In Jnana Yoga, a path of yoga that uses the intellect to discern truth on the spiritual path, there is a phrase called Neti, Neti. In Sanskrit it means, not this, not that. It is a spiritual path noted by the absence of positive proof of anything. And it is this path that I have long considered myself to be on. As such, I have written a metaphorical story of my spiritual journey and the Neti, Neti approach. I hope you enjoy and also, that you find pieces of yourself within this story as well!
A familiar, inner tornado swirls inside my head and heart. I forge ahead with my burning questions and seemingly insatiable thirst for wisdom and Truth. My throat is dry, my muscles ache, my barefoot feet are cracked and bleeding. The sun is blazing overhead as I continue, step after lonely step on this desert path.
I stop to look behind me and my eyes take in the scene of my lone footprints stretching back in time to the moment of my birth, and beyond. And then I see Her, my Soul, all around and through this path; my radiant, brilliant, untarnished Soul. How I had ever mistaken anything else for Her is unfathomable now. I see Her all around me; I fall to my knees and drink Her in. Renewal, absolution and healing pulse through my veins and I am reborn, yet again. I stand up and look down to see that my feet are healed. My body feels strong again and my thirst is satiated. She calls to me, Her ethereal voice landing not in my ears but in my bones. Yes, I reply without words. I remember.
It was She, my Soul, who created this human path. She, with her unstoppable and unrelenting curiosity. She, with her desire to understand not just the outer covering of a thing or even the name of a thing, but the very deepest thread of Being-ness of that thing.
As I look back I also see many younger versions of myself, but my eyes are drawn particularly to my innocent seven-year-old self. I smile and wave at her as she smiles and waves back exuberantly. This path had been particularly hard on her as her piercing inquiries were met with kind yet condescending pats on the head and words like “just be a good girl now.” She’s handed this off to me, and I’m glad to do it, for her, yes; there is no doubt she receives healing, but more to answer the call of my Soul.
Some may think I am sorrowful, angry or regretful about my Soul creating this solitary life path while many others have paths filled with companionship, connectedness, and belonging. While I admit it is true that sometimes I dream of having been born into and dying within the same tribe of people, listening to the same stories day in and day out, and being a part of a long lineage, I have nothing against Her. She and I are one; She made me for this task and I accept it willingly. So I pick up stone after stone of information and turn it over and over in the palm of my hand. I smell, touch, taste, hear and see everything. Neti, Neti, my mind says, not this, not that, as I continue to look for that which we do not know. How do I seek for something if I do not know what it is? By knowing what it is not. Not this, not that.
Here and there I think I find “it”, this that my Soul sent me to find (surely it would be recognizable?). But my humanness is punishingly innocent, naïve and trusting, and sees things sometimes that are not really there. And I lose sight of my Soul and our quest.
Like three years ago. The moonless night was murky and heavy with dread, and I, a thoroughly parched, desperate and weary traveler. My Soul, so often keenly felt and seen, could not pierce through this veil. But then I saw something up ahead and its bright, vibrant energy drew me in closer. As I neared, it began to take form. A castle! A sparking, brilliant castle in the midst of this desert appeared like magic before my eyes. It was made of rubies, emeralds and diamonds, rimmed with gold and it stretched all the way to the heavens. I reached my hand out, certain that it would be just a mirage. But it was solid, firm and real under my touch.
I crawled onto the doorstep and thumped on the door. In no time, the door opened majestically and I was immediately presented with the sights and sounds of a royal gala! Men and women dressed in the finest clothing of the 16h Century English court! People were everywhere dancing, drinking, laughing and socializing. I stared in fascination and awe for some minutes. I must’ve been such a sight in my worn and tattered clothing! But they invited me in. Come, play with us, they said in lilting, sing-song voices as they offered me a drink from a delicate, crystal goblet. I was so thirsty! But being curious by nature, I first stared into the cup (blood-red liquid), smelled its contents (sweet and intoxicating), listened to it (tiny bells) and finally took a small sip. And it tasted like Life itself! It tasted like Truth, like Wisdom, and everything that I’d been searching for! I asked for more and greedily drank cup after glorious cup.
One week later, they announced they would like to initiate me into their community! Yes, I said gratefully! They gave me a gown of red and yellow silk to wear for the occasion that was adorned with gems and completed with hand-embroidery stitched around the neckline. They placed a little crown of ruby red jewels on my head. And they held a glorious party in my honor where food and drink overflowed late into that celebratory night.
As the days wore on, I took to exploring every nook and cranny of the castle, lured along by its mystical aura. I poked, I prodded, and I opened and dug up everything I could find. Wisdom! Truth! Understanding! I thought it possible that I had found what I’ve been looking for as I sensed pieces of my self beginning to reconfigure inside me; puzzle pieces finding each other, snapping into place. Aha! Yes, this is it! I told myself as I tumbled over the edge of bliss and into the blanket of safety they held for me.
Time passed, and I soon forgot about my lonely desert path. I forgot about my search. I forgot about Her. Instead, I was drunk on their knowledge, their wisdom, their truth. I was mesmerized and hypnotized by their ways and their language, now my ways and my language. And I belonged! Never before had I felt such a sense of belonging! This must be It, I told myself, ignoring a small discomfort coming from somewhere deep inside.
But there came a day when I sipped from my goblet and the drink didn’t taste as sweet as I remembered. The wisdom and Truth I had first tasted in it seemed…incomplete. Curiously, I took another sip but again, something was wrong. I gently and quietly began to inquire, but each person simply patted my hand with a “now, now”. So I spoke louder, more insistently, but they confidently assured me all was well and perhaps I needed some sleep? How about another drink?
For a time I kept my concern to myself, tucking it away neatly, but each day, the drink tasted less and less like that sweetly delicious liquid from the first night. And then one day, I took a sip and it was unmistakable: this drink was bitter, rancid, and sour. I spat it out. I looked around only to see everyone else happily, obliviously, continuing to sip their drinks and laughing. I yelled out and stomped my feet – don’t you taste?, don’t you see?, but they simply turned their heads away from me and continued on. With my drink in hand, I went to the Queen herself. Upon seeing me she brought herself to full height and proceeded to repeat the House Creed like a mantra, over and over, drowning out my interruptions. I ran up to her, crazed now, and reached out to grab her hands, to make her understand, but when my hands closed there was nothing between them but air.
I looked up at her to find that she was no longer there! What’s happening? I panicked. I looked around and saw the walls, and the other people. I saw the jewels, the rugs, the gold, the trays of goblets. They were still there, but appeared to be moving, no, they appeared to be, was it possible, vanishing? Yes, truly, vanishing, disintegrating, right before my eyes. I looked down to my hand and discovered my drink was gone. And when I looked back up, the entire castle and all its inhabitants were gone. And I was alone, on a desert path while the sun blazed overhead.
But I’m standing here now, strong and renewed, with my Soul reminding me, neti, neti; this is the Way of our Path. Continue on, she encourages, and we will know the Truth! I look deep into her eyes, and I promise her, yes. I turn back to face forward on my path, and continue my journey.