In the previous post, we examined the general principles of diet for yoga and health. Before we delve into the what to and what not to eat, we must study something more upstream – our relationship with food. The basic principle that differs between the yogic way of eating and all other “diets” is how the yogi relates to food.
As a cardiologist, I spend enormous amounts of time counseling patients about lifestyle changes. This is because cardiovascular disease as well as most other chronic illnesses are the result of lifestyle. Surgeries and procedures help tremendously in acute settings; however, studies have shown again and again that there is no substitute for lifestyle changes (and medications) in preventing illness as well as events such as heart attacks, strokes and repeated procedures.
As a yogini, my focus remains on changing the inner substance of being that then manifests in the outer in terms of lifestyle changes, disease, health and wellness. No amount of counseling works in many of my patients, whether it is about quitting smoking, changing their diet or exercising more. It is not that they do not understand the benefits of such changes; often, they know more about the damaging effects of their habits than those that do not struggle with them. Yet, there is inner resistance to change in the form of excuses, mental or intellectual reasoning to keep up their nonserving patterns, or the emotional seduction of the habit that is extremely difficult to overcome by sheer will alone. Some make changes driven by will and succeed for short periods of time, only to fall back into the comfort zone of the ingrained habits. Yet, some seem to suddenly wake up one day for no particular reason and find they have undergone an internal shift. Within a very short period of time thereafter, the specific change they have been struggling with seems to occur all on its own. They quit smoking once and for all, take up exercising, lose and maintain a lower weight, change their diet for good, and report feeling great overall. Such miraculous transformations are delightful to observe and share in and are the true rewards of my vocation. These observations have proven to me time and again that all meaningful changes must necessarily come from within.
Interestingly, dietary suggestions of yoga are similar to those for prevention and management of chronic illness as well. In yoga, every aspect of life is included in the practice. This involves how we talk and think, interact with others, express our emotions, go about our daily business, eat, sleep, maintain intimate and other relationships, etc – no aspect of life (seen or unseen by others) is excluded. Thus, when it comes to food, the emphasis is not only on what we eat but how we treat and prepare the food and its overall significance in a yogi’s life. While food has become the tool for celebration and grief alike, this is not so for a yogi. As with all other aspects, food is another vehicle through which the yogi finds the calm, inner stillness behind the veils of thought, personality, emotions and conditioning. Thus, the preparation and consumption of food is aimed for this higher purpose only. Living this way and aligned with this small still voice, lifestyle choices arise automatically to support health and well-being. The need for external guidelines falls away when the wisdom of the still center is listened and surrendered to.
A word of caution is necessary here. Many spiritual aspirants will assert that because inner wisdom trumps in choices, they need no external guidelines or “rules”. To the guideline of vegetarianism for example, some may vehemently quote the example that the Buddha ate meat. Yes, this may be true. But the point here is this – if one is already a Buddha, there is nothing more to discuss. Until we get there however, guidelines are helpful. At various stages of yoga sadhana, we may become highly sensitive to various foods where they affect the ability to dive deep within. At a very advanced stage of sadhana, the yogi becomes one with the entire cosmos. What he/she eats is not seen to be different or other than himself/herself. At this stage, he/she has the ability to consume anything and remain unaffected. The penchant to fool ourselves that we are already there is merely the demonstration of the mind’s power over us to prevent us from making a meaningful change and that of our slavery to the mind’s pull. It must be emphasized that (with very few and rare exceptions), it takes months/years of dedicated practice to arrive at the still center and to be directed by this higher wisdom. Thus, the first obstacle in sadhana is the belief we are more advanced than we actually are.
The guidelines for eating like a yogi encompass different aspects of our beings. The body is said to be made up of the gross body, the subtle body and the causal body. The gross or physical body is made up of flesh and bones, the sense organs (eyes, nose, ears, skin and tongue) and the organs of action (movement, grasping, speech, elimination and reproduction). The physical body grows or shrinks in size and shape and decays and disintegrates in the form of disease and death. The physical body is dependent upon food for sustenance. The subtle body is made up of energy or prana, mind and intellect. It is where the sense organs and organs of action are registered – it is here that the external world is brought “in” through the sense organs (in the form of seeing, smelling, hearing, touch and taste) and reaction or response is sent “out” through the organs of action. These registrations occur through the complex play of the mind (manas), intellect (buddhi), past learned impressions/memory/habit patterns (chitta) and ego (ahamkara, or sense of a distinct “I”). The causal body consists of the root or the causal ignorance that in turn gives rise the subtle and physical bodies. Ignorance of what? Ignorance of one’s true nature. It is that which leads us to believe we are separate entities because our bodies, upbringing, culture and other influences seem different. It is that which gives rise to “me” versus “not me”. These three bodies can be imagined to form three “sheaths” or veils that cloud or cover our knowing of our true nature as Atman, soul or spirit. The aim of yoga is to part these veils so there is direct seeing that this separate self is indeed an illusion.
