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The Purpose of Opposition





When I look back on my many years of traversing the spiritual path my overall impression is one of forward motion or progress. It’s sort of like those conveyor belt walkways between terminals at the airport. They don’t move fast, but they always move forward. And once you get on, you can either move to the right and rest along the handrail or you can stay to the left and walk (or run) and thereby get to your terminal twice as quickly.


This being said, there have also been many instances of opposition—that is, situations wherein I felt a definite energy of inertia on the path and either had to move to the right and rest in it or take to the left and press through it. To rest in it usually meant stopping and examining myself in order to find the source of the opposition, while to press through usually meant ignoring the opposition and using my human strength to maneuver around it. And because there have been many of these situations in my life I have had many times when I chose to press through and many times when I opted to stop and examine myself. Either way, when push came to shove I eventually continued down the path in a forward direction, and that is why my overall impression is one of progress.


In talking with others about these dynamics, I realize that I am not alone. In fact, it has become evident to me that many sincere pilgrims on the spiritual path can testify to having a similar dynamic at work in their experience. In other words, many, while having an overall sense of progress have also had plenty of instances of opposition to wade through. Thus it might be said to be a universal dynamic affecting all spiritual aspirants, at least to some degree. Our experiences and circumstances may vary, but the actual outworking of progress and inertia are the same for all of us.


This may come as a surprise to some of you who are new to the spiritual life—not so much the progress part but the opposition part. In its early stages progress on the spiritual path often seems indomitable. We tend to grow and expand into greater light on a daily basis. Thus we may have the sensation of speeding along unimpeded on the left side of the conveyor belt and feel the assurance that, moving along at that pace, we will reach our goal in no time. If we detect even a hint of opposition blocking our path we simply sidestep it and keep going. But the longer we are on the path, the more that opposition tends to factor into our experience. Why is this? To put it succinctly, it is because the deeper we go, the more is required of us. The more we grow spiritually, the more the universe calls us to responsible interactions with the world. And the more need there is for this kind of responsibility in our lives, the more opposition we will encounter in order that we may be made increasingly fit and useful.


Another way to look at this is that in the beginning of our spiritual journey the path tends to be not only progressive, but also wide. This means that if we do encounter opposition, there is plenty of room to move around it and continue on our way. But when a more responsible approach is being called for, the path tends to narrow, thereby making it much more difficult to simply sidestep the inertia and keep going. In other words, we sometimes have no choice but to stop, examine our steps, and try to discern the nature and reason for the opposition. As a general rule the holier the task ahead of us is, the more purification is required of us. Thus we must stop for a while and amend ourselves before being able to move forward again. None of this involves a personal relationship with God; rather it is the nature of the universe. The further down the path we go, the more the universe will require of us. This will cause our path to narrow at times, while simultaneously sending opposition our way. Such is the universe’s way of making us fit for the job. So as it turns out, opposition is an integral aspect of the spiritual journey, but it is whether our path is wide or narrow that determines how we respond to it.

When we speak of experiencing opposition then, it is not a matter of if but rather when. It will come to us all, but if we are new and exuberant we will probably not be very fazed by it (We may not even notice it.). Conversely, if we are being groomed for an especially holy task we will not only be fazed; we will probably be temporarily derailed. In other words, the opposition facing us will most certainly force us to examine ourselves anew and seek a deeper purification of our motives and inner makeup.


There are many different forms of opposition—many different shapes it can assume. But in my own experience there have been two that have been especially prominent. One of these is opposition from other people in the spiritual community, and the other is opposition from my own physical body. Opposition that confronts us via other people is almost always an indication that we are wrongly identifying with our ego. This is because nearly all social difficulties arise from the colliding of egos. So if someone opposes us for whatever reason, it means that not only is his or her ego invested in the exchange, but also that our ego has been called out and activated. And as long as the exchange is conducted in the arena of ego, there can be little hope for resolving the problem, which will then not only persist but often become worse. So this form of opposition can be a true thorn in our side and cause us to cry out for help and release. Of course, the universe has a solution of purification for ego investment. But before we can access

that solution we have to stop and examine our ways. We have to become quiet enough to wade through all the emotional fallout. And then we have to become willing to take the low road. What is the low road? It is the road of ego denial. It is the road that shows a willingness to back down and allow ourselves to be wronged. In other words, the solution does not lie with the amendment of the other; it lies within us. This is because it takes two egos to clash and collide, so it only takes one ego to pull back and diffuse the tensions.


Once we discover these properties of the human ego and emotions, each situation of opposition from others that we find ourselves embroiled in becomes a little easier to navigate through. We recognize that conflict is the nature of the beast (the ego) and are quickly reminded of the solution of going low. Thus we are able to get back on the conveyor belt quicker and with fewer lingering scars.


Interestingly, I have found the other source of opposition—that being the functioning of my physical body—to be a more formidable foe than even ego. This is because the human body is naturally more in tune with the universal will than the rest of our makeup tends to be. In other words, our minds and emotions often refuse to recognize the presence of the opposition on the path ahead of us and instead opt for calling up a quick reserve batch of human strength to immediately press through it, thereby doing so without hardly batting an eye. This often happens in the world of colliding egos, because the ego is a master at deception. Thus we sidestep the rising opposition and, in so doing, perpetuate the problem. But in the world of the physical body, there is little room for deception, and very often sidestepping the problem proves impossible to do.

