Sri Vidya Sadhana – the confluence of Tantra, Yoga and Vedanta

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

The path of sadhana is always mysterious, twisting and turning in proportion to our surrender and the always present element of Divine Grace. How I was led to Sri Vidya Sadhana is one such mysterious tale. Even though japa and mantra sadhana have long been among my daily practices, tantra had never held much appeal for me, perhaps because it has been so distorted from it’s original teachings, particularly in the West. However, since beginning Sri Vidya Sadhana, the pristine teachings of Tantra have drawn me into their fold to such an extent that what I thought were “my” paths (yoga and Vedanta) have exploded into much greater understanding.

A year ago, there was a subtle but definite resistance to dissolving the I-sense. In meditative practices, often my focus remains on this I-sense, which easily dissolves into samadhi or transcendence. But for several days in a row, I noticed a definite “barrier” that stopped short right at that I-sense, rigid and unyielding. One particular day, this wall brought up such frustration and longing that abandoning practice, I lay down sobbing. By then, I had had many peak experiences of energy movements, visions, deep insights and ecstatic bliss, but still, there were times when old and nonserving patterns came up in daily life in the form of attachment to “I” and “mine”. As I bitterly wondered what the use was of such mystical experiences if there wasn’t a meaningful change from within, it was as if an outside thought appeared in my mind. It was a gentle suggestion to take up Sri Vidya Sadhana. I had no doubt that this thought was planted by my beloved guru, Mahavatar Babaji, for this is precisely how he has worked to lead me along the path. As I researched Sri Vidya, I was astonished to see that this great practice could be obtained through deeksha (initiation) in the lineage of Babaji himself, further strengthening the knowledge that surely it was his wish. In the time since that initiation, this practice has been transforming my life in radical ways.

Shiva represents consciousness. By himself, Shiva is inert. Shakti is creation; She provides movement and dynamism to Shiva. Neither can create without the other; thus, Shiva is often depicted as Ardhanariswara – half Shiva and half Shakti. Shiva is the “nothing” while Shakti is the “everything” – yet, the nothing and the everything exist simultaneously, inexorably entwined. Yoga is the path of Shiva, starting with the viewpoint that Shiva and Shakti become as though separated in the process of creation. The purpose of yoga is to bring them back together (yoga = to join). Tantra is the path of Shakti, starting with the viewpoint that Shiva and Shakti exist together, and that the most effective way to experience Shiva is through Shakti in her infinite manifestations (tantra; tanoti = expansion, trayoti = liberation). While the yogi renunciates in order to know Shiva, the tantric embraces the totality of life experiences knowing them to be Shakti, the Divine Mother Herself. Not one aspect of life is shunned away from – everything from the subtlest to the grossest experience that arises is seen to be Her. The traditional practice of tantra lies in the effective use of mantra (name) and yantra (form) to know the nameless and formless Brahman. While Advaita Vedanta sees all of creation to be an illusion, the tantrik (from the point of view of the embodied jiva) sees creation to be very much real, a play of the Divine Mother on the fabric of immutable consciousness that is the Divine Father. Shakti is simultaneously seen as being benign and beautiful as well as ferocious and terrible – there is no aspect of creation that it is not Her. Tantra teaches one to see Her beauty and to love Her in Her infinite forms no matter how depraved or heinous. By expanding the limited mind beyond the dualities of good/bad, beautiful/ugly, right/wrong, like/dislike, the tantric arrives at the same place as the adept yogi or the Vedantin – Oneness; seeing that Brahman is the nondual reality, in and through the mirage of duality.

While the energy and peak experiences that come with a practice like Sri Vidya Sadhana are numerous, the real fruit of an effective sadhana is what happens in day-to-day life. Gradually, the distinction between “mundane” and “spiritual” falls away – there is no aspect of life that is not spiritual, be it working, playing, sleeping, praying or meditating. The effects continue to grow and expand daily, beginning with surrender. While bhakti has been a strong element in my sadhana, the type of surrender that Shakti demands and gets is in a league of its own. The more I become drawn in to Her, the more childlike I feel myself becoming, relying on Her for everything. As a young child feels, there is a constant longing for communion with Her, to sit in Her cosmic lap and to be schooled by Her. There is the strong impulse to give up everything to Her as an offering – the body in fasting and breath in pranayama, limitations, pain and selfish desires as incense, and deep-rooted vasanas (samskaras) as flowers.. nothing can remain as “mine”, not even the sadhana itself. There is an intense growing need to burn in the inner ritual fire of bhakti and austerity, to let it hone and chisel my being as it will and leave behind nothing. What happens with such longing and surrender is that there is increasing acceptance of everything to be Her Grace, be it external such as a routine situation (like a traffic jam when already running late or the loss of treasured relationships) or internal, within the mind/emotion (like an old unforgiven hurt that surfaces to cause anger or pain).  Surrender is the fastest path to equanimity, acceptance and love, in that order. The Divine Mother is so compassionate that all I need to do is ask, and She gives more than I ask for. I ask for clarity to look at my limitations, and She grants it along with compassion for myself and others so I may understand that such limitations are universal and that I may behave with tolerance. I ask for Her love and She shows me in a thousand different ways every day that love shines bright all around. I ask for courage, strength, wisdom.. and it is done, showing up in unexpected ways. Most of all, I beg Her for knowledge of Brahman, and She patiently points me to myself, again and again.

