The Living Presence of Grace (1986)

The question of grace and individual effort is very interesting: does our effort make something happen? The answer is yes, our effort does make something happen. We have to choose to change and we have to sustain it. All patterns have a tendency to perpetuate themselves. That is one of the basic laws of physics, the law of inertia: things have a tendency to keep going the way they have been going. So, some external intervention is necessary for a change to take place. But the beauty and mystery of grace is this: the intervention is not really external at all. It is the eruption of a deeper level of energy from within us. We call it grace.

Our tendency is to think that meditation brings about some result, but this isn't so. Meditation does not bring any result; rather it is our asking, our reaching, our participation in this energy field that arouses our inner force. Meditation sustains that connection to the spirit within us. Then at different moments in our lives something takes place-call it grace-that allows for an extraordinary breakthrough to take place, some deeper understanding to emerge from within us. Often, it is a one-on-one interaction with a teacher in a nonverbal event (sometimes words are involved, but the words are not really what does it) that reaches inside us, breaks through some barrier, and calls forth this deeper understanding in a powerful way.

You can say grace is like serendipity, although grace implies more intentionality than serendipity. Serendipity refers to an accidental meeting of circumstances, while grace is something special. At various moments in your lives, all of you have experienced a coming together of elements and situations that end up making something bigger than the combined elements-a whole that is greater than the sum of all of its parts. That is grace. To quiet your mind, to open your heart, to feel that creative Presence arise when your mind is quiet and your heart really opens, and to watch that Presence have a genuine effect on you and your environment-that is grace. What happens is amazing. There is no relationship between the energy you have invested and the result that you get. You could work 100 million years and not get that kind of result. That is grace.

As you start to be quiet and to pay attention, you begin to understand how your mind and your instincts are exactly what inhibits the flow of grace in your life. And so your practice becomes quieting your mind and relaxing your instincts to begin to participate in a broader creative field. It takes time, but the result is amazing. Something emerges from within you that you couldn't find by searching the whole world over, something that is so powerful it does not ever have to be forceful. The tides are gentle, but what can resist them? Certainly the earth cannot.

The role of the teacher is to serve as the lever that reaches into you and draws forth from you that which is already there and to participate in its refinement. This process is called shaktipat; it is also called the descent of grace or the transmission of the energy. It is really the process of arousing from within you your own deeper creative power and supporting its broader function in the field of knowledge, in the field of action, and in the realm of the senses.

The transmission of the energy is remarkable, because without it, it is very, very difficult for us to penetrate the various layers of materiality-our biology, our psychology, our emotional chemistry. All of these sheaths or veils that compose us are like the layers on an onion that must be penetrated in order to have the insight into the nature of the highest power. It is difficult to do on our own.

Vishnu on GarudaOur inner relationship with our Self and our outer relationship with a teacher are like the two wings of a bird (in iconography, the two wings of Garuda) that lift us up into the transcendental realm. There are certainly several levels on which this connection is cultivated. There is a direct one-on-one interaction in a class or maybe in this moment, but that interaction has a more subtle expression that is ongoing and that becomes the support to the ultimate emergence of the highest level of self-awareness. It has to be this way, because fundamentally the teacher and the student are not two. They are two like Shiva and Shakti are two: it is a whole event, it is the experience of the divine Presence.

That divine Presence is what made any special moment you have ever had in your life special. Whatever special moments you have experienced were special because something about the intensity of that experience stopped your mind long enough from something special inside to assert itself, to come out of you, and to function. And what happens then? Time starts to unravel and our sense of place starts to shift around, and we enter into a real transcendental experience that is a small indication of the possibility that exists for us to expand our understanding and deepen our awareness of the very foundation of what is alive about us.

But it is work, and it takes caring about that specialness. It is simple enough. Because whatever you care about is what is going to happen in your life. Some of it will be work that you do and some of it will be miracles that just happen. The reality of our spiritual development and the simplicity and naturalness by which real miracles occur are remarkable. It is important for us to have this awareness, so that as we look carefully at our own lives-as they are, not as we think they ought to be-we can begin to appreciate the miracle that is at work here and now.

The simple miracle that exists in our own hearts every single day is worth working for, it is worth sacrificing for, because it is the one thing that makes every single day of our lives special, vital and dynamic. It is also something mysterious, difficult to figure out, and full of uncertainty; but all that is also part of the extraordinary joy of it. It is worth fighting for to be alive. It takes a little bit of guts, and a lot of work and effort. But it is worth it.

All of you in your own positions have responsibilities, pressures, interesting careers-and that is really fine. But don't lose track of that effort, don't lose touch with that understanding, that Presence from which all the satisfactions and successes in your lives have emerged. Because at some point that success in your life has to subside, as everything alternately rises and subsides; every tide that comes in goes out, to be followed by another tide. Most people forget this. When the tide is in, they forget that it will go out, and when the tide is out, they forget that it is coming back.

Stay in touch. Make the effort. Persevere in your practice and let the physical part of your existence-the families that you have established, the careers that you have taken on-can be mechanisms that give you opportunities for growing and learning about yourself and for sharing with other people every day.

The important question for us is to be totally centered in our lives as they are now, serving as best we can and really looking within ourselves for the strength to perform that service with a freshness every day. It is that understanding that we live for. It is that understanding that satisfies us and makes our lives meaningful. It is that understanding that enriches us and all of our relationships, allowing us to find real love that is above all of the difficulties we have to face.

I have always trusted in that love. Always. I have been sitting here for fifteen years telling you I trust it. That love, that grace, has never failed me. I've never seen it fail anyone.