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How to find your purpose in life

How to find your purpose in life

Transcript from talk of Swami Sitaramananda Aug.15 2021

SUMMARY KEYWORDS

purpose, karma yoga, atman, selflessness, dharma, karma yogi, skill, karma, life, instrument, offer, ego, means, selfless, happy, happiness, practice, meaning, destiny , self realization, Bhagavad Gita, spiritual teaching.

The topic of today morning is about how to find your goal and your purpose in this life. Very often we find ourselves in transition, asking ourselves questions “What I’m going to do? What’s my next step? I like this, I like that, but I like this too. I don’t really know what to do”.  Often times, we find ourselves in mild or severe depression, due to the sense of lack of direction and a feeling of meaninglessness. This is when we need to know about what our Dharma is.

What is Dharma?

Dharma means your highest duty or your mission in life, the right thing to do. We can talk about Dharma only if we understand the word Karma. The reason why we do not understand our Dharma is because we are functioning out of Karma. The level that you can get out of your karma or be detached from your karma is the level that you understand your Dharma. People know what they like, but they cannot do it, they cannot fulfill it. They live life and always feel frustrated, or always feel that they want to do something, but never can really do it.

The lucky ones are those who are able to do it, because of the circumstances of life and their inner motivations meet together and they feel fulfilled inside and outside. But you cannot blame the circumstances. If the circumstances are not favorable and you are not able to express yourself and fulfill your Dharma, you cannot blame the circumstances because it’s also your Karma. You have to work it out. Every situation is just perfect for you to work it out. It might take a long time, but if you do the correct practice, then you’ll be able to one day fulfill your Karma and Dharma both together. So, how to do this?

We need to understand Karma

When you are steeped in the karma, usually you are kind of in the dark. Karma means specific circumstances that you have to experience and live through because of the result of what you have thought and done in the past. And oftentimes it can be difficult, which means you are struggling. You are in the dark is not necessarily a happy state. Sometimes you might be happy and then again unhappy, happy and unhappy. It is not really the true picture. You’re still trying to understand what is asked from you. You are trying in this life using your means, your skills in order to be happy to get what you want. Sometimes you get what you want, and sometimes not. So, karma is something you have to experience, and it comes from a distant past. It sets up certain circumstances of your life.

Karmic relationship

Karmic relationships would help you eventually to see who you are, which is the immortal Atman that is in everybody. And it’s not the separate self that is different from everybody. Karmic relationships help you to find yourself. The purpose of struggling in work is not exactly the same as the purpose of struggling in relationships. Relationship is the question of love, the question of how to love and serve others as one’s own Self.

Your work – you are not the doer

Your work, your activity and what you find yourself doing, also can become your means to find yourself. You struggle with it, you try this and try that and eventually in that struggle, it’ll help you to know that you are not the doer or actor. The question of struggling in activity or in work is to ultimately find out that the energy that I have, the skill I have does not belong to me, and I’m only the instrument in the hands of the Divine. God is the supreme actor or doer and this body and mind are the instruments.

The moment you understand that, you will find peace. When you still have the idea of the doer-ship that means you are still thinking: “I am doing this, because I want this, and I like this”, “I don’t like this, and this is me against the world”.  Then at that time, you’re still struggling, you’re still steeped in karma. Like I said at the beginning this means that you’re still looking, you’re still not finding peace.

Finding your Dharma starts with selflessness or Karma Yoga

It’s so simple. Dharma has to start with selflessness. If you want to find your Dharma, if you want to find your mission in life, “what is the purpose of my life?” then you need to practice what we call Karma Yoga or the yoga of selflessness. It means, in daily life, you would have to offer yourself to something higher and bigger, larger than yourself without condition, acting as an instrument of something higher. And then you will say, “I will be abused if I am selfless, I will be then taken advantage of”. It is not true because nobody can take advantage of you unless you allow it.

Because you are the one that owns your consciousness, yes or no? If you decide from your end this is what I like to do, then you can do it and offered it up consciously. Whether the person decides to take more or not it doesn’t really matter because it comes from you. You are the one that decided I want to offer this energy of mine. This time of mine is still mine. I offer to this person who is there, or I offer to God in my heart, it doesn’t really matter. The main thing is you are selfless, you are working on your selflessness. When you are working on your selflessness then you have no sense of “I own this, I own this effort, I own this work, I own this result.” This teaching is quite deep. It’s in the Bhagavad Gita, the main scripture of yoga. And Swami Sivananda wrote a book on “the practice of karma yoga”.

It is a spiritual question if you want to find your mission, your meaning, your highest purpose in life.  It’s a very deep question. How do you know what your soul wants? Your mind always wants this and wants that and wonders and changes every time. Therefore, how do you know your highest purpose? How do you know your mission in life? Or how do you know why you’re born? It’s very difficult to know.

Starts with using your actual skills to serve selflessly

You have to sort it out from what you can do now in terms of selflessness, whatever that you can do selflessly. The more you can do this, the more your purpose will be revealed to you. You get that? The more you are able to be selfless in whatever you do, in your mind, independent from your circumstances, the more your purpose will be revealed to you. Whatever your circumstances, you still can find a way to be selfless, yes or no?

Put your heart into it and give up the results

Let’s say you are a mother. And you can be a selfless mother. Let’s say you are an employee, you can also be a selfless employee. Let’s say that you are a teacher, you can be a selfless teacher. What I mean is you put your heart into it, and you do the best you can, and you offer the result. Now, what does that mean? It means that you are detached from the results of your actions. If you are doing well, fine and good, if you are not doing well, fine and good. If the company becomes successful, fine and good or the company becomes bankrupt, and they think that it is your fault and they fire you, it’s fine and good also. But from your point of view, you practice selflessness. It’s not easy to do.

Egoism and selflessness

I believe in the talk yesterday, we brought up the definition of Patanjali about egoism. It is very nice. I’m still really enjoying the meaning of egoism: the association of the Atman with the instrument of seeing – the Antakarana. It is a technical term, Antakarana is the inner instrument. When the Atman is associating with the instrument, the mind, with what you like or do not like, with your personality and so on, then it becomes egoism. Self-realization means then the detachment or non-identification with your instrument of seeing, non-identification with your personality, non-identification with your ego, non-identification with your separate sense of self. That is selflessness.

Detach from the sense of I am the doer

Therefore, try to practice selflessness in whatever you do. Try not to think: “I like it, I don’t like it, and this is about me” or think: “Is people going to praise me? what do I get from this?” or feel:” it is a waste of my time!”. If you think like this, you’re still functioning out of your ego, you’ll still function out of that tight association of your Atman and your instrument of seeing.

What is Karma Yoga?

That’s why Karma Yoga is turning it around. It says just do whatever you need to do in front of you, do your duty, but turn it into selflessness and turn it into becoming an instrument. Because this is about action and it is not necessarily about emotion. Therefore, you use the word instrument, “I am only the instrument for this to happen”.

Then when you do that, you cancel out your Karma. You cancel out the strong attachment to your action, the strong attachment of the Atman – yourself, towards the action and the result of action. You detach from what you do, and from the result of what you do. So, in that way it works.

Also, karma yoga works to liberate yourself from this separate self, this body, this mind, or this separated life which you are very much identifying with if you are able to detach from what you’re doing and detach from the result of action.

This is why Karma Yoga- selfless action is being prescribed by all the teachers as a starting point on the journey of Self Realization. Why? Because we are very much identifying with this ego, or this separate individual self. Therefore, you have to keep turning it into something selfless, it’s very practical. You can actually see it when you work out of your own ego, and you can see it when you become selfless. It’s very practical.