All lifestyle choices work on all three sheaths – the physical, subtle and causal. There is no action, thought or choice that does not permeate through all three, creating the cascade of what is to come in the form of physical disease or vibrant health (gross), mental happiness, peace or distress (subtle) and further tightening of the grip of separateness or its opposite, liberation (causal). This is why yogis eat and live in specific ways.
What does eating like a yogi entail? We will see in the next post.
Once in a great while, we meet someone that brings a new light into our lives just by their wisdom gained through long-term spiritual practices. I’m one of those fortunate folks that came into contact with the creator of LivingUnbound.net.
Here is an excerpt from Living Unbound that explains the issue of depression, its connection with the conditioned mind the effect of meditation:
Living Unbound Q&A: Meditation and Depression
March 11, 2010
A Living Unbound Visitor Asks:
“Here is a question: It is suggested in many traditions that if one is experiencing true depression (not just a blue mood, but an actual disorder, where one can’t feel any pleasure), since the meditation will amplify the inward ruminations of the depressed person. I have through personal experience verified this for myself–over a year of meditation did nothing to keep me from spiraling downwards, and in fact made me feel worse. I forced it in an effort to overcome my situation, but it just prolonged the experience.
What has made it to start to lift is a combination–medication, physical exercise, good diet (note: diet and exercise alone were nothing for severe depression!), therapy, and doing the internal work with the help of these external things.
So–any suggestions for one that is truly, clinically depressed, for whom meditation will not help or make things worse? I think meditation is risky in such cases–with a suicidal person, downright dangerous.
Should they focus on just connecting with things that make them feel better, or are there any other spiritual practices they could do (besides meditation)?”
Living Unbound Answers:
Thanks for asking this question; it’s a very good one.
Per your mention of potential danger, yes: when dealing with significant depression, it’s always wise to get input from a trained professional (medical doctor, psychiatrist, etc.) regarding best courses of action, overall. And yes, some people do find that meditation can seem to make depression worse. However, meditation is also one of the most proven practices for opening to Living Unbound.
Most of us who deal with depression have a custom-mix of factors that caused the depression, and a custom-mix of factors that keep the depression in place:
Psychological tendencies, lifestyle induced biochemical issues (i.e. sedentary lifestyle, poor eating or sleep habits, alcohol or drug use, etc.), other medical issues which contribute to depression-related symptoms, and so on. And so, for many of us, a custom-mix of changes, ranging from becoming more active, to becoming more social, to positive adjustments in diet and activity level, to positive adjustments in mind-habits, to starting daily spiritual practices, is usually what it most helpful in stepping free from our sense of depression.
When we go through a depression we have a tendency to pull ourselves inward, to move into a shell, so to speak, and we tend to do a lot of thinking inside this shell; thinking that is usually not pleasant or positive, to say the least. Hence diet, exercise, doing things that involve being more active and outwardly-oriented, such as being with friends, or otherwise connecting with people, maybe taking up a new sport or recreational hobby; doing things that lift us up and get us active. These things are important, and can be as important, or more so, than medication alone, depending upon the exact nature and depth of our depression (if we decide with our doctor that medication may be useful).
This is the cycle we talk about in the first lesson in the Teachings section of Level 1, The Cyclic Nature of Living. Depression pulls us toward inertia, and so its “antidote” is that which take us into activity, away from inertia. Exercise, work, activities with friends, spiritual practices, and so on, all contribute to restoring the natural cycle, with balance between activity and rest.
If we decide with our doctor to start anti-depressant medication, there is often an initial period where the medication may seem to be working very well. Many of us have heard, and or experienced, people who start on anti-depressant medication say: “This medication I am on is really working!”
However soon, with many of us, the medication is not as effective as it was when we started it. There are many reasons for this dynamic, and this is why doctors and patients so often go through multiple trials of anti-depressants. The main reason that anti-depressants tend to have temporary effects, is that our conditioned thinking patterns essentially re-create the depression in ways that medication can’t overcome. We think ourselves back to the place we started and no medication can get us out of that place. Changes in our activity level, and increases in connecting with people may offer relief of the worst of our symptoms, but only permanent changes in attachment to thought patterns, and permanent biological changes brought about by effective practices of various types, can permanently alleviate depression.
This is because these permanent psychological and biological changes eradicate the underlying causes of depression. We can change medication several times, but if we don’t supplement it with identifying and dissolving our conditioned mind-shafts, we will just think ourselves back to where we began, depression-wise. So-called “talk therapy” can help, too, but the quality of this therapy varies widely. And usually, the patient is not taught how to think in ways that facilitate freedom from depression.
