Archive for April, 2014

Are we what we eat?

Written by Heal Your Heart on . Posted in Yogic Diet

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We have heard the common saying, “You are what you eat.” This is an exploration into this much-believed axiom, to examine if this is really the whole truth.

It seems that especially in the American culture, every week is marked by a new fad “diet”. Instantly, the author of such a best-seller achieves his/her coveted fifteen minutes of fame, and “everybody” gets on the bandwagon. That is, until the next cool “diet” makes its way up the fame ladder to gain its fifteen minutes. And on it goes. Some of us make this new diet our life’s goal, become entirely immersed in it and spend every waking and conscious moment of the day thinking about the next meal and the “right” thing to consume (or do) within the guidelines of this plan.

We become attracted to such diets in the first place because of the promises afforded by them – each is marketed to be the magic bullet that will make us thinner, healthier, more attractive, younger, kinder, and all in all, the person we desperately want to be. And therein lies the secret of why most of them do not work for long.

We choose lifestyles that fit closely into our belief systems. What we eat is central to such a lifestyle, particularly in cultures where every life event revolves around food – we celebrate with food, mourn with food, comfort as well as punish ourselves with food. We grow up not only eating a certain way, but also thinking and feeling in the way that is congruent with our eating habits. As our life experiences change, our beliefs change and along with them, our lifestyles also change. If in tune with popular culture, we are told what we must think and believe, and therefore, those messages become rocks we cling on to. In order to “fit in” to newly acquired beliefs, we consciously and subconsciously change our lifestyles, forcing ourselves to think and act in certain ways, and change our diets and habits to be in line with such clinging.

However, nothing acquired from “out there” ever lasts. Even if it does, it causes a huge chasm within us, with escalating inner conflict that sooner or later backfires. The much-revered diet/lifestyle fails to live up to its magic-bullet expectations; we remain the same weight, not much more vibrant, not much younger, smarter or kinder; in other words, we are not the person we desperately wanted to be. This is the common predicament of humans, not just with respect to lifestyles and eating habits, but with regard to all of the desperate wanting for wealth, fame, success, glory and power that defines us and arising quite simply from a sense of lack within one’s own self. Thus, when the “failure” of a once-promised lifestyle/diet is realized, the next diet and its associated beliefs becomes very alluring. Akin to changing clothes, we discard one set of beliefs and value judgments and put on another, remaining trapped in this cycle of trying to remedy the sense of lack that cannot be remedied in this way. All in all, we eat and live in chaotic ways that reflect the lack of inner peace and inability to listen to what the body really needs.

Through the practice of getting in touch with our core, a miraculous transformation takes place. As we learn to become quiet within, taking the focus from “out there” to “in here”, we begin to see the falseness of all that we think, feel and believe. We begin to wear these “clothes” loosely and gradually, our innate ability to listen deeply to our bodies wakes up. We realize that the body is supremely intelligent on its own – the mind’s incessant chatter and narrative had blocked us from getting in touch with it. As we surrender our overpowering need to be this or that (wealthy, famous, successful, thin, healthy, kind..), we begin to access this intelligence, and learn to listen to the body. It begins to tell us what it needs, gently propelling us to choose foods, habits and lifestyles to enhance this greater well-being, that can never be had from outside in. Non-serving habits and addictions begin to fall away on their own, and the vibrance  we so desperately sought becomes a reality. There is no need to force kindness or nonviolence or think in predefined ways – our innate goodness shines through in our actions much more than in our words. Finally, we can let go of any popular culture and all best-selling “diets”.

There is no diet as sublime as this, because it is an ever-fresh embodiment of our inner growth and alive in the possibilities of the unfolding Now. There is no further need to be enslaved by any “diet” and its restrictions. We move from being defined by being what we eat to eating in line with what we are – joyous, blissful, full and sacred Life itself.

 

The Evolution of Karma Yoga

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

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For students of the Gita, it can seem that karma, bhakti, dhyana and jnana are sort of separate “paths” leading to the Divine. One way to look at the central theme of the Gita is to closely examine karma yoga. Then, the other “paths” can be seen as those that transform or clean the lens through which karma yoga is examined.

