The other day, a friend of mine told me that he had requested Baba to relieve him of a position he held since it had added considerably to his mental tension. He said that Swami told him: "You must continue doing the job!" And with His characteristic smile added, 'Tension is good!'
This unexpected statement set me thinking. Baba never makes such a statement unless He meant something significant not only to the person concerned but also to others like me. The continuance of tension is contrary to what we understand by spiritual living. We believe that once we are on the spiritual path there will be no more tension! But Baba told my friend, 'Tension is good!’
Baba sows such seeds of thought which have often led me to exploration and adventure in the realm of thoughts and ideas. I delved a little more deeply into the word tension. In today's common usage tension has come to mean, "stress, strain, anxiety, apprehension, dread, nervousness, fearfulness, etc." Baba surely could not have meant that sort of tension! Was He trying to say that it is only under tension that we will think of Him? It is only under tension that whatever we have learnt is put to test. An examination is usually a period of tension, and very often we do our best under certain tension.
I recalled the occasion when I was under severe tension as I was gheraoed by my Office staff; that was the time when all that I had tried to learn from Swami was put to test. Baba says, "Love thy enemies. Start the day with love." I prayed, “Swami! These people are using all sorts of abusive terms against me. The union leader is doing his job. Let me not hate him, Swami.” I prayed. My tension decreased and a solution was eventually found. Most important of all, I had no ill will against him and all those who shouted, and I maintained good relations with them.
Swami says, “Welcome the test, for thereafter you are awarded the certificate. It is to measure your progress that tests are imposed. So, do not flinch in the face of grief: The Lord bestows a favour when He decides to test you, for He is impressed by your achievement and wants to put upon it the seal of His approval. Rise up to the demands of the test. That is the way to please the Lord."
I continued my exploration. I thought of the veena and the violin which are tuned by stretching the strings, i.e., by tension. Each string has to be stretched correctly so that it will produce a particular note and all the strings will be under proper tension so as to produce harmony—“the simultaneous combination of tones, especially blended into chords pleasing to the ear.” This gave me some new dimensions to the term tension. I recalled that while tuning the strings of a veena to a particular note, we not only tighten the string but the final tuning is done by moving a string so that at a particular position which is very critical, the string resonates on plucking. In the case of the violin, a screw is adjusted to get the same effect. To tune properly, we have therefore to achieve the correct tension; less tension or more tension will not produce the correct note. Too much tension will snap the string.
I tried to apply this concept to our day to day life. Is not much of our problems due to the fact that we tighten our strings too taut? In fact we are under such tension so often that the slightest touch snaps our mental equilibrium and we shouts back in anger at the first victim! Somehow we seem to be unable to learn the art of correct tuning. When you get angry Baba has told us, "lie down on the bed; drink a glass of cold water."
We are under too much tension when we are unable to cope with a situation. Then as our emotions take the upper hand, we forget all the good advice that Baba has been giving us and we burst out. Spirituality means correct tuning of all our faculties. Our mental dispositions must be well balanced—Sama Dheeh. This led me to the statement of Lord Krishna who told Arjuna that "Yoga is skill in action" (Yogah Karmasu Kausalam). Skill implies sharpening of our capabilities when we achieve the best under any given circumstance. This is possible when we are tuned properly. The term yoga itself implies one pointed attention without which such skill will be impossible. It is because we have not learnt the correct tuning of our abilities that we are unable to have mental equanimity.
Spiritual life therefore means tuning ourselves to the correct tension so that our body, mind and spirit, thought, word and deed, are in harmony. If we are unable to produce music it is because we are out of tune. Some of our strings have snapped under too much tension; others too lax to be able to produce the correct note.
Spirituality does not mean that we relax. It is not a state of being lax with little or no tension; such a state is Tamasic and not Satwic! A spiritual life means proper tension! It requires attention, at tension! The Samskrit word for a type of spiritual practice viz, Tapas, translated in English as "austerity", means heat. This certainly does not suggest an inactive state. All such states are the result of the proper type of tension tuning!
Baba is Himself the best exemplar of proper "tension". He is always busy and all His actions and activity display kushalam. Watch the steps He takes as He walks, the way He receives a letter or blesses a picture with His signature; when He speaks to a small group or to a lakh of eager listeners; when He pats on the back of a student or allows a devotee to have the much coveted Padanamaskar. If we want to understand what Baba meant when He told my friend, "Tension is good!” let us watch Him!