This is a key part of what Living Unbound is here to do: to help us all find, utilize and share the tools which help us all in Living Unbound, at every level of body, mind and spirit.
A bit of inner silence goes a long way in helping us to see the mind-stories, mind-labels and mind-shafts, which re-create depression. When we meditate, attention moves inward, and any depressing thinking may be even more noticeable, and therefore may seem worse than ever. This can give us a sense of not only worsening depression, but also a sense that it’s the meditation that is making our depression worse.
However, if we can consciously meditate for a few minutes by focusing on our breathing, or on a mantra, we will notice that we can actually experience a gap in the thinking. Even few seconds of experiencing a gap is a way to touch our inner silence. Our inner silence is past the depressed layer, it is not touched by thoughts or depression.
And so, meditation helps us know the part of ourselves that is free from depression, and it helps us notice the mind patterns that keep us bound to the long shaft of depression, while we’re in it.
Once we see through the illusion of the shaft of depression, then, even when we do feel depressed, it is only that moment of depression we live though. We don’t mentally pull in the previous 20 years of depression into this current moment of depression. This results in the current moment of depression not getting the energy of the memories of the past 20 years of depression; it is not connected. One moment of depression is a lot easier to deal with than 20 years of depression. It then gets easier and easier to handle this single moment, if and when it arises, and it gets easier to release it, and to let the next/current moment just be what it is, without automatically bringing depression-enhancing memories and thinking into it.
However, in order to see any of this, getting in touch with our silence for a few minutes is essential. Without touching our inner silence ever more deeply over time, we can only cycle between activity and inertia, and depression will always return, or have the possibility of returning. However, touching our inner silence helps us to experience the part of ourselves that is ever free from depression. Inner silence is the doorway to Living Unbound, to Freedom Beyond Imagination in our own experience, in reality.
And we don’t have to practice 20 minutes of mantra meditation, especially when just starting or when we feel like we are going through a depressive phase; even 2 to 5 minutes twice a day, of breath or mantra meditation will help us to connect with our inner silence, our true nature.
The few minutes of suggested meditation is to simply touch the stillness, our own inner silence. One moment of experiencing stillness has more power than the mind can think. This stillness helps us see though the workings of the mind, by giving us a vantage point beyond and before it, and most importantly, by allowing us to experience that there is actually a part of ourselves that is actually, ever free from depression or the possibility of depression.
Sometime ago, I asked my amazing, wise, fantastic friend to make me an art piece. She is the co-creator of Living Unbound and author of this cool blog. She made this – Heart Hands, symbolizing giving from the heart. Meanwhile, I had started working on a poem that came in a flash of inspiration. When I received Heart Hands, it was astonishing to see how the poem and the sketch went together. To me, Heart Hands represents the most Supreme of all love – devotion. Devotion to our highest ideal, that which inspires us to reach for the greatest of all knowledge – the knowledge of the Self. Devotion that inspires us to give from the heart and to give up all that is negative and dark – surrendering our ego, ignorance and pain to receive in return light, love and bliss. This poem describes this great love story, as it happened to me:
Stumbling, a dark cold night
Shrinking, melancholy, sheer fright
Maze of questions, “Is this it?”
Must find answers, can’t yet quit
A flicker of light, a faint glow
“Come to Me”, unambiguous now
“Where?” “How?” ask I
“Take one step and I’ll take five”
Courage and trust the Voice seeks
So right and pure and good it feels
Surrendering, that lonely night
A leap of faith into the Light
What to name that divine One
Guide, Friend, Self, love?
It matters not, what is in a name?
Becoming That, the only real way
Remains true to His word, He does
Five steps to every single one
Enticing, luring, goading, showing
Unexpected glimpses of Infinite Glory
Longing, desperate and wordless
Intense desire to become That
To know it for what It is
Love and light, peace and bliss
An offering made every minute
Take it all now, please take it
Ignorance, ego, fear, rage
Destiny re-written, a brand new page
Not long, the spark now a blaze
Of moments, hours, days
The Voice gaining hold
A promise long foretold
Dark days a distant dream
Light and love fill the being
Pathway to That painstakingly built
The veil of illusion lifted bit by bit
Biking is one of those outdoor activities that one has a love – hate relationship with depending on one’s physical conditioning, endurance and the ability to enjoy solitude. For several summers, we biked as a family, our young daughters trudging along in their Burleys. But there has come a point where they have outgrown these convenient, lightweight carriages but are still too young to bike long distances with us. Hence, for the last two summers, I’ve stayed home with them while their dad went for long weekend rides. Besides, I’ve favored indulging in intense, 90-minute yoga sessions during the weekends to boost my daily practice. Yesterday however, my husband prepped our bikes and it was impossible to resist the urge to accompany him (particularly when we have willing babysitters in visiting grandparents!). So, I laced up my hibernating sneakers and got on my bike…
This experience was totally different from my last ride two years ago. I followed my husband at a distance getting reacquianted with the bike, the seat, the gears and the roads. Within minutes, it was as if every cell in my body had become attuned with the environment – the crunch of the gravel, the clicking of the gears, the vibration under the bike as cars passed by, the symphony of the morning birds, the myriad of colors of wildflowers, the smell of the wet grass, the cacophony of dogs barking all at once, and the cool wind in my face. An acute awareness descended on me as I felt my muscles cry for oxygen and threatening to go into anaerobic metabolism, my heart and lungs working hard to provide the precious life-giving gas, and my brain effortlessly coordinating every activity like a seasoned conductor. Throughout the 10-mile ride, an intense joy came over me even as sweat poured and muscles whose existence I had forgotten announced their gratitude to be worked out. As I tuned in to the joy, Eckart Tolle’s words of “There is only this moment” came true. It then hit me that this was yoga!