As someone that adores the clean logic of Vedanta, the austerities of Yoga and the esoteric inner rituals of Tantra, Sri Vidya Sadhana is the practice that beckons to me, probably picked up from a distant lifetime and guided by the benevolent guru. In the growing understanding of the dynamism of the Sri Yantra, there is an intuitive seeing of the Bindu that remains still in and through all of creation (represented by the intersecting triangles) that is in constant motion. This experiential seeing steadily chips away the veil of separateness and expands one into fulfilling the destiny of evolution – to realize first-hand the divinity within.

 

Homage to the Andes

Written by Heal Your Heart on . Posted in Inspired Poetry

Towering peaks as far as eyes can roam
Dignified against skies of blue and gold
In the emanating stillness of Shiva,
Shakti dances in Her myriad forms.
United, they reverberate the Cosmic Aum.

My head bows in deep reverence,
Even as my eyes lift in awe and wonder.
My heart swells with Supreme joy,
And cells vibrate with blissful ecstasy.

Humbled to have touched Your sacred soil,
Rested from Your magnetic embrace,
I will carry Your essence forever
As I hope to return once again;
To where perfect stillness and movement unite,
As eternal communion of Father and Mother divine.

The Key

Written by Heal Your Heart on . Posted in Inspired Poetry

The one I was searching for,
Is lending itself to sweet discovery;
Finding that the one that looked,
Was itself the goal and the journey.

Nothing new needed adding,
Nothing lessened by taking away;
Being has for an eternity been,
Waiting patiently to be seen.

Ever pure and ever loving,
Holding all in sacred embrace,
Being stands still and aware,
Letting the doer think and play.

This I am, this pure Being!
Not in the moment or in the now;
Forever at peace and divinely serene,
I am this moment and this now.

Past and future are but concepts,
As I revel as this pure Being.
Pain and joy color me not
As doing dissolves into being.

Allowing all to arise as they do,
Meeting the mystery of this now;
Seeing all this to be but me,
I remain forever untainted and free.

Breaking out of a prison at last,
I found it had always been unlocked.
For that elusive key had I searched,
When lo and behold, it was in me.

Dialogue with Forgiveness

Written by Heal Your Heart on . Posted in Inspired Poetry

(The following arose from explorations in inquiry of the nature of forgiveness and it’s relationship to opening to one’s true nature. The process of this inquiry will be delved into in a later post. This lesson in forgiveness was a breakthrough, a simple, clear seeing of truth that arose after working on it for many months.  What remains when stuff is forgiven is love. And infinite peace.)

Forgiveness appeared in inner vision,
While resting in the fullness of silence.
Settling softly in misty presence,
“Ask anything,” she gently coaxed.

Bowing humbly to this divine being
“What is your nature?” I shyly asked.
“Please tell me your deepest secrets,
And why it is that I should know you.”

Throwing a beatific glance she began,
“What I am is like a two-way door,
That swings between Doing and Being
And holds the keys to peace and love.”

“From Doing you will stumble upon me.
As you strive to push your way through,
I will give in when you give up pushing,
And thus you will find yourself in Being.

From Being you will see me as well,
But only as a mirage in your own self
Hence through me you will find,
Love and peace have forever been here.

“How will you appear to me”, asked I
“Viewed thus through Being’s eye?”
“You will find me as perfection”, said she
“In all that has been and will ever be.”

“When you have found me in earnest,
You will be willing to have your heart broken
As many times as it is needed
To return to yourself as pristine Being.

You will find it could not have been,
Any different, from this eye of Being
Nothing is yours and can never be,
Knowing this you will return to Doing.

Passing through me yet again,
Doing, for you, will be forever changed.
And I as the mirage will here cease,
Never to appear in Doing or Being.”

As I bowed low, she rose again,
Her laughter dissolved in fragrant mist.
The door that was just thus seen,
Melted away in the vastness of Being.

Techniques to Stay Present

Written by Heal Your Heart on . Posted in Supportive

At the meditation classes I conduct, there are always questions on what to do “in between” the sitting sessions when we tend to get pulled or hooked into stuff, be it interactions with others or our own addictive behavior. The following are some useful strategies, depending on how far into the “pull” one is.

