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Transition in Relationships

Transition in Relationships

SUMMARY KEYWORDS

people, mind, yoga, life, spiritual knowledge, family condition, mental health, karmic relationship, raja yoga, strength, balance,  emotionnal balance, karma yoga, adaptability, flexibility, avoidance, isolation, responsibility, personality, relationships, equanimity, loss, bhakti yoga, yoga life

The Flow of Relationships

Today we continue the topic of the Yoga of Relationships and how to handle transition. How do we manage our relationships? We said yesterday that everything just flows from one thing to another. Life is in transition at all times. Life is a flow. We just need to follow the flow in its many different aspects. One of the aspects is relationships, human relationships.

When we talk about relationships, we talk about the idea of “me” and “others”. We ask the question, How do I manage my relationships? There’s one very nice analogy from Swami Sivananda who compares people to logs floating on the river. The logs sometimes gather and travel a distance together and then split. Then, one log will travel by itself for a time and then again it will meet with other logs on the river.

It is the same for us. Sometimes we meet, we travel some time together, and then through the ebb and flow of life, we go somewhere else. That’s how life goes. How are we going to accept these changes in our relationships, in our life? This is the question. Take for example the case of Narayani. I did not communicate with her for many years. From time to time, I would send her a photo. Say hello. That is it. All of a sudden, I said, “I’ll be in California, would you like to come?” She said yes. Then she got her visa, booked her ticket, and showed up in person in California. So, you do not really know.

Why do we have conflict in relationships?

The most important idea that we talked about yesterday is the idea of “adapt, adjust and accommodate” from Swami Sivananda. It is the idea that in the river of life we will be meeting all types of people who are very different from each other.

In Raja Yoga, Patanjali says that “conflict arises from the interaction of the mind and the three qualities of nature”. This is such a nice and complete description of our condition. Because our minds are changing all the time, we have different minds at different times. Plus, no two minds look alike. The gunas keep playing. That means our own mind is changing between tamas (indolence, darkness), rajas (activity, passion, egoism) and sattva (purity, harmony). We try to regulate the mind with yoga meditation. ‘Regulation of the mind’ is the new modern phrase as well as is the term ‘self-regulation’. We try to regulate the mind which means we are adjusting.

We constantly have to adjust, just like when we are driving a car. Sometimes it’s out of regulation. Sometimes we are attacked by a wave of tamas and other times we are attacked by a wave of rajas. We’re not attacked by sattva. Though we may slip somewhere in between. And then you say, ‘because of the weather’, ‘because of everything’, etc. When you are in the hot sunlight now, then everything around you seems dark. For example, you take a nap in the afternoon after eating and you slip into tamas. If somebody asks you to do something, you get irritated.

Another time, like springtime – it is very beautiful in the springtime here – everything is green, there are spring flowers and all kinds of animals and beautiful flowers, yet there is spring fever. Young people want to leave this very austere life, they want to meet someone, they want to do something, etc. This desire comes with the weather. So also with the time of the day, right? Morning time is very quiet, the air is good, you sit and meditate and chant together. In the evening, when I teach online from 8 to 10 pm, I am fully awake at 10 o’clock pm. After talking for two hours my mind is like a machine and I cannot go to bed, I cannot sleep. Then I have to walk and do things to regulate my mind and my energy.

Sometimes we interact with others, you know, at the wrong place, the wrong time, we make the wrong request, and we don’t understand what the other person is going through, what they are experiencing. Sometimes we flare up, or we put our foot down and make judgments about other people, “She always does this. He always reacts like this”.  We say that it is ‘always’, but the truth is that it is not always. But it’s this particular time, in that particular moment and in whatever circumstance that you might not understand.

“Adapt, adjust and accommodate” in relationships

So We have a lot of difficulty in our relationships like that, because we hardly can understand ourselves and be aware of what’s going on in our own mind and our own energy when we interact with others. The fact is we have to live with others. Some people hide away from others because they think they have peace of mind that way. According to yoga, it is very healthy to live with each other. When you live with each other, you have to adapt, adjust, and accommodate.

When you adapt, adjust, and accommodate, you grow, you mature, you expand your consciousness. You have to continuously accept other people and love people as your own self. There is the idea of oneness that says we are one and there is no stranger, there is no other, there is only one. We can embrace it; we can realize it slowly. It requires a lot of effort and practice to accept others, to adapt, adjust, and accommodate others, to keep even-minded and to keep loving them. Eventually we become good at it and when we become good at it, it’s very good.

Practice of flexibility and strength

We need to practice flexibility and strength. Everyday life is like a beautiful yoga posture there is flexibility, ease, and there is strength. If you don’t have strength, you collapse, you cannot hold a posture, because there are different forces pulling you in different directions. You have to have strength to hold the posture. That means in life, you have to have yourself, have self-confidence, and be able to tune to your own true Self to receive infinite strength.

If you are able to tune-in to your true Self, you will be strong in all conditions. But if you only tune to some aspect of yourself, sometimes you will be strong, and when conditions change, then you will lose it. Therefore, you need to put yourself through different tests, different conditions, to see how you perform, to see if you are able to keep your balance and not resort to blaming someone else; and see if you can keep calm. Keep yourself happy, not just calm. You have to be joyful. Tuning into the heart that is joyful. All is nothing but a test of your strength and flexibility.

You need to know what to do and tune-in to your Self, stay very firm on your path and not lose yourself, because you are under the influence of other people either living with you or on the internet. Nowadays, people can enter your house through the internet. And they can touch and pollute your environment. On the path of yoga you have to be with yourself at all times, then you have to work out the relationships with people, because they are karmic relationships.

Karmic relationships

People that you come into contact with are the manifestation of your own karma, your own mind, your own thoughts, that you have accumulated throughout time, i.e., from past lives. We do not choose only one life. We have met many people from the past and we have reacted to them and thus we have drawn many conclusions and made many decisions that might be wrong. So that is how mental patterns are created. Mental patterns can be very deep and can feel like a prison. You feel that you need to get out. You encounter people in your life so that you can work out your own samskaras, your own impressions. You have a chance, an opportunity, to revisit your patterns, how you think about your own self, manifested as people around you.

This is a very deep and nice theory, you know, of yoga, that everybody is your own Self. And if you have some problem with another person, it is because you have a problem with your own Self. Because you have the problem of yourself and it has manifested in those particular circumstances with another for you to see it and correct your own thinking about yourself. There is nothing but the Self.

And then there is our ego idea, our attachment to yesterday. Again, Raja Yoga is very nice as it talks about our attachment, our association with the Antahkarana.  Antahkarana means our own mind, our own subconscious mind, our own intellect, our own ego and our own Buddhi, our own intelligence. The problem is  the association of  your Self with your own instrument, your own mindset and you believe “this is me”. This is called egoism.  There is egoism when you’re going to meet someone you think is different than yourself, the “other”.

At that time, your mind will just churn up, right? Because you take the information in your subconscious mind, you think, “I have been there, I have met this kind of person before.  I have reacted like this. It worked before. I used this tool called a ‘hammer’ and it got me out of the situation.” Do you know how it works? When you have some difficulty, you just use a hammer and you jam it, in other words, you will just be very rude. And then people are scared of you and run away. Then, as you solve the problem, you might develop the habit of, you know, using the hammer, okay? Or you might use the habit of running away, of escaping, of avoidance.

It has worked, it has worked some time, but it can come back the same or a little bit different, you know, for you, and then you see that eventually your tool doesn’t work anymore. That tool of avoidance will not work, because it’s always the same thing coming and bothering you. The same reaction. So, you have to develop more tools, you have to be more sophisticated in your way of reacting. You have to unearth or uproot the tendency to identify with a certain habit of the mind.

The drama of identification with the habits of the mind

That is the beautiful analogy of association between the Atman or your own Self with the mechanism of your mind. In other words, Patanjali refers to the association of the seer, meaning you, and the instrument of seeing, the mind. You just lose yourself in the body and mind and believe that it is you. That’s a drama, a very big drama that is going on all the time.

Patanjali said that the cause of suffering is egoism and the likes and dislikes —the raga-dvesha. Raga-dvesha means the tendency of the mind to swing this way – liking, attraction – and to swing the other way – repulsion, avoidance. If you are subject to that egoism, believing what you feel and think is yourself, you will perpetuate your suffering.

Your mind will then be swinging this way, affirming what you like and swinging the other way, affirming what you don’t like, affirming what you would rather not have in your life, rather than learning from it. That is a beautiful teaching, the idea that you perpetuate the root cause of your suffering. Therefore, yoga comes with different kinds of teaching. Yoga suggests that you don’t follow your tendencies.

The practice of equanimity

If you like something, don’t like it too much. If you dislike something, don’t dislike it too much. Make the extremes slowly, slowly come together. If the extremes come together and you’re still happy, it means you are becoming stronger. When your mind swings to this end and you get what you like, then you are happy. And then when it swings back – because that’s the way it works, you have to swing back to the other side – when it swings back, you will meet with something you don’t like, and you are unhappy.

Your happiness is conditioned by an external factor. You cannot control things that come into your life. Even things that come into your life, you want to hold on to them to perpetuate your happiness. But it never really works because things are changing. Let’s say you like the circumstances of your relationship with this person, and you find that it’s just perfect. But it doesn’t last because it changes and you suffer.

So, you will have to be wise. To be wise means to understand how your emotions work, how your mind works. You have to consciously manage this condition of your mind for you to have peace or happiness that is stable for a long time. Because when you swing, the mind will go up and down like a roller coaster. You are happy in one condition and unhappy in another condition. But if you can manage your mind -we call it Yoga, equanimity-, you can temper these extremes. Then you don’t identify yourself with it and are more detached towards your own way of thinking.

Practice, practice, practice one thousand times to… 1) look away so you don’t react, 2) forgive so you don’t condemn, 3) keep loving when you feel hatred and judgment. This is how you can keep your mind steady and even.

The theory of yoga says that when your mind is calm and not agitated by thoughts or by likes and dislikes, you can then perceive your own true nature. It means, you perceive that beautiful Self, that joy, that happiness that is derived from within. We become stable, steadily happy if we are able to manage this, the mind.

Otherwise, it is hit and miss. Sometimes you’re happy and sometimes you’re unhappy. Up and down, up and down, hit and miss. And you know, it tortures you. It’s not like you can accept this condition, but it tortures you when you are in that unhappiness, when you are disliking somebody or something, you are worked up. You are tortured by your own mind. It’s a terrible condition called affliction. Affliction is a misery.

Patanjali said, “The misery that is yet to be manifested is to be avoided”. That means, if you have this tendency of the mind to function like this, you will suffer, it will come up, it is not someone else’s fault. But if you understand the condition of the mind, you will work on it with yoga and meditation and positive thinking tools, and Bhakti Yoga tools. You just have to learn to work on your mind, to massage your mind, to not let it be too strong, to not let it be too soft.