Yoga is “union” in Sanskrit – union of awareness and movement, of body and thought, of consciousness with the unconscious to transcend the limitations of life as we know it. Yoga is more than exercise. In fact, for those who practice it regularly, yoga becomes a way of life. Yoga has transformed me as an individual in ways that astonish me. It has brought an intense awareness to every aspect of my life. Of my body – there are days when I can easily get into the headstand or effortlessly slip into Kapothasana (“King Pigeon”, an advanced yoga pose) or Chakrasana (“Wheel”, another advanced pose). On other days, I find it difficult to touch my toes with ease. This has brought an awareness of what makes my body more flexible – a light diet, warming up, staying active and hydrated. The motivation to get into and stay in advanced poses makes me choose healthier options. When in a pose and holding it for prolonged periods, the traditional teaching is to become aware of the breath and “let the breath body take over”. I’ve found that this is true for all other areas of life as well – letting the breath body take over when agitated, angry or fearful puts a space between the “me here” and “that there”. Thus, a shift in perspective occurs – gradual but definite and palpable. Becoming aware of the Self within has led to many other “perks” – greater creativity and focus, the ability to maintain one-pointed attention for extended periods, to take “good” and “bad” with increasing equanimity and grace and most importantly, the ability to relate on a much deeper level with one and all. I find this to be the greatest gift of yoga. Thanks to yoga, I connect with my patients in a way I didn’t before, somehow sensing that all that is going on in the other person to be going on within me. Likewise, there is a greater empathy while interacting with all – family, friends and even strangers. Finally, yoga has given me the ability to connect with myself and to see that none of what I see is me – not the face in the mirror or the body that can twist and turn into many poses, not the incessant stream of thoughts that claim to be me, not the ebb and flow of emotions that I thought defined my life so long ago. I am all of this, yet not this. I am much more that all of this, as evidenced by the occasional glimpse into the vastness of being. Yoga has taught me to feel pure joy just to be alive this moment.
As I found out this weekend, yoga can be performed ceaselessly – even on a bike ride.
On the eve of the first day of school, I had to sit down and unentangle the knot of emotions. My youngest starts first grade tomorrow – “real school”. This will be so different from kindergarten – all day in school, lunch at school, expectations of parents and teachers, new friendships and new heartbreaks. Things I had put off to exist “somewhere in the future” a few short months ago. Suddenly that future is here. And I’m excited for her, yet so sad to see her grow up so fast. When she goes to bed tonight with stars in her eyes, I will gaze at her sleeping face and pray for strength once again. To let go once more..
The minute we decide on becoming parents, we’ve (consciously or otherwise) committed to a lifetime of letting go, in addition to continuous sacrifice and unconditional love. For many women, it begins with pregnancy – for with this new decision, we’ve also accepted that our bodies will never be the same again. With that one decision, we’ve let go (usually joyously) of our bodies and everything that is to come during pregnancy, childbirth and thereafter. With childbirth comes the next letting go – of knowing that the child is no longer a physical part of us, and that from this point on, it will be one after another event of letting go. Of sleepless nights, every milestone of babyhood that we wish we could sear into our brains, that first smile, the first word, the first curl, the first tooth, the first step, and even that first time she slept through the night.. With each change, we learn to let go, as one phase passes into the next. The hardest letting go happens when working mothers return to work, leaving the helpless infant in the care of others. For mothers like me, this is probably one of the most difficult of all parenting steps. For months, I was broken-hearted every morning leaving my precious babies. Eventually, I did let go of the guilt, the sadness, and the act of questioning my life’s path.
Pre-school is the next big act of letting go. When we realize that not everything that our little angels know was taught by us, it is a major shift in parenting consciousness! No matter how prepared we think we are, most of us feel a certain pang in the pit of our stomachs leaving them in school that first day (or if one is like me, sit on the school steps and cry one’s heart out!). We then somehow let go easily enough through first performances, new skills, new words and abilities. And thereafter, for these incredible little ones, life is about building on those abilities while simultaneously exploring new ones. And increasingly testing their wings with the eventual goal of flying away. Through it all, we are constantly letting go..
