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The secret of spiritual practice is not what you do but how you do—that is more important. Sometimes a newcomer who gets into spiritual practice will make a big list of resolutions, “I will practice half an hour every day in the morning, pranayama, three malas every morning, three malas every evening. I will write likhit japa. I will do this. I will do that. I will sleep only four hours a day.” I have seen a lot of resolutions like that. And probably they last only for a couple of days and then one by one, one by one they drop away. So, instead of taking on too many things, take one thing and stay with that at any cost.

The real secret to success in spiritual practice is that through steadfastness you will have mastered your mind. You made a vow and you are sticking to that. Tests will come.  Where is the proof that you are sticking to your word, that you have mastered your mind? God will send tests. It’s not easy. You have to face the test and pass it. If you stick to that and pass it, you proved that you are the master, not your mind.

How often do we make resolves and then we slip. One day you say, “Well, I’ll fast on Monday on just water alone.” But, by 11:30 a.m. your long lost sister will be coming to see you with a nice apple pie. Really, it’s God who sends your sister with an apple pie to test your resolve. But of course your ego will convince you to put your resolve aside with thoughts like, “Well, Mondays will come again and again. My sister won’t come this often. After so many years she’s coming. How lovingly she prepared this and brought it. If I say no to this will I not be breaking her heart? What is more important?  Stick to my word or hurting somebody?”

Philosophy will easily slip in. All kinds of excuses: “Oh, she will think that I am crazy, saying, ‘You and your practices!’ I think God will forgive me.” And you receive the apple pie and gobble it up. Another Monday something else will come. Tests are sure to come. And you will find good excuses to break your resolves. And they will be very logical excuses. So, the moral of the story is to make a vow, stick to that, at any cost.  Then you have proven that you are the boss and not your mind.

It is the mind that tricks us. It always looks for every opportunity to trick us. So, a spiritual pursuit means constantly there will be a challenge between you and your mind or ego. “Who is the boss?” is the question here. You will want to say, “I am the boss,” the mind will say, “No, I have been always your boss. You have been listening to me, obeying me always. The other day I asked you to go to the movie and not to the church and you followed me? Didn’t I tell you to pick up something because it doesn’t seem to belong to anybody and nobody was there in charge, so just take it and you did.” Constantly, constantly the mind takes the upper hand and assails us through the senses and we succumb to that. If we do that then we can never achieve anything on the spiritual path.

You may be very regular in your asana, very regular in your pranayama. Even if there is something boiling, cooking in on the stove, when the bell rings you drop everything and feel, It’s meditation I have to go.  Fine, you are very strict, very punctual in your meditation but are you sticking to your commitments? That’s very important. And above all the commitments, what is the biggest commitment? Service. When a house is on fire you cannot say, “Noon is my meditation time. I made a vow, I have to go there.”  There’s no greater practice than service. Nothing should stop you from that. The mind will say something, the stomach will say, “Oh, don’t you think you are hungry, you haven’t been eating well since the past two days? How can you go and do this? You are tired and need some rest.” Excuses will come. That’s the way mind tricks.

Sometimes even unforeseen aches and pains will come the minute you think of doing something you don’t like. All of a sudden you get a cramp—from nowhere all of a sudden it comes. Then it becomes a regular habit because the mind plays through the body. It can create a headache. It can create tired feeling. It can create a nauseating feeling. And you will say, “Don’t you see, it’s genuine, I am perspiring, I can’t do my Yoga today.

Remember: As you think, so you become. If you want to be positive, think positive. If you want to be negative, think negative. What is important to you? Do you want to succeed in your spiritual pursuits? If you realize that it is important to you to do so, then the importance of thinking positive thoughts that will help to encourage your spiritual practice will come automatically. So, positive, positive thought is very important.

By Sri Swami Satchidananda