Why would Americans follow Yogananda? Because Yukteswar told him early on that he would leave India to teach in America.
Several years after first telling him this, Yogananda departed for America in 1920 and lived most of the last 32 years of his life there.
A monumental book
One of the most-read and influential spiritual books of the last 100 years was Yogananda’s Autobiography of a Yogi. To give a sense of the book’s reach, Steve Jobs instructed that every attendee of his funeral be given a copy.
Yogananda devotes a significant portion of the book to his interactions with Yukteswar and the teachings he received. One of those was a short pearl of wisdom pertaining to how to deal with our racing, nettlesome, egoic minds.
He told Yogananda this:
“An ignored guest quickly leaves.”
What the heck did Yukteswar mean by this? That if we ignore things, they tend to leave of their own volition.
Looking at the opposite, in terms of our egos, is probably more instructive. Matters we heap attention on tend to strengthen and therefore linger longer.
So Yukteswar told him to simply ignore his ego? Yes.
If I’m you, I’m probably thinking:
“Just ignore my ego? That’s impossible. The whole problem is precisely that I get sucked in by my crazy, thought-factory, egoic mind and therefore can’t ignore it!”
Fair enough. But here’s the thing. We can ignore the noise in our heads.
How? There’s one major prerequisite: We have to realize that that noise is not us. It’s not who we are. If it was who we were, then ignoring it would just be avoidance, which would only exacerbate our predicament.
We are the consciousness
So, who are we? As I’ve written countless times before, we are the consciousness that is aware of all that noise. All the crazy thoughts that run in a near-constant stream.
That realization is the central teaching of recent great spiritual teachers Eckhart Tolle, Ram Dass and Mickey Singer; and they learned the teaching from the likes of Buddha, Ramana Maharshi, Yogananda, Ramakrishna and countless other high beings that have graced the earth in the past several millennia.
So, once you realize that you are not your thoughts, you begin the process of training that you, your consciousness, to observe the thoughts rather than dive in and get lost in them.
Don’t try to stop your thoughts
Eventually, we get to the point where the thoughts come and we simply ignore them. We don’t try to prevent thoughts from occurring. That is a fool’s errand. We can’t beat the mind into submission.
But, as Yukteswar so eloquently taught, the more we ignore our thoughts, the more they act like the ignored guest — they leave. Ignored thoughts pass by, like clouds making their way across the sky.
Engagement is like fuel to a fire
Why is this so? Why do ignored thoughts ‘quickly leave?’ Because attention and engagement are to our thoughts as fuel is to a fire. They provide energy and strength to the ego.
So what we do is, when someone pokes a soft spot inside us or we find ourselves chewing on something in our mind over and over, we first notice that this is happening. Then we have a conversation with ourselves that goes something like this:
“Okay. I feel you, hurt emotions. We got poked. That’s fine. You go about your business, but I’m not going to jump in and get involved. I’m going to stay rooted in the present and wait for you to pass by.”
One critical thing to note: We aren’t denying the thoughts or feelings. That’s just suppressing and it makes matters worse. We’re acknowledging their existence and then ignoring them.
Give this a try. When something comes up or you’re caught in a thought storm, first, simply notice that it’s there. Once you do that, you’ve created a situation comprised of TWO entities: The real, conscious you, and the non-you, egoic thought stream. The lion’s share of the spiritual path is about gradually widening the distance between these two entities.
So treat your ego like an ignored guest. With enough work, it will eventually leave.