Autobiographical Stories from
an American Spiritual Master
By J. Jaye Gold
Currency of Struggle
How is it that some people get mildness, mellowness, and circumstances of natural beauty, and others have conditions that are so extraordinarily different that life for them is a struggle for food, clothing, and shelter, and sometimes even for safety? If you have never had to miss a meal—if you have the leisure to read and talk about extraordinary things—if you have time to explore and experiment, while millions of people have to make sure they have food, clothing, and shelter, then you are probably troubled by that question.
I’m going to explain something that may help you embark on and maintain a spiritual quest without having to contend with and be challenged by that conflict. Rather than be inhibited by it, you could be inspired by it, be enthused by it, be motivated by the absurd-appearing dichotomy between the people who have so much, as most of us do, and the many millions who have so little. In actuality, though circumstances may be diverse, there is a common denominator for all human beings. What we have all been given is a stage for struggle, and the players are either struggling or they aren’t on that stage.
I am going to explain what I mean by this word struggle. It is the commodity, or more like the currency, of participation in human life, and everyone has an equal chance to participate. We are all players on the same stage if we recognize what we have to struggle with and are fully engaged in that struggle. We have the opportunity to recognize that we have enough, and even excess. The struggle for money, for attention, for recognition, for comfort—even the struggle for control is no longer our struggle.
Our natural inclination to struggle is now meant to be put in another arena—the arena of struggling toward consciousness, toward awareness. Now, our struggle could be with our lack of attention, with our lack of concentration, struggle with our inability to get beneath the surface of things, struggle with our negative opinions of other people, struggle with our blame and self-pity, and all the other obstacles that are between us and the beautiful experience of being a servant—not for our own pleasure but because the world desperately needs people who have those qualities.
We will start to feel differently about ourselves in relation to the poor and downtrodden and to all the other people in this world who have very difficult external circumstances, including threats to their physical safety. You may even find yourself assisting those people in some way, but not from your guilt, not from discomfort with your own good fortune.
In some curious way, those who struggle for the essentials may have a more straightforward task than those of us who are struggling toward consciousness. First of all, we are dealing with an elective choice, because external circumstances don’t demand our struggle. We have the option to stay off the stage of life, even though it might bring us numbness and cost us our humanity. Second, we have two obligations, as opposed to the one obligation of survival held by those in poverty or in harm’s way. We must not only work as hard as they do at our endeavor, but we must lend assistance, in any way we can, to those who are actually trying to make a living—or more precisely, trying to keep themselves and their families living.
If you are actually struggling for consciousness, your life will not be easy. It will be difficult, but in a different way from that of those who lack the essentials. Perhaps we should use a term other than struggle to define our work, because it’s not strain, and it’s not suffering. It’s going against. Going against self-destructive tendencies can take tremendous effort, as can going against the momentum of numbness and blame and all the different forms of negativity and darkness. Similarly, it can take a tremendous effort to go against our laziness, our mechanical ways of acting, our false confidence, and our tendency to blindly accept what we’ve been taught.
There are so many opportunities to struggle that if you really were fully involved in what people have historically called the work, not the play, you would not, at the end of the day, feel so separate from those who have been given other assignments of struggle. Understand, those of you who have been given the gift of leisure have been given it so that you can struggle with your lack of consciousness. If you do, your confusion will be replaced by an overwhelming sense of belonging to the unexclusive experiment called the human race.
Certainly you can refute what you’ve been reading, and your heart will still continue to beat. The power that creates breath and heartbeat doesn’t enforce the requirement to struggle, but you will not be having the experience of a natural human being. You will be a passer of time, and a passer of time is far, far short of what a human being can be. Human beings are those who struggle for food, clothing, and shelter, along with their brothers and sisters who are struggling for consciousness. The only way you can really verify the equitability of those struggles is to engage in them. When you do, you’ll feel a unique connection to history and time, because you will be a player on the stage of life. You will be paying the currency of struggle.
We are aware of the details of the struggle for freedom from oppression and deprivation, but how clearly are we aware of the details of the struggle for freedom from our obstacles to consciousness? Here is a list of 10 freedoms worth seeking. They are all examples of our self-destructive tendencies, and our struggle is with these tendencies that keep us from realizing our full potential as conscious human beings:
- Freedom from identification with negative emotions;
- Freedom from a distorted sense of our own importance;
- Freedom from self-deception and dishonesty;
- Freedom from the misconception of responsibility;
- Freedom from fear of other people’s opinions;
- Freedom from unexamined concepts;
- Freedom from mechanical behavior;
- Freedom from fear of relinquishing control;
- Freedom from insecurity and material loss;
- Freedom from unconscious imitation.
If we can identify, understand, and eventually remove the obstacles to these freedoms, our innate beauty will be revealed beneath them. The stories I am presenting are geared toward understanding those obstacles and the freedoms they conceal.