As described previously, all of creation is made up of combinations of the three gunas – sattva, rajas and tamas. This is true also of our bodies, minds, and intellects. The progression of karma yoga (action) occurs through evolution of our minds (thought forms) from tamas to rajas to sattva. This progression, in reality, is a steady “lightening” (gross to subtle, i.e., tamas to sattva) of identification with the “I” and “my”. However, for self-realization to occur, all identification (no matter how sattvic) needs to be dropped.

1. Prescribed as a way to overcome the duality of likes and dislikes, karma yoga is understood to be “selfless service”. Entire organizations have been built around this understanding, springing from yoga studios to ashrams to high-tech companies. This is the mainstay of volunteering anywhere, to “give back”, a movement from tamasic to rajasic actions.

It is possible to get stuck in this for a whole lifetime (or many lifetimes). This type of practice by itself will not accelerate an aspirant’s progress, since the veils obscuring the realization of the Self are made up of vasanas – deeply embedded impressions resulting from past actions that determine and drive all present and future actions. One can continue to volunteer without care for personal likes and dislikes (the “essence” of vasanas), but this tactic works only upto a certain layer or veil. Sooner or later, one is led to other practices – bhakti, jnana and dhyana (meditation and allied practices).

It is interesting to examine our own motives and actions up to this point. In my own life, I have come to see that absolutely no “selfless” act was ever totally selfless. Whether it was volunteering time, effort, or resources, I was stuck being the “helper” or that this would generate “good karma” (aka, punya karma in Sanskrit). Even the most noble of all of life’s gifts, parenting, was not entirely selfless – I was busy being a good parent so I could feel good about being a good parent. Yes, of course, there may be an element of selflessness in wanting our families’ well-being, but, the attachment to “I” is what dominates all decision-making.

2. The next stage of karma yoga is coming into bhakti or dhyana (or jnana for the ripe few). In attaching to a higher ideal/ishta, we start to give up the root cause of all afflictions of Maya – “I-ness”. As described so beautifully in Chapters III and IV (more about this later), gradually, one starts to give up the notions of doership (kartattvam) and enjoyership (bhoktattvam), with a firm faith that the Ishta is the doer, and also the enjoyer of all actions.

With this, there is a subtle yet discernable shift in the practice of karma yoga – a tangible attenuation of the selfish selflessness… But, now the identity has shifted from being a karma yogi to being a bhakta (“I am the devotee that is allowing my Ishta be the doer/enjoyer”). The subtle shift in the practice of karma yoga (a movement toward sattvic actions) happens in parallel with the subtle shift in identification (aka, spiritual ego).

Here is another place one can be stuck in. We can totally forget that surrender means to let go of it all – all control, all identities.. I’ve spent decades being a devotee of my Ishta (yes, the “I” and “my” are glaring here), looking for all the ways that I could be a better devotee, performing austerities and rituals, all the while expecting spiritual progress (after all, if I give, shouldn’t my Ishta give something in return?)

3. Dhyana yoga or meditative practices greatly accelerate the progression through these stages, by getting to the deeper veils/vasanas directly, transforming our thoughts and actions to becoming more and more sattvic. However, these practices by themselves don’t work either (for most of us), simply because most of us tend to be rajasic by nature, and need to act.

And even as we are attenuating the vasanas and letting go, there can be an even subtler “collection” of spiritual identity markers – now we are the meditators, the yogis, the ones that have all sorts of cool experiences, the ones that do the astral travel or heal remotely, the ones that “choose our actions wisely”, etc etc. And many spiritual traditions consider this identification to be the hardest to discard – because at this stage, we become the ones that know everything.. In terms of karma yoga evolution, one has simply gone from being the tamasic or rajasic helper to a sattvic helper. But one is very much still the helper.

Tamas, rajas or sattva – ultimately it doesn’t matter since they are all still within the realm of Maya.

4. And by sheer Grace, the aspirant (aka, karma yogi, bhakta, and/or meditator) is led to ask the question of all questions – who is this “I” that is doing this? And by sheer Grace alone, that inquiry or jnana leads to finally looking behind the veils, to seeing that he/she is not the doer, and has never been. All identities are dropped, and there is no longer a “helper” and a “helpee”, no longer the karma yogi, the devotee or the meditator – karma, bhakti and jnana merge into a single path and a single moment, the present one. The actions that arise from this are in perfect alignment with what is. There is no more involvement of the dualistic, conditioned mind in conflict with itself – “Should I do this?” “What will happen if I do this?” “Who will be affected by my actions?”, “What will be the consequences if I peform this action?”, etc.