More often than not when something goes wrong with our body it is an indication that we are out of harmony with the universal will. In other words, it is an indication that the universe is opposing us. This is especially true if the physical dysfunction we are experiencing is extensive enough to sap us of our human strength and render us unable to sidestep the opposition. When this happens, we have no choice other than to halt all forward progress for a time and examine our ways. This has often been my own experience. Unfazed by other obstacles meant to inform me of the presence of opposition up ahead, I have on several occasions been completely derailed by health issues. At first, whenever this would happen to me, I felt put out by my body’s “unspiritual” behavior and I responded by forcing it to get up and get moving again. But over time two developments took place that made this progressively impossible to do. The first of the two was that my human strength gradually weakened, and the other was that it began to dawn on me that my body was trying to tell me something. In other words, it was more spiritually attuned than I was. It recognized the opposition on the path ahead long before I did and was actually trying to alert me to it before I persisted in such an unspiritual course of action that I left the path altogether.


There is a wonderful story pertaining to the universality of these dynamics in the Bible’s Old Testament. In this story a prophet named Balaam is summoned by a neighboring king to come and curse the Israelite nation as they camped in the wilderness in order for the king to prevail against them in a regional war. The king had tried conventional methods of winning the war and was having little success. So he called on Balaam in the hope that the invoking of spiritual power might turn the tide.


Now Balaam was a “true” prophet who had been on the spiritual path for a long

time. He was extremely gifted and naturally attuned to spiritual realities, and there was power in his word. The Bible says that as a general rule those whom he blessed were, in fact, blessed and those whom he cursed were cursed. For this reason he even was able to make his living being a prophet. Like an artist commissioned to paint a portrait, Balaam was commissioned to bless or curse. Therefore when the king offered to pay Balaam handsomely, the prophet did not hesitate to come to him.


So saddling his donkey, off he went, arrogantly assuming that he could perform the work that the king wanted him to do and be abundantly recompensed for his services. Along his path, however, he soon encountered severe opposition. Suddenly his donkey veered from the path and refused to go any further. So Balaam, put out by the donkey’s behavior, beat him and forced him to get back on the path and go where he wanted it to go. But then after they had resumed the journey the same thing happened again. This time the path became so narrow that the donkey, again refusing to proceed, crushed Balaam’s foot against the rocky wall. So again Balaam beat it, until it would continue on. But when it happened yet a third time, Balaam finally got the message that some unseen spiritual inertia was standing in his path and opposing him. And once he stopped and examined his ways, his eyes were opened to the nature of that opposition.


As it turned out, the Angel of the Lord stood menacingly just ahead of Balaam on the path with a drawn sword, meaning that he was going to kill him if he insisted on pushing through the inertia without taking heed to his ways. Meanwhile, the donkey, being more in tune with the universal will, had seen the menacing form of the angel, and it was for this reason that it refused to go forward. In doing this, the donkey had actually saved Balaam’s life. Only after Balaam had thoroughly searched his heart would the angel let him pass. He also put forth a condition to his passage, saying, “You must say only what I tell you to say.” And so the rest of the story goes that Balaam actually ended up blessing the Israelites instead of cursing them, much to the displeasure of the king. For, this was the true universal will in the situation. In doing this, Balaam forfeited his commission, but he aligned himself with the true will of God in perhaps an unprecedented way. Thus he got back on the path and probably never experienced divine opposition again.


In a more universal interpretation of this wonderful story the donkey represents Balaam’s physical body. Instead of allowing him to carry out an unspiritual agenda for the sake of monetary recompense, his body refused to cooperate and completely derailed him from the path. Instinctively, his body recognized divine opposition when no other aspect of his being could see it. And even though Balaam beat (forced) his body to get back on the path and keep going, in the long run it could not proceed in the face of such powerful inertia. Three times it forced him to stop and examine his ways, and in this way it turned him into a prophet who was not only humanly gifted but was responsive only to the universal will from that time forward.


Why did the Angel of the Lord oppose Balaam? It was not only because his motives were less than pure and upright; it also involved the specific nature of the task he was being called to. What Balaam did not realize was that the task of cursing or blessing the Israelite nation at that point in time and in that place (as they prepared to enter the Promised Land) had major spiritual significance for the entire world of men. It was therefore an extremely sacred task—one that required great purification of heart. Before the Angel appeared in his path, Balaam was unqualified for such a task. He was reckless and self-serving. Only after his donkey (his physical body) brought his forward progress to a grinding halt did he understand the need to do the sadhana that would make him fit.


What is the moral of the story? The spiritual life can be wonderfully inspiring and rewarding, but it is also a very serious undertaking. If we approach it too lightly because our natural spiritual inclinations enable us to skate along and prosper we may one day find ourselves actually opposing the universal will. And depending on the sacredness of the task to which we are called, such opposition could prove ruinous.

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