How it works

Mark is a carpenter, he came here at the ashram. I don’t know how he came here. And then his skill was being used every day. I remember, all the time we said to him “this is a project for you, this is a project for you”. And then he did it. He didn’t complain. “Yeah. Okay. Let me see.” Yeah. He’s a very good karma yogi. People were praising him. “Oh, you did a good job. Thank you very much for fixing the screens of all the doors of the kitchen. No flies can come in and everything looks good. Thank you very much.” I see he did it and he did a good job. This is a karma yogi attitude, the attitude of selflessness.

Without him knowing, he gained some points, you can say some “punya”, some merit. Normally, what he’s going do with the same skill, he can go and do some work somewhere else and get paid for it because as a carpenter, or skilled carpenter, you get paid for your job. Here at the ashram what he has? He has some food, a bed for sleep, but he gets something that he cannot find elsewhere, he gets what we called the “punya” or the merit. The merit is the points that go in your bank account of your progress in life. In Indian theory, it is said when you die, the chief accountant from heaven is waiting for you when you go there.

In the Western theory, there may be some other name, but the chief accountant is waiting for you with the big register when you die. He’s there because he has taken accounts of all your actions, plus, minus, plus, minus, plus, minus… And he says: “well, that’s your balance, you can go here, and you can go there”. That means your consciousness would be elevated to this level or that level according to your balance. At that time, you don’t have the body, you don’t have to do anything.

Then you enjoy life after life, you enjoy it according to your merit, and then you stay there until you finish your credit. It is like you go to live in a five-star hotel over a credit card. You have a credit limit. You can stay in the five-star hotel as long as your credit lasts. But when your credit finishes, then, sorry, bye bye. You have to go back and work again to put more money in the credit. That’s how it works. And then you have to be reborn on earth. And when you’ll be reborn on Earth, you will have the chance to have more credit, or to have more debit.

Therefore, to find your purpose in life, you need to practice selflessness and then it will be revealed to you. Mark for example does carpentry for the ashram because he has a skill. A skill is called your karma. He has a skill, but he offered that in karma yoga attitude.  And then he might find his Dharma. He might find himself so happy to be just a karma yogi.  Or maybe he will open a carpentry school for young men or young women to teach them skills to make a living. Yeah, he teaches them skills to make a living, but he does it in a selfless manner to uplift young people. And this is how he finds his dharma. Bingo! This is how you can find your dharma.

Turn it around

There is a story of an Indian woman I forgot her name, she’s kind of famous. Not famous like Mother Teresa but this Indian woman, she told her story. It’s a really heart wrenching story. She was abused when she was young, physically. And she was thrown out in the street, she went through quite a hard time. She had to do very bad jobs. She was also not only abused by the family, but also abused by the husband. The whole story is very long. Then she decided to open an institution. She gathered abandoned girls in the street and she started to open a home for girls that are abandoned, like her condition.

Slowly she adopted all these women that have been abandoned in the street and been abused. Her institution became so big. She became a really powerful force, to help these women. She told her story on the Internet. So, it’s like that. Her karma was being thrown on the street, and then being abused. But she turned that karma into her dharma. That’s what I’m talking about. Therefore, whatever happens to you, you can turn it around and you serve. At that time, you find your mission, your unique mission. Because God has given you the situation. Now, it might be difficult, because you still do not know. But that particular situation is your strength. Therefore, you turn it around, and you serve. And then that will be your stepping stone for liberation.

The moment that you become selfless, you detach yourself from whatever this life is about, whatever this personality is about, whatever this feeling is about, and then you’re free. So that’s it. That’s why everyone is yearning toward finding their dharma because they kept thinking: “I live my life, I go to work, I get the money, I can do what I want, but I don’t feel fulfilled, I feel that I have something to contribute to society, I feel that I want to be somebody, I want to have a purpose in my life.”

Now you have the formula, whatever you have, start with that. If you have a skill, how to sew for example. Let’s say in a COVID time, you are not a nurse, you’re not a doctor, to help people. But you know how to sew. You can sew face masks. And then you can donate to other people, that’s also your contribution. You start with this act, and eventually, you might find your mission. Gandhiji, he was a lawyer. What does a lawyer mean? He knows how to argue. He used that skill that he has to serve selflessly. He’s offering his skill. And he found his mission somehow to eventually help India free itself from colonialism. Now people still talk about his name. Whatever skill that you have, or whatever situation you struggle with, or whatever strength you have, offer it as selfless service.

MahaLakshmi, she’s doing a program called Good Karma Diet. She is a good cook. She turned it around and she teaches people how to cook. She got the proceeds from that and she wanted to help the animals. Then she asked if I could cook here and then get the proceeds and offer to the Animal Sanctuary that gathered these animals that have been mistreated, abandoned, and then to give the proceeds to the animal sanctuary. Swamiji said to MahaLakshmi: “I think I’m the one that tells you to cook.” In the beginning, she didn’t know how to cook, and then she learned how to cook.

She tried it on me in the beginning, then after she tried and tried, and she became good. She might find her mission in life, which is how to teach people how to cook vegetarian food and not to harm the animal and help the ecology and then this can open up to something else. It sounds like something very innocent. Somehow it comes to you with this skill and this intelligence because the moment that you start to find that connection with yourself and your contribution to society, and you serve selflessly, and the door opens, you feel better and better when you do that.

Bondage or liberation?

Dharma is to achieve Self Realization, Self-Realization cannot be achieved if you function out of your ego. Your Atman, which is your own True Self that you want to realize, is always associated with this body and mind, this likes and dislikes, this personality. So, when you offer up this personality and this skill, and this energy, this identification with your separate self, at that time, you slowly detach from that identification with the idea of who you are in a practical manner.

Then you realize the Self because the Self is always there, but it is obstructed by our mind, by our ego, or our false self. That’s why you need to work on that separation between the Atman and the ego, by detachment, and by offering it up. Because if you work, and then you want people to praise you, or you want some result, then it keeps you linked again to the mind. You understand? The mind likes something and wants the result out of that. The ego wants people to recognize you for that. And that will bind you instead of freeing you. You are going more toward being in bondage, being tied to this personality. Then you get so worried and anxious, you cannot sleep. Because you think that you don’t gain what you want. You are very much concerned about what you’re doing.

You can get yourself sick. So many people get sick out of worrying about how they perform. But if you do everything in the spirit of karma yoga then it’s okay. You do your duty, you do the best you can, you offer the result, so it doesn’t really matter. Therefore, you sleep well, you work hard. The energy comes from heaven because it comes from your soul, it comes from your Atman that is the source of everything, because you do it selflessly. So therefore, your Atman will make sure that you have the energy to do whatever is needed. And then you are free, and there is a light feeling to it, there is a happy feeling. If you experience it, you just want more of this light feeling. Consequently, you don’t want this feeling of worrying or feeling of heaviness, the feeling of winning and losing the feeling of being better than another person, or worse than another person, and the feeling that you are never good enough.

Karma Yoga spirit

The concerns about the ego really make you suffer. Because you are never enough, you can work hard, you can do everything, but you are never enough, you’re never perfect. You know this, if you do something it is never perfect. And if somebody comes and they destroy your work, you’re also angry, upset. You find yourself competing all the time with other people, and it takes all the joy out of life, but life is meant to be living joyfully. When you act selflessly you are joyful.

But if you do Karma Yoga and you are unhappy then something is wrong. I heard some people say I do karma yoga and I’m unhappy. It is because your ego is doing Karma Yoga, but your spirit is not embracing the selfless attitude of a karma yogi yet. You come to an ashram, and you are not being paid, does this mean you are doing Karma Yoga? Not necessary. Because it’s in the spirit. That spirit of Karma Yoga has to be built up for a long time because who wants to be selfless? Nobody. We like to be selfless, but it’s not necessary that we can cope with the practice of selflessness.

