A useful concept before I start: Years ago my friend Jyothi invented the term “imposed sadhana” to describe a spiritual practice that we do without choice. Nisargadatta gave an example in his final talks: a person who is dying of cancer thinks constantly of dying of cancer, thus practicing one-pointed attention.
Is it possible that God, in response to our desire for liberation, in order to lead us to liberation, arranges our lives in such ways that we react by performing these involuntary sadhanas?
I’ve mentioned many times on this blog that I became a seeker as a result of a visit I made as a tourist to Meenakshi Amman Temple in Madurai in 1985. Gradually over the years that followed, seemingly out of nowhere, a desire for liberation emerged and took control of my life. This process was very slow. Roughly ten years passed before I began to notice the desire consciously, and another three years elapsed before I recognized the desire for what it was. In the beginning it seemed to be for other things.
I first noticed the desire when I started to have dreams in which I flew like Superman. I could see that they were potentially very pleasurable but they frustrated me because I had no control over my flights. As soon as I got airborne, I usually crashed or woke up. Because I could see the potential pleasure, I reacted to this situation by striving to attain voluntary control in these dreams. This was my reaction while dreaming . What I was doing, really, was trying to be more awake while I dreamed. I suppose this is what people mean when they say “lucid dreaming,” but I didn’t say to myself, “I’m doing lucid dreaming.” I just simply did it.
Eventually I was able to fly in my dreams with voluntary, deliberate control. This was the first imposed sadhana that resulted from my visit to Meenakshi Temple. As a result of this unchosen practice, my dream state became more conscious, and the difference between my dream state and waking state became less pronounced. This is still true today.
Incidentally, as the desire for liberation continued to grow, the next thing that happened was that I found myself reading all 20 volumes of Patrick O’Brian’s Master and Commander series about the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars. I thought this was strange because I had never had any interest in novels of this kind, and I had seldom if ever read 20 books by the same author. Eventually I realized that the reason why the books appealed to me was very simply because I liked the idea of sailing ships moving with the air. Then it occurred to me that airplanes also move with the air, so I became a pilot. I flew airplanes for a couple of hundred hours, but this didn’t satisfy me because flight in ordinary airplanes wasn’t free enough, wasn’t birdlike enough, so I learned to fly an aerobatic airplane (loops, rolls, spins, etc.). That didn’t satisfy me either so I flew gliders for a couple of hundred hours.
Then one day I realized that I didn’t want to fly in the air. I wanted to fly in consciousness. I wanted inner freedom. I wanted liberation.
I lost interest in airplanes, started reading spiritual books, and began to do sadhana.