When we think about it, parenting is a lesson in living our lives. For the act of living is the act of letting go. As we pass through life, the longer we hang onto particular identities and roles, the harder it is to accept and love ourselves. Be it youth, beauty, health, or specific roles – parent, spouse, professional, of a particular religious sect, nation or skin color, the harder it is to see our true self in the image of God when we cannot let go of these attributes. For we are not any of these – in fact, our cells have regenerated so many times since birth that we are not bodies we thought we were just a few months ago. Our minds which are a constant train of thought and fickle are not “us” either! It is when we let go of our identification with our bodies, minds, thinking and the concept of “me” that true peace can be let in.
In parenting too, it is by gracefully letting go that our children can grow both roots and wings. For our children don’t belong to us – they are precious gifts given to us to nurture and love so they can reach their full potential and fulfill their purpose on this planet.
Having said this, I will arm myself with a camera and a box of tissues tomorrow as I accompany my little girl to first grade.
Despite my best intentions, I have been unable to write the next segment on the issue of health in 2011. But here goes..
By now, we know that health is not merely the absence of disease. We’ve also taken stock of our current condition and situations. We may have resolved to go through some of the recommended screening examinations and lastly, we may know our numbers for certain parameters by which health is traditionally measured. Now that we may have those in hand, what next?
The next step is to become familiar with goals for these numbers. Here they are, in the same order as the earlier post:
- Blood pressure: The ideal blood pressure is less than 120/80 mm Hg. What is blood pressure anyway? The two numbers that make up this reading are called “systolic” and “diastolic” blood pressure. Systolic blood pressure represents the pressure or force against the arteries when the heart is contracting; diastolic blood pressure is the force against the arterial walls between heart contractions. Nearly 80 million Americans have high blood pressure. Because there are no symptoms warning us that our blood pressure may be high, we may walk around untreated for several years. And that is a problem – over time, high blood pressure damages pretty much every organ system in our bodies and puts us at high risk for heart attacks and strokes. Treatment of high blood pressure with lifestyle changes and medications has been shown to prevent such calamities.
- Cholesterol: Cholesterol is the fatty, wax-like substance that sticks to the artery walls and “clogs” up our plumbing system – of the heart, the brain, the digestive system, legs, and like high blood pressure, damage every organ eventually. Cholesterol is produced by the liver but also makes its way into our systems via the food we eat. This is where diet comes in, and we will examine dietary issues in depth later. Goals for the various cholesterol numbers are: total cholesterol less than 150 mg/dL, LDL (bad) cholesterol less than 100 mg/dL, HDL (good) cholesterol more than 45 mg/dL and triglycerides (bad) less than 150 mg/dL.
- Body Mass Index: It goes without saying that we are in the midst of the obesity epidemic. While most of think of malnutrition as a condition that afflicts impoverished kids in third-world countries, it must be remembered that overweight/obesity is also a form of malnutrition. When there is an excess of fat within the abdominal cavity around the organs, there is the potential for developing Metabolic Syndrome. This is a result of insulin resistance, which means that although the pancreas is producing insulin, the insulin cannot get to the organs because of the fat barrier. As the insulin builds up, people with this syndrome become diabetic. Because of the conglomeration of effects from the insulin and blood sugar, as well as the overall obesity, blood pressure and blood cholesterol rise (particularly triglycerides), creating the “perfect storm” for heart attacks, strokes, vascular disease, etc. The ideal body mass index is less than 25. In South Asians (Indians, Pakistanis, etc), the ideal body mass index is less than 23.
- Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm: (or triple A as it is called) is a dangerous condition where the aorta, the main blood vessel coming off the heart becomes enlarged, usually as a result of high blood pressure, high cholesterol and other common risk factors. The concern here is the potential for rupture (which is often fatal). Sadly, more often than not, there are no signs or symptoms that can pinpoint to this condition other than sudden collapse or death. Hence, getting checked for it is recommended, particularly in men at age 65.
- Diabetes: Diabetes is probably the worst disease one can have – a silent killer that attacks every cell and causes cunning havoc while seemingly nothing looks/feels different about the person harboring it. In fact, diabetes is such a strong risk factor for heart disease that it is considered a coronary artery disease equivalent. This means that diabetics are treated as if they already have heart disease, even before a diagnosis of the latter is made. Because, like high blood pressure, this condition causes no outward symptoms, diagnosis is often made incidentally by which time much damage is already done. Hence, getting regular check-ups for diabetes is essential, particularly in those that have a family history, are 45 years of age or older, are obese, have had diabetes during pregnancy or a history of heart or vascular disease or other risks for heart disease. Fasting blood sugar levels between 100-125 mg/dL indicate pre-diabetes (which means there is a high risk of developing it) and levels of higher than 126 mg/dL indicate diabetes.