Well, sometimes we are selfless. And sometimes we are not selfless. Then we complain. So, in the process, sometimes you gain a lot out of this, like what I said, and sometimes you will feel you don’t like it. “When I came here, I thought I learned something and then I wash dishes all day long. I could do dishes at home why I came here and do dishes.” And then comes the complaining and blaming, “this cook doesn’t do their own dishes”, you look around at this person, “they’re not doing dishes, they’re just only sweeping, cutting flowers, they have such a nice karma yoga and they make me do dishes”. So, you complain. That’s normal in the practice of karma yoga. You don’t feel that unbounded joy. I’m telling you that it’s joyful.

But you have to practice long enough to find that joy. Don’t think that I’m sitting here, and I talk to you just like that. I have been a karma yogi for more than 40 years. Before yoga life, I was a social worker. I also did this selfless work, that’s part of my profession because people pay me to do social work, I had a big pay. But then I did selfless work at home in my free time without pay. I was full time selfless at work and my salary I gave to my family. And then the time that I dedicated to help other people was not paid. Eventually I quit, I quit that portion being paid, I retained a portion of not being paid. Then I became full time helping others without being paid. All the skills that I have learned I used for selfless service.

Karma Yoga spirit does not come easily, even though it’s the first yoga path. But I can guarantee you that after some time, if you do it one or two years you will start to like it. You’ll be surprised, we offer people to come and do seva-study here, that means study half and then work half. In the application form, we ask people to describe what is Karma Yoga, because we want people to know what they enter into, so they don’t come here and then feel that they’re being exploited or something. So, we ask people in the application form to write down what they are feeling about karma yoga. And the answers are amazing. We need to make a book out of that collection of answers. People come up with some extraordinary sentences in their application before they come to yoga. Before coming here, they already have an idea. To say that people are selfish it’s not exactly correct. Actually, I was surprised to see that people know what selflessness is, they have like a craving for selflessness. Many people wrote “I want to come to practice selflessness”. It is quite amazing. So please start and finish the book. Because the ashram is made out of Karma Yoga.

Gratitude

I have a lot of gratitude. I sit here, I always remember, wherever I look, a face of somebody just pop up, because I remember what they do. They came here, and they offer their skills. I have in my mind now the memory of all these people who did the flooring of the Yoga Hall, they were crawling on the floor to do the flooring. And this wood wall behind the altar was all done by Karma Yoga. You see that wall here, every bit of it is so beautiful. That’s why the ashram is beautiful, not because of the building. The building is just normal. There are many better buildings than the ones at the ashram. But the beauty of it is the energy that karma yogis put in when they do the work, because everything is built out of karma yoga.

When I came here, there’s only an old farm house and there was no money. How did the ashram build up? From the sweat, and effort and the love of the Karma Yogis. I still remember that case. There’s one girl, she came from Europe. At that time, many people came from Europe here. This girl, a young girl, maybe 25 years old, came in just for a short period of time, like a week, not even as a karma yogi. When she came here, and at that exact moment we dug the floor of the farm house. Because the old farmhouse was sitting on no foundation, so we had to dig in the ground through the wooden floor, and then put a post, and pour the cement to support the floor.

This girl, very innocent, she’s traveling and came for about a week, exact at that moment. I remember, she spent the whole time that she was here in the basement. We had to work with the wheelbarrow, fill it up with concrete, roll it in, and transfer it to buckets to bring it down to a person underneath. They had to pour cement concrete posts down in the basement. It took longer than we thought. This girl spent her time in the basement doing cement. And she was happy.  We don’t force people to do things. They’re happy to do it and they like to continue to do it. She was happy, and she was grateful when she left. And I’m grateful for my life for her doing this. Because it was a tough job and she was willing to do it. It was not an easy thing.

One day I will write a book about all the karma Yogis who have come to me. Because they have done incredible work. There were all kinds of people. There were also people that are angry. I still remember this man, a carpenter. For whatever reason, he came here. He was really disliking another karma yogi girl who was very devotional. She used to walk around with the basket of flowers singing like this. And this made the man irritated. One day he threw a chair on the girl. [it did not reach her, thanks God]. 

So, Karma Yoga is not all rosy, but it’s still one of the most important paths towards knowing oneself and being free from your karma. If you don’t practice this guideline of selflessness, you live your life and your karma will torture you. Because karma is never nice. It always comes as a contradiction, as a disillusion, as an unfulfilled feeling. You’ll be tortured by your karma. If you want to get out of your karma, then you can try baby steps to become selfless.

Hari Om Tat Sat.

Swami sitaramananda

Yoga is skill in action

Yoga is skill in action

A webinar by swami Sitaramananda 05/06/21

The law of karma applies to everyone and everything   

The Bhagavad Gita is the scripture of yoga that teaches about the 4 paths of yoga, and the most important teaching is about karma yoga. What Karma does mean?  A lot of people understand Karma wrongly. It simply means action and consequence of action. So, karma is the action that is done by body, by speech and by thought. These actions have consequences. Nothing happens by accident. We usually do not understand the reason that may come from a previous life. We do not remember. We are born in a family, in a country, in circumstances that come from a reason from before.

It is not by accident that we are born in a particular country, that we are a boy or a girl, that we are children of particular parents. Everything has its own reason. What is the reason? The real reason is that you have been born in order for you to learn your karmic lessons, for you to grow. To grow means that you understand the meaning of your life, and you understand that everything that you must experience has a reason. Then you will learn from this experience that is your karma. The word Karma does not mean anything negative, just simply means the law of action and reaction, action, and consequence of action. What you sow is what you reap. This is a universal law.

The other thing we need to understand is that with the law of karma is the law of retribution which means if you do something wrong, you will receive a punishment. Also, there is the law of compensation that means that everything is inter-related and in the big picture, everything is perfect the way it is even though we might not think so.

Karma comes from desire

Where does Karma come from? It comes from desire, where does desire come from? Desire comes from ignorance.  In ignorance, we fail to see that we have everything, that we are pure consciousness and that we are the source of everything. We think that this limited life in this body is our self and we think satisfying our desires in this life is the goal. But we do not realize that we cannot satisfy any desire because desire never stops, you satisfy one desire, another one comes, then another one will come.

That is how you go around, around, around, in that circle of Karma. Karma is depicted as a circle, a wheel, so this life is to experience the result of the desire from past but when you live this life, you react and then you create new desire, and then you must be reborn again to experience or to enjoy or to pay your debt. You constantly create new desire, new karma, that is how it works.

The way of liberation: Paying karmic debts and not creating new

So, the Yogi attempts to not have any desire because he/she knows that it is endless, so they only focus on paying up the karmic debt and at the same time they focus on not creating new karmic debts. In the same manner, with money, you must pay up your debts, but if you keep borrowing more money, then you will have new debts. The smart way is slowly clear up the old debts without creating new debt so that you can be free.

See life differently from the point of view of karma

When you experience the karma it is always difficult. The reason why it is difficult is because you have to go deep inside to understand yourself. Usually, we do not want to do that, we want to blame, we want to run away, and we react. By doing so, we cannot learn the lessons that we are supposed to learn.

There are people that have difficulty to face their karmic challenges and are afraid to live up to their potential due to fears. Yoga described avoidance as coming from the fear of pains and attraction as the dwelling on pleasures. Some people want to avoid life and avoid facing themselves. Some people want life to be only pleasurable. However, is it possible to avoid life?  Is it possible to have only pleasure without pain? Swami Sivananda said that pain and pleasure are two sides of the same coin. If you are going to experience life then you know life will bring suffering.

Courage is the most important quality, courage to face your own karma. You know that by suffering, you will understand the root causes of the suffering and then you will realize your character, your personality, your habit and this realization and awareness will set you free from repeating the same mistake . Humility will help you to accept things as they are and not the way you would like them to be. Patience and perseverance are also other valuable qualities to allow you to slowly change your character, see everything as an opportunity, and stop blaming.

