The Problem of Complacency (1982)

If someone asked me, "What is the greatest danger to a person's spiritual life?", I would answer, "Complacency." Complacency is that subtle situation where we find ourselves comfortable, and we accept our current position as indicative of our potential. Complacency results in living a spiritual idea instead of a spiritual experience. A spiritual idea exists completely in the mind-it is an illusion. We can observe our tendency toward living an idea when we talk one way and behave another.

Rudi began the first edition of his book by saying, "If there is a harder way, then show it to me. It must be wonderful." The harder way is really a safer way, because the persistent effort required by the harder way lessens the danger of complacency. In one of my favorite poems, the great Kashmir Shaivist poet Kabir, says:

"Everyone assumes that there is some spirit that gave life to us in our mother's womb.
Is it logical to assume that the spirit that created us as babies, and brought us into this world, should now abandon us?
No. It is you who walked into the darkness on your own. It is you who became entangled in worldliness; you forgot.
That is why everything you do has some weird failure in it."

Walking into DarknessWe walk into the darkness by becoming complacent. There is no growth in that. There is no understanding or consciousness expressed by our tendency to stay as we are. We can't duck opportunities for growth and expect to continue growing for long. We have to take responsibility. By dealing with the opportunities and responsibilities, and completing them, we connect with the creative treasure that exists in our level of awareness. Every new level of responsibility should demand something more. Our job, as spiritual people, is to remain calm and centered as we deal with every pressure that we encounter. This brings out the best in us.

As we attain self-control, quiet our minds, and function in the world in a state of equilibrium, our understanding of the Self grows. Every experience that we have manifests another aspect of the Self. The importance of sadhana, our teachers and our class is that they awaken and magnetize the depth of understanding, inner strength and creative energy that manifests around us. Being responsible in this unfolding process uplifts us. Becoming complacent causes us to experience suffering, tension, insecurity, doubt and fear.

Rudi used to say, "We have to welcome the things that force us to change." It is simple and straightforward. We become attached to the elements of life that reinforce our image and give us pleasure. We become comfortable. Then, when we encounter situations that demand more, situations that try to bring something deeper out of us, we become threatened and defensive. The tension that we experience lowers our creative energy to the bottom level of our attachments. To avoid this condition, we have to accept--with openness and gratitude--the opportunities that manifest in our life to change. Of course, this represents more work, but every change that occurs in life is an energy that has awakened within us.

Instead of understanding and accepting change, we usually try to kill it. We don't recognize the new energy as us. We don't recognize our oneness with it, and consequently, we undo ourselves. This is part of our confusion. We should welcome the situations that force us to change. They represent the unfoldment of our creative energy. They represent our potential to grow and change, and to discover the meaning of our life. We discover the Self.

Discovering the Self occurs in three phases. At first, a physical effort is required. At first, a physical effort is required. Our primary contact, understanding and work exist in the physical world. This generates a flow that resolves much of the physical congestion and awakens in us the skills, energies and understanding that we need to function well in our ordinary lives.

Although the practice of meditation interpenetrates all phases, the second stage is one of intense study and contemplation. At this stage, we come to understand our experiences, and the wisdom that they promote within us. It is a time that we balance our behavior, and become established in the inner Observer.

The third is a simple stage in which we become quiet and established in the emotional simplicity, mental sharpness and intellectual understanding that allows us to live simply and work well. This is a stage of immense joy.

These successive stages develop basics, solidify confidence, and end in mastery. Experience doesn't take place rapidly. Like any field of study, excellence is a product of effort over time. Only through perseverance do we gather the confidence, strength and nourishment to become established in extraordinary greatness.

When we become established in the Self, its creative energy manifests through us. When we connect to the Self, each day, in the face of every obstacle, we gain an increased awareness of the Self. Instead of getting "stuck" in something (and this is the pattern of life), we become permanently "unstuck."

Anyone can maintain harmony with easy things. Spirituality is expressed by our capacity to maintain harmony and oneness with the difficulty that manifests in our lives. We should accept the challenge that expresses itself, learn from it, and allow the energy to unfold. If we don't participate fully, our attachments become obstacles. If we are unwilling to encounter difficult situations, then we continually find ourselves bumping against what we don't want to do. Suddenly our spiritual lives are reduced to what we like and what we don't like. This is not being established in the Absolute. This is samsara (also called illusion, confusion and fantasy). It is not called truth.

People involved in struggling don't experience the joy of living. They avoid growth-it is too difficult. But it is only when we plug in, again and again, that we develop a capacity, depth and understanding of the conscious power that is our essence. For a person with this experience, the scenery disappears and there is only the awareness of the creative process unfolding itself in a most beautiful and perfect way.

It is easy, pleasant and wonderful to experience the creative unfoldment while meditating. But the test is to carry that state into our lives. If we don't have appreciation and profound respect for the dynamic process of life, there is little possibility of getting very far. Everyone is born perfect. It is only because we accept inertia and allow complacency to grow that our extraordinary mechanism is rarely tapped.

We needn't use our energy by living a rigorous existence, however. It is all right to have a somewhat comfortable, though simple life, in the physical sense. This allows us to use our energy to grow and to express ourselves in the highest way. There are people throughout India, Asia and Japan who live completely rigorous lives simply to remind themselves of the problem of complacency. This is our challenge as spiritual people. It is an ancient problem that has been dealt with in many different ways.

Complacency causes us to lose touch with the spirit of inquiry, and we lose touch with the spirit of growth that brought us to our practice. Instead of working and being careful observers of ourselves, and the activities of our lives, we become entangled in circumstances and situations. We begin acting to justify our existence instead of acting to promote our understanding.

We should not become obsessed with what we think we know or who we think we are. We should become established in the natural wisdom of the Self. This wisdom dissolves every darkness, tension, confusion, and misunderstanding. It brings continuous clarity and upliftment. The extent to which we become entangled or comfortable in our external experience is the extent to which we turn from that wisdom of the inner Self.

Entanglement and comfort are simply resistance to change. For the most part, we spend our energy resisting change and digging ourselves deeper into those tensions that cause us to be frustrated and unhappy. We hold onto what we know (even though it is unrewarding), because we are too afraid of what we don't know. From my perspective, the only thing to be afraid of is staying the same. That is frightening.

It is impossible to stay the same; change is inevitable. Change is the essence of life. Yet, in our hearts and minds we become tense and confused because we resist change. Instead of using our energy in a positive way to promote change, we create complication and promote confusion and entanglement. We should use our minds as vehicles through which we contact and become immersed in the Self.

When we become free of attachments to our effort, we discover that all effort comes from the grace of God. We often work very hard, but then succumb to the temptation of desiring a reward. We should understand that the reward is inherent in our effort. The inspiration, motivation, and energy to do come only from the Self. When we understand this, and become free from delusion about the value of external matters, our creative power comes forth, and we become wise and capable people.