Archive for January, 2015

Dasha Mahavidya – Bagalamukhi

Written by Heal Your Heart on . Posted in Tantric Practices

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Seated on a golden throne and draped in golden robes, She has a golden complexion and radiates a golden luster. Two armed, She wields a mace that is poised to strike the tongue of the devotee held in the other. Such is the iconography of Bagalamukhi, the eighth Mahavidya. “Bagala” is a distortion of the root “valga” (bridle) and “mukhi” refers to face, whereby Bagalamukhi refers to the goddess whose face has the power to hypnotize or control.

Like Dhumavati, Bagalamukhi is worshiped extensively for attainment of occult powers or to win conflicts like lawsuits or debates (because of the belief that She can stun the opponent’s intelligence and/or tongue). Yet, Her true blessing is a gift that surpasses any gains in the material world. Her grace is actually the turning point in one’s sadhana and the beginning of real awakening. She is known as “vak sthambanakari” or the “one who paralyzes speech”. Speech here refers to the faculty that facilitates expression.

Speech is not limited to the production of sounds by the complex brain-vocal cord-respiratory apparatus. Speech encompasses all expression, including the more upstream process of thought, which in turn arises from “knowledge” gained through experience and learning. This upstream expression creates memory and imagination resulting in automatic labeling of everything that arises in current experience. In this immediate (almost simultaneous) labeling of currently arising perception, a split or duality is created between that which is perceived (not I, but that out there) and the one that perceives (I). Thus, in the dualistic power of this “speech”, time and space come into existence. From memory (thoughts about the past) and imagination (thoughts about the future) arise more thoughts (speech or expression) of how a currently arising perception or experience “should be”. From this “should be” arises the downstream effect of duality – good and bad, right and wrong and so on. We view ourselves and the entire world through this lens of “should be”, which effectively obscures “what is”. This discordance between what “should be” and “what is” creates continuous conflict, both internally and externally. We are at constant war with ourselves, others and nature merely because of our idea of how things should be, the effect of the faculty of expression or speech.

While Dhumavati forces us to face all the darkness within, Bagalamukhi shows us what surrendering to this darkness means, facilitating the awakening to “what is”. On the spiritual path, the very knowledge we accumulate through learning eventually becomes the biggest obstacle to knowing. We may start off on the “path” based on the guidance of mentors/gurus and teachings, which is helpful to a very large extent. However, all paths have the inherent trap of creating the imagination-based idea of what the goal “should be”. Innocently, we tend to keep chasing the distant dream that someone else awakened from in a specific way, wanting it exactly that way. Thus, somewhere along the way, our interest can become fully vested in the finger pointing to the moon, rather than the moon itself. We can create the imagery of the finger to be the moon and begin to worship and idolize it. We can begin to make this finger our very goal, believing that is what the moon “should” look like. Instead of looking directly at our own currently arising experience, we can make the whole “path” about theories and concepts (which are nothing but thoughts arising from memory or imagination). We can read every book and teaching, become experts at the topic of self-realization, have endless debates and arguments or have exciting mystical experiences to narrate to everyone else. In this, we have simply gone from being material materialists to spiritual materialists.

Before we get on the “spiritual path”, we either modify every currently arising perception by forcibly thinking something else (distraction) or get carried away by the thought or perception and act according to its dictate (slavery). After we get on the “spiritual path”, we continue to modify every currently arising perception by distraction (by various techniques) or become slaves to it (by acting on it). In reality, nothing much has changed with regard to modifying currently arising experience to what “should be”. Only the garb has been changed, from the so-called material to the so-called spiritual! Essentially however, we continue to be at war between “what is” and what we think “it should be”.

At the center of this war is the “I”, the greatest of all illusions. With the arising of the “I” does thought arise. And all thoughts, without exception, refer to the “I”. The “I” is made up of memory and imagination, the shoulds and should nots, the judgments and the comparisons – in essence, thought does the job of protecting the fragile identity of “I”. A continuous reaffirmation is needed to keep the “I” going, for it is that elusive. Except in deep sleep, the “I” takes center stage in every moment, fighting to keep its identity intact with “I think”, “I feel”, and so on. The very nature of the “I” is insecurity and a sense of incompleteness. It always seeks completion, whether it is in the form of a car, a house, a better job, more money, better kids and mate, drugs and substances or crime. Both prior to, and after taking up a “spiritual” path, the “I” continues to thrive. The very effort to “kill it” strengthens it, for the I is the one that needs to annihilate itself – to feel complete and secure! And so the conflict continues.