- Stress: While stress may be inevitable, the way we deal with it makes all the difference. Stress usually results from (a) overload – being pulled in multiple directions, with pressure to perform on various levels and in various roles, (b) life-altering situations – a new job, losing a job, marriage, divorce, new baby, death, accidents, etc that make us think we have no control, (c) biology – being “wired” in a certain way; classically the “type A”, “high need”, resentful, regretful, hostile and angry personalities. Of course, there may be other causes of stress, but they can usually be fit into one of these three bins. Ideally, there should be no stress! Easy to say, hard to do. We will examine ways to reduce stress in these writings.
- Dissatisfaction: Dissatisfaction results from the impulsive desire to be somewhere else at any given time. And this arises most often from comparison with others – real or imagined. In this mode, we can always look better, weigh less (or more), be smarter, have more money, have more fame, better job, better home, better car, better spouse and better children. Being able to love what we already have and experience contentment seems to be a lost art. Regaining this sense of being complete in any situation brings about harmony within and without.
- Anxiety/low level depression: Anxiety and sadness always arises from remembrance of past events or imagined future events, never in the present moment. To be able to free ourselves of this nagging voice is worth the effort. With a dedicated plan and consistent effort, these can be overcome to a large extent.
- Sleep disturbances: Ideally, we must follow a regular sleep schedule, with adequate sleep hygeine. This means going to bed and waking up at the same time daily, being refreshed upon waking up, with no periods of waking up, or tossing and turning at night. While it is generally recommended that adults get about 8 hours of sleep daily, many can manage just fine with about 6-7 hours. Sleep disturbances can lead to many serious problems and must be checked out by a physician.
- Food, alcohol, tobacco and other addictions: Clearly addiction to anything can pose a problem to our overall health and well-being. As we move further along in this series, we will examine the why’s and how’s and what-to-do’s of addictions.
Tip #2: Know your goals for radiant health
It has been a whole year since my last blog post. It has been a year of incredible growth; immense joy, immense pain and immense love, all of it culminating into coming face to face with myself. Stripped of all that I have held to be true and “me”. In total, naked honesty. And finding that this truth is what I have been seeking and yet running from, for as long as I remember. But never mind, the inspiration is here now to write again.
Going through all these changes during an election year has had me thinking long and hard into what it really means when we talk about Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness in the Declaration of Independence being our three most celebrated rights. Here is one perspective, from the viewpoint of a spiritual seeker..
What is Life? A question I’ve asked for many years, and now discovering that Life is literally the phenomenon of simply being alive. And that my right to Life, to just “being”, is simply about learning to let go into Her (it might as well be a Him, or It – gender is irrelevant). To trust Her. That She will take care of it all. It is learning to stop resisting, to really and deeply know that I am here, in this place, because Life put me here, because this is where the learning for me is at this moment.. In my work, in my family, in the mundane issues that come up constantly that I would like to escape sometimes. Even in the pain that arises on occasion that I would like more than anything to go away. Finally, I am beginning to trust Life, and to truly be okay with the uncertainty of where this is all going. To not just be okay with it, but to thrive in it. Because, if Life did not think I needed this right now, I would not have this, or be here. How long it has taken to realize this! How long have I fought it, thinking that “I”, this little ego knows better? And amazingly, the more I trust Her, the better it gets. It turns out that whenever a change in my life or situation is needed, She either hands it to me, or creates circumstances where a change is necessary. Whether it is made willingly or unwillingly on “my” part is irrelevant to Her – She will not have it any other way. How long have I kicked and screamed, trying to change the course of things.. How much have I lamented when things have not turned out the way “I’ wanted them to? And miraculously, each and every single time that things did not turn out the way I wanted them to, it has been, in retrospect, the best thing that could have happened to me, and I have grown monumentally as a result of it.. So there it is – trusting Life, and surrendering to Her is not just my inalienable right, but positive foolishness to not do so..
Then there is Liberty – ahh, the ideas this word conjures up! Is Liberty just the right to express myself in written or spoken word, and do as I please? Am I truly free with that sort of Liberty? Only now am I beginning to discover the sweetness of freedom – what it means to be free in this moment; free of past conditioning and judgment and to function in the here and now in a state of free choice. I can choose to behave in a certain way, no matter what has happened in the last moment. And this comes down to how much I can let go and trust Life.. Am I able to do this all the time? No. But, when I’m present in the here and now, interacting with people or situations, and living life without any pre-suppositions, I experience joy and beauty that I have never known. Most importantly, this kind of living in the now has led to fading of the continuous judging, comparing, and criticizing voice that most of us seem to take for granted as a ‘normal’ state. With that voice gradually subsiding, I am aware of a vast, expansive space, the space of true freedom. Liberty, it turns out, is a direct result of trusting Life – the more I trust Her and surrender to Her, the more freedom I experience..
