what does it mean when I don’t know, our loved ones betray us, we did everything we could to be really great at the job and we got fired and then the biggest backstabber, liar, cheater of the whole group got your promotion. It happens all the time, right? I mean I can’t tell you how many knives are in my own back, OK? So I know, I know from personal experience. They’re still in there and I feel them, OK? I feel them, therefore I am not free.
So if we want happiness, we want freedom and we also want purpose, maybe, what we’re learning is beyond all the little specific things is that – OK, so now this is where it gets more into like where the different religions and spirits traditions all pretty much say the same thing – you’ll never find what you want in this world. And I know it sounds bummer, but you won’t even find it in the people that you love and the people that love you. You’ll never get it, it will never last, it will never be that good. There’s nothing, there’s absolutely nothing. There is nothing, there is absolutely no hope. It’s getting better, trust me. There is no freaking hope, this world is crazy and it’s a set up, it’s a total set up. And it’s designed to teach us, like a little kid, how to use your body, how to use your will, how to use your brain to the best way you can, to teach you how to have a healthy ego and say no to Mommy and Daddy. That’s a stage that we go through like being younger and then teenage level and all these different things. But the other thing that happens through all that suffering and all that loss is that we develop compassion for others. And there’s a point where the suffering isn’t just about us anymore, it even gets worse because we can see it in other people.
So you look around and you’re like OK, not only am I getting a beat down, but the people I love in some way maybe even feeling like they’re being tortured at one point in their life or it might be a slow death of just normal inward silent stress and anxiety and high blood pressure and just a general sense of living for when your alarm clock tells you it’s time to go to work and making your damn coffee and just kind of like driving to work in the grind on the freeway, but there’s something missing, right? And the answer is that you won’t find any of what we really want outside of yourself and so at a certain point we start exploring tai-chi, yoga, we do therapy, we end up getting into something like meditation and a lot of times we might even feel like we’re almost like a weakling because we have to meditate when everyone else and go to happy hour and Ha Ha Ha, everything’s so great. I have a Friday philosophy class where I do these kind of depressing talks and there’s a few lost souls that come and everyone else is at the Cheesecake Factory or the Red Onion or whatever they’re doing or they’re consuming, they’re at Best Buy.
The bad news is as long as we look outside of ourselves for fulfillment, it won’t work, it just won’t last. But if we can find that inner relationship, that inner fulfillment, then things change, they really change. Because if you can learn to go inside, if you don’t already know how, I don’t know where you are I don’t know what you can do, it doesn’t have to be classical meditation like what we teach, it might be having a moment in nature, it might be floating around in the ocean on a boat or a surfboard or it might be being in the mountains. Those are outward things, but if they help us open our heart and if we can internalize that experience and realize that the sweetness that we feel, the appreciation that we have, it’s not all about the ocean, it’s not all about the beautiful forest, it’s something inside and those things like the moon at night or the sunset remind us, they cause us to pause and they remind us, they help us to feel the sweetness that’s already inside. The delusion is that we need the outside stuff. So with meditation we can learn to direct our awareness inside to actually close our senses to all that stimulus and we can learn to experience the sweetness of inner peace, true mental clarity, but also spiritual upliftment and we can actually discover our purpose. In this inner life of let’s say daily meditation, just creating a little time, maybe ten minutes a day if you don’t already do it or maybe a lot more if you’re totally into it, but learning to go inside without the need of anyone else’s support and without the need of perfect circumstances and actually just to be able to close your eyes and one way is to feel the breath and use the concentration on the breath to draw you inward, away from your senses and away from your outer consciousness, deeper and deeper and deeper until your experience of going within, it actually takes time, but it can become very blissful, very sweet, very fulfilling and not only that, but you actually can get answers there.
And the biggest burdens that trouble us, that we’re worried about, the things that are hardest to accept and face, the answers can just be revealed, because they’re in you somewhere and it’s not like meditation is magic, but basically it’s helping you have a deeper kind of mental clarity, in the quiet, without all the activity. Your body heals, your mind heals, your heart relaxes, your breathing gets calmer. Everything just gets smoother and then you open your eyes and you come out of meditation and you’re in the same playground where all the crazy things can happen, but you don’t lose the memory or even the feeling of that inner experience, that inner truth.