Bagalamukhi’s force is called upon to stun and silence this non-stop conflict of the mind. With her mace, She stills all mental modifications (distraction and slavery) with a sudden loss of reference to memory (past) or imagination (future), i.e., knowledge. It is this immense gift of Grace that results in the stilling of the mind needed to part the veils of illusion. The “I” is looked for in direct experience and it cannot be found! The “I” that was previously revealed is also seen to simply arise and fall in passive awareness, attached to thought. The “I” is not separate from thought, and neither is separate from the passive awareness. Thus, the nature of the “I” is seen through at last. With no continuous reference to the “I”, we fall off into the unknown. Finally ripped from the “should be” of knowledge, we finally see directly that in any experience, there is only experiencing. In any perception, there is only perceiving. That which perceives is the perceived, and there is no other. Thoughts (and “I”) may still come up but they are finally seen to be what they are – ripples on the ocean. They are no longer believed. In this seeing, there is absolute unknowing, and absolute freedom. The extraordinary thing about it is how ordinary it is!

To really know this, knowledge (“speech”) is the sacrifice. With the blow of Her mace, Bagalamukhi takes away speech and bestows the gift of silence. She enables us to see that “I” can never surrender – any surrender the “I” does only strengthens itself. On the other hand, the cessation of all mental and psychological modifications of “what is” is surrender occurring on its own. True surrender is the seeing through the “I” to reveal the vastness of “what is”. And this is the beginning of seeing our true nature. This endless falling into the unknown of “what is” is true worship and Tantra in all its glory.  In every moment, there is only this – the is-ness of perception or rather, perceiving. This “knowledge” is no longer accumulated but the “knowing” is lived from one moment to the next.

Bagalamukhi  thus grants the greatest boon of silencing all points of reference of should be (speech). Her merciful mace prepares us for the grace of true knowing from the next Mahavidya, Matangi.

Stillness in Action: Aaron’s Presents

Written by Matt Bartlett on . Posted in Charity of the Month, Stillness In Action

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For this month’s Stillness in Action donation we are highlighting the work of Aaron’s Presents. Aaron’s Presents is a registered 501(c)(3) charitable organization giving young kids an opportunity to dream up and carry out a project that benefits others and impacts their community in positive ways. If you appreciate their mission as much as we did, please donate along side of us in any amount you are comfortable contributing by clicking here.

Aaron’s Presents was started in 2013 by Leah Okimoto as a way to honor the memory of her son Aaron. Aaron lived for 8 ½ days and in this short time he touched the lives of many people by demonstrating his strength of spirit, his will to live, his ability to elicit love and compassion and the fragility of human life. Aaron inspired his parents to honor his life by enabling young children to tap into their innate idealism, kindness and compassion and, by coupling these with their diverse talents and creativity, to achieve tangible results benefiting their families, neighborhoods and larger communities, and themselves.

Aaron’s Presents offers grants, support and mentorship to children in the eighth grade or below who are willing to take the initiative to turn their thoughtful, creative ideas into reality. Aaron’s Presents helps children realize that they have something valuable to give to the world at every age and at every stage of life, and that giving of themselves for the benefit of others brings happiness, healing and purpose. In the process, these children will not only experience the joy that comes from helping others and working to uplift their community, but also gain valuable leadership skills.

Aaron’s parents wanted to find a way to encourage children from an early age to regard themselves as members of a community, with the ability and responsibility to contribute, help and problem-solve, to think of others’ needs alongside their own, and to create meaningful connections between themselves and other human beings. Seeing children acting in thoughtful, generous and selfless ways while having fun has brought his family a great deal of joy and healing.

The Secret to Healing

Written by Heal Your Heart on . Posted in Heart Health

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Being in the medical profession and as a proponent of holistic care, I frequently come across various misconceptions of what “healing” actually entails. “Holistic” refers to “holism”, defined by Merriam-Webster as “a theory that the universe and especially living nature is correctly seen in terms of interacting wholes that are more than the mere sum of elementary particles”. This means that a “holistic” approach to healing is to consider the “whole” person – the mind, the body, and everything that “makes up” that person.