Awakening from our spiritual ignorance , breaking through the chain of karma

Spiritual ignorance is like this. Spiritual ignorance comes from that false ego identity that is not perfect but fails to see that it is not perfect and always thinks that it is perfect. That is why there are many kinds of yoga that go to the root cause of this phenomenon, the false ego identity. In particular, Karma Yoga, practiced seriously in daily life, helps us to escape the wheel of birth and death. Karma Yoga explains to us what karma is and shows us the way to finish the karma and to find happiness and peace and not always go around and around in this life completely immersed in the struggle of life.

Remember what we really want is absolute happiness

Everyone needs to be conscious of what one really wants. What we really want is happiness absolute, what we really want is freedom from birth and death.  Everyone wants not to be limited, to be everywhere, to be fulfilled.  Everyone wants to know that happiness that is not contradicted, that does not require you to think too much. Isn’t it true?  people who think too much, are they happy? No. In fact, thinking correctly is the way to liberation, but negative thinking leads you to make mistakes and endlessly trying to correct the mistakes you have made.  The wise person is the one who understands that “I don’t want anything. I just want true happiness”.

Our attachments are our obstacles to happiness

THE REASON WHY we cannot get out of this because we are attached.  We are attached to our own thinking, our own feeling, our relationships, and our work. The key word here is attachment. Think about this, if you are attached, you cannot be free and you cannot be liberated.  Why?  Because of the word attachment itself. When you are attached, you cannot be free. Who forces you to be attached if you do not want to be attached?

Your right thinking, your right opinion slowly slowly helps you to get out of yourself.  Right thinking means that you are detached, or you are free from any attachment. Your happiness at that time does not come from your emotion. You understand that your happiness does not come from your thinking.  You understand that your happiness does not come from any relationships. You understand that your happiness does not come from any work you do. You understand that happiness does not come from any kind of special karmic situation.  

Remember the True Self

Before you were attached to this or that karma but now you understand that happiness doesn’t come from this, and you really want to be free. You then become attached to your own Self. It means that you no longer make a mistake between the means and the goal.  The goal is to find happiness and peace, the means is to be mindful, to be aware of your experience of this and that so that you realize your mistake while experiencing your character and your reactive habits. The way to be free is the detachment from what you experience so that you can always remember the true Self.  

The goal of life is not to experience life. Life is just the means, not the goal. To avoid entanglement, you need to really understand very well what freedom is. Freedom from what? Freedom from the causes of suffering. You would then take yourself very seriously to try to disentangle yourself step-by-step.  You don’t expect anybody to free you. You know you would experience the attraction and the pangs of separation, but you are not attached to either.  The wise person always lives in the present, he/she does not live in the past or the future. Why? Because the past and the future brings a lot of thinking. The past will bring thoughts of regrets; the future will bring thoughts of worry. In the present, you have peace.

Think less and immerse yourself in the present

It is said the peace you have in the present is like the space in between two thoughts, for example when you repeat your mantra using the mala bead. At the same time, you channel your thinking by pronouncing the divine sacred name one bead at the time, and at the same time, you imagine you don’t have any other thought in between. Eventually, the beads disappear, the mantras disappear, and there is only the subject. In the same manner, you see the movie screen at the same time you witness all kinds of images of the movies projected on the screen.

If you do not find peace in this film, in this movie, you can always create what you think to be better, may be a more romantic story, may be a more beautiful movie, may be with nice landscapes, may be with a perfect beautiful person etc… you would think that maybe I will be very happy in the next movie but then the next movie will change and then the beautiful film will become some kind of nightmare, full of evil things. The negative is alternating with the positive, there is no movie that will bring you to lasting happiness.  No story whatsoever will bring you peace because you always create a new story imagining all kinds of best scenario.  

Maybe I can be at the beach with my best friend then I will be really very happy, maybe I can be a princess or a queen with her prince, maybe I can be famous with hundreds of thousands subscribers to my social media account … may be I can be that skillful person perfecting my art in this or that. You can go through many many lifetimes, many different scenarios, but you will be always revolving in the same imagination of your mind. That is why it is said that you satisfy one karma, and you create new debts. You create new circumstances you believe that this would be better but that’s how your ignorance goes always, finding fault always. What you need to understand is no circumstance, no story would be better.

No happiness in this world would be perfect because it comes from your mind and imagination. You live in the mountain and you want to live by the ocean, you live in the East and you want to go to the West, you are a male and you would like to become a female, and the person who is female would like to become a male person, the old person wants to become young, the young person wants to become old… You will never find perfection because it’s all creations of your mind. There is always some greed and ignorance.  The idea is not to find any fault with the present,  not to worry,  not to regret, but really try to detach always, detach from what you experience. 

This is called karma yoga. Karma yoga means detachment from what you have to experience, detachment from all relationships, detachment from your mind, detachment from your emotions, from your circumstances. Be the witness, not jumping in the movie and becoming the actor. Slowly the mind will be able to be detached and you will be able to be free from its illusion when you live this life.

Selflessness is the key

The secret, the trick in Karma Yoga is the spirit of selflessness. Selflessness means that you don’t want anything because if you want something you will be stuck in the wheel.

You will be stuck with it from one thing to 2, 3, 4 things. Always you will be desiring perfection, you will be suffering from dissatisfaction, you would think that God is not seeing my need, God is not fair, my loved ones do not understand me and so on.

However, the most important thing is not to have the ego, to be selfless. Not having ego means not having any attachment to the idea of yourself, what you like and what you not like, the idea that you like something and you dislike somebody else.  That is called selflessness, the life that is not depending on the ego.

Liberation comes with doing your duty with detachment

When you liberate yourself, you are not entangling,  you have a bigger picture of life, of yourself and you walk on the path of liberation that is called karma yoga.  Karma yoga here is the path of selflessness. It means you still live this life, but you live this life in a nonattached manner. What does that mean?  it means that you don’t want anything, you just want to do your duty.  In any situation you just want to do your duty and you do the best you can with the attitude of detachment.  This is the secret of Karma yoga to liberate yourself. However, pay attention, do not do somebody else’s duty.

For example, I see this person, she’s not working very well so I jump in and I do her work.  It’s not good, why? because I am doing the duty of somebody else.  My attachment creates this desire to do things. Why?  Because I think that I am better, I do things better; I become attached to this person, I want to do her job thinking that I will be helping her, but I am doing her job and I don’t allow her to have the chance to release herself from the karma. On the contrary, my karma will become heavier because of my attachment.  I need to understand differently and compassionately that this lady is suffering in some way and it’s good for her because she’s learning the lesson of detachment.

If you have the duty to remind the person or to teach the person then this is fine. You will see that most of the time, people will not listen because when people are deep in their karma, they will not be able to listen to helpful advice, coming from you or from someone else. Then you have the temptation to jump in and do all kinds of things, so you are the one that create problems for yourself. So always remember that you need to liberate yourself, that you are the other person indeed, that you want the other person to liberate themselves.

However, they will liberate themselves in due time, when they truly understand their karma and when they truly realize their mistake. You cannot liberate them; you can give them advice, but you cannot liberate anybody else.  Even when you give advice, you have to give advice only when it is your duty to do so, not giving advice to everybody, when not being asked or when it’s not your duty.

Yoga is skill in action

The Bhagavad Gita says Yoga is skill in action. That is the teaching. Skill in doing your duty without likes and dislikes. You do action and at the same time it looks like you are not doing anything. You are involved but it looks like you are not attached.  This is not easy, that’s why scripture said that it is a skill. How to live your life, to love and at the same time not be attached? The key is always you have to remember that the goal of life is liberation from suffering so when you understand this very clearly, you understand that nobody can help you.  This is very difficult because everyone has the expectation that somebody else will free them, somebody else will help them.

Is it not true that when people are young, growing up, so many people suffer because you think that your father and mother would save you? And the father and the mother also have the expectation that you will save them one day. But then you realize that your father and mother live their own karma, and you have to liberate yourself on your own.  You realize that they cannot save you, they have to save themselves.  When you understand this, you will very carefully follow your own karma and liberate yourself. Of course, the guideline is you have to do your duty without attachment. So, if you are a student, you would have to do the duty of the student without expectation. In the same manner, you learn your lessons of self love.