Initially, without established inner silence, this pull/hook may only be noticed after the fact, either while still in the throes of it or much later after all has quieted down. As we cultivate inner silence through meditation, this pull is noticed more and more “upstream” until there comes a time when the beginning of the subtle fluctuations in energy are noticed at a very deep level, even before they crystallize into thought and /or action (response).

Strategies from gross (downstream) to subtle (upstream):

A. The pull or hook is noticed in retrospect:
Usually the tendency is to re-live the incidence again and again, with the inner critic going over all the ways the past outcome could have been different.

Instead,
1. At the end of a meditation session, bring up the emotion as intensely as possible – the sense of being wronged/insulted/disrespected (or the juicy temptation of the addiction) along with the bodily reactions that accompany it plus the compulsive need to react to it.
2. Become intensely familiar with it all. The more intensely this can be brought up, the easier it is to practice in “real life”.
3. When vividly brought up, gently bring the mind back to the mantra/breath or other familiar meditation technique.
4. Bring it up again, going back to the technique when the pull is felt as if real.

As this practice goes on, the package of sensations becomes so familiar that it can be noticed more and more upstream. With every repetition, the intensity of the package becomes less and less, to where it can finally be recognized as a non-issue.

B. In the throes of the pull:
As soon as it is noticed that the hook has been bitten, the first thing that may arise is dismay – oh no, I’ve done it again! This can lead to added frustration. There are many strategies that help at this stage:
1. Mantra – for those who enjoy mantra sadhana, this is one very powerful application. Bring the mantra into sharp focus, concentrating on each syllable. I find that the more complex the mantra, the faster I get “off” the hook. Any mantra I’m working on at the moment will do.
2. Breathe – place both your hands on the belly, fingertips touching at the solar plexus, and see how far you can push the fingertips apart during inhalation and how much the fingertips will overlap during exhalation. Simply bringing attention to the movement of the diaphragm works wonders.
3. Notice the sound of the breath – for this, it helps to become familiar with the inherent “soundless sound” of quiet breathing during peaceful times – “So” during inhalation and “Ham” during exhalation. Noticing changes in rhythm while going about daily activities is very helpful, because the jagged rhythm that occurs spontaneously when agitated can be easily recognized when it happens. If able to recognize this, consciously change the rhythm to what is remembered from the quiet times.
4. Pay attention to the breath – notice the length of the breath by counting, and increase the length by double for 5 breaths and triple for 5.
5. Bring full attention to where the hands are. This is simple but works even as a constant practice – always attend to whatever the hands are engaged in.

C. About to “bite” the hook:
1. Mantra (as above) – diverting the heat and turning it to bhakti in mantra works superbly well at any stage.
2. Once more established in inner silence, notice the change in texture of the energy behind the thought-emotion, the “felt-sense”. By noticing that felt-sense as well as the energy behind “wanting” to react but not reacting, the impermanence of the hook can be seen through. It can be allowed to pass.

D. There is a subtle arising of the temptation to “bite” the hook:
As we get firmly established in inner silence and the witness arises, the slightest change in texture or feel of the energy (felt-sense) is immediately noticed. As we become more sensitive to this, there can be a general feeling of being unwell every time the baseline of peace and contentment is “off”. Not letting things be is felt as resistance.

1. Samyama – this most powerful technique is an advanced yogic practice of bringing up an emotion from a place of stillness and releasing it back into the stillness. When practiced diligently, samyama becomes a way of life, where everything that arises is released into stillness even as we go about our daily lives.
2. Self-inquiry – another powerful practice, it works best when there is enough inner silence. Self-inquiry is the practice of looking deep within to find the “one who knows this”. In the present context, it is useful to simply notice the resistance and then work backwards from it, from “why is this such a problem?” to “where in me is this pointing?” to “who is this that notices?”
3. Become aware of awareness. An extension of self-inquiry, in this advanced practice, we are far more interested in the one that knows rather than “what” this one knows.
4. “Open” from the contracted state – the “something is off” feels like trying to squeeze through a tight opening. Relaxing or opening from that is like opening the door and walking into fresh air.
5. Stay with the raw energy – without labeling it as anger, sadness, etc, merely allow the energy to be felt “as is”. Anytime a story arises in the mind about the feeling (example, “how could she do this?” or “wish I had never met him”), return to the felt-sense. Without labeling and story-telling, the lifespan of such subtle shifts becomes exceedingly short and the present moment awareness is never “lost”.

I find that as I become more adept at this, it is fun to notice all the triggers (and sometimes even seek them out), to practice, to find new ways to let go into the vastness and loving acceptance of the present moment. The fun is akin to progressing along levels in an endless video game.

The Thing About Desire

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

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

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

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.

Are we what we eat?

Written by Heal Your Heart on . Posted in Yogic Diet

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

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.