Faith to Quell the River of Fire
I composed this memoir-essay nearly a quarter of a century ago. It reminds me of where I had been those decades ago and allows me to compare the progress I have made in my journey to self-realization. It solidifies my comfort in the power of faith.
The Mystical Number Seven
According to C. Hugh Holman’s A Handbook to Literature, seven is a mystical number in medieval theology. There are seven cardinal virtues: faith, hope, love, prudence, justice, fortitude, temperance. There are seven cardinal sins: pride, envy, wrath, sloth, avarice, gluttony, lust.
Of the seven cardinal virtues, love interests me most. And of the seven cardinal sins, lust interests me most. In light of the oppositional states created by the two sets of cardinals, love and lust become opposites: love is a virtue, lust is a sin.
I believe that “sin” is abuse of the senses (according to Paramahansa Yogananda, “sin is anything that keeps one oblivious of God”).
Virtue is, therefore, use of the senses. The problem arises in defining the border between use and abuse. How does one decide what constitutes use of one’s senses as opposed to abuse? For example, take the sense of sight: most of us would argue that using our sight to enjoy a painting is not abuse.
However, what if the painting depicts two male figures engaging in erotic acts? Many who believe that looking at Van Gogh’s Sorrow is a virtuous employment of the eyes would, nevertheless, argue that looking at the erotic art constitutes abuse or sin. Who is right?
Is it, in fact, a sin to look at erotic art, listen to erotic language, or engage any of the senses in erotica, whether homo- or heteros*xual erotica?
I believe that we determine the virtue or the sin of the act in terms of its effect on the soul. (The soul is the life force, the spark of God, that has become individualized in order for God to enjoy Being, according to Paramahansa Yogananda.)
The soul (our conscious-conscientious self) is our divine guiding force. But because each of us is an individual, each soul travels its own path to its divine self. One person’s lust is another’s love. What is erotic to one is offensive to another.
One can be immersed in God while experiencing erotica, while another is oblivious to God while experiencing erotica. Does it not, therefore, follow that one can be immersed in God while praying, and another can be oblivious to God while praying?
But an ultra-individualistic stance puts us off because it is too general and seems to make chaos out of the world: if the world is just a bunch of individuals, each seeking its own path, and each with a perfect right to do so, then nothing has meaning, and all rules break down.
But actually, it is the realization that the world is already in a chaotic state that begins to give meaning to experience. Organization works purely for pragmatic purposes and exists solely to allow material existence.
For example, in the United States we drive on the right side of the road—not because our divine knowledge of our souls tells us to do this, but because we have mandated it so in our traffic laws. If we visit the United Kingdom, we will not drive on the right and claim divine selfhood made us do it.
We are aware of the survival benefits of material human-made law.
Despite the fact that our culture accepts eating animals and to most Americans, eating animals is as ingrained as driving on the right, some of us believe that the flesh of animals is not food and refuse to eat it even when visiting the homes of meat-eating friends and relatives.
We feel that we derive our vegetarianism from the dictates of our spiritual nature.
I would argue that these two examples show that there is a material level of existence (social and political and legal) that we accommodate and which need not interfere with our own individual spiritual level existence.
Driving on the right in the USA, driving on the left in the UK—simple observations of organization that allow the respective societies to exist materially.
Because I live in a world that eats the flesh of animals and employs their bodies in millions of ways and that practice disturbs me mentally and emotionally, I am challenged in striving to live a spiritual life.
I feel I have to seek a balance between living in a meat-eating world and living as a non-meat eater. But we all have our challenges; no one is perfectly at ease with the way the world operates. We are all oysters, making pearls of our irritations.
Blood Is a River of Fire
I think of my own world of irritations as fire in my blood—my blood is a river of fire. Not the natural chemical activity that goes on to keep me alive, but the unknown, mysterious activities, perhaps the motivations and urgings that I really cannot name.
My real work is naming, or identifying, them; that’s why I write poetry and essays. Poets name things and essayists explain things, striving to identify and characterize the nameless, unidentified things that exist in their mysterious storehouse of the unknown.
I have loved, and lusted, and each has caused things to happen in my life, has caused me to ache and moan with pleasure then pain, and I barely understand these feelings.