Finally, the pursuit of Happiness.. What gross misconceptions of Happiness have I carried in my mind for so many decades! Even though I’ve joined the bandwagon and declared “Happiness comes from within”, I never really knew what that meant and never could really convince myself. Turns out that Happiness comes neither from within nor without – it is who I am, when I trust Life and live in a state of Liberty. It is the natural state of every being, when the mind is quiescent and the heart is full. The quality of Happiness is not an ordinary joy of having a desire fulfilled. It is that precious “gap” between thoughts, which becomes longer and longer as we learn to abide in it. It is silent, full, blissful, radiant.. It just is.. In the times that I rest in that silent happiness, it feels expansive, going in and out simultaneously, loving without discrimination, giving without concern and deeply connected with everyone and everything.
Our wise founding fathers sure were on to something when they placed Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness as the basic rights of all citizens. As we grow, learn, become pliant and let go of compulsive control, we find that these rights come to life within ourselves, touching our core and bringing us alive.
There is the you and here is the me
Clothed in layers accrued through being
Our visions blurred by veils unseen
Seeing you through such clouded eyes
You mirror me so well in woe and glee
When we wore the garb of actors here
We didn’t notice our true selves disappear
Identifying deeply with the roles we play
Posturing helplessly in pleasure and pain
Conspiring through lines of the act
Falling in and out of love at the drop of a hat
Helplessly and inexorably carried upon
Shifting colors and changing forms
There is the you and here is the me
For a moment we put our masks aside
No roles to play, eyes open wide
In unashamed nakedness we rest a bit
With relief, from this endless skit
Peering through clear eyes, it seems
That I am you and you are me
For under these guises, you see
We have been in love for an eternity
There is the me and here is the me
These roles we play oh so well
Serve only to bring us to this place
Where it is safe to step behind the veil
So we may forever rest in divine grace
Until that time, my ally and guide
We’ll fall in love one day and out the next
Even as we learn to set our garbs aside
And return to where we never left
Do you remember the time when
Desires drove a lifetime again?
For fame, wealth, friends; above all
For love and things, big and small
And then you came storming in
Even as your bounty came pouring down
Things I had desired and so much more
But they lost their luster and mattered no more.
For, once your presence is deeply felt
What can matter ever at all?
Prepared to have, at any cost
This communion to last and last..
And so it has come to pass
What is mine and what is yours?
The wealth and friends and love and fame
Are they not merely your playful game?
And so now our roles are reversed
How farcical it is Keshava!
For this life and purpose are solely defined
By giving you that which only seems mine.
I give you my mind, my heart, my soul
My life, my work, and all of my goals
I offer up my limitations and pain
Suffering and strife, again and again.
Take this bliss and this ecstasy too
Confusion and tendencies, those in your view
Possessions in sheaths that are unseen
And elusive strings that remain concealed.
Take even this longing for you
(And any pride of giving it all)
Let me want nothing but you
Forever and always, my Beloved in blue.
A few days ago, I had this thing come up – if I were to die now, when my children are still young, what would I want to have taught them? If I have learned anything, how can they benefit from my growth and openings?
In my continued exploration of what it means to be human, I’ve found that all outward values like kindness, humility, respect and brotherhood are farcical if they don’t arise as a result of our own inner transformation. Without inner growth and deeper understanding, outer displays of the so-called “good” qualities are merely an act, and serve no greater purpose. My lessons to my children are based purely on authenticity, and understanding that the outer is simply a reflection of the inner.
If you understand this well, my child, you will see that self-preservation is the common thread of all life forms. This is the one thing that binds us all in “same-ness”. In humans, the thinking mind schemes up complex ways to accomplish this. To preserve his limited perception and beliefs, man lies, cheats, manipulates, gives in to anger, hate, jealousy and lust, kills and maims his brothers, and lives in constant fear of death. In knowing deeply what it is that makes people behave as they do, you can set them free of whatever they do to you. Be wise.
Almost everyone that will come your way will attempt to assess your worth and project it back at you. And you will do the same with them. Recognize this pattern and learn to notice the untruth of all such assessments. Know that worth is beyond all calculation – yours included. Service and devotion are the only notable external signs of worth and inner strength. Be strong.
Every day of your life, you will encounter teachers and teachings. The only way to recognize them is to keep your heart open to them. If your eyes are open, everyone is a teacher. Thus, honor all (people and experiences) that come into your awareness. Know that some teachers will never manifest on this plane, but will guide you nevertheless. I will be one of them for you, always. Embrace every encounter with gratitude, and your life will be transformed. Be grateful.