In dropping all identifications made up of the three gunas, the jnani or sthithaprajna (realized sage) goes beyond the body, mind and intellect (BG II 54-72).

Each of us will progress through these (necessary) stages in our own, unique ways, coming into karma, bhakti, dhyana and jnana in any order. What seemed like separate paths to God merge into the single present moment of Being.

 

Pain, Suffering and Healing

Written by Heal Your Heart on . Posted in Yoga Practices

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For many years, I had a condition known as Raynaud’s phenomenon, where the fingers and toes when exposed to cold will turn completely white, numb and in short succession, very painful. It had progressed to the point where, over the last two years, even in the peak of summer, reaching into a freezer at a grocery store would immediately result in vasoconstriction (contraction of the blood vessels due to spasm). While it occurs commonly with autoimmune disease, Raynaud’s can occur in isolation with no inciting cause, as it was in my case. It had progressed to the point where I considered taking medications for it.This past winter and in the middle of the polar vortex that chilled the Midwest (as well as other regions), I rushed out of the house one morning forgetting my gloves. It was a day I needed to get gas in the car in subzero temperatures. Dreading it, I stood by the pump, waiting for the tank to fill. The numbness began immediately. But instead of squirming around as usual, I stood quietly as my being became completely still. From this standpoint of total stillness, I observed the sensation without labeling/rejecting/attaching coloring but simply noticed it all with innocent curiosity. The stories of the mind associated with the pain also came and went. Within minutes, the sensation changed, turning into warmth and gradually faded. Gas filled, I got in the car and drove away without the usual drama of “need to thaw my fingers” that could normally go on for about 30 minutes. It immediately became clear that with every episode, the sensation (pain) was the reality of the moment while the emotional response to it (suffering) was baggage added to it.

That day, I began to ask in samyama, “show me where this comes from”. Two days later, an image appeared out of nowhere while deep in meditation – it was of me standing at a bus-stop on a very cold day with no gloves, nearly 17 years ago. That was the time I had arrived in the US and was living in a small and quaint Northeastern town. Extenuating circumstances had led me there, where I was renting the attic of a kind couple, working three jobs and managing with just enough money for one strategically thought out meal per day (and certainly not for warm clothes). Until then, I had not known temperate cold weather, or the experience of utter, total despair and loneliness, with my beloved family and friends thousands of miles away. Every evening was spent sitting alone in the attic, thinking incredulously about how I had gotten here, from being a star student, high-school valedictorian and role model. Every morning, I waited for the unreliable bus service, sometimes for two hours, with no gloves and fear of frostbite. By the end of that year, the tears had dried and fortunes had shifted; but it became clear now that the pain had never been released.

Thus, the memory that held the belief of Raynaud’s in place was shown when asked. The memory was colored by the pain of loneliness, the sense of having failed,  and the blow of utter and total despair. As the scene came up, it was suddenly clear that it was nothing but a memory that existed no “where”. It was inherently empty. The only thing arising in the present moment was merely a thought about the past. Yet, it had been carried as a deep belief and.. a very real disease.

A week later, I walked a long way to my car in the biting cold, got in and then realized I had forgotten my gloves again. I looked at my fingers – they were cold, but not numb or white or painful. The rest of the winter was spent in awe at this magic of experiencing cold without Raynaud’s.

How much does pain and suffering arise from deeply held beliefs? Is healing as simple as letting go of such beliefs? My humbling experience would indicate that suffering is unnecessary, created by our own selves with circular thinking revolving around the “me”. We continuously seek to push away or resist any sensation that is labeled as pain or unpleasant, and desperately seek what we label to be pleasant. It is this never-ending and exhausting business of labeling, seeking and resisting that creates suffering around all of our experiences. However, as soon as we begin to allow things to just be, the circular thinking around the “me” dissolves. Seen in a spirit of innocent curiosity, it becomes clear that all sensations arise, stay for a while and fade. Stories of why something “should” or “should not” be as it is create suffering and prolongation of the inciting sensation.

Such is the power of surrender.

Miraculous healing? Yes. Impossible? No.