If you suffer from rejection for example, your karma is to learn the lesson of self sufficiency, self-love, but if you have expectation that this person or that person should love you as you love them, and then you blame them, you are not getting the lesson which is the lesson of self sufficiency. You then cannot be free from this tendency of dependency and of expectation and will carry this seed of karma to the next life. It is not easy to be relieved from karma.

Most people will live their life, not being able to release themselves from karma, because they always have this expectation that somebody else will do it for them.  You think somebody else will love you, you blame your relationships, you blame your father/mother, you live your whole life never asking yourself the right question. You get angry, suffer from resentment, you blame others, compare yourself with others and suffer. You do not really see your own attachment to your ego and your own ignorance.

Meditation in action:

The meaning of Bhagavad Gita about “skill in action” is the teaching about meditation in action. You meditate on your life while you are acting and when you live your life, you meditate. You understand that life is meditation, and you understand that you need to really understand what your life is, so that you can be free, and you always remember that in mind that you want to be free. You remember that happiness absolute is from within, happiness absolute is what you are looking for and this life is the opportunity to pay up your karmic debt.  You understand that your life is a result of your past karma, that attachment to the result of your past karma is a mistake and you want to take all opportunities to release yourself from the cycle  of births and deaths.

4 important things to remember:

To summarize, the most important thing to remember from this talk is what is detachment. The 2nd important thing to understand is the words “doing your duty without attachment to results”. The number 3rd important idea is the spirit of selflessness and renunciation, you don’t want anything, you don’t want any benefit, you just want to be detached from everything you want to do your duty, you do not expect anything from your work, you just want freedom and happiness.  You don’t run away from your duty, but you are not attached to it.

Last but not least, you understand that you are the one that can free yourself and nobody can do it for you. Even with the teacher, the teacher can teach you all these things so you can have some clarity in order to apply the teaching in your life, but the teacher cannot do it for you.  If you are hungry, you have to eat for yourself, if you are thirsty, you have to drink, nobody else can really help you.

Please read more the Bhagavad Gita and become expert, a Karma Yogi skillful in action! 

Om shanti

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.

From Karma to Dharma – how to turn karmic situation to your life mission

From Karma to Dharma – how to turn karmic situation to your life mission

Satsang on line 04/19/2020

Introduction:

The topic of today is a complex topic, we will try our best to talk about how to bring meaning to our lives no matter what circumstances we found ourselves in. The two words of Karma and Dharma are charged with meaning. Considering we do not know if everyone in the audience has the same understanding about this, we will go a little bit in details, about karma and dharma to describe the cause of our existence – according to ancient Yogic philosophy- and what we are supposed to do to make the best out of our life. We need to see “the big picture” to become wise resulting from this expanded vision.

 During the threat of a pandemic Covid 19 upsetting life all round us, during this crisis situation, where we have to fall back to survival mode, it seems futile to ask such question. Yet it is precisely during these times, that we need to focus on finding new grounds, new ways and to realign ourselves differently and discover new territories and possibilities about ourselves and our potentials.

What is karma and How karma works?

Karma comes from Desires.
Karma means Action and the results of action. Thinking is action.
Any thought will bring about a reaction.
You experience the present life as a result of the past coming into the present. Karma is law of cause and effect. Some karmas (or karmic situations) seem to be good and some are appearing to be negative. The theory on Karma, explains that “We reap the fruits of the seeds we grow. Good actions bring its own results and bad actions bring its own consequences. There is no accident or haphazard things in this world.”  I know this seems cruel and some of you might rise objections as to why some people would have to die from Corona virus now, alone in hospital grasping for air, some people would have to perish while helping others on the front line, some people have no shelter to shelter under and some others can afford have all the medical care  to fight off the disease.

The Root Causes of  Life’s Struggles

Life doesn’t end with death, according to Yogic philosophy. We need to look deeper into the cause of our struggles or luck which might come from beyond this life. The law of cause and effect, when applied can be very simple: If we enjoy peace and health now, it is because we have contributed to peace and health of someone sometime.

If we suffer from loneliness, it is we have created isolation in somebody.  If we face a situation that seems like a choice between being selfish and survive or being compassionate and humble and risking our lives, it is because in the past when confronted with these situations we have always chosen the former.  We are being given this same choice again in order to choose differently.  Similarly, if we feel that lying or manipulating a situation will be to our advantage, we need to choose honesty and straightforwardness and find strength in having good character, of doing the ethical thing.  Genuinely helping another person to attain more material comforts in their life will manifest in yours as a boon of good fortune. 

Take Responsibility of your life and choices.

Karma does not work differently at work, in private life. There is also a group collective karma.  You are born in a certain era, certain society, certain level of technological development. Everything is interrelated. By improving your character at work you improve your happiness at home.  By improving your relationships at home you improve your business as your energy will flow better.

Cultivating contentment with what you have already been given releases you from the karma of constant restlessness of desiring more. Giving freely and charitably results in greater wealth coming your way.  Stinginess, in the contrary, brings with it a sense of lack, of never having enough.  Maintaining pure intentions, which come from your heart, brings lasting peace of mind; whereas, sometimes following the head and other times the heart brings confusion, fragmentation, and problems in the future.  Seeking inspiration from the wise people while avoiding back-biting and gossiping attracts supportive people that will be key to your success. In the same manner, negativity, divisiveness, and bringing your competitors or coworkers down will return to you in the form of stress and fear.  Inflexibility and desire for control bring you more situations that you can never control.  But, letting go of the need for control and realizing that you may not be aware of subtler forces at work gives insight into the interconnectivity and self-regulating nature of creation.  Everything is, in fact, perfect; we just often fail to see it.  Cultivating belief in this truth brings great peace and relaxation.  

The twelve areas of Karma in this life.

The more you identify with your karma, the more your karma becomes real.  To be free from it you have to know it, so you don’t identify with it. These are 12 areas of karma, intertwined with each other. 

  1. The body:

The body is said to be a battlefield where the karmic lessons are learnt. From the seed of karma, sprout out the body and mind.

With the body you inherit certain psychology pertaining to the gender.

When you are born you are born in a body belonging to a certain race and culture. The collective karma will come with it.  You are born white, yellow or black. The karmic condition comes with it, depending on the era you are born in.

You also inherit from the moment you are born a certain amount of life force. Some are born healthy with lots of life force. 

Some are born weak, not so healthy. Some are born with fire element constitution, prone to action. Some are born with water element, prone to emotions. The karma with the body is already there, male, female, strong, weak. 

  • The family, relatives and resources.

Then you have the karma of the family, the relatives, people that you live with in your early life. You might be supported or not supported.  You have karma of having money or not having money no matter what you do.  

  • your karma relating to your abilities in communication and your self will or not. Your relationship with siblings.
  • Relationship karma with your emotional heart and happiness, your mother, and your home, house and property.
  • Then you have the karma with your children, your physical children or your creativity, which is your children in an abstract manner.  
  • This is the karma about your health and diseases and challenges.
  • You have karma with your partner either easy or difficult.
  • You also have difficult invisible karmas, hidden. This relates to the energy within the psyche, the area of spiritual insight or death. 
  • You have karma with your Guru, your spiritual teacher, your father and also your dharma, your faith. 
  • . Ten is your karma with work, career, your name and fame, place in society, in some cases frustrating, some cases fulfilling.
  • You also have karma with your friends, your community, your gains
  • And losses.

In these different karmas, you would have to detach and find yourself.

In relationships and in work, in gains, or losses, at home or in society, in your creative intelligence or in your emotions, you would have to observe the plays of karmas and find your Atman Self through it.

You would have to find Your Self in Others in these different areas of your life.

