There’s an old parable that makes a very important point about inner dialogue and the effect it can have on how we live our lives.
A young man was inspired to follow a path of spiritual development and seek enlightenment, and he sought the advice of an ancient seer – a holy man of the kind that in India is called a rishi.
The young man said, “I want to follow a path of devotion. I’m determined to achieve the highest realms of spiritual consciousness. Can you help me?”
The rishi looked at this young fellow and he could see how sincere he was in aspirations – so the rishi said, “I think I might be able to help. But I must warn you that what you’re asking will be very difficult. The path you’re choosing requires a great deal of inner strength and deep commitment. Do you think you’ll be able to stay on this path in order to develop yourself spiritually?”
And the young man said, “I’m sure I will. Please help me. I’ll do whatever you tell me if only I can achieve the kind of piety and sanctity that you’ve achieved in your own life.”
The rishi said, “Well, all right. We’re going to start right now. We’re going to begin a very, very strict period of fasting. From now on, you’re going to eat only a few crusts of bread during the entire day. You’re going to drink just two cups of water every 24 hours, and the fast is going to continue until I say that it’s over. Do you think you can stick to this fast in order to cultivate your spiritual self?”
The young man replied, “Yes, I think I can.” So, the fast started. But after it had gone on for a couple of days, the young aspirant was finding it very difficult because he was seeing people all around eating three meals a day. He was watching people satisfy their hunger, satisfy their thirst, enjoying food and drink – and there was nothing for him but crusts of bread and a few cups of water during the entire day. So he approached the rishi again and he said, “I’m finding this very hard to do in this environment. Do you think there’s any way we could go somewhere where I won’t be seeing other people indulging themselves? Would that still be within the rules of the fast?”
The rishi thought about this and then he said, “Well, I think that it would be. I think that we can go out into the desert and we can isolate ourselves, and if that will make it easier for you, it’ll still be within the limits of the fast.”
So, they went out into the desert, and they took their crusts of bread and their cups of water and they were walking along — but all of a sudden they came upon something that was so startling that they both just stood there in amazement. There was an enormous table standing right there in the middle of the desert, and it was laden with the most delicious food that could possibly be imagined, as well as many bottles of excellent wine.
Both the holy man and the young disciple were very tempted by what they saw before them. They were just standing there staring at the table laden with food. And the young man said, “How is this possible? How could this huge temptation appear before us out here in the desert?”
The rishi thought for a moment and then he said, “It must be the work of some evil spirit or demon that knew we’d be coming this way. The evil spirit prepared this table in order to tempt us.”
The young disciple said, “Well, maybe we’d better get away from this temptation.”
And he started to walk off into the desert.
But the rishi grabbed his arm and said, “Wait a minute.” And then all of a sudden the rishi sat down at the table and started eating as fast as he could…He ate everything that was on the table and he drank several bottles of wine – and the young devotee just stood there staring at him in horror and disbelief.
Finally, when the rishi couldn’t possible eat or drink anymore, he wiped his mouth with a napkin and folded the napkin and calmly stood up and the two of them started off across the desert again.
The young disciple hardly knew what to say. He really didn’t know how to understand what had just happened. But finally, he said to the holy man, “How could you do that? How could you break our fast that way and sit down and give into this temptation? How could you eat all that food and drink all that wine?”
The rishi looked at him and said, “Well, it’s true that I ate the food and drank the wine. But at least now I’m finished with it. You’re still eating.”
In other words, the rishi meant that in the young man’s inner dialogue, he was still fighting this battle. He was still arguing with himself – and not only with himself, but also with a character in his mind that he imagined was the ancient holy man. There was an angry dialog going on. In his mind, the young man was saying, “How could you do this terrible thing? Why couldn’t I do it? How did I get into this mess in the first place?”
This kind of negative inner dialogue is the result of a mindset that’s always trying to overcome or resist difficulty, instead of discovering the effortless solution that’s always possible, and that solution will always do the least damage in the long run. Spiritual transformation rarely results from overcoming difficulty. It comes from finding easiness. It’s not a matter of strain or force, because that creates corrosive inner dialog. It’s really the opposite of strain or force.
One of the most important concepts of Ayurveda, which is the traditional life science of India, is the concept of agni. Agni is the inner fire that allows us to metabolize and transform whatever enters our system from the environment. For example, when we ingest food, the inner fire of agni is responsible for digesting and processing the food into a form that will be useful and beneficial. But agni also processes whatever we take in emotionally and intellectually. The internal fire transforms all this into usable form. And if agni is functioning efficiently, there is no residue left over – there is no physical or emotional residue left to corrode or damage the human system. But that’s exactly what negative inner dialog is. Negative inner dialog comes into being when the fire within you hasn’t dealt effectively with the material it has encountered.
There’s an insight here that’s extremely important to understand. When you are synchronized with the energy field that gave rise to you – when you are in balance physically, emotionally, and spiritually – you possess a level of strength and flexibility that is sufficient to meet any challenge effortlessly. But more than simply meeting any challenge, you can transform the “it” in such a way that it nourishes you on your spiritual journey. Though a weak fire may be smothered, a brightly burning flame converts any obstacle that it meets with into fuel for itself.
The anecdote about the rishi devouring a huge meal in the desert is meant to be amusing – but it dramatizes the ability of a truly spiritual person to process any challenge, and to do so with nothing left over. The rishi even enjoys himself while he’s doing it – but once it’s done, it’s done. His flame was strong to begin with, and now it’s even stronger. The disciple, on the other hand, still has to learn this lesson. He has yet to develop this strength. He struggles to distance himself from the problem, while the rishi literally takes it inside himself and transforms it to make himself stronger.
In the parable, the rishi finds a way to be always moving in one direction, while the disciple is inwardly divided against himself. This is the point we’re all at until we reach a higher stage of enlightenment. This is where we start from as people. Consciousness, after all, only exists because the energy field created a division within itself. The field created conscious, thinking human beings as expressions of itself, and it did so in order to think about itself. We are an expression of that self-division that the field initiated. Our thoughts are not only ours – they are the universe thinking about itself.
We are the inner dialog of the conscious energy field, — but all too often our thoughts take a form that hinders spiritual development that is moving us in the direction opposite from which we want to go. Inner dialogue should help us regain unity consciousness with the field. Positive inner dialogue helps us move in that direction. It fosters synchronicity. It fosters spiritual development.