Larry Mullins

March 12, 2011

Discovering the Secret of Self-Mastery

When I was a young man, I had an experience that gave me my first inkling of what it feels like to have power over thought and a deep sense of self. When I made this discovery, I was certain I had found the secret of the universe. I had yet to learn that having knowledge of something is not the same as knowing it or owning it. We really do not own something until we incorporate it into our experience and share it with others. Yet, even though I would find it necessary to retrace my steps time and again and relearn the value of self-mastery, the original experience was a critical beginning. It was my introduction to the power of mind control and self-induced inner peace.

As an eighteen-year-old, I lived in a dysfunctional home. I was angry, poor, and had little hope. In this shadowy world, there were many temptations and diversions, but few positive possibilities. Or so it seemed. Too bored and indifferent to study, I barely managed to graduate from high school. Soon, I was working as a laborer in a local lumberyard. On the surface, I appeared defiant and confident, but inside I was in constant fear, turmoil, and despair. It was as though I was not really fully awake and was watching the world through a long tunnel. Then, I happened into a barbershop and met a man known in the neighborhood as “Don the Barber.” From there, everything began to change.

A haircut was a rare occasion for me in those days. I had passed the tiny barbershop many times, but had never entered it before. Don was middle-aged and walked with a severe limp. His intensity and friendliness immediately struck me as unusual. We were alone in the shop, and as he cut my hair, he talked about mind power, human will, and other subjects that seemed peculiar to me. I could not imagine why he wanted to discuss such offbeat ideas with me. I answered most of his overtures and questions with a grunt or a few mumbled words.

When I paid this unusual man, he suddenly handed me a small book with a worn blue cover. I turned the old tome over in my hands and noted the title: Raja Yoga … or Mental Development, by Yogi Ramacharaka. “Why don’t you read this book, and tell me what you think?” he suggested. In those days, such books were unusual in our culture. I was deeply suspicious. A yogi, to me, was a skinny guy with a turban who could lie upon a bed of nails.

“You don’t believe all this stuff, do you?” I asked.

He smiled. “Well, just read it. Think of it as a cafeteria of ideas. If one appeals to you, take it. Otherwise, pass it by.”

I tucked the book under my arm and promised to return it. When I got home, I decided to look the book over. I began to read by the afternoon light of my window. I read words unlike anything I had ever read before: “Before man attempts to solve the secrets of the Universe without, he should master the Universe within—the Kingdom of the Self.”

For a young man who had concluded he was fighting a losing battle with a hostile universe, the concept of a refuge within—a Kingdom of Self—was irresistible. The idea that there is another, better self within, with access to powerful resources unavailable to my present state of consciousness, was thrilling. It seemed to me that I had been playing a life role far below my capacities, one I did not relish. Down deep, I wanted to be something else. Raja Yoga declared that my “real” self was hidden by the fake outer persona, a facade that I presented to the world so that I could cope and get along. I was even more astounded by the assertion that it was possible for any normal person to control the mind and achieve inner peace. The idea that I could control thought was completely unique to me. The greatest of all demoralizers is the state of being in which we are helpless victims of our thoughts.

Regarding the many grievances that tortured my mind, I read:

“Yet this is an absurd position—for man, the heir of all the ages: hag-ridden by the flimsy creatures of his own brain … It should be as easy to expel an obnoxious thought from your mind as it is to shake a stone out of your shoe; and till a man can do that it is just nonsense to talk about his ascendancy over Nature, and all the rest of it. He is a mere slave, and prey to the bat-winged phantoms that flit through the corridors of his own brain. Yet the weary and careworn faces that we meet by the thousands, even among the affluent classes of civilization, testify only too clearly how seldom this mastery is obtained. How rare indeed to meet a MAN!”

I read and read. I was unaware of time or space. When the light from the window was so dim I could not read anymore, I looked up and observed the dark disorder I lived in. There is a better way to live, I thought. Of course, I knew that if I had money I could live on a higher material level. But the stunning new idea was: There is a better way to live now. I could create my own world within! It could be my own gallery of peace, freedom, and joy. I reasoned that if my mind could generate and sustain thoughts as clear and pure as a mountain stream, no one could hurt me anymore. No matter what others did, they could not destroy, or even affect, my inner kingdom—unless I let them. It all seemed so simple.

The pivotal, enduring insight I gleaned that day was this assurance that I had choices. I gained the knowledge that no matter what circumstances surrounded me, I could master my inner life. At the time, I had no idea how difficult such inner mastery would turn out to be. It would take the better part of a lifetime and what seemed to be endless grief before I could consistently win the battle within. Even so, in times of despair, the original revelation that we can control our thoughts gave me hope. That day, I also accepted responsibility for the secret place, my inner life. The strange book that Don the Barber lent me made me conscious of self, of being, in a way I had never imagined before.                                                           LARRY MULLINS