Karma, Destiny and Self effort

In life, we always have free choice even though these choices are limited. It is said that the present life and its circumstances is the result of past lives thoughts and actions. What happens today is already predetermined even though we do not know from when and and how things will manifest. However, this is not a fatalistic view. In the contrary, we remember that challenges in this life are opportunities for growth and for success in the future.

We might have free will but we need to think well about our choices so that what we do leads us to peace and happiness and not to suffering. When we are acting out of past habits and are powerless to change our character and attitudes, we are actually bound and not free. Yoga teaches us Self effort to control the mind and realize the True Self and be conscious and wise about our choices, thus eventually free us from the tendency to produce the same mistakes.

Managing karma implies that:

1. We care about our present duty,

2. We keep our eyes on our total and ultimate self-development,

3. We accept all tests and challenges in life as only temporary.

There is no Good karma and bad karma. Try to be free from all karma

Life is not only challenges but there will be some good things happening and some bad.  Life is a combination of both good and bad karma.  That means certain conditions that we are born in are easy, things that we didn’t have to do anything and yet they came to you. 

There will be favorable conditions according to what we wish and desire and there will be the unfavorable conditions that we have to struggle with.

Keep even mind in all conditions, in fact, good or bad karma is just karma.  In reality there is no good or bad.  There is no good life, no bad life, no superior life, no lucky life, no unlucky life.  It is just specifically your life and then you have to learn from it in order for you to be free from all karmas.

Increasing karmic credits, diminishing karmic debits.

Life is a series of pluses and minuses. You have to see the condition from the inside, to understand the plus and minus in the karmic bank balance of your life, not from the outside. From the inside means from your level of consciousness. Your journey is the journey of Self Realization, towards absolute consciousness of Oneness.

 In this journey, you can record your debts as the things that you yet have to learn, and credits as the things you have learned.

 Credit giving (+) Selfless actions, study, introspection, meditation. Anything that helps us bring awareness will give us credit; Follow dharmic rules of conduct is accumulating credits. Any action that will make us wake up is credit.

Debits adding (-) : anything the makes us become more ignorant will give us debt. Any action that will make us become thicker in our ego separation and illusion is debt.

The balance of plusses and minuses shows your progress and the accumulation of plusses can bring about a total payment of all debts i.e. liberation from karma.

What means working out karma and paying karmic debts?

It means experiencing the difficulties and slowly learning who the Self is and who it is not. For example, regarding relationship karma, you have to go through the different flavors or aspects of these relationships in order for you to learn the real lesson of Pure Unconditional Love that is your Self. You would be selfless.  You would learn Self Love that also includes the other.

Suffering means learning.

Is suffering a must when you are learning from karmas?  Suffering is subjective and is related to your reaction towards your karmas, therefore it will be there as an incentive for you to learn.

Sometimes you want to escape from suffering and not learn, for example you would escape in addiction, in disease, in self pity and in blaming. Then you are not learning your karmic lessons and you are diving deeper in the same way of seeing yourself and others. However, life is a school and there is some kind of progress even though different situations seem to be very different, but there is progress.

Paying debt, alleviation of karma is gradual:

 Karmas are being understood slowly. You change roles so you will learn. You suffer, so you will learn.

Alleviation of karma means that you will refine your ideas about how you think about things. You will become selfless and detached, and you would turn karma to dharma.  You would take a distance and will not to take yourself too seriously, be detached and remember that the True Self is the Self and nothing can touch it, hurt it or taking anything away from it. You will keep your peace of mind.  You will forgive and offer everything up in karma Yoga.

Your life is a result of karmas from past but you have choice in the present.

 In the present time, when you are aware, you can do something about alleviating your karma.  You would have the choice, either reproduce the same situation as the one you inherit from past karma,

or become wise about karma and not reproduce again another karmic situation in the future. Sometimes the lessons are intense and lots of issues come up at the same time. The intense purification the world is going through during the corona virus pandemic is an example when the karma is accelerating and we have no choice but to face it. Try to see all these challenging situations under the view of karma and try to be more aware of the consequences of our actions and rise to the task.

You learn something but you create new debts.

In the process of paying up your karmic debts goes very deep. It takes long term training to control the mind and to stop reacting to the karmas, and create new karmas. For example, you are locked up and you do not understand why you can not move about and do what you desire. You fail to understand the universe’s lesson to you and others to turn inwards and to change consciousness. You got depressed or upset and do wrong actions.

Life is like a circle, the wheel of karma, you learn something but you create new debts.  It just goes on and on and on.  You learn something. You don’t learn something.  You learn something.  You don’t learn something.  You just go on and on and on, classroom to classroom, from lifetime to lifetime learning. 

What is Karma Yoga?

Karma Yoga is the way to work through karma by changing your sense of your self and the identification with your actions.

In Karma Yoga your motivation needs to be pure. Motivation stems from the heart, the true inner feeling. 

  • Develop the attitude of being an instrument only, be detached.  
  • Offer the results: In praises or censures, in success or failures, keep the mind even. It’s not about me, it’s not about them.  It’s not about whether I like them or they like me, it has nothing to do with this.  You offer the results of your action, that means you offer this karma up in order for you to continue to progress.
  • Do the best you can: Make effort but learn to let go.
  • Do your duty and persevere, this too shall pass. Your karma dictates to you your specific duty. There is no accident, no duty is an accident. If you follow your duty you learn even though it is difficult. At every station in life, you have specific duty. Follow the discipline of your duty and you will be learning greatly. Many doctors and nurses actually now are going through intense karma doing their duty, even risking their lives to save others. They are on the front line, like in a war. 

This reminds us of the sublime teaching long ago of Arjuna, the warrior-disciple in conflict who receives on the battle field the revelation about the immortality of the soul, the teaching on karma yoga and duty and the self knowledge in action.

Every karma is unique

You can only understand your own karma; you cannot understand another person’s karma.  You can look at someone else’ s life so that you can learn from them.  The scriptures say it is much better that you focus on your own karma and not someone else’ s, even though it is easier for you.  Let’s say you have a situation that is really difficult for you to deal with, but a friend will look at you and say,” I don’t know why you have such big problem about this.  If I am you, I’ll do this, I’ll do that.”  In karmic difficulty, it is as if you are blind while another person can see your problem easily.  It is said that you can take people’s advice, you can hear other people, but you yourself have to deal with it. So don’t compare, it is not necessary to compare.

Turning karma to Karma yoga and find your life mission:

  • Dharma is right living, right action.
  • Karma Yoga attitude helps you to turn your karma to Dharma.

You can turn your karma to karma yoga by being selfless and dedicating your service without expectation. Your selfless service is unique to you. For you, it turns your whole attitude around and touches your soul.  It opens your life up to new horizons.

  • Then, you turn your selfless service into your life mission when you understand that this sublime attitude has to be kept throughout life.

You cannot solve the problem on the same level of consciousness that created the problem at the first place, so your life mission is to go back to this place of selflessness that will set you free.

Examples:

  • A homeless abandoned woman opens shelter for homeless women and teach the women self esteem and self confidence.
  • A grieving wife due to lost of beloved husband to disease, speaks out about the virtue of love beyond death, and becomes selfless worker to help people with disease.
  • A person becoming jobless and bankrupt due to economy crisis turns into a founder of a company helping people to express creativity and improve earning through wise capital ventures.
  • A scientist who lost family due to virus now dedicates life work to study viruses and to find cures and vaccines
  • A political critical activist wanting always things to change now dedicating oneself to nourish and care for ecology, relying on the grace of the Mother Nature.

Take care of your duty in the present and the future will be taken care of:

Dharma is duty. It is transforming your karma into an unselfish duty.  It means putting the ego at the service of others and the greater good.  Not thinking of ourselves first and only, but sharing in everyone’s happiness, being an honorable contributor to the betterment of society, and opening oneself to the whole of creation will turn karma into dharma.  It will improve life in all aspects.  The result is not necessarily immediate, however; patience and knowledge of how karma works will see you through to the benefits. 