It doesn’t matter if you believe in God. It’s a good place in meditation to pray, it’s a good place to try to get your answers, if you believe in God. I believe in God. But I didn’t before I started meditating. I got that through meditation. But whatever you believe in, doesn’t even matter. Yogananda, my teacher over there, Yogananda said that meditation was the laboratory for your religion, to test your religious or spiritual beliefs directly, through personal experience in meditation. And that’s what caught my eye, kind of caught me when I started meditating, because I wanted answers, I was sick of suffering and I was sick of watching other people suffer and I was looking at the world back then and I thought it was just hopeless. I really did. And now I look at it and it looks worse. But the thing is, on the outside it looks worse.
But when we had 9/11, I was a yoga teacher at the time. People came to my class that morning crying because they had family in New York and different things are going on and we’re all hearing the news. And what I saw after that was that even though there was all this hate energy and all these things that happened, but internally a lot of people spiritualized, a lot of people were like “Wow, life is temporary. Anything can happen. We’re not so safe after all”. You know we’re so isolated in the United States from all the reality that’s happening out there. And people weren’t feeling isolated anymore they were feeling vulnerable. Vulnerable is good because it makes you grow.
So why do bad things happen to good people? Because it’s time. It’s time for us when these tests come, when you’re faced with big challenges, you have hard times, you don’t have the answers, everyone that loves you thinks you’re blowing it and you’re screwing up, life is just telling you it’s time to do something different. And if you’re in this room I believe that what life is telling you is to develop or deepen if you already have it, your inner life, develop your spiritual life and explore ways, and we can help those who are interested, to open your heart and live more like the baby that has that innocence and that trust and that, it seems like ignorance, but there’s actually something very wise about moving through life with an open heart and being able to see all the hard things that are happening, even to us and the people that we love, but in time you will be able to navigate it. It’s not just meditation, it comes through life experience and deepening your relationship with Spirit. Because in time what you’ll see, if you can not give up and learn to move back and observe your breath let’s say without controlling it, observe your thoughts from another place and realize that those thoughts are not you, then life becomes a little bit more interesting and then when you look at people and people are saying and doing crazy things, even if they’re bad, you may be able to connect inside that they’re maybe not feeling that inner thing that you have, that you’re developing and yet instead of judging them, instead of being afraid of them, instead of being angry with them no matter how bad they might seem, you will begin to feel love and compassion and acceptance for them. And you won’t need to change them and you’ll know that you can’t. Because it’s hard enough just to change ourselves. And the people that do the creepiest things in this world, they suffer, that’s why they’re doing it and they’re no different than you and me. They actually mean well. The perpetrators of the worst crimes have some weird thing in their head that they think at the time that they did it was what needed to happen. They all do. Something that my teacher Swami Kriyananda said over and over and over when we couldn’t accept the behavior of others or ourselves, he said everybody’s doing the best they can and we’re all doing the best that we can right now. It doesn’t matter what anybody else thinks, we’re all learning our lessons.
So I hope that’s not totally depressing. There is a reason that there’s so much suffering, there is a reason that this world is so crazy and the reason is that that this world is not our home. Our home is in a way a better place and it’s inside and when we learn to access it – I’ll just say it is a truth, but you can think what you want you know that’s OK. I’m open to that – but when you learn to access this inner peace, inner kingdom thing, in time what you’ll realize or you’ll experience is that you’re able to go there whenever you need to, with a body or without one, with good conditions or without, with other people’s support or not. It’s always there, it’s eternal. And eventually, the goal of life at the higher level, according to yoga and Christianity or Jesus or whoever you want to talk to, Buddha, Krishna, is to be free from suffering and free from the delusion that we’re separate from the divine kingdom let’s say, our divine birthright, in true peace, true freedom, true awareness and everything else is just temporary.
Recorded at Yogananda Meditation Center on July 10, 2017.
Join The Art & Science of Happiness to attend live talks.