The Process of Self Enquiry: Slowing Down

Ananya Sri Ram Rajan – USA

Theosophy AR 220 b

The author

It is said that the start of a wildfire can be compared to our emotions. All it takes is a small spark and the right environment. What seems like an insignificance speck of light and heat can suddenly create smoke and, with a little wind, burst into flames. If there is enough energy or fuel to feed the flames, a fire can burn for days.

Anger, sadness, anxiety and other such emotions are not much different. Depending on our underlying “go to” emotion, given the right environment (a comment made from someone, an uncomfortable situation, or a life event), we are often triggered which creates a specific reaction within us. Once we are triggered, all it takes is a little fuel to have the emotion create an imbalance within us. We can go from a beautiful morning to feeling completely frustrated for the rest of the day.

Watching our emotions can often be difficult. Many people state that before they have even had a chance to watch the emotion, it is too late. They are already “in it” and reacting to the stimulation of it. Someone once said it is like being thrown into deep water on a stormy night. One knows they need to breathe but it is impossible to find one’s bearings or get one’s head above water. The frustration of being unable to control the upheaval creates more emotion, adding more fuel to the fire.

With the process of self-enquiry, slowing down our reactions to words and actions of others tends to help, whether it is someone cutting us off while driving, a thoughtless comment, or the continuous difficult bad news in the media. Before we can enquire into the “why” or “where” of emotion, it is necessary to “not give into reaction” as Madame De Salzmann (1) taught. Too often we get caught up in what we think is happening to us when in actuality events are playing themselves out. By slowing down our reactions to life, we may be able to see this a little more clearly.

Theosophy teaches us that all consciousness is one. We are only a small part of something much grander than ourselves. And yet we feel so terribly important and take the events around us as a sign of our good karma or bad karma. In reality, karma is just karma. The relativity of karma is created by humans. There is no good or bad karma. It is cause and effect working itself out based on a number of different factors that we cannot possibly know. If we truly contemplate this, we may be able to approach a situation differently.

Each time we face a situation—and we face hundreds in one day—the emotional or desire body finds a way to engage itself. Especially if it is given full rein. Today, it seems people work more from this reactive state than a calm and centered one. It is this reactivity that keeps our egos present. So many say they want to be less self-centered, but if we continue to believe that everything we face centers around us, self-centeredness continues.

The difficulty we have is with the unknown. What we do not realize is that we are also unknown. There is so little we know about who we truly are. Yet our focus remains outside of ourselves. We look outside in order to look in. And we are too frightened to find out what may happen if there is no “me” or “I.” We question how we can possibly function without some kind of identity. (J. Krishnamurti would say “Try it and see what happens!”)

What is it that asserts itself when we face the unknown? The initial emotion is fear or anxiety. Perhaps it is self-preservation, no different than any other organism. This is the biological reaction of the life within us feeling threatened. What about beyond that? What about when we lose someone? There is a shock and numbness that takes place, perhaps due to the shift and change in energy from the consciousness of the person we think is “gone.” Emotionally, we feel sad because we think the person is no longer with us and we miss their physical presence. This illusion surrounds us despite having some understanding of the unity of all consciousness. In reality, the loss is more about us than about the person who has transitioned. We struggle with the change that the event has created because it is unfamiliar and unknown to us. And we cannot control it. It creates an emotional reaction within us and we feel the event in reference to ourselves.

As mentioned earlier, slowing down our response to an event, which also means allowing it to run its course, invites us to explore what is happening in detail. It allows us to watch an event outside ourselves as we would a play. When watching a play, we don’t stand up in the audience and tell a character what to do. We allow the play to unfold and watch. To slow things down, we need to do the same in our daily life instead of reacting right away. At the beginning of the pandemic, the term “taking a pause” was mentioned. Granted many found it difficult at first, but eventually began to enjoy the lack of having to be anywhere or do anything. This attitude can be applied to our spiritual work of not getting hooked emotionally to something. Pause. Watch. Pause. Respond. As one practices this, one may find that giving pause to our emotional triggers cools them down. But as Krishnamurti notes, we won’t know until we try.

Reference: (1) Jeanne de Salzmann often addressed as Madame de Salzmann was the daughter of the famous Swiss architect Jules Louis Allemand and of Marie Louise Matignon. She was a French-Swiss dance teacher and a close pupil of the spiritual teacher G. I. Gurdjieff, recognized as his deputy by many of Gurdjieff's other pupils.

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