Yoga teaching says try to be good and to do good all of the time no matter what the situation is.

Karma can be understood and released. Growing spiritually requires that we turn our karma into dharma. 

Dharmic Life Brings Happiness

Happiness comes from Peace of mind and unhappiness comes from a restless mind.

Yoga teaches the practice of restraint of thought waves to find contentment and break through the karmic accumulation. 

In the pursuit of happiness, we made many mistakes, and created endless karmas. In our feverish world of competition, where everybody is looking for answers outside, we believe that our happiness is in material possessions and sensual comforts. We think that our happiness has to be at the expense of someone else happiness so we compete and make sure we get the best place, the best part of the cake.  We fear that someone else happiness is at our expense, and become jealous and envious. We do not see the intangible, the spiritual, the sublime and divine. We believe in external success and not in internal peace as success, thus we are being pulled in all directions by our ambitions and desires and the disappointments, angers that follow desires.

Yogis affirm that in order to find happiness, we need to achieve peace of mind first. This means that we need to eventually recognize that there is no end to desires, that the objects desired in fact are our own projections of our own illusions externally. We eventually learn to turn within, avoid the love and hate, the ups and downs, the   dual tendency of attraction and repulsion, always running towards something and running away from something.

This is when Yoga and meditation come in our life, as we catch the taste of peace and understand finally that it comes from within, and decide to consciously make an effort to be calm and focused within.

How Yoga helps?

Classical yoga attributes equal value to self-effort and relaxation.  In Sivananda Yoga class, students learn to come into a posture with control, hold it while breathing into any discomfort or tension, and slowly come out of a posture with control.  There is relaxation and breathing in between the postures and accent on self-awareness throughout. Postures lead to Meditation.  So, practicing these teachings regularly will help to slow down and realize that seeking happiness outside of ourselves leads us nowhere. Yoga shows us a way out.  By practicing regularly, your life mission will be revealed to you.

END.

Swami Sitaramananda

Renewals and choices in time of transition – how to turn adversity to opportunity

Renewals and choices in time of transition – how to turn adversity to opportunity

A satsang webinar 04/12/2020

Introduction

Happy Easter! On this meaningful day symbolizing renewal,  awakening and eternal life, we are being reminded of our infinite potential, infinite inner resources and perfect love which always wins. This holiday celebrates the meaning of life and this is the time for us to remember the beauty and sacredness of our lives. Swami Sivananda said that the true goal of life is to get back to the source from which we came. Just as rivers flow restlessly till they join the ocean, the ultimate source from which they got their supply of water, so too, we would be restless here till we become one with the Peace in the True Self deep within.

In this constant flowing journey of life towards Self realization, there are transitions and challenges that we need to face graciously, taking these as opportunities for growth.

So we will be talking about:

1.how life is constant transition

2. how life has a positive direction, going in and up (and not going out and down).

3. In this journey, we are struggling but we are always progressing. The more the struggle, the stronger we become.

4. We have the power of choice, we are not victims to circumstances. In any given circumstances we still have the choice to move forward in life. We need to exercise our power of choice.

5. Seven stages of conscious self transformation and renewal. How to renew yourself consciously.

6. When our egos are rigid, we have difficulty making choices and making decisions, paralyzed by fears and anxieties. We can learn to make our life easier for ourselves by learning faith, trust and detachment. Mistakes are only stepping stones to success for a person who is aware and working on himself.

7. Adversity is a perception. You can return to your untouched self. You are the master of your destiny. The Self is supreme. Nobody did this to you. Learn to become strong and accept the game of life. You and your experience are one. “There is no world out there besides you”.

8. Everything is an opportunity for practice.

We are constantly in transition

Life is a journey. There is a direction to life. We are always in transition, between stages of life. There is a lesson to be learned at every step. Try to not get lost in the appearances and illusions of life. Our destination is to realize our inner peace that always has been here.

Different times of transition:

  • Between life times (this life is only a chapter in the book of your life. Everything is not permanent.). Step back from your life and recognize the theme of this life.
  • Between stages of life. According to our age and our maturity, we move through 4 stages of life, we learn our duties at different stages: student stage, householder stage, retirement stage, renunciation stage. Our struggles often reflect the lessons we need to learn at every stage. We also learn that our psychology and needs evolve with each stage of life.
  • Between occupations: Our ideal occupation is the one reflecting our inner state of being, from being unconscious with no self awareness, instinctive living, survival thinking  and living only for enjoyment, to the idea of a self centered self, making the best out of separated life, to being more responsible of our fellow beings and our actions, and  last, to becoming  selfless, understanding our oneness and acting out of the vision of oneness.
  • Between gunas, moving from tamas (darkness), to rajas (activity) , to sattwa ( purity, balance, wisdom) . Our journey is the journey of purification where we unveil ourselves from our own veils and recognize the light and knowledge within.
  • Between periods of our karmas . Our lessons are learnt in time and following sequences. According to vedic astrology, our lives revolve from one karmic expression to another, from dasha period to another where we have to learn : self confidence (sun); psychology and emotions (moon), action and energy (mars) , intelligence and reasoning (mercury) , righteousness and wisdom (Jupiter) , devotion and enjoyment  (venus) ,

Self discipline and forbearance (Saturn), desires and compulsion (rahu) , detachment and renunciation (ketu). Everything is set up by heavenly energies for us to learn. The lesson of enjoyment is 20 years, the lesson of self discipline is 19 years, the lesson about desires  is 18 years, the lesson of intelligence is (16 years) , the lesson of wisdom is 16 years, the lesson about the mind and emotions is 10 years , of energy and action is 7 years, detachment is 7 years, ego self is 6 years.

  • Between seasons and weathers: Like the season revolving, winter gives rise to spring, spring to summer, summer to fall and return to winter. Life is cyclical. We just have to step back and enjoy the seasons changing and revolving. The changes of temperatures and weathers affect the moods, and our health. This contemplation helps us to accept change.
  • Between hours of the day: the changes we feel might reflect not only the changes of seasons, but also the changes of energies between periods of the day, the sunrises, sunsets, the middays. Doing things in the right timing would influence the outcomes.
  • Between waking, dreaming, deep sleep. Our daily landscape also keeps revolving between our different states of consciousness, the waking, the dreaming and the deep sleep state. The idea is to learn to become the observer, the witness to all these changing phenomena inside and outside of us.

In fact, we are always transitioning and we indeed never stay still. We renew ourselves constantly. According to Master Sivananda, “Life is a school, in which every sorrow, every pain, every heart break brings a precious lesson. The world is your best teacher, there is lesson in each experience. The world is the best training ground.” Learn to be in the world and be untouched by the world like the lotus flower growing out of mud.

The journey of life is going in and up,not out and down

“In” means inwards towards our peace within and “out” means loosing ourselves in external concerns. “Up” means feeling light and content, “down” means feeling restless and dissatisfied. Recognize your path and renew yourself!

– from impurity to purity:  learning to accept challenges and pains as growing pains, we are cleansing ourselves from our impurities , allowing the light and peace to shine from within when we learn better behavior .

from hatred to cosmic love: learn to hate less and love more every day then we will be moving in the right direction.

– from death to immortality: If we think that we are the mortal body, we will be gripped by the fear of death. By changing consciousness and by going deeper within ourselves through Yoga and meditation, we become more detached from the body and can feel the freedom and lightness coming from our eternal spirit.

– from imperfection to perfection: we might be disappointed at ourselves for not being perfect or judging other people to be less then perfect. Eventually, we mature and know that perfection can not be attained in this world. We do the best we can in this relative life, and at the same time realize a level of ourselves and of life that is perfect. Ultimately, we realize that all is at all times perfect. We stop to try to make a better past, and live solidly in the present where perfection can be found.

from slavery to freedom: we might think that we are victim and that we are bound in our lives to do things we do not like. We might have a wrong sense of what is true freedom. Swami Sivananda said that freedom does not mean eating anywhere you like, going anywhere you like, speaking anything you like …it is found in self discipline. We are in fact slave to our desires and senses. Yoga helps to slowly turn our bad habits to positive habits and realize our true inner freedom.