Interestingly, when we begin to define who we are, it becomes a dilemma to find what really “makes up” this entity we think we are. With a little bit of discernment, we can come to realize that our bodies do not define us. Prodding further will reveal that our achievements, wealth, life events (that is, the story of “me”) do not really define us either. And if we push a bit further, the definition of what makes up this “I” will reveal itself to be a conglomeration of beliefs. All beliefs revolve around how the world and I “should” be, and all beliefs are based on what we have learned through our own life experiences (memory), including what we have been taught at home, school, community, religious organizations and leaders, media and so on. Most of us never question these beliefs, and never ask if any of the “shoulds” are really true. And so we life our lives in continuous conflict: what the world or “I” “should be” versus what it is. The voice in the head provides a running commentary – “I should be happier, thinner, healthier, wealthier..” “I should not do this because it goes against my belief..” “He/she/they should be doing this, or should not be doing this..” “This should not be happening to me because I am such a good person..” and on and on and on.. We live and die this way, as slaves to our unexamined beliefs.

In the face of a medical diagnosis, everything that we do conventionally to “heal” stems from a sense of conflict. The “fight against” cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease and so on that form the basis of funding organizations, research as well as therapeutic modalities is based on the premise that a person or population “should not” have the particular disease because of an imagined state where the person or population would be happier without it. However, we look at persons and populations without the specific disease and they seem no happier for the lack of it, for they have some other “should not” that keeps them unhappy. The entire language encompassing the management of disease is one of war – to “beat, destroy, conquer..” the xyz disease. The basis of all conflict, be it internal or external is fear. While the fear of death may seem like the “ultimate” fear, often we fear loss of our beliefs even more than death. The attachment to beliefs can be so pivotal to our existence that we find ourselves willing to die to protect them. And so we die holding on to the suffocating pain of fear, unforgiving of ourselves and others,and unwilling to question what we so ardently believe in, right to the very end. In this toxic milieu of internal war, disease sprouts and thrives, ravaging the body and weakening the mind.

The purport of healing holistically is to find and work on the root cause of an ailment. Thus, working on the body alone does not result in healing (it results in “treatment”, a word with a different connotation – the use of an agent, procedure, or regimen, such as a drug, surgery, or exercise, in an attempt to cure or mitigate a disease, condition, or injury according to Webster). Working on the energy body alone does not work either. For true healing to occur, what lies behind both the energy and physical bodies must be addressed. And that which lies behind it all is the conglomeration of beliefs that make up the “I”. This conglomeration of I-ness drives all our habitual ways of thinking and acting. These patterns are so deeply ingrained that we seem to be pushed by the power of habit to run along these grooves, helplessly reacting in habitual ways to everything that arises in our experience. For true healing to occur, we must become willing to change our habitual ways at any cost (even at the cost of losing all those precious beliefs). However, this willingness to change radically does not arise spontaneously for all of us. Often, an external push is needed to jar us out of the deep grooves of habit. A disease is one such push (the others being tragic loss or life event). Thus, all diseases and afflictions are absolute gifts of Grace, for they present us with the opportunities to stop the mind’s ceaseless activity and take stock of who we think we are. A “dis-ease” is an accurate signal that current patterns of thoughts, emotions and behaviors are not serving us, the whole organism to be at “ease”. If we change how we view disease, everything about it changes – our relationship with it, our response to treatment, and that elusive thing, healing.

When we stop viewing disease as an enemy and instead begin to examine what it is pointing to, there is an internal shift from fear to acceptance to love. Fear of the unknown (the effects of disease, death) is replaced by the spaciousness of allowing the disease to show us what we need to see. Paradoxically, surrender to the disease results in deep healing of the wounds of self-loathing, rage, terror and grief that resulted in the disease in the first place. This does not mean that we will be miraculously cured of the disease – that may or may not happen. To surrender is to give up the fight, regardless of what the outcome will be. We don’t surrender with the intent to win – that is merely conflict in disguise. We surrender to surrender, with no hidden agendas.

As soon as when we stop fighting, we realize that we were fighting non-existent demons in a non-existent dream. As soon as we stop resisting the disease, we realize that it does not matter – for who we are cannot die. As soon as healing happens, we realize that cure is optional.

