Most spiritual seekers know about the value of clearing out. No matter whether this is about the cellar, the winter wardrobe, one’s handbag, drawers or those papers constantly piling up – it is a great relief if one has managed once again to get rid of old things, which have become useless. This is the process of clearing out at the material level.
Clearing out becomes slightly more difficult once we recognize that certain people no longer fit in with one’s own development, even if they meant a lot in the past. Here too one tends to feel a much better once the farewell has been accomplished and space has been created for new developments. This also refers to new areas of interest when one realizes the necessity to restructure one’s life in order to create time for these new interests. This is clearing out at the social level.
Clearing out becomes the most difficult when it is about patterns in the domains of ideas, emotions or behavior. Firstly, because only few people have sufficient distance with regard to themselves to be able to clearly recognize what should be discarded and what should not. Secondly, it is difficult because such patterns appear to have a life of their own, seemingly resisting the process of being discarded. This is clearing out at the psychological/mental level.
In Advaita Vedanta, clearing out is subsumed under the term uparati. Uparati is one of the nine valuable characteristics, which the seeker needs in order to be able to fully focus on what supports him most during his search. 1 However, uparati does not yet imply the clear focus, but the state that precedes it. In Sanskrit it means “cessation, withdrawal, detachment”. What may follow uparati is called samaadhana, which means something like “determination, certainty” as well as “clear focus”. Both uparati and samaadhana demand the seeker to prioritize.
Nearly every spiritual seeker, irrespective of which path he follows, develops a certain degree of uparati all by himself. Much of what has been important to him earlier moves into the background, because different values correspond with different priorities. But he who knows that he is searching for the true self is at the final stage of any spiritual search. He/she does not want any new methods in order to feel better, to him/her discoveries and exciting experiences are not relevant anymore; the only thing he/she wants is: to finally reach the goal of the search.
This wish is incredibly valuable, because without it the search can take forever. But the wish by itself does not suffice. It has to be followed by respective behaviours. And these consequences are expressed through uparati: clearing out at all levels. He who only wants one single thing wishes to get rid of everything else that doesn’t fit in with this one thing. If I want to discover who or what I truly am, any belief in what I am not is like a tarpaulin that covers up what I want to recognize.
In this respect, the work of clearing out at the psychological/mental level is most important: identifications and beliefs which do not have anything to do with the true self have to be recognized and be gotten rid off. However, this work takes time and energy (and a teacher), which underlines the importance of the process of clearing on the social level. Superfluous things bind energy as well, which brings us back to the material level.
Hence, uparati begins with one’s own drawers and ends with one’s own identifications – even though we’ll also discover other identifications while clearing out drawers. How do I recognize identifications? If I feel a strong aversion to the idea of letting go of something, I am definitely caught in identification. To start this process it suffices completely to let go of everything triggering merely a mild aversion. One does not have to start with the most difficult bit. Not everything has to be parted with, but what can remain at the end will only become apparent at the very end. For that reason it is a good idea to simply get started with the process of clearing out.
Another aspect with regard to uparati is the strong counter-reaction by one’s own environment, when confronted with the fact that the seeker is no longer interested in regular, common activities and topics. This too is something the seeker has to deal with, and it is important for him to know that his withdrawal is normal, natural and feasible in the context of this spiritual search.
Deficit and abundance
Too little uparati is based on an essential feeling of deficit, together with the idea that this deficit could be filled by experiencing this or the other, or by achieving that or the other, instead of acknowledging that the deficit does not exist but in one’s own imagination. Only if one recognizes this deficit idea uncompromisingly as fallacy, uparati becomes possible. In order to develop and realize this uncompromising attitude it does not merely need insight, but also courage and determination.
The required understanding is the result of one’s ability to make distinctions. Courage and determination, on the other hand, grow if one gradually nourishes the yearning for the highest knowledge through actively reading and listening to those who already have achieved this knowledge and through meeting with seekers who are on the same wavelength.
Only if one lets go of one’s fixation on this feeling of deficit and lack and the herewith associated attempts at filling the “gaps”, space and time will emerge focus on what truely remedies the deficit (which is samaadhana). That which temporarily takes of the perceived deficit – reading, listening, exchanging ideas with likeminded people – will ensure that even the last residues of this perceived deficit will dissolve in the awareness of the abundance, which we are.2