Knives, onions and spiritual growth

“The sharper the knife, the fewer the tears.”


I ran across this phrase recently in an article on how to cut onions without crying. Apparently, using a sharper knife to slice through the onion fibers releases fewer of the tear-causing enzymes than a duller knife which crushes and tears the fibers. Something about the phrase and the images it conjured up stuck with me for days, as though there was a deeper metaphorical meaning to explore.

Many spiritual paths, including Eckankar, teach that a major part of spiritual growth is letting go of negative emotional patterns and belief systems that harm us or others. The yoga sutras differentiate clearly between necessary and unnecessary pain, unnecessary pain being the pain we initiate in our own lives. A shorter phrase I’ve heard sums it up: “Pain is necessary, misery is optional.”

In Eckankar, we talk about the five passions of the mind: greed, lust, attachment, vanity and anger. Webster’s dictionary defines the word “passion” as “a strong barely controllable emotion”. The five passions of the mind could be considered harmful strong emotions. They are interconnected, one often triggering or acting in tandem with another. Many of our belief systems, opinions and the resulting emotions are acquired during our formative years. As children and adolescents, we are like sponges, learning emotions and thought patterns based on our childlike perceptions of the world and the behavior and beliefs of others.

As we grow older, many beliefs and emotions outgrow their usefulness to us as maturing spiritual beings, yet a logical realization of that fact doesn’t just make them go away. Don’t I wish. Another favorite phrase of mine is, “insight is the booby prize.” I spent years gaining insight into my beliefs and emotions, slowly realizing that insight wouldn’t be enough to change.

Facing and surrendering these five passions of the mind requires a desire to change and a commitment to regular spiritual practices. I will use a recent situation with my husband as an illustration — we were having a discussion and I could feel anger coming up — anger based on an old dysfunctional belief system of mine that I was quite familiar with (remember, insight is the booby prize!). Rather than pause and say a silent prayer asking for guidance, I chose to open my mouth and indulge in my anger. As expected, the outcome of the conversation was negative, with hard feelings on both sides. Obviously, this is how not to practice spiritual growth — I chose to be spiritually lazy in that situation.

How does this all relate to the phrase “the sharper the knife, the fewer the tears”?

In Eckankar we believe Soul takes on a physical body to have a human experience, and the purpose of the human experience is to grow in our ability to love – to love others, to love God and to love ourselves. We are better able to love when we use spiritual discipline (the sharp knife) to move through life (the onion) with fewer tears. Remember, it’s always a choice whether to use a dull knife or take the time to get out the knife sharpener.

• Wendy Hamilton is a clergy member of Eckankar, the religion of the light and sound of God.


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