The Challenges Explained

Whatever qualities or attributes we possess were given to us. They were not our doing. We didn’t create our intelligence, facility with languages, artistic skills, or ability to deal well with people. These are, quite literally, gifts. As we develop spiritually, we increase our ability to help or heal others. We can become better vehicles for healing or helping, but we are not the originators of that energy.

Part of the purpose of spiritual development is to help others, but that is not a way or an excuse for making ourselves more important or powerful. It is quite the contrary. Arrogance will only get in the way of our being truly useful and of our spiritual progress. We are working to make the ego smaller, not larger. It is our Inner Self which receives guidance from the spiritual source. To receive that guidance, the ego must be quiet and must surrender its dominance. We should not be arrogant about any new-found wisdom or ability. We should be grateful for the gifts and use them well. 

Spiritual development takes a very long time and is a slow and painstaking process. It is work that does not end. There is no ‘getting there.’ There is only more insight, and the reward is more work. So patience is essential. We want to meditate better, to feel more, to get a better handle on our lives. But spiritual growth is a natural process, and it can’t be rushed. Impatience merely hampers our progress. It is as inappropriate as standing in your garden screaming at a seedling to grow faster, to hurry up and bloom. It just does not work for either plants or humans.

Acceptance of Fate
Some things can’t be changed. We can’t control reality. But we can control the way we deal with whatever happens. We can feel defeated by a particular event and scream at the heavens, or we can choose to view the event as a challenge, a test of our ability to maintain faith no matter what the circumstance, an exercise in maintaining patience, courage and compassion even under duress. This is not to say that we should be totally passive in our lives and consider everything as immutably fated. But we should recognize that some things are beyond our control and must simply be accepted as gracefully as possible.

Surrender involves faith, humility, and acceptance of fate. We must understand that our knowledge of how we fit into the great scheme of things is extremely limited. We do not know why we are confronted with certain situations, why we end up having to do a certain kind of work, or how what we say or do to other people might affect their lives. We cannot see into the future or know what we are being prepared for. We must simply live on faith that our struggles have some meaning, that our efforts are not in vain. We must surrender have faith in the forces that impel our lives.

We must also surrender in meditation. In particular, we must surrender the ego. We need to bypass the intellect and the ego so that higher spiritual forces can communicate with our Inner Selves. We must have faith in the power and benevolence of those forces so that we can truly let go and surrender ourselves to their care.

One of the greatest compliments the Teacher pays a person is to say that he or she is ‘simple,’ meaning open, direct, uncomplicated. In our culture we tend to respect complexity, and we use our minds to make things ‘more interesting,’ that is, more complex. But in meditation the intellect and complexity simply have no place. Our desire to understand, to define, to systematize and complicate just gets in the way. We have to just be simple, to accept whatever does or doesn’t happen, to be content.

How do we become more simple? Through practicing acceptance, surrender, humility, benevolence, honesty, righteousness, patience and faith. The Teacher said once that it is very difficult for a complicated person to become simple. It is much easier for a simple person to become complicated. He just needs to learn to constantly ask, “Why?” Obviously, for Westerners, to become simple is an extremely complex challenge.

When we learn to accept fate and surrender our egos and intellects we learn to have more detachment in our everyday lives. This does not mean that we don’t care about things, people, or our responsibilities. We still experience strong emotions and can be deeply involved in many areas. But we learn to maintain a certain perspective, to see things in context rather than merely from the narrow viewpoint of our own egos. When someone infuriates us, we still feel the rage.

In addition, however, we learn to have the discipline to also view the situation impersonally, as if we were an impartial observer. We need to learn not to be attached to our emotions, while still feeling them. We may experience deep grief at the death of a loved one, but we don’t define ourselves by that emotion. We can be in mourning, yet still experience great joy: For example, during the time of a birth of a child. Being in a state of grief does not exclude moments of happiness.

We must learn detachment from our past patterns of behavior. Many of us define ourselves as victims for whom everything seems to go wrong, or as scapegoats who are always hated and picked on, or as underachievers/overachievers. We must learn not to define or limit ourselves in terms of stereotypes or anything else. We must learn to detach ourselves from our own destructive habits.

Harmony with Nature
The final challenge is to always harmonize and flow with what is natural: Both the natural flow of the Universe and the flow of our own Inner natures. In meditation we learn to ‘go with the flow’ and blend with different energies. In day-to-day life we try to live in harmony with nature, not upsetting the natural balance of our world. We accept and follow our natural inclinations of hunger and the need for sex and rest.

When we are angry, we express the anger rather than feeling guilty about it and repressing it. When we are sad, we allow the emotion to flow through us. The harmony we are talking about is, on the both the mundane and the spiritual level, the ‘natural’ outcome of facing the Challenges and following the Principles. 

If the only thing that we do in terms of cultivating ourselves spiritually is attempt to sincerely follow the Ten Principles, consistently try to master the Seven Challenges, and integrate these values into our everyday lives, we can reach a very high level of spiritual attainment. Although meditation is extremely important, the Principles and Challenges are even more so.

True spiritual development is measured by the goodness of our hearts, not in our accomplishments in the mundane world or in our ability to meditate well. This still, however, does not minimize the immense value of meditation.

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