Years ago, I was part of a small group driving from Ananda Village to San Francisco. It was a long journey so we stopped at a restaurant along the road for lunch. My friend, a young teenage girl who sat next to me, was the first to receive her order. It was a beautiful and delicious plate of spaghetti.
When the other orders arrived and we were ready to bless the food and start eating, I heard a shriek of alarm next to me, “Oh my God, I can’t believe I finished my plate in two seconds. You all haven’t even started yet!”
I looked at my friend. She was blushing intensely and trying to cover her face with her hands. Her whole demeanor expressed intense embarrassment. In short, she was exhibiting all the terrible symptoms of shame.
Everyone tried to comfort her. I myself would have been the last person to judge someone for compulsive eating. I could very easily understand the discomfort she was experiencing. What a hellish emotion shame can be!
In my early twenties, my own immature ego often suffered from stage fright, chronic insecurity, trembling hands, and sweating episodes. For my fragile ego’s presumed social failings and deficiencies at that time, shame was a regular companion.
However, on a level deeper than the social, my spiritual search remained strong. I longed for something real in life but did not speak about this feeling with anyone. If friends or acquaintances reacted negatively to something I said that fell outside their box of normalcy, their opinions did not affect me.
Finally, help came. A few weeks after I saw a picture of my Guru for the first time, a friend of mine guided me in a visualization. We were on his houseboat in the center of Amsterdam. It was there that, several days before, I had seen the photograph of Yogananda that was now transforming my consciousness.
“Lie down,” he said, “Focus on the presence of Paramhansa Yogananda and listen for his voice.” After a few more instructions, he lay down himself and listened to my own voice, acting out a dialogue between my Guru and myself.
Master’s eyes spoke of his deep, unconditional love for me. Every time a thought arose of something that I felt bad about, I told Master and he counteracted that thought with an expression of his love. The conversation went on for quite a while. At the end of the dialogue, my friend and I could sense the light and energy that had filled the room.
After that experience, I felt better about myself.
Over time, with each perusal of Autobiography of a Yogi, impressions of Master grew inside of me like a lotus blossom. I came to appreciate ever more deeply the complete honesty with which Yogananda described his own moments of discomfort during his first public lecture on a ship sailing from India to the United States.
No eloquence rose to my lips. Speechlessly I stood before the assemblage.
After an endurance contest lasting ten minutes, the audience realized my predicament and began to laugh.
The situation was not funny for me at the moment. Indignantly I sent a silent prayer to Master.
“You can! Speak!” His voice resounded instantly within my consciousness.
It seemed to me that what saved Yogananda during those difficult ten minutes was his faith in his Guru and his innate sense of dignity. I gradually came to realize that the love that was given to my very young self during that special occasion with my friend was really part of a much bigger picture in which self-acceptance and dignity played a very important role.
One’s sense of self-acceptance needs to be maintained even under the most trying of circumstances. It may be difficult for a small, immature ego to command this posture of security. However, to enable the heart’s innate power to come forth, a road needs to be cleared by one’s determination to fully stand in one’s circumstances and accept the self.
This may not be an easy strategy, but as Yogananda would have said, it is certainly a victorious one. Do not be ashamed of your shame.
For perhaps the root cause of this debilitating emotion lies within a deep layer of the human nature. Didn’t this all start with those poor, confused first ancestors of ours?
We all know the story: The snake convinces Eve to eat from the forbidden tree and she, in turn, tempts her partner to do the same. Then as the story goes, God expelled them from Paradise.
But we can also look at it differently and ask: Who expelled whom?
The Bible says:
And they heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day; and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God amongst the trees of the garden (…) and Adam said to the Lord: “I heard thy voice in the garden and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.”
Until then the couple’s paradise had been their closeness to God, who had created them in his own image and, at the same time, had given them the choice to stay connected with his bliss, or to fall to lesser states of consciousness.
In spite of their transgression, if Adam and Eve had chosen to run back – naked, unprotected, and unashamed to God – to tell him what they had done, would he have rejected them? How could he? Didn’t their nakedness make them once more a part of his own blissful Self?
Alas, they expelled Him from their consciousness because from the position of their egos, they were ashamed.
Let us resist shame then by practicing calm self-acceptance. Let us offer ourselves unreservedly, unapologetically into God’s caring embrace and Love. God himself tells us, through Krishna’s mouth:
But if in this (your spiritual efforts) thy faint heart fails, bring me thy failure!