The Power of Faith to Quell a River of Fire
Love of God
"The love of God, the love of the Spirit, is an all-consuming love. Once you have experienced it, it shall lead you on and on in the eternal realms. That love will never be taken away from your heart. It shall burn there, and in its fire you shall find the great magnetism of Spirit that draws others unto you, and attracts whatsoever you truly need or desire. That love is the source whence all things come."
—Paramahansa Yogananda, The Divine Romance
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 heterosexual 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 31x31 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 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
(I included this poem in my collection, Turtle Woman & Other Poems, published in 2013.)
It seems to me that having a fat body is condemned as the cardinal sins, gluttony and avarice. So I am intensely 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 October 24, 2018—so that's a month shy of twenty-three 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 for eight years now. I wear size from 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 overcome 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 did not suffer a 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.
That is the power of faith.
After I found my spiritual leader and his clear path, all I had to do was follow it. 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. My path will lead me to the Divine Awareness, and then I will know the All Perfection already existing in the soul.
At the Windmill Chapel, SRF Lake Shrine
Life Sketch of Linda Sue Grimes
The following original poem captures the tranquility of my favorite meditation place in Los Angeles, California, the Windmill Chapel at Self-Realization Fellowship's Lake Shrine.
The Windmill Chapel
In the temple of silence
By the lake, we sit
In stillness, meditating
In divine Bliss.
Returning to our daily minds,
We walk out into the sunshine,
And the flowers greet us.
The Literary Life
Born Linda Sue Richardson on January 7, 1946, to Bert and Helen Richardson in Richmond, Indiana, Linda Sue grew up about eight miles south of Richmond in a rustic setting near the Ohio border.
After graduating from Centerville Senior High School in Centerville, Indiana, in 1964, Linda Sue Grimes completed her baccalaureate degree with a major in German at Miami University, Oxford, Ohio, in 1967. She married Ronald Grimes on March 10, 1973.
As a writer, Grimes focuses on poetry, short fiction, politics, spirituality, and vegan/vegetarian cooking, which results in her original veggie recipes.
Although music was her first love, Grimes considers herself primarily a literary specialist as she creates her own poetry, studies the poetry and literary arts of classic writers, and writes commentaries about classic poems.
However, Grimes does continue to express her love of music by writing her own original songs, which she records, accompanying herself on guitar or keyboard. She shares her musical compositions at SOUNDCLOUD.
After completing the PhD degree in British, American, and World Literature with a cognate in Rhetoric/Composition at Ball State University in 1987, Grimes taught English composition in the English Department at BSU as a contractual assistant professor from 1987 until 1999.
Grimes has published poems in many literary journals, including Sonoma Mandala, Rattle, and The Bellingham Review. She has published three books of poems: Singing in the Silence, Command Performance, and Turtle Woman & Other Poems, and a book of fables titled Jiggery-Jee's Eden Valley Stories.
Grimes published her first cookbook in the spring of 2013, titled The Rustic Veggie-Table: 100 Vegan Recipes. She is working on a second cookbook and her fourth book of poems.
Currently, at Owlcation, Grimes (Maya Shedd Temple) posts her poetry commentaries. On LetterPile, she shares her creative writing of poems and short fiction, along with prose commentaries on each piece. She posts recipes resulting from her experimental cooking of vegan/vegetarian dishes. on Delishably. She posts her politically focused pieces at Soapboxie, and her commentaries focusing on music at Spinditty. Pieces on the writing process appear at Hobbylark.
Linda Sue Grimes has been a devotee of Paramahansa Yogananda and a member of his organization, Self-Realization Fellowship, since 1978. A Kriyaban since 1979, she has completed the four Kriya Initiations, and she continues to study the teachings and practice the yoga techniques as taught by the great spiritual leader, who is considered to be the "Father of Yoga in the West."
Grimes practices the chants taught by the guru accompanying herself on the harmonium. She serves at her local SRF Meditation Group as one of the chant leaders.