An image that I like very much is “to be strong like steel and flexible like a blade of grass”. That’s what you want. You have to keep practicing, until you are able to do that. You can be extremely strong and extremely open. Extremely tolerant, extremely flexible, extremely loving. To be able to function in life you have already managed and learned many things, how to manage yourself with people, but you need to be better.

And you need to see your weaknesses. Some people are not able to speak their own mind. They are not able to speak their own mind without emotions, or calmly just discuss to help the other person see their own point of view. There is no harm in communication, but you will not be able to do that because you are too sensitive, you are afraid, you do not want to be hurt.

Or you have that prejudiced idea about people that they are stupid, they will not understand what you are saying. So, then you condemn them before you even open your mouth. These are the habits that we have.  We need to tune and we need to become better and better and better every day. You will become better.

Self transformation with meditation

The best way is to meditate. When you meditate you to some level erase  the samskaras, habits, and impressions in your mind and you become a new person. It’s like you refresh, you start everything fresh. And then all your judgments, your ideas, your tendencies evaporate and disappear. You will be surprised to see how you react in that state of meditative mind. You will say, “I am a new person. Normally I am so upset with the situation and yet I don’t see that I’m upset at all. Actually, everything is fine!” In this manner, you learn a new way of being!

Be vigilant – keep guard against your past tendencies

But if you don’t pay attention to your energy, you can fall down, like falling down from a posture. Because of this and that, you don’t pay attention, your prana goes down, your energy goes down, your sense of balance that was very good before, when you were able to maintain equanimity and balance, accidentally drops. You feel yourself functioning at your lowest level, with all the other tendencies that were already buried in your mind coming back up to attack you.

Then you start to condemn people, you start to fall into the bout of self-pity, you know, “nobody understands who I am,” and then, “I’m always like that,” and, “How terrible, the world is so negative and bad”. You have fallen into that whole habit you had before, of condemning, avoiding, or hiding, or running towards something you think will be better, escaping. Yoga says, “No,” you don’t run anywhere, you will not go anywhere, there will be no other place that is better. Now is better. The condition that you find yourself in is the ideal condition. Face it, whatever you have to face, face it, be strong, be calm.

Practice, practice, practice

Practice more yoga. Bhakti Yoga is the best way. Practice Yoga asana, pranayama. Pranayama is very important. Pranayama will directly influence your emotions. It is quite effective to practice Japa Yoga, the repetition of mantra, with love and devotion. Get back to your high state of being, balanced, this is what you want. When you are awake, aware and poised in all conditions, you don’t run away, you just welcome everything with equanimity.

You are now a strong person going through life. You are not afraid of anything or anyone. You attain union. Union means you no longer function out of your habitual mind. But you function with your own Self, constantly connecting with your own Self and become very stable. You become, as we say, “the lighthouse” for others. You radiate that light all around you.

These are just a few things to explain why we need to “adapt, adjust, accommodate” and why in the event of an extreme situation, we have to “bear insult and bear injury”. Even when people insult you, create injury to you, and hurt you, you have to bear it. Why? Because you are paying your karmic debt.

I don’t really like to use the words ‘paying karmic debt’ because it feels negative. You’re not paying. You are learning new lessons. The lesson is there for you to learn. You need to learn it.

Even in extreme situations of feeling insulted or being injured you have to be calm, not lose your sense of self. You have to tap into your knowledge of what forgiveness means for you to be able to handle the situation. You have to forgive or change your perspective completely. You have to detach and step back so you can begin to see the big picture.

Yoga tools to self-regulate and to be free

Let’s say you have a problem with someone, but when you look around, thousands of people are running away from their homes because of fire, because of flood, because of COVID. You look at your little problem. Someone says an unkind word and you build it up into a whole big drama, wasting your energy.

Now you don’t see thousands of people, maybe millions of people, are suffering terribly. So, change the perspective. Do not think that you are so important and so big. Your ego makes you feel like that. Please remember this definition, it’s so nice, “the association of your Atman with your inner instrument”. This is the problem.

Jnana Yoga

To detach means to step back. It means to think: “It’s not about me here. My reaction, my thinking, my feelings are not so important. I am the immortal Self. I’m going to detach. I don’t want to continue this association that imprisons me. I want to get out.”. Detachment is the key. Detachment comes with remembering the Self.

Jnana Yoga helps you to change perspective. You might think, “This is not real. No, this is just Maya, it’s just a movie. It’s not real. So, step back.”

Bhakti Yoga

In Bhakti Yoga you say, “It is God’s will”. You say: “I don’t know. It’s not my will at all but it’s God’s will,” or “I don’t understand, I don’t control everything. God must know what he or she is doing and I’m going to accept this and be at peace.”

You can practice Jnana Yoga, you can practice Bhakti Yoga, also you can practice Raja Yoga and Hatha Yoga. You can balance your energy and concentrate your mind. Instead of letting your mind drop down, you strengthen your mind by focusing on whatever you like. All the thoughts disappear and your mind will increase vibration, become one- pointed. That mind is strong and healthy. When that same challenging situation comes back, you will not react the same way. You react the same way only when your mind is weak.

Raja Yoga

Make sure that you are concentrating on something that is neutral, something that is inspiring, something that is sacred. And then, let go of the distraction. You can say it’s just a distraction. If I spend time condemning people, it’s a distraction. I focus on myself instead of spending time looking at other’s faults and condemning them. That is Raja Yoga. Positive thinking means to work on yourself, replacing the negative thoughts with contemplation on the opposite thought. Let’s say you have the feeling of hatred and you replace it with the opposite thought.

You say, “Love, love, love, forget it. I cannot love and this person is not lovable, it is not possible.” The practice is not just replacing one word for another. You would have to contemplate on the virtue of love. You would have to contemplate and think about the virtue of compassion, of being soft, of being accommodating, of living in harmony, of non-violent communication. You would have to think about the opposite virtue quite a lot. That’s what Patanjali means when he said,  “… constant pondering over their opposites.”  (Chapter 2, verse 33) 

It means to understand the thought, where it comes from, what ego trait aggravates it… then contemplate, think about other virtues that might work to counteract this thought. That is Raja Yoga.

Hatha Yoga

In Hatha Yoga, you use your body, you involve your body and your prana. You can change your prana, because prana is like electricity. If you change the flow of prana, or you cut the prana out from a certain place, or you divert the prana to another place, then the mind will not flow there.

Let’s say, you have too much power in your left brain, too logical, but life is not just logic. Then you have to cut the prana there, switch it to the opposite side. That’s called pranayama. You then have more feeling, more acceptance. You can say, “Anyway, I love you.” This love cannot come from just one side of the brain. That is called Hatha Yoga, that practice of balancing the energy that will help to balance your mind.

Karma Yoga

Karma Yoga is the idea of serving other people as your own Self. You think, “It is not about me, it’s not my time,” or “Nothing belongs to me,” or “My time is not mine.”

Usually, I do things only to serve myself. Karma Yoga teaches us that it’s not about me. I serve something bigger than myself. That will have stronger repercussions for the world and help a larger number of people. That’s what my life is about. I offer this energy. I am an instrument of the higher will to uplift this world. It is not about me gaining anything. Because if I gain something, what do I gain? I gain wealth. What do I do with money?

If you have too much money, you’re going to waste money. When you have a lot of money, what do you do? Most of the time, you are not really serving yourself, or serving anyone else. When you have lots of time, what do you do with your time? We waste our time a lot. We just waste time. It doesn’t help us and it doesn’t help other people.

But if every moment of your time is helping something bigger than yourself and you help to uplift other people just as you want to uplift yourself, that is a much better formula for happiness. That’s called Karma Yoga. Serve others as yourself. And let go of all ideas about yourself. It is called “giving up the result” or “offering up the result of your actions”. It means, “Let go of all ideas of what you gain or what you lose from your action, feel that you are the instrument and that you are serving other people as your own self or as God.”

These are all tools of yoga: Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Raja Yoga, Hatha Yoga, and Jnana Yoga. These tools help you to handle your relationships, these karmic relationships.  They help you to learn these lessons about yourself.

People may use these teachings wrongly also. When they say karmic relationship, and go and point to the husband or the wife, the mother or child and say, “You are my karma, you are my debt. You are in my life and you are my debt. So, I’m going to live with you because I have to pay my debt”.

Take responsibility

This is a misunderstanding. It is not like that. The teaching says: “This is you. Don’t blame anyone else, ok?” A karmic relationship means you understand that it is you that are 100% responsible and involved in this situation, in this relationship. There’s nobody out there to blame. And there is nothing to be complaining about. But there is something that you need to do to uplift yourself and make your mind a little bit less angular. Swami Sivananda uses the word ‘angularity’ of the mind. That means a mind that is too fixed in a certain angle of vision.

You need to just round up the corners, make everything a little bit smooth. The person that is sattvic looks like a person that has no opinion, or has no kind of strength, but it’s not that. There is inner strength, they know that inner strength, they watch everything with detachment. They just go with whatever it is without losing their balance. That is absolute strength. It’s not just, “Look at me, you know how powerful I am, how intelligent I am, how experienced I am”. That is not strength because it will pull at your feet another time. That same strength will make you fall.

In reality, it is said that strength is actually more dangerous than weakness. Weakness makes you fall all the time. But when you fall from weakness, you slowly, slowly, build up your strength because you know that I’m not that strong. So, you are very careful. You gain a little bit and you are happy. When you are strong, you are absolutely not careful. You just lose yourself, you lose your vigilance, you lose the big picture. That’s when you fall. That’s when you go completely crazy, when something happens because you are not willing to accept it.

In summary, balance out your strengths and weaknesses. Be very careful. The blanket tool is to just keep doing sadhana every day, on good days, on the bad days, keep doing sadhana every day. It gives you that poise. It gives you that countenance in all conditions. Manage your mind. Manage your relationships. Manage your schedule. Don’t be too intense even though you can be. At the same time also manage your tamas, your laziness.

Hari Om Tat Sat

Swami Sitaramananda is a senior acharya of the International Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centers and is director of the Sivananda Ashram Vedanta Yoga Farm, California and the Sivananda Yoga Resort and Training Center, Vietnam.  She is acharya of China, Taiwan, and Japan as well. Swamiji is the organizer and teacher of the Sivananda Yoga Health Educator Training (SYHET) program, an 800-hour program on yoga therapy, accredited by the International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT).

Swami Sitaramananda is the author of “Essentials of Yoga Practice and Philosophy” (translated in Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, and Russian), “Positive Thinking Manual”, “Karma Yoga Manual”, “Meditation Manual”, “Swamiji Said, a collection of teachings by Swami Vishnu” in His Own Words. She is responsible for the Vietnamese translation of “Completed Illustrated Book of Yoga” (CIBY) and “Meditation & Mantras” by Swami Vishnu. Many of her video & audio lectures on Yoga life, philosophy, and psychology as well as articles and webinars can be found on this website.