If I can just get one into my consciousness and name it, I feel closer to understanding it, so I reach into the storehouse and bring to observation whatever my mental hand grasps, and I study it and name it and ultimately call it a poem.
And when I’m through with it—and even before I’m really through with it, I send it out so the world can see it and see what it thinks, (and when the world, i. e., an editor of a literary magazine thinks enough of my naming piece to print it in that literary magazine, I am well-pleased with my effort).
Poems do nothing to extinguish the fire or soothe the sting; sometimes I think they add fuel that keeps it burning, and sometimes I think I will stop writing them. Or at least change my focus. I have focused too much on lust.
Now I want to begin focusing on love, divine love, eternal love. I want to start my romance with the Divine Lover; I accept what Paramahansa Yogananda has told me, that human love can never satisfy unless it is saturated with divine love and not confused with lust.
Love is eternal truth, but lust is a temporary lie, promising pleasure that often ends in pain. That “seven” is a mystical number, according to medieval theology, intrigues me because I have always loved the number seven.
I was born on the seventh day of the year; therefore, no doubt, my birth date is responsible for my love-affair with the number seven. But the seven caught my attention at this particular point in time, because of my weight problem.
For most of my adult life on my 5′ 2″ frame, I have carried between 120 and 130 pounds—rising considerably above with my two pregnancies, and dipping as low as 112 for brief periods. I was a fat child—taunted by sneering classmates and jeering relatives. I have been more concerned about the size of my body than about any other concern of my life.
No day has passed without my wishing I were thinner. I am not exaggerating. And I have for many years had my goal set at 107 pounds—that magic seven. I have always wanted to wear size 9 or 10 comfortably, while averaging size 12 to 14 most of my life.
In 1993, I had to good fortune to get my weight down to 92 pounds and my clothes to size 2. Unfortunately, now, November 1995 my weight is at 109. Today I went shopping and bought myself two pairs of size 6 jeans.
I am very disappointed with myself. The funny part is that I realize that back when I weighed 125 and wore a size 12, I would have been overjoyed to weigh 109 and wear a size 6.
But now I chafe over those numbers: I want 92 back; I want size 2 back. And yet I also fear that those numbers may be too small. Maybe I should not strive to get thinner; maybe I should just stay where I am. Actually, today when I went to buy some new jeans, I fully intended to buy size 7s.
I have considered that perhaps 97 would be all right; size 7s would be quite large on me at that weight but also quite comfortable, and what the heck! the style is popular to wear large, loose clothes. I have chafed for months now over my clothes, as my weight has been edging up and up.
When I got to 102, I could no longer wear my largest size 5 Levi’s, so I bought some relaxed fit Levi’s size 5, but edging up to 109, for several weeks now I have been unable fit into any of my clothes; I have been wearing my husband’s discarded size 31×31 Levi’s and his old army fatigues. I am so ashamed myself.
I have not usually turned to poems to deal with my weight problem, but about three years ago I had a student who confided in me that she was suffering from anorexia, and during our talks I realized that she and I had the same attitude towards our bodies. With that student in mind, I wrote the following poem.
You might notice that it begins with third person but shifts to the indefinite “you”—that’s to show that the speaker of the poem identifies with the “she”; this poem appears in The Pointed Circle 1992-1993 issue:
Until her mind
Is a vacant
To be thin
What she craves
A bulge around the middle
Is a sin against God.
Thighs that spread out over a chair bottom
Make you sick.
Breasts that mound under a sweater
Make you gutter for breath.
Round arms, full face, big calves, wide hips, double chin:
A mighty army marching over your skeleton,
Capturing your pleasures,
Holding your life hostage.
You’re a prisoner in a guardhouse.
A dog in a pound,
Weight and measurement
Are not useful tools,
They are obsessions.
She has starved
But she cannot
Exorcise that last
Ghost of flesh—
That ghost that keeps adjusting the damn mirror that throws
Back a size in your face, a size that screams
Just a little smaller
Just a little thinner
It seems to me that having a fat body is condemned as the cardinal sins, gluttony and avarice. So I am extremely interested in those. And ah the relativity of it all! I know that many people would not consider me fat, and even at my highest non-pregnant weight (142 in 1990)—I doubt anyone would think me obese.
