Archive for March, 2014

The Thing About Desire

Written by Heal Your Heart on . Posted in Living the Bhagavad Gita

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In the last post in the Living the Bhagavad Gita series, we saw that no matter who we are, our desires are fall into one of the four universal categories. We also saw that as we move from tamas to rajas to sattva, there is a simultaneous and related movement to moksha, the attainment of which leads to desirelessness.

This whole discussion brings up a very relevant and often misunderstood concept, of being desire “less”. Understanding this concept is necessary in order to grok the true meaning of yoga, be it in the context of karma yoga, bhakti yoga or jnana yoga. How can we possibly act without desire? Action arises from desire. In fact, the entire cosmos arises from desire. Desire is what drives us to get out of bed, to get ready for bed, to go to work, raise children and all of the things we do over lifetimes. However, when we talk about desirelessness being the result of liberation, we will first need to understand what is so undesirable about desire.

The quality that degrades desire to being undesirable is that of attachment. When we act out of attachment to a specific outcome, we become enchained to the action-thought-emotion complex arising as a result of that attachment. Let us take a common example – say I am a long-term employee of a corporation. I have invested my life-blood into this company, and am finally qualified for a big promotion. As soon as I find out I am in the running, my entire focus as a person, my self-image seems to miraculously rest on it. As the announcement draws closer, I begin to think of all the ways my life will change in this new position. I feel much of my thought process during the day being drawn to it, and begin to daydream about the bigger salary, the new car I can buy, the debts I can repay, the long-awaited vacation I can take. At night, I find myself unable to sleep, thinking about the other possibility – what if I do not get it? How will I show “face”? How can the company do this (hypothetically)? Is there no value for loyalty? It is a shark-eat-shark world out there..

And so the day arrives, and I find that I did not make the cut. A younger, newer employee is given the position. What happens next? Every action arising from this initial attachment-driven desire is colored by my disappointment and resentment. My self-image goes for a toss and I feel humiliated. My mind goes haywire in thoughts of self-pity, the unfairness of it all, the pointlessness of working for this inhuman company (that only recently was seen with pride when the initial announcement was made) and how it should not have happened to “me”. Whether I stay on in the company or move on, the resentment from this incident will continue to color my thoughts and subsequent actions. In other words, I have created a strong vasana or impression. And this is how our lives are lived for the most part, between polarities of likes and dislikes, loves and hates, mine and not mine. Every action arising from such polarities creates more vasanas. And vasanas are what bind us to being limited and small.

What if, on the other hand, the scenario were different and I have cultivated the ability to live and act from a desireless state? I was up for a promotion. I acknowledged it and continued with my life, with no second thought given to it. I am completely okay whether I get it or not. It does not define my self-image, my self-worth,  my happiness or how I view the company or the world. Any outcome is welcomed, and day-to-day work is done for the mere joy of it. I find out I did not get the promotion, that a younger, newer employee made the cut. I seek out that person, genuinely congratulating and celebrating his new position. It is all as it should be. No vasana is created with this.

The difference between desire-driven and desirelessness is attachment. And this is Arjuna’s conundrum as well. He is so attached to the outcome of the war that it has led to depression and delusion, causing him to freeze. Ambition, rivalry, jealousy, anxiety, anger and even day-to-day stress is a result of attachment. Tamas has this attachment to the greatest degree. Sattva has the least attachment with the greatest degree of equanimity. Equanimity is to be completely okay with whatever results from a particular action. And equanimity is the first cousin of trust, that whatever happens is for our highest good.

How and where does this incredible trust come from? How do we deal with vasanas? We will see in subsequent posts.

Want To Beat Heart Disease? Deal With Your Emotional Issues

Written by Heal Your Heart on . Posted in Heart Health, Yoga Practices

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The following post appeared originally on Mindbodygreen.com on March 4, 2014.

(Last week, two studies were published simultaneously: one, a meta-analysis of the association between outbursts of anger and acute coronary syndrome (that includes heart attacks) and the other a scientific statement from the American Heart Association to include depression as a risk factor for heart disease. These two recent studies provide  further evidence regarding the need to address and ameliorate emotional issues.)