Swami Sita is an ardent supporter of the integration of the Vedic sciences such as Vastu, Jyotish, Ayurveda, Yoga and Vedanta. She is an international teacher of the Sivananda Yoga Teachers’ Training Courses and Advanced Yoga teachers’ Training courses, as well as Meditation and Vedanta & Silence Courses both in Sivananda Ashrams in Vietnam and in Grass Valley, CA.

Yoga of Relationships in the time of COVID 19 crisis

Yoga of Relationships in the time of COVID 19 crisis

Satsang on line – March 25, 2020

How to be with yourself and be happy

In this webinar, we will address the question of how to be with ourselves and be happy no matter the outside interpersonal conditions and collective conditions (social distancing, be in isolation or working with groups, living with families and community, in intimate relationship, being alone or in search of close relationships). We will discuss strategies how to transform our negative emotional patterns into selfless love through the practice of Yoga applied in daily life. We will also discuss the Yogic way of how to uplift and spiritualize our relationships.

Why we need to practice Yoga of Relationships?

In all our relationships, we aspire to be loved and to love all the time and 100% but we fail to feel the 100% all the time. We suffer from needs unmet, separation, losses, anxiety, disappointments, inner and outer conflicts, difficulty in communications, lack of empathy and compassion, resentments and anger, attraction– repulsion, emotional swings and also suffer from the paradox of wanting to lose oneself in love and yet wanting to be in control. The problem is between Self and Others and how to find ourselves through relationships?

What is Love?

Swami Sivananda said that “Love is the goal of life.  Love is the law of life.  God is Love and Love is God. To love is to fulfill the law.  We live so that we may learn to love in the eternal”.

My teacher, Swami Vishnudevananda said about love:  “Catholics, Protestants, Jews and Arabs, white and black–we can live together. Educated people, uneducated people, contractors and businessmen, ordinary Swamis and Yogis–we can all live together, eat together, and speak together. We can live our life in a very universal way. This is love, universal love.”

Peace of mind leads to Love.

Happiness comes from love.  However true happiness is not temporary and emotional and is not the satisfaction of desire but the fulfillment of our soul longing to be united with the Supreme. We need to have peace of mind and have Self Knowledge in order to experience love. By finding Peace within ourselves, we find Love. Yoga is the science to find peace.

Love is oneness, union, unity, yoga.

All humanitarians in all countries talk about our shared humanity. In time of crisis, we united in our efforts and prayers. In these times, we looked at the World Health Organization statistics and we cringed, no matter from which country we are from, infected or not. ( to-date 413,467 people infected from Corona virus, spread in 197 countries, with a death toll of 18,433 ). Someone said” The virus reminds us that we are all connected, that something that affects one person has an effect on another, that our false borders can not stop the virus that doesn’t need a passport”. This is the situation demonstrated by Swami Vishnudevananda in his boundary breaking peace missions, long ago. We are one, regardless of our culture, religion, occupation and financial situation.

Our human condition is separation. We suffer from separation in all different levels, in our interpersonal relationships and globally, between nation and nation. And we all long for union. We need each other and yet we constantly have conflicts with each other either in our families or in our trade laws and national identities and borders.  

Yoga teaches us that we are far more than our ego and we are happier when we can get out of our egoism. We all know that great feeling when we are one with somebody or a group, when we can let go of our individuality and feel oneness and not separateness. Separateness leads to a feeling of isolation, of not being supported or loved. Our suffering is based on the mistake to think that this separate personality is the one to be loved but we forget that to get love we have to offer love, and to love is to cease to be a separate personality.

Our personal stories of love and split and our collective history of war and peace represent the ever-present drama of our Karmic lessons unfolding, experienced as an individual or as a group. Karmic lessons mean learning from our mistakes and slowly coming closer to the Truth of who we are. Nothing is by accident.  People we encounter or circumstances that we find ourselves in are only opportunities for us to serve and to love. We receive the same lesson, either from the point of view of the individual or from the point of view of a nation. We all evolve and come closer to the Truth of who we are. Vedanta philosophy teaches unity of consciousness, how to realize that we are like waves of the ocean but the waves are not different from one another and the waves and the ocean are one. Yoga philosophy helps to free us from the suffering coming from this apparent duality and this split we feel between Self and Others.

Selfless love is to be learned

Our relationships are opportunities to learn selfless love.  Selfless love means to see the Self in others and see divinity in others as well as in one’s self.  It means not seeing the differences, but seeing the essence, the commonness that is One, realizing Unity in Diversity. It is our belief in our separateness and individuality that makes us function in a selfish manner. We believe in a separate life and our idea of freedom in doing actions only out of our own will. We believe that our perception of who we are based on our personality is real and we believe that the characteristics of our ego is our real value.

Unconditionnal love is selfless.

To achieve peace and unity, to heal ourselves and our humanity, we all need to learn that level of Love that is selfless and unconditional.  We need to cease to identify with our ego-self which can only leads us to conditional love, egoistic, selfish relationships. We need to learn to transform our emotions to pure love. Emotions come from our lower mind and our subconscious mind which carries impressions of habitual limited love of the past.  Yoga teaches us to purify the lower mind and to activate our higher mind. Yoga methods teach how to transform our emotions into devotion or pure love

Emotion is not love

Love is at the root of every emotion. If we have a lot of emotions, we find that it is difficult to express and at the same time to repress. People of emotional nature, would need to do more Bhakti Yoga to transform emotions. Transformation of emotions is not what commonly being taught. We are taught either to express or to repress. Both lead to emotional problems. Yoga says that we need to develop our higher mind, our self aware mind in order to guide our lower emotions and to pay attention to justification using our intelligence to justify our basic desires and emotions.

Emotions are a form of love but distorted.  Conditioned love and egoistic love lead to negative emotions instead of bliss.

Let’s recognize our common negative emotions experienced in relationships. Let us bear witness to the spiritual darkness and the egoism and abuse seen time and time again, in families, couples, races, cultural, religious groups and nations. 

Negative emotions need to be converted to positive emotions and from there to pure love. Let’s go to the root of the negative emotions and learn ways how to be free from the sufferings come from them. Apply this to your personal situation as well as to your relationship with a group or a nation.

Anger comes from unfulfilled expectation or desire.

Antidote:

  • Let go of expectation
  • Be grateful of what you have
  • Surrender and accept our differences
  • Let go of control
  • Practice patience towards self and others.
  • Mitigate, calm down, slow down our desire
  • Remember the Self that is fulfilled and content.

Fear:

Fear come from attachment and can be paralyzing in our forgetfulness of Self.  
Forms of fear: Fear of death, fear of being alone, fear of public criticism, fear of loosing, fear of pass trauma and pain, fear of separation….

Antidote:

  • Courage to face our fears and be free of them.
  • Faith in oneself and in the universal intelligence and the universal love and protection
  • Detachment (opposite of attachment) and remaining in oneself.
  • Self-Enquiry to remove habitual false identification and past wrong impressions
  • Self-confidence based on inner strength not on ego
  • Self-reliance – be able to count on oneself and live self sufficiently with oneself

Attachment

True love is not attached but detached. Attachment comes with fears and anxieties. Attachment comes with identification with some external traits of oneself which we recognized in our friends and loved ones. Attachment makes us falsely feel stronger in our relationships. People can be attached with each other and nations can have alliances with each other. Attachment separates and fails to see unity. From attachment, comes our defensive mechanism and stress. Individually we are stressed and as nations, we are stressed. We defend our way of life, we defend our borders, we defend our space, our opinions. Attachment leads to suffering under the disguise of binding relationships.

True love is warm, free, liberating, selfless, and yet detached.  Detachment does not mean rejecting or not loving, or not being strong, not knowing oneself.  
It means learning to see the higher Truth about the Reality which encompasses Oneself and Others. We do not have to loose for someone to be happy. No-one has to loose for us to be successful. Individually, we need to open to this True Self and collectively we need to see Oneness. The reality of the pandemic teaches us our unavoidable interdependence.

Hatred

comes from love turning in the wrong direction.  It isthe opposite of love. Again the same logic applies, we hate what we think that is not ourselves and we limit ourselves to certain idea we have about ourselves. Yoga philosophy acknowledges the root causes of our afflictions, the fact that our minds swing from love to hate, from attractions to repulsions, all due to our lack of higher understanding. We tend to blame externally for our miseries and project our blames and hatred to someone or to a country different than ours. We tend to not look inwards, to realize the necessity to grow out of our limitations and intolerances.
Antidote: 

  • Practice compassion
  • See the self in others
  • Do Selfless service
  • Practice Love in action
  • Cease the blaming and the victim attitude.
  • Share responsibility for caring about our environment, either our home or planet.


This will open the knots of the heart based on egoism and prejudices that corrupt love into hatred.

Desires and passions as obstacles to love and unity.  

To find peace and love in our relationships and in the world, we need to control our desires and passions ingrained as our instinctive habits. In the current situation in the world, we witness groups of people pleading to others to observe social distancing and not to go out to parties, games, entertainments in order to save lives and help the health workers. What a perfect illustration of interdependence. We all have to control our desires and passions and we are forced to be calm, to go inwards and to find higher form of enjoyment within ourselves.

Antidote to desires

  • Devotion to the Divine seen in others.
  • Be aware of our passions stemming from reproductive instincts. Keep pure motives.
  • Identify less with the body and with the separate self. See yourself be part of a larger body.
  • Transform outward lustful instincts into selfless love for humanity and respect of all, men and women.
  • The virus doesn’t spare young or old, for young people, more restless and passionate, they need to practice Yoga daily to sublimate sexual energy and restlessness.  
  • Eat calm food to control desires, animal flesh will reinforce this passionate tendency
  • Lead a harmless life, respectful of all creatures.

Greed

Greed comes from our desire for safety and fulfillment twisted into insatiable illusory desire for material objects. Remove greed to find safety and fullness inside. Greed destroys compassion, generosity, charity, altruism and make us commit crimes against humanity. 

Antidote: 

  • Charity and giving
  • Contentment
  • Practice of gratitude
  • Renunciation
  • There is plenty for everyone’s needs but never enough for anyone’s greed.

Envy

Envy comes from lack of acceptance of our karma and what comes to us by God’s will. A person can envy the other and compete with the other, becoming unhappy when the other is happy. Such competition exists also in the level of a group or nation.

Antidote:

  • Acceptance, turning inward, not comparing.
  • Reminding yourself that everything is due to our own karma. All is perfect
  • Forbearance and humility and learn our own unique lessons
  • Remember that God’s love is abundant for all.

Jealousy

Jealousy comes from sense of entitlement, possession and exclusiveness in love relationship.  Jealousy is experienced when the beloved changes loyalty.

Antidote:

  • Evolve your relationship into a more inclusive relationship
  • Generosity, giving
  • Forgiveness
  • Remember passion and attachment is not love.

Healing emotions 

How to heal emotional wounds and free ourselves from negative mental patterns and suffering coming from past habits of conditional and selfish love?

