“Stop” sign has a definite meaning when you are on the land. You are driving along and you come upon a stop sign. You have no choice but come to a complete stop. It is a point of decision – you turn right, left or proceed straight forward. All of us make such decisions as part of our life journey all the time. Nobody stood still forever at a stop sign!
But while you are flying in the sky, you have no choice to stop. You have to keep moving. There are no discrete choices. You can make a gradual change to your course, but there can be no sudden or discrete events or choices.
There are two conditions imposed on us by Nature: You can stop and go at will on the land but you have to be in constant motion to travel through the sky. The bird cannot stop in the midair nor a plane in flight. Even the helicopter that hovers in the air may appear to be still for short periods of time only as long as their propellers keep moving.
In a macro scale the earth, the sun, moon and the planets cannot stop their constant motion. At a micro level as individuals our heart cannot stop its function from the beginning to end. The discrete points where the heart starts and stops, we call them as birth and death!
What does all this mean?
There are times in life when we feel like we are in constant motion with no end in sight. Consider the situation where one is confronted with some serious personal tragedy. These are times of flight, with no place to rest and recover. Also consider yourself as a passenger in a long journey. For that matter consider life itself as a long journey with a constant stream of events, most of which are beyond our control for one reason or another.
In all these situations the rational mind when it is genuinely objective can find the cause and effect of all the happenings, feelings, emotions and outcomes. Consistently rational and objective mind is a hypothetical and ideal state of mind. Our goal is to reach that state of mind. But there are times when such ideal seems far away. In those moments we still need to control and govern our emotional mind. IT IS LIKE MAKING A DECISION AT A STOP SIGN. This is when faith or implicit belief in a larger force or God is helpful.
A large majority of religious writings, stories and anecdotes emphasize faith to govern our emotional mind. Traditions, rituals and religious practices codify and formalize methods to promote such faith. Calm and reflective mind in turn becomes rational and analytical leading to decisions and next steps, like making a turn or proceeding straight ahead at a stop sign. What appears to be an endless flight or unrelenting grief becomes a discrete event with next steps to follow as directed by the rational mind. But it requires a deliberate shift in our thinking from an emotional state to a rational and objective perspective. Belief in God or faith alone will not get you past that place. It requires a deliberate engagement of the mind to be reflective and the willful decision and actions that follow.
However one cannot prescribe rational thinking to an emotional mind. It requires guidance and persuasion. It is like the work of the pilot and the flight crew to guide the passengers – who are truly helpless – while flying through turbulent weather. The god-men and those who preach religion and the counselors who preach coping skills must keep this key role in mind. Their role is not to prescribe endless rituals and action plans. Instead it must be a process to help those under stress to slowly grow out of the relentless grip of their emotional upheaval. The end goal must be reliance on the rational mind – the ability to discriminate between Subjectivity and Objectivity.
Arjuna: “Lord Krishna, ……….. My limbs are getting faint, my mouth is dry, my body trembles and my hair stands erect. My bow is slipping away from my hands, my skin is affected, I am unable to stand erect and my mind is extremely unsteady” Bhagawath Geetha 1. 28 to 30
Lord Krishna: Arjuna! Your anguish at this time is troublesome. It is unbecoming of leaders; it deters one from greatness; it brings nothing but disgrace. Do not yield to cowardice as a result of your grief, as it is unbecoming of you. Overcome this weakness at heart and rise up to the occasion. Bhagawath Geetha 2. 2, 3.
Arjuna: The proper course is not at all clear to me. ….. My heart is filled with compassion; my mind is confused between the right and the wrong. I am suffering from a sense of guilt as I struggle to execute my duty. With all this anguish I approach you. Please take me as your disciple and teach me the proper course of action. Bhagawath Geetha 2. 6, 7.
Lord Krishna: When your wisdom over comes the confusion in your mind, then you shall become objective and less under the influence of subjective feelings like grief, sorrow, anxiety, etc. Even though your intelligence is confused as it is through your worldly learning, you shall attain enlightenment or insight, if you shall remain fixed in contemplation. When one casts off all desires that enter the mind, then such a person is satisfied in all aspects within himself/herself. Such a person of undeterred mind is unaffected by sorrow, Bhagawath Geetha 2. 52, 53.
In spite of the best efforts of a person, the turbulent and energetic senses (impulsive forces of sense organs and their effects) constantly influence his/her mind as it were by a force of compulsion. A person whose senses are under control, his/her wisdom is unwavering or permanent. Having such control of your senses remain firm in your devotion to me (The Lord). Bhagawath Geetha 2. 60, 61.