But to myself I am fat now. And I think the problem goes so deep with me that it has taken on a whole new sin, although some would argue that it’s not a sin, but a disease; something like gluttony turned into obsession turned into psychosis.
It has to be crazy, I have to be crazy to give so much energy to thinking about my weight and clothes size. And I would stop if I knew how.
I keep as a goal to stop obsessing about my weight—but only after I have reached 92 and kept it there about a year; then I would be free, I think. But then because the mirror seems to readjust itself, maybe I would begin to look fat at that weight.
Maybe I would need 87—maybe I would need size 0. And after I am size 0—I would measure my thinness by how large the size 0 fits me. Maybe 77 would be a good weight, because then my size 0 would be x-number of inches too big, or maybe 67 would be a good weight, because then my size 0 would be xx-number of inches too big.
How does one kill one’s demons? Only by roasting the seeds of karma in the fires of meditation, according to my spiritual leader Paramahansa Yogananda.
Which brings me near the end of this essay, because the roasting of those seeds is my highest priority. Speculation about the cardinals is not only entertaining, but also useful in helping me adjust my focus. Detailed descriptions of my folly make me see just how foolish my folly is.
I don’t think I have difficulty with most of the cardinals: take faith and hope. I have faith that I am an immortal soul who just has not perfected my own awareness (self-realization) yet. I hope that I will perfect myself in this life-time. (There’s the nod toward my belief in reincarnation, which will also be taken up in another essay.)
Regarding the remaining virtues, prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance, I have little to say, at least at this point; likewise the sins, pride, envy, wrath, and sloth; that’s simply because in this essay I needed to focus on my major demons.
However, just in taking a passing glance at those other virtues and sins, I begin to realize that my life, as all of our lives do, holds many opportunities for in-depth discussions about each of them. And so I will, no doubt, hold forth on them in other essays.
I do believe that our greatest desire is to understand our lives—to understand why we are the way we are and why we do the things we do. Socrates’ claim that the unexamined life is not worth living certainly rings true for me. Examining my life is extremely important for spiritual advancement.
I love being able to create things from poems to pies, but I hate suffering the pain that seems to be necessary for that creation, and this love/hate conflict results in major friction, and friction causes heat—that river of fire flowing through my body, a river I have to navigate to the Source.
Then and Now
This essay tells me that I wrote it in November 1995. Today’s date is August 6, 2019,—so that’s a few months shy of twenty-four years ago! Thus questions arise: how do I view those issues that were obsessing me then? what progress have I made? am I satisfied with that progress?
Regarding the weight issue: from July 2010 to 2011, I lost 20 pounds from 120 to 100, and I have had the great luck to keep my weight at that level—around 100—for nine years now. I wear size 4 because that size is comfortable and roomy.
I can fit into a size 2, but I like the roominess of the larger size. So the body image issue has ceased to be an obsession for me.
How did I become a victim of this obsession? It happened purely through the dictates of my soul; thus I cannot actually explain how and why. I can assume only that through my practice of Kriya Yoga, some of those pesky seeds have been burned and no longer prompt me.
On the more practical side, I began attending the Self-Realization Fellowship annual World Convocation in 1996, and a few years later began to increase my number of Kriyas.
And while I cannot lay claim to daily sessions of samadhi, I can report that I had not suffered a head/chest cold from 2011 to 2018, but then after a harrowing night at the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport, sleeping in a draft, I did catch a slight cold that was much less intense than my previous colds had been.
I still have much work to do to increase and intensify my meditations, but because I have these positive observations that my guru’s techniques work, I have no reason to chafe any longer.
After I found my spiritual leader and his clear path, all I had to do was follow his unparalleled teachings. I no longer allow the seven deadlies to gain power over me, and I do not worry that I may not have perfected the seven virtues.
I remain confident that my path will lead me to my goal of the Divine Awareness, and then I will know All Perfection already existing in my soul. Thus, the power of faith has quelled in me that river of fire!
That is the power of faith.