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AN CREATING AN ENVIRONMENT FOR SPIRITUAL GROWTH
Andrew Marshall January 2012
The first of a series of eleven articles for 2012 For more information, visit www.joyousness.org.uk
CREATING AN ENVIRONMENT FOR SPIRITUAL GROWTH
More than at any time, the world is concerned today with 'green issues' – the impact of the use of fossil fuels, exploitation of resources and so on. It is only the ostriches amongst us with buried heads and the completely irresponsible who would deny the urgency of caring for the world's ecology. Yet within and about us is another type of environment that cries for our attention our spiritual environment - because whether we evolve as spiritual beings on this planet, and to what extent, depends on the support of our inner and outer personal surroundings. We live in a world of form that is a manifestation of energy and our bodies, being part of it, respond and react to the continual changes in the forms and energy that surround us. Just as much, if not more so, we also live in a world of thought and ideas, an unending kaleidoscope of mental energy. It is impossible not to be influenced by both the physical and the mental conditions in which we find ourselves and lead our lives. The physical environment can revitalise us or make us feel dull or fatigued - gardens and nature tend to uplift whereas city streets can eventually leave us feeling depleted – and there can be a combination of the direct physical effects of the energy that engulfs us and of our internal reactions to what we perceive through the senses.
Our mental environment is more subtle and even subversive – we do not always notice it – and is more powerful than the one we can see, hear, touch and smell. In fact sometimes we can be so engrossed in our thoughts – about a project, for instance – that we are almost oblivious to the world around us. For decades, advertisers and commercial enterprises have employed psychologists who know how to create the mental conditions that encourage us to buy their products. So although we may not think a great deal about the environment of information that influences us, its impact is very significant. Our consciousness and spiritual evolution require nurturing and, to provide the right conditions for inner growth, we need to care for: • our personal physical environment • the energetic or vital aspects of our surroundings and • the emotional, mental and spiritual influences that affect us These three different aspects of our personal world can be improved upon or purified. In other words, we can make differences to them so that they support us in our spiritual development and, at the same time, nurture the environment.
Our personal environment isn't just a question of whether we are surrounded by trees and gardens or by skyscrapers and fumes. We can lead a spiritual life whether we live in the country or the city. What is more significant is how we arrange and look after the home and, to the extent that we have any control over it, the workplace. When we look around our home, we should feel uplifted. Things should be arranged rather than dumped in a corner or on a shelf and clutter should not be allowed to accumulate. Pictures
and plants can be used creatively to enhance our home space and the light should be good and comfortable and so on. The home doesn't need to look like something out of a design magazine but it should all be pleasing to the eye – our eye, that is, rather than someone else's. All this is important because how we react internally to our environment affects our energy and if our energy is low, our consciousness will reflect that. So everything about our home should be pleasing and, if there are some aspects that would like to change but are unable to, then we should simply accept them as they are for the time being and not feel down or frustrated about them. We perceive our surroundings through all the senses and although sight is the most obvious, we shouldn't neglect sounds and smells. Some people like to have a radio or television on almost all the time and unless they are actually listening to the broadcast, these can easily just become background noise. It is good, sometimes, to have silence so that the home is peaceful, providing a quiet atmosphere to allow the energy of our bodies to settle; it is good, too, to play pleasant music occasionally and to listen to it with our full awareness. As for smells, there is a whole industry engaged in providing innumerable scents for the home or office. Most of the commercial home fragrances are designed to mask other odours and many have a chemical base. For our home to be uplifting, it is far better to have the fragrance of fresh flowers, good quality incense, such as pure sandalwood, or an essential oil that is pleasing to the nose. Our bedroom should be a place of rest and although that should be self-evident, there is a growing tendency for people to have televisions in them. Although it is a matter of personal preference, watching television immediately before retiring can disturb the quality of sleep as it enlivens the mind and the nervous system. If we
practise meditation, we may eventually come to discover that sleep has significance beyond mere rest and can, for example, provide the experience of clear light in dreams. Awareness is not just something for the daytime or waking hours. Also there is, or can be, a particularly fine quality to consciousness first thing in the morning and the intrusion of television or radio negates any benefit that can be drawn from that precious time of day. Consciousness needs nurturing but is often forgotten when we are busy with our "toy box"; we have to prioritise quality over quantity when it comes to engaging the mind.