Self Love

To heal from emotional scars and patterns we need to learn Self-love and Love of God.  Self-love brings acceptance and makes the mind turn inwards to find Happiness but not outwards towards somebody or an external condition.  Self-love or turning inwards to find one’s Self will make you stronger to be able to realize the love within that has always been there.

Self-love is not egoistic.  It is the lack of self-love and awareness that creates the patterns of need and dependency leading away from peace and love.  Self- love brings about self-respect and self- discipline.

Love of the Supreme seen in all

Devotion to the Supreme or to Humanity as Divine manifestation helps us to relax, to self-surrender, to become humble, to break through our egoistic limitations, our emotional patterns and our identifications.  It helps us to surrender the ego, to accept and heal our emotions. The current global crisis is a perfect opportunity for people and nations to become humble and to behave not individualistically but humanistic ally, globally.

Love is personal and starts from within

In ourfast paced, materialistic life, we need to learn to develop love and fulfillment. We need to practice love in all our affairs daily, in all our interactions. We can start with Love of our chosen ideal, our chosen Beloved, in the cave of our own heart. It brings back the presence of love in our heart which is blocked by our identifications with our separate self. Love of our chosen ideal is a most intimate sacred feeling and not a display or social conformity. Love of that chosen ideal transcends religious conventions and rituals.  It comes from within and cannot be imposed from the outside. It is our own inner aspiration and longing for union. Attachment to external form or religious symbols is just a help and not a goal in itself. Through practicing unconditional love towards our ideal form, we learn to self-surrender and to transcend the external forms and come closer to God or pure love itself.

Our chosen ideal of love is the quality we seek in ourselves:  

Our chosen ideal of love can have the quality we seek: purity, eternity, knowledge, true inner power, beauty, perfection, bliss, righteousness. One can choose the chosen ideal according to our own temperament or according to which aspect of the divine you feel the closest with. We all have the desire for Perfection.

Healing through respect and love of the Divine Mother in Nature

We can recognize the Divine manifestation in all names and forms, underlying life. We can see Humanity as Her form. We can see her everywhere as the energy of intelligence, of knowledge, creativity, wisdom. She is also the energy sustaining life and health, energy of peace, love, harmony, virtue, righteousness, beauty, prosperity, and wealth. In another form she is the core of your inner strength and fearlessness and will protect you from harm. This is the time to together pray for her grace.

Her forms are countless. Therefore, respect others ways to truth. Names are many but God is One.  Paths are many but truth is One.

Yoga of relationships is to be practiced daily with all

Learn to see God in our daily interactions and relationships and cultivate selfless love, thus growing in closeness to what we long for and growing in oneness to our ideal of pure love.

There is no other

All relationships are truly relationships with your own Self. There is no separation in reality. We are all learning love through being aware of mental habits. Ourmind reproduces impressions of past relationships and we carry with us patterns learned in childhood and past lives. These conditionings can be very deep and our relationship karma difficult to resolve.

Yogic teachings on karma say that we choose our father /mother and life circumstances to learn our relationship lessons. We are learning to see the One Self beyond our egos interacting with each other.

Discipline of mind and heart

We are all perfect inside but our minds need to be molded in order for us to be able to reflect the perfection and the love that is within us.

Self Enquiry and Self Love

We need to do self-inquiry to become free from past impressions and correct the pattern of reproducing past relationships. We need to find our core relationship with love itself beyond names and forms. Turn within and find ourselves and start with Self Love. At the same time, cultivate Divine love in relationships to free us and achieve lasting happiness.


Nine traditional ways to cultivate selfless love in daily life. Apply the the nine traditional ways to sublimate emotions into devotion and overcome egoism according to the teachings of Bhakti Yoga.

  1. Listen to inspiring Divine stories – Develop the capacity to listen to others without judgment.  Be honest in what you say about yourself.
  2. Sing God’s glory – Learn to praise others and look for their positive qualities and one’s own positive qualities.
  3. Remembrance of His name and presence in prayers – Learn to hold people you love in your heart in a prayerful mood, feel the sacredness of relationships by being detached and forgiving.  Be grateful for all people whom you interact with in your life.

4.  Service with humility –  Learn to actively serve    everyone as God whether you like them or not.

5. Worship – Learn to see God in your relationships, offer your time and presence and beautiful gifts as if they are being offered to God.

6. Prostrations – Learn to give the utmost respect to people you encounter or people surrounding you no matter who they are.

  • Cultivate the feeling of being a servant of God –  Learn to develop an attitude of self-sacrifice.
  • Cultivate feelings of friendship of God – Learn to open your heart equally to all, without ulterior motives and discriminating who is higher
    or lower than you.
  • Complete self-surrender – Learn to accept all things happening to you with equanimity and overcome your own expectations or judgment about anything done by yourself or others.

Conclusion:

May we endeavor to maintain our remembrance of our true purpose, which is to return to a place of no suffering through strength, wisdom, through trust and faith, in other words, a place of fulfillment without desires, of love without selfishness.

Through Selfless Service and Selfless Love may we liberate ourselves from desires and greed, and find our True Self. May we live in the spirit of Karma Yoga, doing our duty and yet learning the basic duty of finding Love of Self and Love of Others as One.

May we improve in all our relationships, taking this opportunity of turning inwards and rethinking our values and priorities. In our network of relationships, may we become all great father, mother, daughter, son, teacher, student, husband, wife, friend, lover, beloved, care taker, neighbor, boss, consumer, statesman, leaders, servants of humanity and of the planet!

All is at all times perfect

  • May the whole world attain Peace and Harmony!
  • Asato Ma Satgamaya Tamaso Ma Jyotir Gamaya – Mrityor Ma Amritam Gamaya
  • Om Purnam Adam, Purnam Idam Purnat, Purnamudachyate
  • Purnasya Purnamadaya Purnameva Vashishyate

Swami Sitaramananda

Acharya ISYVC

26/03/2020

Fear, Stress, Anxiety or Faith – How to Maintain Mental Health in Times of Epidemic

Fear, Stress, Anxiety or Faith – How to Maintain Mental Health in Times of Epidemic

In this talk, we will try to understand, in the context of the global epidemic, how fear and anxiety create havoc and take away your well-being and mental health, and how faith is so important in dispelling fear.

We will address the question step by step in 4 points keeping in mind the need for prevention of disease due to poor immune system impacted by negative emotions, and the need for healing emotionally in order to heal physically.

  1. First we need to understand all facets of FEAR, STRESS, and ANXIETY.
  2. What are the causes of fear?
  3. Some Yogic methods for dealing with fear.
  4. Cultivating faith to dispel fear and anxiety.

What is Fear?

Fear is a very strong primitive emotion, present in animals, as it serves a very basic purpose:  It helps us to survive.  It is at the base of our stress response:  fight, flight or freeze.

Things that appear unfamiliar to us, or situations beyond our immediate comprehension, cause us fear.  Fear creates imagination of darkness, of falling and distorts the mind.  Fear is therefore based in unreality.

When we are fearful, we become paralyzed and lose our faculties.  We freeze, unable to do anything to solve our problem.

Fear is of two kinds, normal fear and imaginary fear.

According to Swami Sivananda, the percentage of normal fear will only be five percent whereas imaginary fear will come to ninety-five percent. Normal fear is healthy.  It paves the way for one’s progress; it preserves life.  So in the context of the possible virus infection, we wash our hands, clean our handrails, stay put and avoid socializing, etc.

Imaginary fear causes diseases, as it depletes all energy and produces uneasiness, discomfort and disharmony, etc.  Examples of imaginary fear: You might be afraid that you will get infected and there is no cure, you might be afraid that your business will collapse and you will be destitute, that you will lose your job as the companies downsize themselves, that your kids will not be able to study, that your husband’s staying at home will lead to change of the relationship dynamic causing frustration and divorce, etc.

Some behaviors due to fear and panic:

  • hoarding,  
  • isolation, hatred of others, blameful attitude
  • shame and guilt
  • depression
  • constant tension, hyper vigilance
  • addictions, drink our sorrow away.
  • “ enjoy life while you still can”
  • “ I do not care! “

What is Stress?

Stress is the cause of many forms of diseases, especially chronic stress. We have a built-in stress response in our nervous system in the form of the fight or flight mechanism in response to situations of danger to our survival. However, our stress response might not be adequate.  Remember that Stress is subjective and can be changed once an understanding of the causes of our stress is obtained.

5 CAUSES OF STRESS:

  1. Low prana:  Refer to our previous talk about the relationship between low prana and negative thoughts.  We can alleviate our stress by increasing the prana through Yoga practice and positive lifestyle.
  2. Negative emotions:  Not only fear and anxiety, but also anger, which comes from expectations and desires unfulfilled, can create stress. Grief is another negative emotion creating stress.
  3.  Lack of adaptability:  If we develop flexibility in mind and behavior, it helps to tackle the cause of our stress.
  4. Existential anxiety:  The imminent danger of the virus epidemic might trigger our fundamental anxiety of existence which can be calmed down only by a broader picture about life and death and our sense of meaning.
  5. Karma:  We cannot help but ask the question why, and we have to accept our collective karma at this time.  The pandemic situation is not sparing any place on earth.  We need to ponder over our collective responsibilities. 

In short, to build stress resilience in this time we need to increase prana (next talk), spend less prana, convert negative emotions into positive ones, be ready to adapt to new situations, have more faith to deal with our existential anxiety and understand our collective and individual karma.

What is Anxiety?  

Disruption in life activity might create anxiety.  Anxiety is even worse than fear, because unlike fear, we cannot identify its source.  Anxiety is fear that has no name.  With anxiety, there is no creativity, no productivity, we are depressed and our minds lose the capacity to think clearly.  Anxiety is an emotion like fear is an emotion.  It is usually associated with autonomic hyperarousal and attentive hypervigilance, in which the internal and external environments are monitored intensely for information relevant to the sense of threat.

It is an expression of the life-preserving fight or flight response and is an essential biological mechanism for motivating the organism for action in response to danger.  It prepares us to deal with varied and challenging life situations.  It is the reaction to the perception of an external or internal danger.  Under the spell of anxiety, you might find it difficult to maintain normal day-to day activities and you keep feeling anxious in anticipation of calamity or disaster, which might afflict you sometime in the future.  Parents and spouses need to be aware that the children or spouses might be subject to tension, guilt, stress, anxiety, nervousness and worry.  They might be replaying the separation anxiety suffered in childhood.  In general, try to leave space, be available but less demanding and perfectionistic, stay calm and empathetic instead of responding with more tension and projected fear.  It is a cause for concern if this feeling affects your normal day-to-day activity.  Try to establish a routine in daily life and adapt to the situation.  Routine, schedule, normalcy as much as possible, daily discipline serve all to cope with stress. Know that what stresses you might not be what stresses your spouse or children.  Know that anxiety is difficult to pin down.  It may give rise to vague emotions of discomfort coming from diverse persistent thoughts combined together.  This feeling of discomfort creates an anxious mood, but no one knows the underlying cause.  Everyone is able to endure a certain threshold level of anxiety, but please take note that this threshold is different for each person. 

