Life’s Opportunities

Swami Muktidharma Saraswati (New Zealand)

There was a time when I greeted many situations in life with fear, believing they were obstacles to my spiritual progress. I became a specialist in running away from myself, and even from others, so I could avoid my issues being triggered. I was a Christian catholic and thought I was better than others, so I spent my time judging and criticizing those around me, believing that I was the ‘pure one’. This was my ego protection gear, of course. Life, however, has been my teacher and now I see that the situations that challenge my ego are the opportunities for inner growth and meditation.

When I met my guru, Swami Satyananda, in India, the first thing that he told me was, “Until now you have been a saint intellectually; if you want to stay with me, then you have to forget all that you have learned.” I was shocked and angry about this (my ego was hurt), and I thought about returning home to South America. Something greater than my mind was working within, and I felt compelled to stay.

My first job almost changed my mind again. I was asked to clean all the ashram toilets (15 of them) EVERY DAY!!! Remember, I was coming from a South American upbringing, and this was the first time in my life that I had been given this ‘special duty’. I tried all means of avoiding the job. I had a pile of excuses for my female supervisor.

One early morning, my guru came to me and said, “I have come to show you how to clean toilets and transform it into a powerful meditation.” I was very inspired when, with great humility, Sri Swamiji began to clean the toilets. This practical example helped me jump over my mental knots, and I quickly cleaned the rest of the toilets. This became a deep meditation for me, from which I learned that one’s mental attitude can transform any situation and make it into an opportunity for growth. One day as I was cleaning I felt so much bliss within that I wished for a greater number of toilets to keep the continuity of my meditation.

Later in my life, I became more flexible, and now I attempt to keep my mind ready to receive whatever comes in a positive way. The external situations and circumstances are not really the cause of our suffering or joy; it is our own mental approach. For example, wealth could become hell if we do not have the right preparation to deal with it. If we become attached to the situations that life brings to us, then we will suffer when they go. Nothing is permanent, not even our body. In the same way that it came, it will go. We can enjoy everything in the world if we know how to let it go. Developing this awareness will bring great internal relaxation and we will be able to enjoy life better.

The Dalai Lama is a great example of this. Even though he has been forced to leave Tibet, he says, “Our enemies are our greatest benefactors. They give us an opportunity to learn and grow.” Instead of carrying around anger and negativity, he sees his experience with Tibet as a challenge for the inner being to expand.

This is the same attitude that I saw with my guru. He always accepted those people who had been rejected by other institutions. With a positive attitude, he overlooked their negative aspects and concentrated on promoting and supporting their qualities. All situations such as work, personal relationships and spiritual practices became a meditation. I saw many people, including myself, deeply transformed. Such is the power of using all situations in life to expand awareness and reach the inner depths of the soul.