The Vital Aspects
The arrangement of our personal environment, our “outer world”, often reflects our inner one. If we have a cluttered mind, our daily life and our surroundings will probably tend to be cluttered, too. A reluctance to throw out or recycle things that we have no further use for is a sign of mental attachment – an attitude of not being able to let go. It can become a vicious circle because if our surroundings reflect our minds to at least some degree, each is likely to reinforce the other. So if our mind is on the muddled side and we tend to be untidy, giving rise to a cluttered workspace, for instance, then our cluttered surroundings will just prolong our unclear or over-busy mental state. But there is a more subtle aspect to our local environment. When we analyse any object or structure, it is difficult to find anything permanent or solid about it. Everything is made up of whirling particles of energy and even those particles have no permanent substance. Even the space between the walls, furniture and everything else is filled with energy. Our bodies, too, have no permanent basis and are in a constant state of change. We know that our mental state affects energy because when we have a pleasurable
thought, the body reacts in one way whilst a negative thought will cause it to react in another. As thoughts and the emotions that accompany them change the energy in our bodies, the energy field that surrounds us is also affected. Everything affects everything else. From science, we know that everything is energy and that energy is affected by vibration. Vibration is movement of a particular pattern and frequency or wavelength. Certain types of vibration give rise to the formation of shapes, some result in sound, some in heat, some in light and so on. Then there are those waves of energy that we cannot perceive through our human senses such as radio waves. We know they exist but they are too fine for our eyes and ears to detect. For thousands of years, there has been a body of knowledge regarding the positive effects of sound and vibration on individuals and on the environment. Some of these sounds are in the form of music and rhythm. There is today still a hugely popular tradition of "gandharva veda" music, where melodies and songs are played for different times of the day, in harmony with the energy patterns that change with the various periods of the diurnal cycle. When played at the appropriate time, gandharva veda music can enhance the well-being of the listener; moreover, it is said that the sounds also enhance the energy of the immediate environment. Such music is readily available in recorded form. Other types of sound are mantras – spoken or chanted patterns of sound consisting of just a few or sometimes a greater number of syllables. Some mantras are said to have specific attributes, to aid healing for example. One of the most popular and well known is om mani padme hum, sometimes described as the mantra of compassion as it is said to "warm the heart" of the person using it.
So far as our personal environment is concerned, the use of wholesome sounds helps to create a supportive atmosphere. It has been known for a long time that plants and animals respond to different sounds and it is a rare person who cannot sense when a place has a "good feel" to it or a bad one. We cannot say what gives rise to such feelings; sometimes it may be because of a mixture of what we see and past memories but on occasion it must be because we are responding to the energy of the environment itself.
Emotional, mental and spiritual influence
Probably the most important aspect that deserves our attention, because its effect is so profound, is the influence of love in the home. Here is an extract from the book Awakening Hearti that touches the point: Love in the home It is so fundamentally important to the spiritual, mental and emotional wellbeing, as well as the physical health, of the human race that each and every home is filled with love. It doesn’t matter if we live on our own or in a household of many. If love is absent, the home is not a healthy one. Although that is obvious, or should be, it may not be at the forefront of most people’s minds that the greater the love there is in a home, the healthier it will be for everyone within it. This love isn’t something that is reserved for our nearest and dearest; it is love for the whole of one’s home environment … If there is love for the home, there is a deep respect for it and for everyone who steps into it. The home should be a place of sanctity and a refuge from the bustle of the outside world. We should feel blessed as soon as we enter and we should bless the house also – not in the form of words necessarily but simply from a level of feeling, which may be a mixture of gratitude and an intention of goodness. By
doing so we immediately uplift our surroundings and at some level everyone who enters the home receives a positive effect from the general energy of the place. Whether we live in a grand house with beautiful gardens or in an apartment or bedsit is immaterial. The important thing is to create a pleasant, supportive environment or build on the one that is already present. Within the home we should smile and go about our activity easily. If we do everything with haste or a misplaced sense of urgency, we cannot fill what we do with the wonderful heart-energy we all possess. Nearly every home has clutter somewhere and we should take steps to de-clutter on a frequent basis. Where there is clutter, there is stagnation and untidiness which reflects on, and impinges upon, our mental state. For love to fill the immediate world of our home, the place where we live and rest our head at night, it should be entirely free of negative influences; happy and peaceful and filled with joy. For some people that might seem a tall order, particularly if other members of the household are noisy, untidy and don’t share a similar view. It might seem impossible also if we are troubled by neighbours who are difficult. Nevertheless, if our intention is good we will have considerable impact on the energy of the home in spite of difficulties. Our home in many ways creates a basis for our everyday consciousness. If the atmosphere in the home is unsettled, so are we. If it is happy and bright, then we are too. Whatever we do outside, whether it is work, study, caring for someone, running errands or recreation, our consciousness in that activity is deeply affected by the atmosphere we have created in the home. Do we welcome visitors warmly or are we guarded and insular? If we have created a mental moat around us, it will be reflected in how we react to the world and others will not receive the wonderful warmth we are capable of giving out. On the other hand,
if we invite many guests with the ulterior motive that they will think well of us, our acquisitive and proud nature will taint what we do in our daily life. If every home on our planet were filled with warmth, joy and happiness, if every single dwelling radiated love and generosity of spirit, wouldn’t the world be an amazing place? Just one happy home affects the environment, and many can completely transform it. We might think that our home is already filled with joy and there is nothing further to be done. But every one of us can further enrich our surroundings because we are all capable of greater love. There is no end point, no stage at which we can say, “That’s it,” because life isn’t like that; it never stops evolving and neither will your heart or mine. Lastly, we should never underestimate the influence of meditation, not only on ourselves as individuals, but on others in our everyday environment and on our surroundings, too. Meditation settles the mind and the body. When we meditate, we help to construct a better world. If our personal environment is good, it supports the growth of our consciousness and that of others also. Steadily increasing numbers of people are practising meditation and, as this tendency grows, human consciousness as a whole benefits more and more. In spite of all the bad news around, this is a wonderful time. The future is bright and we can help to add to that brightness wherever we are.
Andrew Marshall January 2012
© Andrew Marshall 2012
From Chapter 4, Awakening Heart: The Blissful Path to Self-Realisation, Radiant Sun Books 2011