As a cardiologist, my main job is to see people with heart disease and to counsel them on treatment and prevention. What many people don’t realize, however, is that there’s an intimate connection between emotional health and heart disease. Most patients of cardiovascular illness have deep-seated psychosocial issues that have never been addressed.

Despite these data however, while almost every cardiologist understands the importance of lifestyle changes (exercising, quitting smoking, and following a heart-healthy diet), very few of us address an essential component for heart health, which entails healing the emotional heart.

The physical heart lies in the vicinity of the heart chakra (also called the anahata, which means “unstuck sound”), an important area worked on in yoga and most spiritual traditions. Chakras are energy centers that are said to resemble wheels; there are innumerable chakras throughout the body, of which seven are best known.

Each of these chakras corresponds loosely to a nerve network that supplies vital organs. The heart chakra, corresponding to the cardiac network, is considered to be the seat of emotions. The accumulation of guilt, shame, resentment, hatred, anger, hostility, anxiety and similar qualities results in “closing off” of the anahata, a constriction of energy flow and resulting in heartache—both emotionally as well as in the form of heart disease.

An extreme example of this intimate heart-anahata connection is the “broken heart syndrome,” caused by sudden, extreme stress in the form of shock, grief or sadness that results in a sick heart. These patients present with symptoms and signs of a typical heart attack, but have no “physical” cause (say, blocked coronary arteries) to explain them.

Not only do these negative qualities distort our perception of life events, but they also make us incapable of living fully in the moment. Although most of us would agree that hanging on to nonserving emotional patterns is undesirable, we have never learned how to effectively let go of them, which must occur at the heart level and not the mind. It’s not enough to reason away these patterns, since they reside at deeper energetic levels.

As with all other lifestyle changes, this process takes willingness, commitment, consistent effort, and practice, and broadly involves the following:

1. Cultivate silence.

In order to notice our behavioral and emotional patterns, it is essential to “step out” of the mind. Inner silence provides this much-needed space and distance, and is cultivated via a regular meditation practice.

2. Get curious.

Inquiry into the nature of our psyche throws much-needed light upon our deeply embedded issues. We can begin the process of inquiry by asking, Where in my body is this feeling? In the response, we can begin to notice that there are three parts:

  • The actual feeling
  • The mind story about it (for example, “How could she do this?” or “Wish I had never met him!”)
  • The label of the feeling as anger, sadness, grief, etc.

Once this ability to notice is developed through practice, we can then ignore the stories and labels and focus entirely on the felt-sense.

3. Let go.

This all-important step is developed simultaneously with inquiry. Without cultivating effective ways to let go, inquiry can remain incomplete, resulting in further confusion and pain. With further cultivation of inner silence, we can ease into the next phase of inquiry by asking, Where in time is this event that causes this?

In the response, we will be transported back to the time of the original event. The next step is crucial, and involves asking, Where is it now?

In the response, it becomes clear that the past does not exist any “where.”

We then ask, How does it exist now? In this response, we see that it exists merely as a thought/memory.

When this is clearly seen through, the issue, along with the physical feeling, the story and the label dissolves. Once we’re no longer caught up in the mind as the thought, the thought loses its enslaving power over us.

As non-serving emotional patterns drop away, the anahata finally begins to “open.” Rushing to replace the dissolving negativity are qualities of love, peace, harmony and equanimity. The past is forgiven and we become joyfully rooted in the present, with no anxiety about the future. Healing of the heart finally begins in earnest—from the inside out.

 

Conscious Coupling

Written by Heal Your Heart on . Posted in Yoga Practices

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The recent announcement of a Hollywood celebrity couple’s divorce has the popular media singing about their choice of words to describe their break-up: conscious uncoupling. Supposedly coined by celebrity marriage therapists, this term is based on the premise that due to increased life expectancy, humans are not meant to stay in one “coupled” relationship for too long (15, 20, 25, 35, 50.. years). Whether there is any truth to this or not, the basic question to ask even before the “uncoupling” is, “What makes up conscious coupling?”