– from diversity to unity: wegrow when we learn to see the unity in the apparent differences. Example: seeing the suffering of the whole humanity and not just one nation over the other. The test we are going through now as a global community brings us closer together. We are moving from the sense of separation to the sense of interdependence. Open our minds and hearts to accept differences. Become less judgmental.

– from ignorance to eternal wisdom: we are learning to control our mind and emotions and become wise amidst chaos and controversies. We learn to see the bigger picture of our life and learn to avoid to repeat the same mistake and to create new karma.

– from pain to eternal bliss: we learn from our pains and know that we have somehow have forgotten ourselves looking for happiness in a wrong place. We eventually learned that happiness is within and the answer lies within. We breathe, relax, reconcile and forgive ourselves and others in order to be free from our pains.

from weaknesses to infinite strength: Due to our weaknesses, we have fears and attachments, and we create pain to ourselves and others. Life journey teaches us to be stronger and stronger to face more and more demanding challenges. Everything is a test of your strength and faith.

We have the Power of choice

We need to exercise wisely our conscious intelligence over our instincts and emotions

In that journey towards more awareness, we exercise our intellect but often times we are being pulled in the opposite direction by our habitual lower mind. We want to learn and to grow but we are caught in our habits and attachments.  Our emotions pulled us to the past and to the future but resist the guidance of our intellect. We forget ourselves in the past and the future unable to live fully the present. We find ourselves unfulfilled and stuck because we wanted to return to the secure past and have difficulty to venture into the unknown. We are missing out our present which is the key to our freedom.

We need help to make changes. People with higher mind, who have been where we have been can support us in our journey. Our conscious choice can be backed up by our higher mind or the higher mind of somebody.

The seven steps of conscious change

Seven steps to transform our impressions in the mind. How to renew ourselves. How to work with our mind’s tendency to repeat itself. When we leave an old pattern for a new one, we enter the transitional ground that can be unsettling. We often resist new patterns for fear of losing identities we have carefully constructed. It is like a more evolved version of the old self, eventually leading to our true nature. We keep refining and purifying our mind patterns into healthier designs.  It will become easier and easier.

1. -set intention

2.- commitment to “work” on the unhelpful habit. Conscious will to resist falling back on old habits, in crease in awareness, bringing inner wisdom and light.

3.- slowing down to observe the mind, allowing greater reflection and insight. Yoga practice helps you to slow down.

4.- awareness of unseen force that can hold us captive in old samskara.

5.- fearlessness: tolerate unpleasant sensation – like grief or fear of loneliness.

6. – envision new pattern. Visualize the new discovered self when you do Yoga practice, when the mind slows down and relaxes.

7.- Practice. Understand what can trigger a relapse.

Difficulty to make decisions and to make choices come from fears

Mistakes are stepping stones to success.

When our egos are rigid, and when we have inner conflicts, we have difficulty making choices and making decisions, paralyzed by fears and anxieties. We can learn to make our life easier for ourselves by learning faith, trust and detachment. Mistakes are only stepping stones to success for a person who is aware and working on himself. There is no such thing as mistake for a seeker, there is only lesson.

Adversity is a perception

Return to your untouched self. There is no others. There is no world besides you. You are the master. It is easier to say then done. In this time of adversity for many, it would be difficult to resort to wisdom of the Self and try to see the “rope” instead of the scary “snake” – to use the famous vedantic analogy. However, equip with this spiritual strength, knowing that all is well in reality, we can find courage to face the snake, face the worst imaginary outcome. Adversity can be a good trainer. 

we need to train ourselves to be strong, no matter what.  In adversity, we need to get mentally ready for what’s coming. We are not catastrophizing, only facing hardships in order to do the right thing and not running away in fears.

By negative visualization, we can mentally prepare for the hardships in life.

We must face the hardship by imagining the worst outcome. Seeing the worst doesn’t mean you are resigning your fate to it. In fact, it is the opposite. By seeing the worst, you won’t bury your head in the sand and run from it in fear.  So visualize the details of the possible negative scenario: Imagine you lose your mother, or your son. Imagine, you lose your job or your business is bankrupt. Let’s face the bad news and let’s come up with the positive way to think about them. Let’s get ready “there is no way out, there is only through”.

  • Confinement: This is the time to turn inwards. Do inner practice. Meditate, become aware of your thoughts that you have neglected when busy.
  • Overwhelm: Tasks changed, parenting duties are overwhelming when schools closed. This is the time to get to know your kids better. And be creative in terms of tutoring them and keeping them structured.
  • Life plans changed: Events cancelled or postponed. It is OK. We will appreciate the event better when the time comes. It is not the worst thing.
  • Sickness and disease: I might get sick. I might even die. It is OK. Death is not the end of life anyway. But if Karma is the reason why I am in this body, I am not sure that I have completed my karma I am in now, so I ask myself, am I ready to die or not? The prospect of death will give meaning to this life. Death is not the only problem, there is death when I am sedated with the ventilator machine that will take away my capacity to be aware and to pray. And I know the last thought determine the next birth. I rather be conscious, breathe the yogic way, light and slow and deep as much as I can and die ready with the mantras and prayers on my lips. If I survive, I might have to face being sick for weeks. It is OK. There must be meaning for me being alive. I will fulfill my mission sooner or later.

People around me will get sick and may be will die. Estimates are 40-60% of americans will be sick and the US will have more than a million death. It is OK, it is not my will, it is God’s will.

  • There will be riots when people get desperate. It will happen but, it will not be that common so I do not need to worry about it now. More often we will see people coming out of their comfort zone to help. This is the opportunity for me to help others.
  • There will be scarcity of commodities as there will be disruption in the supply chain. It will be short term shortage. We will be fine with simple living. In Yoga and Ayurveda, you can live very simple of kitcheree (rice and mung bean) and some vegetables. We have had too much food, too much variety that come from all over the world. We can return to the garden. Our health and appreciation of life will increase.
  • Economy will enter a recession. Consumer spending habits will fundamentally change. It is OK. We do not need more stuff and this situation makes that very clear. We do not have to consume and consume.
  • Borders will close. We will not be able to travel the way we did. It is OK, by turning inwards and controlling our desire and imagination we learn to be content with ourselves, with nature and people around us. We can connect to people around the world more than ever by Internet.
  • There will be tension between countries. It is OK , the nations will work their alliance with each other out. It is a game that changes all the time

Everything is an opportunity for practice

to follow the flow of life as said earlier.

There are many types of practice:

  • practice of cultivation of virtues:

flexibility, adaptation, strength, courage, fortitude, empathy, patience, relaxation, detachment, calmness, forgiveness, tolerance, selflessness, compassion and love.

  • practice of eradication of vices: 

anger, blaming, judgmental attitude, rigidity , procrastination, blaming, lack of will, intolerance, lack of self control , failures in turning the mind and senses inwards, lack of self awareness , practice of being here and now, practice of doing little by little .

CONCLUSION

Keep flowing with life with faith and fortitude. If you practice acceptance, awareness and detachment, you will enjoy life for what it is: a school and a play.  You will become better and better at it. You can lose everything, but the main thing is you are not losing yourself! Swami Sivananda said : “Any amount of zeroes have no value, unless you add the 1 before them”.

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.  

Yoga and Karma

Yoga and Karma

This podcast is from an old webinar by Swami Sita.  Swamiji shares that karma means action and comes from our desires.  Our actions from the past will result in our present situation.  We have an inner conflict and need to choose the path that won’t bind us to karma.  The yoga guidelines of yamas and niyamas are essential to be free from karma.

Listen in for Divine Wisdom