Image Source: Flickr

Women In Medicine – Personal Insights

Written by Heal Your Heart on . Posted in Life Lessons

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My 12-year old daughter declared at the dinner table recently that she wanted to be a cardiologist when she grew up. Amused, I asked her why and she responded that she loved what I did and that it seemed to be quite “cool”. I wondered what I would want her (and any young woman with a dream to pursue a career in medicine) to know. The following is what came up from this reflection, and consists of what I have learned from a decade of cardiology practice:

  1. Do not apologize: The common (and hopefully, fast fading) perception of women in competitive medical (or other) careers is that we must be cold, sterile and austere in order to succeed.

There is never any need to apologize for wanting to have or raise a family during training or practice. If the program or practice is unaccepting or disrespectful of this fundamental need, it is not for you. Keep looking.

  1. Negotiate wisely: The long years of training with the associated loans and frugal living lead to anxious wanting of financial security. However, a bigger paycheck or title always come with a greater pressure to deliver, particularly in the current dynamic landscape of healthcare.

It is all relative; you will have more than enough money to live comfortably, and certainly much more than the majority of the world’s population. Know what (time, energy, etcetera) you are willing to compromise in return for status, titles and paychecks.

  1. Put in your best work: The pressure to prove ourselves may seem to be considerably more acute for us than for our male colleagues. While it is not necessary to go overboard with our own expectations, it is essential for all doctors (male or female) to establish a strong work ethic and be committed to it.

Ask for help or advice when needed and pitch in whenever possible. If you excel at what you do and consistently live up to the ideals of earnestness and integrity, you will do well wherever you go. Focus on your own work and stay away from petty politics.

  1. Collaborate freely: The key to success, be it in academic medicine or in clinical practice is to collaborate and to share freely. Being humbly rooted as part of a whole and working toward the well-being and development of this whole is far more gratifying than to selfishly hoard successes and achievements.

Give freely of your time and talents so that everyone you associate with benefits.

  1. Believe in yourself: Even in this modern era, it is not uncommon to encounter sexist banter and behavior from male colleagues, patients (and their families), ancillary staff and even students/trainees.

Be steady in your conviction, knowledge and wisdom; your success and/or self-image are not dependent on anyone else. Stand up quietly for your rights and dust off the rest. The well-rounded men along your career path will remain your friends and mentors, and earn your loyalty.

  1. Equality does mean sameness: The abilities, talents and gifts that women bring to the field of medicine necessarily differ from those of men. There can be a distorted perception that equality means “sameness”, where we have to do things in exactly the same way as men in order to be considered their equals.

Do not be clouded by this misperception. Tap into your unique talents and joyfully integrate them into your work and life. Creativity and dynamism arise freely against the backdrop of calm confidence and self-assurance; they are therefore worth cultivating.

  1. You can have it all, but perhaps not simultaneously: We are not just doctors; we are also wives, mothers, daughters and sisters. The peak of our careers coincides with the peak of our biological systems. It is also the time when our children grow up and our parents age.

Growth in your career will never occur in isolation; your partner’s career and choices must be honored equally and your family’s needs met with grace. It is necessary to develop a larger perspective and to learn to prioritize according to ongoing (and constantly changing) life circumstances.

  1. Count on change: Change is the only certainty. Not only do our professional lives change as a result of policy and technology, but our personal lives also undergo profound growth and change as we age and mature.

Your career may take unexpected turns reflecting personal growth and/or life circumstances. What seemed crucial at the beginning of your career may fade into a non-issue down the road. Be flexible in your outlook; going with the flow will save you from needless inner turmoil and anguish.

  1. Make time for yourself: As clichéd as it is, women are nurturing by divine design and the ability to give freely of ourselves depends largely on being secure and content with who we are.

Becoming a doctor does not mean that you will have to permanently sacrifice your personal well-being. Nurture yourself with quiet time, friends, hobbies and activities that you enjoy. You will be a better doctor, partner, parent and friend for it.

  1. Tread the middle way: A balanced life calls for delegation when needed and letting go of stubborn attachment to always having things be a certain way.

Whenever possible, get help with housework and other noncritical tasks. Practice what you preach to your patients and stick to moderation in your own lifestyle.

Ultimately, a career in medicine is demanding and often all-consuming. Yet, there are few other professions as humbling or gratifying. In return for the service we provide, our patients generously teach us much about ourselves and catalyze our growth as humans; in truth, they serve us far more than we can ever serve them. For this alone, all the hurdles and challenges along the way are well worth it.