Despite being in committed relationships, most of us remain under the wrong assumption that such a marriage/partnership requires our partners to put in equal (or at least some) effort into it. After all, this is what most relationship gurus advise, what every column and book proclaims. And so, we set ourselves up with conscious and unconscious expectations of what the other person needs to do, simply because we are putting in the effort. When that does not happen, resentments begin to be built up and harbored; these annoyances begin small, like “why can’t he pick up his clothes off the floor?” to “why does she need to talk on the phone all the time?” and gradually permeate every area of life from extended family to raising children to finances to spirituality.  Before long, true intimacy is lost and whether we choose to stay in the relationship or not, we live somewhat separate lives, with no real desire to grow in intimacy.

This cycle stems from the fear of vulnerability, a universal human condition. We are so afraid of being hurt that we close ourselves off to any possible way that anyone can enter our hearts and cause us pain. When we meet someone new and fall in love, it is exhilarating at first and there is every intention to open up to this special person who appears to be the only person that will not hurt us and who will validate us (and in so doing, keep this fear of vulnerability intact).. Like the famous line from a famous movie, we expect the other person to “complete” us. However, when the initial high of falling in love wears off, the effort to continue to validate each other quickly becomes burdensome. And now, there are two quite ordinary humans facing each other in quite ordinary day-to-day things in the quite ordinary way humans generally behave – with obsessive self-centeredness. Everything becomes about “me” and whether or not this “me” is continuously pampered and fussed over.

Conscious coupling (my not-so-original term) is about focusing on one’s own self. Not in the self-centered and narcissistic fashion we tend to focus on ourselves, but to learn to open our hearts to being vulnerable. Relationships are the greatest grist for the mill, from where we can learn to blossom and become fully human and fully divine. Here are some lessons that have come from my own spiritual path that have changed not just the relationship with my partner, but with everyone (all of this applies to a relatively stable relationship free of abuse or danger to ourselves and others in our care):

1. There is nobody that can complete you. You can “uncouple” and “couple” a thousand times, but the completeness you seek is not out “there”. This is because you are already complete; it is just that you do not know it. Seek to find what it is that blocks you from seeing your own completeness.

2. The universe does not revolve around you. And while we are at it, let me also say this – your partner’s world does not revolve around you. Human nature is to be self-absorbed. Thus, his/her universe revolves around him/her just as yours revolves around you.

3. Your biggest “relationship problem” is your expectation. You may want him/her to do what you think is right, but your should/should not is your problem, not his/hers. He/she does not need to be more or less understanding, spiritual, clean, lazy, secure, fat, thin, fit, healthy, loving, kind, yadda-yadda. Let your expectations go and miraculously, your partner will mirror you.

4. Give and you shall receive. Sounds very cliched, but this is the highest truth. Relationships are not a barter. There is no “you walk half way and I will walk the other half”. Be willing to walk all the way.  Forget what he/she must do for you. Give without reservation. Give all of your love, all of your care, all of yourself even if you think he/she is not reciprocating. What he/she does is not your business. The only business you need to stay in is yours. Learn to become okay with not receiving in return. See what happens. It is only when you are willing to stretch your heart and mind that the true beauty, the gift and the miracle of Life can be known. Examine your fear of giving to this person you claim to love. Can fear and love co-exist in reality? Your examination of your own psyche will reveal truths that will become stepping stones to growth, true love and intimacy as a couple.

5. Honor your partner. Another greatly quoted but hardly practiced axiom – do unto others what you would have them do to you. Honor him/her the way you would want them to honor you – acknowledge his/her strength, be gentle about his/her weakness. Laugh at yourself in front of him/her, listen deeply to what he/she has to say, respect his/her wishes, disagree with love and laughter when it is called for. At all times, remain secure in the knowledge that this is a fun and growing experience for you both. There is no need to take yourself so seriously.

6. Give in. This last bit is hard for most of us, particularly if we have become accustomed to being go-getters.   Everything has to be “my” way, and we use every strategy in the book to have it this way. When we see the silliness of it all, it becomes much easier to not have an opinion about everything. Look at your own issues with giving in. Is it so critical that it be your way? Does everything need you in the director’s chair monitoring every detail? What a relief it is to give up control! Give in, let go and watch your life change in ways you never imagined.

There is nowhere more important that Gandhi’s wise words ring true than in mundane, daily life lived in the context of relationships – be the change you wish to see in the world. The world is but a mirror of ourselves. Changing from within changes what we see. If only we learned this art and practice of conscious coupling, “uncoupling” would be unnecessary and redundant no matter how long we lived.