4. Me and Mine
Everyone falls into the trap of partitioning “me and mine” from “not me and not mine”. Know that all divisions in the world arise from this. Also know that this erroneous division is merely a play of the human mind. Even the best amongst us is prone to this folly. Hence, forgive those (very human) friends, parents, teachers and leaders that give precedence to their own. By recognizing that this is merely a human tendency, resolve to find that in you which unites, not divides. Be inclusive.
5. Jealousy, greed, hate
No matter what field you choose, you will encounter these qualities in those around you. People will try to pull you down, set you up, put themselves first at all costs, call you names, steal from you and cause you pain. Know that those that exhibit these tendencies don’t know any better. Thus, forgive them. Know without a doubt that the most effective remedy to all negativity is love. Strive to go beyond such petty limitations yourself, by keeping your heart fixed on the nobler goal of knowing the divine in you (and by default, in all). Know that all else in life is irrelevant in comparison. Be brave.
Without fail, make time and space for quiet every single day. Every aspect of your life will be the better for it. Guard your solitude like no other property. Become intimately familiar with the workings of your own mind – it is in this familiarity with your own self that you can undo all that does not serve you. In becoming friends with all the evil in you, not only can you empathize with the evil in others, but also learn to let go of it and attune yourself to the divine in you. Be still.
In order to fulfill life’s divine purpose, it helps to follow moderation in all areas of life. Time and again, you will be tempted to over-indulge, be it work, play, study, talk, food, sleep, nice things, travel, or even spiritual pursuits. In all matters, be diligent about moderation. At all times, be cognizant of your mind’s pushes and pulls. Loss of control over your mind’s demands and tantrums is the first step into hell’s descent. Be disciplined.
There is much in popular psychology about positive self-talk. But this is a primitive step in the long and arduous process of gaining mastery over your own inner workings. Learn to listen to that inner voice and it’s constant flow – watch all the unkind ways in which your mind will degrade you in response to a present situation but always based on a habitual pattern picked up long ago. As you learn to watch them (aided by daily meditation), recognize the humor and futility of your mind’s endless stories. Once you learn to see the mind’s spinning as simply it’s own mode of self-preservation, you will have the power to not believe it’s stories. And once you stop believing it, the mind has no choice but to drop it. Be reflective.
9. Fame and wealth
In your times, more than ever, there will be a clamoring for wealth and fame. Many around you will dedicate their lives to seeking fame and wealth at the cost of all else. In this pursuit, they will display the one quality not seen in any other species – selfishness bordering on insanity. You may be tempted to follow that path yourself. Know without a doubt that neither fame nor wealth will give you lasting happiness. The more you seek them, the more will peace and freedom evade you. However, if you can understand how the Universe works, you will discover true joy which will radiate from you in the form of love, kindness, abundance, and compassion. The secret to abundance is giving – give your time and resources without reservation and watch your life overflow with abundance. Be giving.
You are gifted. So is everyone else. There is no being that is brought into existence without a divine purpose. As you go through life, your successes and achievements will bring admiration from many. But remember one thing – talent and success make one akin to an uncut diamond. What gives the diamond it’s signature dazzle is humility. And humility is knowing with conviction that you are no better than anyone else, and all that is given to you is merely a gift of Grace. Do not fake humility, or any other virtue. Faking is always unnecessary, non-serving and obvious. Do not get ahead of yourself with pride and arrogance – there is nothing more unbecoming. Genuine humility will bring the Universe to your feet. Be humble.
Realize that love is the very fuel of creation. It is what drives every creature, big and small. Love and God are synonymous. Love is what remains after everything else is gone. And the only place you will find it is in your own heart, even though you may search for it everywhere else for a long time. The only way you will experience true love is by loving. If you pick and choose whom to love, you will miss the greatest gift of human life. Be loving.
The world is divided by those fanatical about “their” God. In your life, you will encounter many who will try to convince you that “theirs” is better than “yours”. You may also notice yourself wanting to prove that yours is better than theirs. Recognize that this tendency is the hallmark of divisiveness, a uniquely human condition. God does not divide. God is all there is, in every being, every rock, every planet and every sun – in all of creation, seen and unseen, known and unknown. Seek to know God that is you; all else is trivial. Be God.
So it was that I sought peace
Peace arose in waves in me
And then I was with that peace
Until I found I was the peace.
Then I chased inner bliss
It surfaced from a well deep within
And then I was with that bliss
Until I found I was the bliss.
As I wandered looking for love
It gushed forth from my own heart
And then I was with that love
Until I found I was the love.
As I raced fervently to get “there”
The there morphed into the “here”
And then I was in the here
Until I found I was the here.
As I longed for redemption to come
The future stood still as the now
And so I was in the now
Until I found I was the now.
Thus I searched the world for God
But God was found hiding in me
And so I was with God
Until I found that I am God.