There are so many paths open to us if we could only see them. Truth is always there — it's just hidden behind some walls we've built or obstacles we've put in front of it. We can pick and choose with relative ease among several paths we see right now; at other times we might seek those paths desperately. We are really the only ones who can make the choice, but there are a few guideposts on the way. Most of them are there through hard-won experience and are therefore very valuable. We may even find we've already made a choice.
As we emerge from the child state and become adults we perceive in varying degrees and lengths of time that there is much more to life than playing and enjoying. We note that the pleasures of life seem not nearly equal to the difficult times and we may regretfully conclude that life is not really meant to be happy: we must sometimes suffer to learn. Circumstances and obligations accrued in this and other lives (karma) and our handling of them dictate our present and future. We gravitate toward people we have encountered over our lifetimes and who have similar inclinations and beliefs. What a miracle it seems to us when we first experience the joy in discovery of parallel understanding, those rushes of enlightenment upon discussing with another deep and lovely truths.
Supplanting these things for many of us is the necessity of making a living, taking care of family obligations, and submerging our questing self in everyday life. Fear not; the time will come when the door opens once more (although it has always been ajar). As the Master K. H. wrote:
Does it seem to you a small thing that the past year has been spent only in your "family duties"? Nay, but what better cause for reward, what better discipline, than the daily and hourly performance of duty? Believe me my "pupil," the man or woman who is placed by Karma in the midst of small plain duties and sacrifices and loving-kindnesses, will through these faithfully fulfilled rise to the larger measure of Duty, Sacrifice and Charity to all Humanity — what better path towards the enlightenment you are striving after than the daily conquest of Self. — The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett, p. 372
Throughout our lifetimes on this planet we gradually acquire a discriminatory ability and ever-growing wisdom simply through living. We read, listen, observe, and determine that certain things are true and real and others are not. We have powers that we do not use and one of the greatest is our ability to love. It is readily available and is appropriate for any person or occasion. Love is a power, and if it is a good and true love that cares about all things, no matter their apparent position or condition, it has no limit and can be drawn on forever and always.
Beware of thinking that this is an easy path. We will come upon maya (illusion) in such alluring dress and innocent realism we cannot believe that what we see is not real. The very decision to go about the search for truth, made consciously or unconsciously, may evoke its opposite and we may find ourselves in unexpected and curious circumstances. Self-doubt preys upon us, despair hovers near, people and events inexplicably appear in our lives, countless detail hampers us, endless serious decisions assail us.
We need to learn to think and work along inner lines, for a part of our task is to convert our outer worldly life so that it merges more harmoniously with our inner life, which is the reality. From our spiritual mentors there is infinite understanding of our conflicting desires and ambitions — whether to seek success in the world or to seek truth with its sometimes lonely byways is for most of us a common quandary.
At odd times we may be lucky enough to glimpse what compassion is about. One evening my cat carried a mouse into the bedroom, proudly depositing it before me. The mouse was unhurt but dazed and I tried to catch him to put him outside. As I watched he stood up and reached out a tiny, fingered hand for support against the base of the wall. That act touched my heart, and I felt such compassion and love it was almost painful. At that moment I was at one with that small mouse. So must we be beloved, sometimes, by the gods.
There are specific steps one can take when the decision is made to begin the journey on the path. Intuition, which sometimes is simply recognition of things learnt in prior lives, is there to help us. Learning to care for others more than ourselves will keep us from stumbling. Of all the steps, learning to love is the closest at hand and the easiest to take.
Love that is selfless and therefore godlike is the strongest link we have with those who have progressed beyond us and yet remain to watch over us, bound by pity and compassion. Love is the quality that makes us kin to gods and to every living thing in the cosmos. If we look about us for what needs love, let us not pass by the frightening aspects, the evil and distorted human facades we may encounter. Take them as they are, for what is it that needs love more than these?
If we wander off the path at times, if we tire of the obstacles, give up the quest, no matter; once we have begun our conscious search on inner paths the desire and need to continue will return and will never leave us completely. Remember that we have come such a long way and so many others walk with us that we need never feel alone. Should we need help it is always there, just as the path is, and it is very difficult to lose the way: "There are the powers of all nature before you; take what you can" (ibid., p. 65).
(From Sunrise magazine, June/July 1986; copyright © 1986 Theosophical University Press)