Online Literary Presence
In addition to the contributions of her literary works to Owlcation, LetterPile, and SOUNDCLOUD, Grimes also curates her original creative literary pieces at her literary home, Maya Shedd Temple, on Medium, where she features her creative writing without commentaries. Grimes also maintains an additional online presence on Facebook and Twitter.
My Spiritual Journey: Why I Am a Self-Realization Yogi
"By ignoble whips of pain, man is driven at last into the Infinite Presence, whose beauty alone should lure him." –a wandering sadhu, quoted in Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda
Introduction: Salvation Is a Personal Responsibility
I am a Self-Realization Yogi because the teachings of Paramahansa Yogananda, who in 1920 founded Self-Realization Fellowship, make sense to me. Paramahansa Yogananda teaches that we are immortal souls, already connected to the Divine Reality, but we have to "realize" that divine connection. Knowing the Great Spirit (God) is not dependent upon merely claiming to believe in a divine personage, or even merely following the precepts of a religion such as the Ten Commandments.
Knowing the Creator is dependent upon "realizing" that the soul is united with that Creator. To achieve that realization we have to develop our physical, mental, and spiritual bodies through exercise, scientific techniques, and meditation. There are many good theorists who can help us understand why proper behavior is important for our lives and society, but Paramahansa Yogananda’s teachings offer definite, scientific techniques that we practice in order to realize our oneness with the Divine Power or God. It makes sense to me that my salvation should be primarily my own responsibility.
No Religious Tradition
I did not grow up with a religious tradition. My mother was a Baptist, who claimed that at one time she felt she was saved, but then she backslid. I learned some hymns from my mother. But she never connected behavior with religion. My father was forced to attend church when he was young, and he complained that his church clothes were uncomfortable as was sitting on the hard pews.
My father disbelieved in the miracles of Jesus, and he poked fun at people who claimed to have seen Jesus "in the bean rows." My mother would not have doubted that a person might see Jesus, because she saw her father after he had died. My mother characterized my father as agnostic, and she lived like an agnostic, but deep down I think she was a believer after the Baptist faith.
Here’s a little story that demonstrates how ignorant about religion I was as a child: When I was in first or second grade, I had a friend named Caroline. At recess one day at the swings, Caroline wanted to confide something to me, and she wanted me to keep it secret. She said I probably wouldn't believe it, but she still wanted to tell me. I encouraged her to tell me; it seemed exciting to be getting some kind of secret information. So she whispered in my ear, "I am a Quaker."
I had no idea what that was. I thought she was saying she was magic like a fairy or an elf or something. So I said, "Well, do something to prove it." It was Caroline's turn to be confused then. She just looked very solemn. So I asked her to do something else to prove it. I can't remember the rest of this, but the point is that I was so ignorant about religion.
The Void in My Life and My First Trauma
Looking back on my life as a child, teenager, young adult, and adult up to the age of 32, I realize that the lack of a religious tradition left a great void in my life. Although my father was on the fence regarding religion, he would listen to Billy Graham preach on TV. I hated it whenever Billy Graham was preaching on TV. His message scared me. Something like the way I felt when my father's mother would come and visit us, and when my father would let out a "Goddam" or other such swear word, she would say he was going to hell for talking that way. I was afraid for my father. And Billy Graham made me afraid for myself and all of us because we did not attend church.
I never believed that things like swearing and masturbation could send a soul to hell. But then back then I had no concept of "soul" or "hell." I believed it was wrong to kill, steal, and to lie. But I'm not sure how these proscripts were taught to me. I guess by example. It seems that I had no real need for God and spirituality until I was around thirty years old.
My life went fairly smoothly except for two major traumas before age thirty. The first trauma was experiencing a broken heart at age eighteen and then undergoing a failed marriage, after which I thought I would never find a mate to love me. But I did meet a wonderful soulmate when I was 27.