The impending sudden rise of the epidemic attack while your daily routine has changed, and the fabric of the society surrounding you changes drastically, makes people suffer from impaired concentration and with all the time now on their hands, people staying home might find it difficult to perform even simple routine tasks.

Anxiety may be non-specific and arise spontaneously with no apparent relationship to any obvious event. This type of anxiety becomes all pervading in the everyday life of the one suffering, which may result in both psychic and somatic symptoms.  This non-specific and excessive anxiety is pathological and needs to be helped with Yoga and relaxation techniques.

Look for symptoms of avoidance behavior.  Watch out for this avoidance behavior.  Also, become aware of the practice of sending warm reassuring words, explaining to family and friends the concept of “social distancing”, be sensitive to children perceiving this as rejection, and keep engaging family in positive community activities while in quarantine. 

Symptoms of Anxiety Disorder

Excessive anxiety or worry for long period of time can turn into anxiety disorder, involving worry about possible misfortune to one’s child (who is in no danger) and worry about finances (for no good reason).  In children and adolescents, this may take the form of anxiety and worry about academic, athletic and social performance.  When the person is anxious, there are many signs of motor tension, autonomic hyper-activity (muscle aches or soreness, restlessness and easy tiredness,  shortness of breath, palpitations, sweating, dry mouth, dizziness, nausea, diarrhea, flushes or chills and frequent urination).  Other signs are symptoms of vigilance or scanning including feeling on edge, exaggerated startle response, difficulty concentrating or mind going blank because of anxiety, trouble falling or staying asleep and irritability.

Symptoms of Panic Attacks

Symptoms last a few minutes.  Unexpected, intense terror, shortness of breath, dizziness or vertigo, shaky feeling, palpitations, sweating, abdominal distress, numbness, chest pain discomfort and fear of going mad can be triggered by situations of being outside of home alone, being in a crowd, standing in line or travelling in a vehicle.

Symptoms of Compulsive Obsessive Disorder

Obsessions are persistent ideas, thoughts, impulses or images that are experienced as intrusive, distressful and senseless.  Compulsions are repetitive, purposeful and intentional behaviors that are performed in response to or to relieve oneself from a tension.  Example:  handwashing, counting, checking and touching.

Causes of Fear

From the perspective of classical Yoga philosophy, the cause of fear is attachment, our grasping on to illusory things and beliefs.  Being attached means we are stuck or bogged down.  Fear is the opposite of letting go.

The first cause of fear is the attachment to the body and the ensuing fear of death.

The Nature of Our Illusions creates Fears.  There are two classical analogies to help us understand the nature of our illusions.  The first is called the “Snake and the Rope”.  A man is walking in the darkness and sees a snake in the path.  He is frightened and immediately runs and gets his friend who has a lamp.  When they shine the light on the snake it is seen for what it is, a rope.

When we react to situations with fear, we operate out of a limited consciousness.  We have forgotten that the sun is shining beyond the clouds.  Yet the clouds of fear obscure the light of the sun.  We must have faith to seek out the sun when the mind experiences darkness.  Whether we are dealing with specific fear or general anxiety, we need to cultivate the courage to face our illusions and be who we really are.  We need to have the courage to remove our wrong beliefs and identifications, our thinking that we are a certain thing, when really all those beliefs and identifications are simply attachments and not the one we really are, the eternal strong presence within.

Mechanism of Fear

Fear feeds on past experiences that have no independent reality in the present.  Through superimposition we are creating our reality.  We attach our meanings, ideas and conditions to people, situations and objects.  Our practice is to separate ourselves from these illusions and realize the true nature of REALITY, of our own SELF.  Fear and worry cause us to feel overwhelmed or limited.  As a result, we identify ourselves as a victim.  We have become powerless to express our potential.  Remember the POWER OF NOW.  In the Now we can experience the POWER of BEING.

Often times we grow attached to ideas about ourselves, other people and the world around us.  We get attached to things the way they were.

We need to introspect and think, because in so doing we come back to the present, feel strong in the present, become creative in the present.  This means we are letting go of our ideas how things should be, and we are ready for positive and creative changes:

  • Change of the way we make a living (class on line, work at home)
  • Change the way we eat (simpler food, cooking our own)
  • Change the way we socialize (read books instead of using the internet, relax in nature).
  • Change the way we do spiritual practices (more mantras, more prayers, more meditation)

Classical Yogic methods to deal with fears

  • Depends on your temperament, you can apply the following 4 classical methods, separately or together.  Try to see which one is fitting you more at the moment.

A. Karma Yoga methods (active practical temperament) : Think of how to be helpful for others in this situation. Avoid thinking only about yourself. This will open your heart and alleviate anxiety that comes from attachment.

B. Bhakti Yoga Methods (emotional temperament)Surrender to the Divine plan.  Trust that all will be well.  Learn to relax. Transform fear to faith.  We will talk about this more at the end.

C. Raja Yoga and Hatha Yoga methods (analytical temperament , people already having a practice of Hatha Yoga)

  1. Improve breath-body-awareness with rhythmical breathing exercises and pranayama.  Slow down, do restorative Yoga.
  2. Increase and balance the flow of prana for greater energy and stress resilience.  Balance the right- and left- brain activities.  This is the key.  Another class on prana is upcoming.
  3. Improve mental and emotional balance by the regulation of breath, movements and concentration of mind.  Awareness is important, not to force.
  4. Increase ojas, the energy of sustenance, of immunity, that comes from your deep heart.  Make sure to improve the quality food, not quantity (nervous eating).  Also you can increase your mental attitude of trust and devotion.  This subtle Ojas will increase your contentment, gratitude and relaxation.
  5. Increase calm, reduce fear:  Use props (blankets, pillows) when doing Yoga practice or when relaxing to create a sense of security, warmth, quiet and support so you and your family members or students will feel safe to let go of defences, to calm the senses and mind.  Do only comfortable postures.
  6. Experience physical, mental and emotional relaxation.  Increase the right attitude for life – detachment.
  7. Experience connection with one’s Self and others through deep relaxation, slow deep exhalation.  Detachment from body, mind and emotions.
  8. Teachers need to be gentle, encouraging and calming. The same as in trauma sensitive yoga guidelines.

D. Jnana Yoga methods (for intellectual philosophical temperament):  Remember the True Self, the Atman, the Soul untouched by diseases and separation. Assert your Healthy Self. Do Self-enquiry, you are not the body nor the mind.  Remove the veils of fear by exercising your thinking and discrimination and by detachment.

  1. REPLACING FEARS AND ANXIETIES WITH FAITH. WHAT IS FAITH ?

We need to cultivate faith, which will replace Knowledge and help us to be calm in the face of calamity or diseases.  We need to not only to rekindle our own faith, but also help others to develop faith.

WHAT TO DO: We need to nurture the 3 types of faith:

1.  Faith in OWN SELF (reconnect with ONE’S CORE SELF):  Self-reliance, which may be the same as faith in one’s Self, means we must rely on our own inner strength, dwelling within us as opposed to relying on an ego self. Fear exists when we don’t know the Truth about the Self (the Atman).  Until we have such knowledge of the Self from our own direct experience, we must rely on faith, in order to progress in our life.  Ultimately faith is replaced by direct experience of the Self.  Truth or Knowledge can be glimpsed intuitively, even if we do not have a name for it.  SO CALM DOWN AND TRUST YOURSELF.  One student approached me very worried because she had a cough and she just travelled back from England and wondered if she should go to the hospital and be tested.  I told her:  “Look within, ask yourself the question, “Am I going to die soon?  Am I healthy?“, to which she nodded.

I sent her to the hospital and the doctor said it is a common flu and she should just rest.  There is no COVID-19 test available anyway unless she is ready to travel to another city.  She did not go, but I believe that she regained confidence and overcame her fears by being asked to find the answer from within.

The Truth that will set us free from all fears, resides inside of us, but it is a long, hard journey to find it.  However, we must start to walk on that journey with humility and sincerity.  We lack experience in the beginning, as we do not really have a clue where to look when trying to look within.  In that journey faith keeps us going.

2.  Faith in NATURE and the SUPREME INTELLIGENCE  (i.e. cooperate with Natural Laws for healthy living and improve immunity).  Meditate, shift consciousness from the past to the present.  Try to see a bigger picture and channel the emotions into devotion and the courage to face our illusions. Faith in God springs from an inner feeling that there is something greater than you, a supreme being that indwells one’s essential spirit.  When one is enriched with abiding faith, one is able to recognize God’s grace operating in all things.  We are on a journey of self-discovery to uncover the truth of whom it is that we are, a journey guided by faith.  We can think of faith as the bridge that carries us from one experience of grace to the next.

3.  Faith in the teachings and the practices.  The sacred teachings say that you are like the Shining Sun untouched by fears and diseases.  There are days when clouds fill the sky and we can’t see the sun.  But you know the Sun is there.  To regain vision of the Inner sun, we must learn to clear away the impurities of the mind by theobservance of the Niyamas (1. ethical guidelines of conduct to purify:  Practice of asanas, pranayama, for example) 2. contentment (turning mind inwards)  3. austerity (renunciation, discipline, endurance, simple life) 4. self study (introspection) and 5. self-surrender. Self-surrender means accepting what is; letting go and letting God’s will prevail. Let it be. Bear the consequences of past actions coming in the present. Have faith that eventually everything will pass. We must also practice endurance and know that the journey is not going to happen overnight. The challenge of enduring past karma is learning not to react or retaliate. Forgive and forget.

GUIDANCE ON WHAT NOT TO DO:

1) Avoid negative company with those who believe in the wrong things. This is the surest way to kill your faith and increase your fear. Therefore, avoid negative people. This includes media as negative company, as well as internet gossip sites.

2) Following the Yamas: Practice patience with Self and others. Do not be angry or violent. Do not lie. Do not steal. Try to turn inward beyond the senses. Let go of our greedy tendency. Live a simple life; the more one depends on material objects the more fear one will have.

Everything is a test of faith: we have the choice to spiral down or spiral up. We need to learn how to overcome doubts and fears, how to renew our faith and not to lose faith, which makes us weak and move in the wrong direction.

Often disease brings doubt and guilt, feelings of rejection, of not having self-worth, or loss of faith.What we must keep in mind is that any kind of faith will make us feel strong, even when we have faith in the wrong thing. So we might have faith in the doctor or in the medicine, in the type of treatments we follow.

The opposite of faith is doubt. Doubt will make us feel weak. Doubt comes when we lose faith. We become doubtful in the underlying order of the Universe or of Nature.  This is because our expectations are not being met. When something happens that fails to meet our expectations, we lose faith in God, the Universal law and ourselves. But remember, our journey towards fearlessness implies renewing ourselves. Keep your mind and heart open. When temporarily losing faith, try to find out the cause of our doubt,which is always a certain aspect of our ego, and embrace again your truth in the form of faith. Company with those who have no doubt is very powerful in removing doubts.

DO SOME RESEARCH ABOUT THE BEHAVIOUR OF THE VIRUS AND GET OVER YOUR IMAGINED FEAR.  KNOWLEDGE WILL HELP YOU TO REGAIN CONFIDENCE AND FAITH IN THE INTELLIGENCE OF THE BODY AND OF NATURE. THERE IS AN INNER HEALER DOCTOR WITHIN YOU. CONSULT THAT DOCTOR.  MOTHER NATURE IS HEALING AND IS THE HEALER. SHE IS THE PROVIDER AND THE SUSTAINER OF YOUR LIFE. DO NOT MISTRUST HER BECAUSE OF THE VIRUS WHICH IS ALSO SENT BY HER. TAKE HEED OF HER ADVICE BY STARTING TO TAKE CARE OF YOUR HEALTH (PHYSICAL, MENTAL AND SPIRITUAL) AND TRUST HER TO TAKE CARE OF THE REST.

May you all be Healthy, Happy and Strong!

Om shanti, peace

Swami Sitaramananda, Acharya ISYVC
Vedic Mantra for Healing & Protection
Lord Siva and Detachment

Lord Siva and Detachment

Happy Sivaratri. Om Namah Sivaya! 

On the occasion of Sivaratri, the festival of Lord Siva, celebrated by millions, this is an offering to help understand how contemplation on Lord Siva can guide us in our life.

Lord Siva is the Lord of Yoga, and represents what yoga and meditation practitioners are aspiring towards. He is the Adi Guru, first guru of yoga, and taught the science of Hatha Yoga.

Symbolism of Lord Siva

He is often depicted with eyes half closed and half open. This represents an ideal state of mind that yoga practitioners want to achieve, of being “in the world and out of the world”, seeing the world of names and forms and changing phenomena that we live in, and at the same time seeing the essence of it, as opposed to seeing the manifested world as devoid of spirit and intelligence.

He also is depicted with the third eye open. This means that we are encouraged to see the world with our eye of intuition, or with a mind that has been purified of its lower propensities such as anger, greed, lust, hatred, jealousy and envy. Intuition is higher than intellect. Intuition can be developed only when we transcend duality, or the left brain/right brain split. It includes devotion, or pure love, while intellect might miss half of the picture if there is no pure love in the thinking, or when the thinking is motivated by the ego. 

Lord Siva blessing Parvati, while Parvati worships Siva

Lord Siva sits on a tiger skin. This shows that to attain to an elevated state, or to be successful in our yoga and meditation endeavours, we need to control our passionate, lower animal nature. Lord Siva accepts all creatures, for example insects and scorpions, thus he shows pure compassion for all beings. He is an example of pure detachment.

Siva is beyond the 3 gunas

Holding the three pronged trident, he indicates the journey of transcendence beyond the 3 gunas, the 3 qualities of nature: tamas, rajas and sattwa. The journey is from the state of tamas when we are in darkness, in ignorance, unawakened, and in denial of our true nature of peace and happiness, to the state of rajas. When rajas becomes predominant we experience a mistaken, separate identity, perform egoistic, self-motivated actions, and are judgmental of others, seeking for happiness externally. We then move to the state of sattwa  and experience purity, harmony, calm, peace, knowledge, balance, wisdom, understanding and a non-judgmental attitude. Eventually we transcend these three states of mind altogether, to reach to the transcendental Siva or Yoga. Thus Lord Siva is said to be the ideal symbol of detachment and self-control. 

Lord Siva has a snake around his neck. The snake represents mystical wisdom, and is related to the “serpent power”, the spiritual energy known as Kundalini Shakti. He has the Kundalini as his ornament, having completed the journey of self-transformation and purification represented by the journey of the spiritual energy through the chakras. In His being, Siva (consciousness) and Shakti (manifested nature) are together. Lord Siva represents for embodied beings such as ourselves the pure state of absolute bliss or being, where there is no reincarnation, no mistake, no karma, no desire.

The Ganga water flows from his head, this is the symbol of perfection and liberation, where the nectar of immortality flows from the highest chakra. Ganga water is purifying. The being that has attained this sublime state has the capacity to purify all who come in contact with him or her. 

Siva represents austerity, physical, mental, emotional, & spiritual

Lord Siva is sitting meditating on an icy mountain top. He represents the Yogi who practices austerity or tapas. The mountain represents a high ideal or hard to obtain goal, for which you have to climb and struggle. The yoga practitioner is encouraged to struggle hard to conquer the senses and the emotions, to do austerity, or tapas, and lift his being to a high level of stability and endurance in any conditions or circumstances. Physical tapas is to bear heat and cold. Mental tapas is to keep one-pointed concentration among distractions. Emotional tapas is to be able to bear insult, bear injury and stay calm among conflicts and controversies. Spiritual tapas is to dissolve all facets of ego in the Lord. 

Siva rock painting at the Sivananda Ashram Yoga Farm

Attachments bring suffering

My teacher used to say “we would not have come to this world if we did not have attachment to anything.” We have come to this world with our karmic tendencies and our likes and dislikes. We are always running towards something and running away from something else. We get attached to what we like, and we are afraid to be exposed to what we do not like. These mental and emotional preferences keep us in this world of sufferings. It is attachment that makes us suffer. Detachment frees us from these long formed tendencies and allows us to see a bigger picture of ourselves and others.

There is both temporary detachment and more lasting detachment. Lasting detachment must be based on discriminative intelligence and deep thinking, so that we understand the defects or the true nature of something and resolutely turn away from it. Temporary detachment is based on fear of pain, for example when we became “detached’ from ice-cream because it gave us stomach pain. But soon we forget, and will be tempted again with new names, new forms of ice cream!

Think about the defects of this world, and cease to run after happiness in the external. Introspect and think about how many times you have suffered and caused sufferings due to illusions and attachments. Detachment seems to give pain in the beginning, but at the end, it gives joy. Attachment seems to give pleasure in the beginning, but at the end gives pain. 

Conclusion

Our whole journey is the journey to learn about detachment. May you contemplate on Lord Siva and become an embodiment of detachment and clear thinking. May you stay away from the temptations of the lower mind, the distortions of a split mind,  and balance your mind  so that you can go to sattwa and eventually see through the veils of maya.

May you attain liberation from suffering through self-knowledge and wisdom.

Swami Sitaramananda, acharya ISYVC

Swami Sitaramananda contemplating on Siva at the Ganges River in Gangotri, Himalayas, North India
24 Gurus of Dattatreya : Nature is the Greatest Teacher

24 Gurus of Dattatreya : Nature is the Greatest Teacher

Once, while Dattatreya was roaming in a forest happily, he met King Yadu, who on seeing Dattatreya so happy, asked him the secret of his happiness and the name of his Guru. Dattatreya said that the Atman alone was his Guru, and yet, he had learned wisdom from 24 individuals,who were therefore, his Gurus.

“My 24 gurus are: 1. Earth, 2. Water, 3. Air, 4. Fire, 5. Sky, 6. Moon, 7. Sun, 8. Pigeon, 9. Python, 10. Ocean, 11. Moth, 12. Bee, 13. Honey-gatherer, 14. Elephant, 15. Deer, 16. Fish, 17. Dancing-girl Pingala, 18. Raven, 19. Child, 20. Maiden, 21.Serpent, 22. An arrow-maker, 23. Spider and 24. Beetle.”

  1. I learnt patience and doing good to others from the EARTH, for it endures every injury man commits on its surface, and yet it does him good by producing crops, trees, etc.
  2. From WATER I learnt the quality of purity. Just as the pure water cleanses others, so also the sage, who is pure and free from selfishness, lust, egoism, anger, greed, etc., purifies all who come in contact with him.
  3. AIR though moving everywhere, never gets attached to anything; so I have learnt from the air to be without attachment, though I move with many people in this world.
  4. Just as FIRE burns bright, so also the sage should be glowing with the splendor of hi sknowledge and Tapas.
  5. The air, the stars, the clouds, etc., are all contained in the SKY, but the sky does not come in contact with any of them. I have learnt from the sky that the Atman or the Soul is all-pervading, and yet it has no contact with any object.
  6. The MOON is in itself always complete, but appears to decrease or increase on account of the varying shadow of the earth upon the moon. I have learnt from this that the Atman is always perfect and changeless, and that it is only the Upadhis or limiting adjuncts that cast shadows upon it.
  7. Just as the SUN, reflected in various pots of water, appears as so many different reflections, so also Brahman appears different because of the Upadhis (bodies) caused by the reflection through the mind. This is the lesson I learnt from the sun.
  8. I once saw a fowler spread a net and caught some pigeons. The mother pigeon was very much attached to her children. She did not care to live, so she fellinto the net and was caught. The male pigeon was attached to the female pigeon, so he also fell into the net and was caught. From this I learnt that attachment is the cause of bondage.
  9. The PYTHON does not move about for its food. It remains contented with whatever it gets and lies in one place. From this I learnt to be unmindful of food and to be contented with whatever I get to eat (Ajagara Vritti).
  10. Just as the OCEAN remains unmoved even though hundreds of rivers fall into it, so also the wise man should remain unmoved among all sorts of temptations, difficulties and troubles. This is the lesson I learnt from the ocean.
  11. Just as the MOTH, being enamored of the brilliance of the fire, falls into it and is burnt, so also, a passionate man who falls in love with a beautiful girl comes to grief. To control the sense of sight and to fix the mind on the Self, is the lesson I learnt from the moth.
  12. Just as the BLACK BEE sucks the honey from different flowers and does not suck it only from one flower, so also I take only a little food from one house and a little from another house and thus appease my hunger (Madhukari Bhiksha or Madhukari Vritti). I am not a burden on the householder.
  13. Bees collect honey with great trouble, but a HONEY-GATHERER comes and takes the honey easily. Even so, people hoard up wealth and other things with great difficulty, but they have to leave them all at once and depart when the Lord of Death takes hold of them. From this I have learnt the lesson that it is useless to hoard things.
  14. The male ELEPHANT, blinded by lust, falls into a pit covered over with grass, even at the sight of a paper-made female elephant. It gets caught, enchained and tortured by the goad. Even so, passionate men fall in the traps of women and come to grief. Therefore, one should destroy lust. This is the lesson I have learnt from the elephant.
  15. The DEER is enticed and trapped by the hunter through its love of music. Even so, a man is attracted by the music of women of loose character and brought to destruction. One should never listen to lewd songs. This is the lesson I learnt from the deer.
  16. Just as a FISH that is covetous of food falls an easy victim to the bait, so also, the man who is greedy of food, who allows his sense of taste to overpower him, loses his independence and easily gets ruined. The greed for food must therefore be destroyed. It is the lesson that I have learn from the fish.
  17. There was a DANCING GIRL named Pingala in the town of Videha. She was tired of looking for customers one night. She became hopeless. Then she was contented with what she had, and then had sound sleep. I have learnt from that fallen woman the lesson that the abandonment of hope leads to contentment.
  18. A RAVEN picked up a piece of flesh. It was pursued and beaten by other birds. It dropped the piece of flesh and attained peace and rest. From this I have learnt the lesson that a man in the world undergoes all sorts of troubles and miseries when he runs after sensual pleasures, and that he becomes as happy as the bird when he abandons the sensual pleasures.
  19. The CHILD who sucks milk is free from all cares, worries and anxieties, and is always cheerful. I have learnt the virtue of cheerfulness from the child.
  20. The parents of a MAIDEN had gone in search of a proper bridegroom for her. The girl was alone in the house. During the absence of the parents, a party of people came to the house to see her on a similar object in reference to an offer of marriage. She received the party herself. She went inside to husk the paddy. While she was husking, the glass bangles on both hands made tremendous jingling noise. The wise girl reflected thus: “The party will detect, by the noise of the bangles, that I am husking the paddy myself, and that my family is too poor to engage others to get the work done. Let me break all my bangles except two on each hand”. Accordingly, she broke all the bangles except two on each hand. Even these two bangles created much noise. She broke one more bangle of each hand. There was no further noise though she continued husking. I have learnt from the girl’s experience the following: Living among many would create discord, disturbance, dispute and quarrel. Even among two, there might be unnecessary words or strife. The ascetic or the Sannyasin should remain alone in solitude.
  21. A SERPENT does not build its hole. It dwells in the holes dug out by others. Even so, an ascetic or a Sannyasin should not build a home for himself. He should live in the caves and temples built by others. This is the lesson that I have learnt from the snake.
  22. The mind of an ARROW MAKER was once wholly engrossed in sharpening and straightening an arrow. While he was thus engaged, a king passed before his shop with his whole retinue. After some time, a man came to the artisan and asked him whether the king passed by his shop. The artisan replied that he did not notice anything. The fact is that the artisan’s mind was solely absorbed in his work and he did not know what was passing before his shop. I have learnt from the artisan the quality of intense concentration of mind.
  23. The SPIDER pours out of its mouth long threads and weaves them into cobwebs. It gets itself entangled in the net of its own making. Even so, man makes a net of his own ideas and gets entangled in it. The wise man should therefore abandon all worldly thoughts and think of Brahman only. This is the lesson I have learnt from the spider.
  24. The Bhringi or the BEETLE catches hold of a worm, puts it in its nest, and gives it a sting, the poor worm, always fearing the return of the beetle and sting, and thinking constantly of the beetle, becomes a beetle itself. Whatever form a man constantly thinks of, he attains in course of time that form. As a man thinks, so he becomes. I have learnt from the beetle and the worm to turn myself into Atman by contemplating constantly on It and thus to give up all attachment to the body and attain Moksha or liberation.
Forgiveness:  A talk given by Dr. Fred Luskin

Forgiveness: A talk given by Dr. Fred Luskin

This talk is part of the Sivananda Yoga Health Educator Training (SYHET) course, and was done on a zoom call.

Dr. Fred Luskin

  • Consultant
  • Director of the Stanford University Forgiveness Projects
  • Associate Professor at the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology

Sivananda Yoga Resort and Training Center, Dalat Vietnam, 15 January, 2020

In this talk Dr. Luskin outlines the procedure for forgiveness.  This talk was transcribed (with some editing for clarity and brevity) almost verbatim from a video which was recorded on a zoom call.

Introduction

Dr. Luskin is a psychologist and for over 20 years has run the forgiveness program at Stanford University in Northern California, USA.  In this talk he explains the process of forgiveness as he is teaching around the world with many different groups.  He is helping the SYHET students develop skills for counseling people with health concerns.  Please see his biography at the end of this transcript.

Story of Pain

I had a terribly painful experience of being abandoned and betrayed by a friend who was very close to me.  One night he brought his new girlfriend for a dinner party at my home, and then suddenly cut off all connection with me. 

I held this negative event in my mind for several years, and later realized that I was ruining my life, missing all of the good things in my life because of it.   I was arguing with my wife, not appreciating my child, hating my job, and I was miserable, because I was holding on to the story of this event. 

In one extreme moment of anger, I noticed that my whole body was strongly affected by the reply of my ex-friend when I tried to reach out to him with a sincere letter and he sent a very short and casual reply on a post card.

Choosing what is right

Then came a painful (but also very helpful) moment with my wife when she strongly pointed out my problem to me.  Some time later, while at the supermarket, after being frustrated beyond my capacity with a relatively small problem, and having another intense physical reaction, I had an amazing flash of revelation. 

I recognized that I have a choice of paying attention to what is wrong in my life, or paying attention to what is right in my life, and no one else owns that choice except for me.  The moment that I had this realization, I told my wife that I was sorry that I had harmed her so much with my bad mood.

Blaming a friend

Then I got in touch with my friend and agreed to meet him, and basically tell him the same thing, that neither of them were responsible for my bad mood, but rather that I was responsible for my bad mood.  When we met, we had a very interesting experience, because I had already forgiven him.  I realized that he harmed me, and that harm lasted for a year.  And then I harmed myself, and that harm lasted for the next two years!

Those two years were not his responsibility, but I had blamed him for my misery.  I had blamed him because I could not handle my own life.  When I recoginized that fact and I saw him, we did not actually talk about his abandoning me.  He was open to me, I had forgiven him, and we had an uncomfortable half hour, but since that half hour we have again been best friends for the next 25 or more years.

Stanford Forgiveness Project

I had let go of blaming him for harming me, because I saw that when he cut off contact with me, I used the situation badly and harmed myself.  We then developed these insights into the Stanford forgiveness project, I have written the best-selling book on forgiveness, and we teach people all over the world how to do it.  What I will try to do with you is lead you through some of the processes.

Practice Session

First, please think of something in your life of something that you have not forgiven that continues to haunt you in some way. 

Then you can turn to someone near you, and talk about what it is that you have not forgiven, and why you have not let it go. 

It does not have to be anything very serious, and not something that is so overpowering that you will become emotionally overcome talking about it. 

Just choose something that you have not forgiven, describe it, explain what it was, and why you have not forgiven it and can’t let it go.

practice…..

Understanding Homeostasis

What we came to understand over all of those years is that forgiveness is mainly a story-telling problem, a matter of dealing with the stories we create about our life events.  What you have is a “default network and setting” in your brain that tries to keep you in what is called homeostasis, where all of the body’s functions can continue in the normal manner.  This homeostasis keeps you “level,” meaning in the proper balance. 

Depending on the level of tension that you have, and depending on the level of stress that you have experienced, you have a homeostasis which is anywhere from very calm to very anxious.  The important point here is that you consider your current state “normal,” even though it may be quite angry, anxious or disturbed.

The more sensitive, angry, anxious, etc. that your homeostatic point is, the more you have mental verbal stories that are designed to keep that homeostasis in tact.  So if you are an angry or anxious person, then many of the stories that you tell about your life are designed to keep you from changing.  The stories are keeping the body the as it considers normal.

Not knowing your own tendency

Very often angry people have no idea how angry they are!  People in a hurry have no idea how much of a hurry they are in.  People who are anxious and skiddish have no idea how they appear to others, because it is so normal for them.  When you have suffered or when you have been hurt, you go through a natural period of grieving, where you come up with a story to help explain your experience in a way that will generally fit in with who you are.

If you are a generally kind-hearted person and if someone does something nasty, after a while you will get around to some explanation of “well, you know, they did not mean it, or maybe I took it wrong, or it was just a really tough experience for them.”  If you are an obnoxious person, then you will come up with a story that makes the other person wrong or which has them with bad motives, and you can stay comfortable being exactly who you are.  Some experiences, however, are outside of our normal range, and therefore we have to adjust to them. 

The stories we tell ourselves

The thing that happened to my friend was outside of my normal range.  It was outside of homeostasis, and the way I had organized my mental life.  So I came up with a story that reflected that being outside of my normal range, and it changed me.  The story was that life was not fair, life is terrible, and you cannot trust people.  

The story changed my day-to-day vibration and perspective, and that is what my wife complained about.  She would not have complained if I created a story that fit in with who I was.  But I created a story that changed who I think that I am.  It changed my physiology, and not just my perspective.  It changed my biology, and that is what all of your stories do.

Your stories cement your biology in place, and they are how you change your biology.  So if you are practicing meditation and you have a story that you are not good at this practice, then you will get very minimal results.  But if your story is that I am good a learning new things, I am open to new experiences, you will get much more benefits from the meditation practices and it will take much less time for the meditation to change you.  So if you think that meditation is not anything important, you would have to have very deep meditation experiences before you would be convinced that there are benefits.

Change the Story

With forgiveness, we see that if we create a negative story, we tend to ruin our lives through that story.  The story changes our biology, changes our nervous system, and prevents new information from getting in.  So if our story changes our outlook to “I cannot trust people” then we see a different world than we saw before the story came.  We have now altered the world that we see and the body of the person in that world.

So this is why unforgiveness is so dangerous to us.  These stories tend to either alter who we are.  If we are generally a positive person, we change to a more negative view, or if we are already a mistrusting person, the stories tend to cement this negative view more into who we are.  So ultimately what we understood is that forgiveness is a change in story.  We can change the story, even though we cannot change what actually happened.

The change in our homeostasis makes it very hard to change the story, so many of us are stuck in these stories of what happened in our childhood, a lover that left us, or we are critical of ourselves, and these stories limit our capacity to grow.  If we can see that what happened is not the fault of our past, or the actions of another person, we are will to change our stories, but until then we feel justified in blaming someone else for ruining part of our life, and it is the blame that is so toxic to your well-being.

Blaming is not the answer

Blame is a quality that by itself leads to helplessness.  It also leads to hostility, that is we say, “Because they did something my life is not as good as it could be; it is their fault,” instead of admitting that my current situation is actually due to my own inability to cope, which is the truth.  Because we are not able to cope with the situation, we create a story that keeps us stuck.

Practice Session 2

Now we do another two exercises, this time in altering stories, to help you to be able to change.  Please go back to the first person and tell a short story about what happened to you.  But then take a longer time to explain how that story is now keeping you from creating peace in your life.  So our problem is not about the past, but rather about our inability to create a story right now that will bring peace for our current life.

In my case, I can say that my friend harmed me.  And that was true for some time.  It is not true that my friend harmed me for five years.  But then I made bad choices about how to handle the situation that kept me suffering, I was ignorant about how to grow past the situation, and it took me years to figure that out.  Whole countries and groups of people are getting together and creating stories about how another group of people is responsible for their lives not being peaceful or happy enough. Forgiveness is changing that story.

Practice changing the story

So now you can go to the first person, and give a short summary of the story you have about how they harmed you.  Then begin to tell a different story that will begin something like, “You know, actually the truth is that it is not their fault that I have not forgiven them.”  The truth is I just did not know how to forgive, or I did not practice it, or I had no skills as to how to deal with this.  That is not a crime!

But the truth is that I did not know how to make peace with this part of my life, and it would be good to learn how to make peace with parts of my life that hurt.  With the other person you can now talk about how to create a narative that will help you to move past the problem in your current life, rather than talk about what was done to you in the past.  This is just a first pass, but I ask everyone to try.  You can explain what it was about yourself that kept you from moving forward, and how you can now learn to do so.

Perhaps you grew up in a house that did not teach you these skills, or this event was too painful, but you want to recognize that now you need to learn, grow and change in order to improve your life.  That is the deep shift that occurs in forgiveness, from blame and helplessness to “there is something that I need to develop.”  Now please begin the exercise.

practice…..

First step in Forgiveness

OK, thank you for doing the exercise.  Usually it takes longer than the time I am asking you to do it, about one hour.  However, it can be done more quickly than you think, when you educate people and you have them practice different stories.  Because it clicks into people when they realize that, “I have some control of what comes out of my mouth.”  If you have been talking for some time about how bad part of your life is, the first step in forgiveness is to stop talking like that.  It is simply to shut down that talking.

If people have been wounded, and they have never had the opportunity to talk about it, then talking about it is essential.  So if you are a health educator, and someone discloses that they have an issue that they have never told anyone about, never had the opportunity to talk about it, then you need to stop right there and give them the chance to tell you about it.  Of course, you must feel comfortable talking with them about the issue, and be theraputically attuned so you are able to deal with the issue.  If they want to talk about some serious abuse, probably you should send them to a therapist.

Encourage sharing

If they tell you that they are suicidal, you should send them to a therapist.  But if you think their issue is within your scope of practice, which you have to be extraordinaraly careful to maintain, you should give them your attention, because step one is talking about it.  You need to encourage them to share it (but only in a safe place), because you want them to talk.  Research done on people who have had difficult experiences in life shows that people who heal the least are the ones that do not share.  People who hold in their traumas do not heal.

Share with the right people

The second-worst healers are the people who tell everybody about their difficulties.  You may meet someone and they say, “I had a terrible childhood, my ex-husband was a bum, I got fired from my job,” and you have never met them before!  This type of person does not heal either.  It is not quite as toxic as not talking about it, but it is definitely unhealthful.  What is healthful is to get it out, short term, to a small number of trusted people. 

You could say if there was a significant trauma two months ago, it may be appropriate and helpful to still be talking about it.  But if it happened three years ago, the best strategy is to simply stop talking about it.  We can apply the technique of “shut up the next time you want to complain about it.”  This is the way we can forgive and heal.

Don’t let the story become a habit

This formula is simple and obvious, but most people do not recognize how much they influence their physical and emotional reality to keep telling the same stories over and over and over again.  Many people repeat these stories so much for so long that they actually get stuck in the habit, to the extent that they no longer can choose what they are going to say and how they are going to say it!  That is the real danger. 

If you call you ex-husband a bum for six months, it is very hard in the seventh month to think of them as anything but a bum.  If at the age of 15 you started telling the story that you had a terrible mother, then by the age of 30 it will be very hard to change, because by then your whole body has adapted to that story.  You have arranged homeostasis around that story, and that is not a healthy place to be. 

Allow yourself to feel the emotions in order to heal

If people have not talked at all about the trauma, of course they will not be able to heal at all, because they must process the emotions before they can achieve forgiveness.  We call this processing grieving.  And people must go through this grieving to help them move past the hurt in their lives.  So first they must experience the emotions.  If someone hurt you, you may have to experience the anger, if someone left you, you may have to cry, because this is the first step to heal which comes before forgiveness.  But if you are around someone who already grieved, got angry, cried, and told the story for some time, then it is time to stop talking about it.

A story can become an addiction almost in the same way a chemical can become an addiction.  So it becomes a pattern, you have no control, and no way to stop telling the story or changing it on your own.  You do not get any benefit from telling the story again.  The first step to change is to admit that you have a problem.  You say, “I have a bad habit of talking about this with everyone I meet, and I do not know how to stop.  Can you please help me?”

Don’t become the victim

Only you create a “victim.”  When you talk about the event in terms of, “there is nothing I can do about this” you become a victim.  This is what we do in forgiveness work.  We tell them that there is absolutely no value in telling the story again.  You are actually laying down more neuro-pathways, making it more difficult to change.  This stuff is so simple that it was hard to believe that it came as news when we started using it.  And many therapists actually argued with us!

Positive Intention

Here is the way we approached it:  we call it “positive intention.”  It is asking yourself the question, “In that particular situation what was I looking for, what did I want from it?”  For example, you were trying to get a job or perhaps a romantic relationship, which is probably the most common situation that causes people to need to forgive.  More people have stories about ending of relationships than any other situation.  The vulnerability we have with intimate partners is the most sensitive that we experience.  These events are outside of our normal homeostasis. 

Let us say that you have had a terrible breakup of an intimate relationship.  The approach here is to ask yourself what it was that you were looking for in that relationship.  For example, “I wanted this relationship to have someone to enjoy life with, share with, have fun with, grow with, etc.”  You want to be honest about that reason.  It does not matter what the reason is, but you want to be positive about what you were looking for.  “I am not giving up on wanting to get that because this time it did not work out.” 

In my example of losing my intimate friend, I have to say, “I loved the situation of having such a wonderful friend, but it did not work out.  However, I am not going to give up on having a wonderful friend just because this particular friendship did not last.”  And so the story shifts from the past to the future.  The story shifts from this was what was wrong, what I did not get, to this is what I am now working to get.  So this statement is our positive intention.  We say, “Why should I give up trying to get what is important to me?”  We can still reach the goal but in a different way.

Practice session 3

So now please go to a different person, and this time, work on telling the positive intention story.  You can start with, “OK this difficult thing happened and it was very bad, very painful.”  But then you state the positive intention:   “This is what I was trying to get, and instead of spending much time obsessing about how I did not get what I wanted, I want to learn how I can get it in a different way.”  The unforgiveness story looks backward whereas the forgiveness story looks forward.  The unforgiveness story is blaming the other person for not getting what you wanted.  The forgiveness story is moving forward to get what you originally wanted.  It says, “I will not let this event stand in my way!”  It is a complete difference of mental representation.  Your body, not just your mind, shifts.  You develop an entirely different neuro-architecture.

Meditation to quiet the nervous system

Now I will have you do some very simple meditation practices.  The reason for these practices is that if you do not quiet your nervous system, it is hard to cement the result of the other exercises. 

  • So now please get into a position so that you can sit comfortably for five minutes.  From my stress management purposes, I suggest that you not have a perfectly straight posture, but rather focus on having soft shoulders and a relaxed body. 
  • The main thing is to be able to breathe properly and easily, with a relaxed abdomen. 
  • Please bring your awareness to your lower abdomen.  The key here for stress management is that when you inhale your abdomen expands, and when you exhale, your abdomen contracts. 
  • Now bring an image to your mind of a person that you simply adore.  Bring an image to your mind of a human being that you just love.  You actually feel the love.  You want to cultivate your own heart.
  • And now let go of that experience and allow your eyes to open.

This is the other thing that we teach about forgiveness, that you just touched where it lives.  Forgiveness lives in your open heart.  And you never get there by arguing about the past, by blaming people, and being full of self-pity.  You get there by opening yourself up to love, beauty, kindness and gratitude.  When your heart is open, you pretty much already know how to forgive.  That open heart of yours can already do it.  It is not complicated, not a big deal. 

Go to the love in your heart

But we never go there.  We do not go to the part of us that loves anywhere nearly enough to solve our life’s problems, and so we stay stuck and unhappy.  But when you touch that part of you, and you open your heart, and you trust, even if it is just for 10 seconds, for those 10 seconds you have forgiven.  You are at peace and your life is OK.  You have touched the place in you that does not need an enemy.  It is in you.  You just never looked for it.  Most of the time we look in the wrong place to try to heal, and so we do not find it.

So what we teach is many different ways to just connect to your own heart.  So you practice being in that state, so you want to talk from that state.  And when we practice forgiveness we say, “I want to tell a story that does not yank me out of my own heart.  By telling the same bitter, life is not fair, life is terrible stories I am making it impossible to feel good.”  Forgiveness means that you still have access to your heart.  But you cannot find that if you are telling bitter stories all of the time.

Remember the wonderful possibilities

So you need to stop sabotaging your own happiness by bitterness and complaining, altering your biololgy so that the bitterness becomes “normal.”  Some grieving is helpful because we can release the negative emotions in a positive way with people who are close, and learn from the experience.  But the problem with most of us is that we give too much attention to the small negative events and not enough attention to the rest of our lives, which many times have wonderful possibilities. 

When you forgive, you make a big change in your life.  When you will not forgive, you are not saying that you will not forgive just one little thing.  You are saying that because of that event your whole life is ruined.  No matter what happens, if you have enough gratitude like the saints do, then you would not lose your heart.  If you were a very strong meditator, with a long practice of compassion, you would not be so upset by these negative events.  But most of us are completely yanked out of our hearts when people do something that hurts us.

Conclusion

We cannot find our own heart.  We have found that people have to practice finding their own hearts, and stop telling stories that keep finding their own hearts impossible.  What you need is much more energy given to appreciating the positive aspects of your life, and less energy given to the negative stories. 

We remind people who have a basically good situation, with enough food to eat, water to drink, etc. that they can focus on these positive aspects to help keep up the balance of negative and positive.  They can tell the story about how terrible some event was, and they may have had something quite bad.  But then we ask them to add to the story something like,

“Yes I had some bad things happen, but my life is actually quite good because I am not going hungry, thirsty, etc. (like some people) and I have much to enjoy and appreciate.”

Dr. Fred Luskin Biography:

Dr. Fred Luskin has completed extensive research on the training and measurement of forgiveness therapy. His research demonstrates that learning forgiveness leads to increased physical vitality, hope, greater self–efficacy, enhanced optimism and conflict resolution skills. It also shows that forgiveness lessons the physical and emotional toll of stress, and decreases hurt, anger depression and blood pressure. 

He has worked with men and women from both sides of the violence in Northern Ireland who have had family members killed and with different groups of financial advisors after the stock market crash of 2000 to enhance their conflict resolution and stress management skills.

Dr. Luskin is the author of the best seller Forgive for Good: A Proven Prescription for Health and Happiness and Stress Free for Good.  He has worked with many organizations and has trained lawyers, doctors, church leaders and congregations, hospital staffs, teachers and other professionals to manage stress and enhance forgiveness all over the United States.  Dr. Luskin’s work has been featured in Time magazineO magazine, Ladies Home JournalU.S. News and World ReportsParadePrevention as well as the New York TimesLos Angeles TimesChicago TribuneU.S.A. Today and the Wall Street Journal

Frederic Luskin, Ph.D. is the Director of the Stanford University Forgiveness Projects and an Associate Professor at the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology.  He also serves as the Co Chair of the Garden of Forgiveness Project at Ground Zero in Manhattan.