Heretofore I had thought finding the proper marriage partner would solve all my problems, but I learned that my difficulties were very personal and at the level where we are all totally alone, despite any outward relationships.
The Second Trauma
A second trauma that added to my confusion was being fired twice from the same job at ages 22 and 27. At age 27 things started to make no sense. And it started to bother me intensely that things made no sense. I had always been a good student in grade school and high school, and I was fairly good in college, graduating from Miami University with a 3.0 average. That grade point average bothered me, because I thought I was better than that.
But then not being able to keep my teaching job and not being able to find another one after I had lost it very much confused me. It seemed that I had lost touch with the world. School had been my world, and my teachers and professors had expected great things from me. But there I was at age 27 and couldn't get connected to school again.
Feminism and Zen
I began reading feminist literature starting with Betty Friedan’s Feminine Mystique, continuing with Ms. Magazine, and many others. The result of taking in the feminist creed led me to believe that I had someone to blame for my failure—men; men had caused the world to be arranged so that women cannot succeed outside the home. I began writing again, an endeavor I have sporadically engaged in most of my life from about age sixteen. I decided to apply for a graduate assistantship in English at Ball State University, feeling that I was ready to get out in the man’s world and show it what a woman could do. I felt confident that I could succeed now that I knew what the problem was. But that didn’t work out either. I finished the year without a master’s degree in English, and then there I was, confused again, and still searching for something that made sense.
I had heard about the Eastern philosophy known as "Zen" at Ball State, and I started reading a lot about that philosophy. Zen helped me realize that men were not the problem, attitude was. I kept on writing, accumulating many poems, some of which I still admire. And I kept reading Zen, especially Alan Watts, but after a while the same ideas just kept reappearing with no real resolution, that is, even though the Zen philosophy did help me understand the world better, it was not really enough. I got the sense that only I could control my life, but just how to control it was still pretty much a mystery.
Autobiography of a Yogi
Then in late 1977 on one of our book shopping trips, I spied a book, Paramahansa Yogananda’s Autobiography of a Yogi, and I recommended it to my husband, because he liked biographies. I purchased poetry books, and we purchased the autobiography for him. He did not get around to reading it right away, but I did, and I was totally amazed at what I read. It all made sense to me; it was such a scholarly book, clear and compelling. There was not one claim made in the entire 500 plus pages that made me scratch me hand and say "what?" or even feel an uncertainty that this writer knew exactly whereof he spoke.
Paramahansa Yogananda was speaking directly to me, at my level, where I was in my life, and he was connecting with my mind in a way that no writer had ever done. For example, the book offers copious notes, references, and scientific evidence that academics will recognize as thorough research. This period of time was before I had written a PhD dissertation, but all of my years of schooling had taught me that making claims and backing them up with explanation, analysis, evidence, and authoritative sources were necessary for competent, persuasive, and legitimate exposition.
Paramahansa Yogananda's autobiography contained all that could appeal to an academic and much more because of the topic he was addressing. As the great spiritual leader recounted his own journey to self-realization, he was able to elucidate the meanings of ancient texts whose ideas have remained misunderstood for many decades and even centuries.
The book contained a postcard that invited the reader to send for lessons that teach the techniques for becoming self-realized. I sent for them, studied them, and I have been practicing them since 1978. They do, indeed, hold the answer to every human problem.
I know it is difficult for most educated people to believe that all human problems can be solved, but that’s because they get stuck in the thought that they cannot. If you believe that you can never really know something, then you can’t, because if you believe that you can never really know something, you won’t try to know it.
Yogananda gives a map with directions to reaching God, and realizing that one’s soul is united with God brings about the end of all sorrow and the beginning of all joy. Just knowing the precepts intellectually does not cause this realization, but it goes a long way toward eliminating much suffering. The faith that we can overcome all suffering is a great comfort, even if we are not there yet. I realize that God is knowable, but most important is that I know I am the only one who can connect my soul to God—and that is the spiritual journey I am on.
© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes