“We are confused about what is going to make us happy.” -Sam Harris
The times we live in seem like an impossible place to find contentment. There are outer voices luring us to buy, to fear, to despair. There is an inner voice reminding us of our failures and unfulfilled dreams. There is a longing for things to be the way we want….all the time. We could easily sing along with Dorothy, “Somewhere over the rainbow.”
All these messages ensure that we will be tossed about, riding waves of highs and lows, happiness and disappointment, landing anywhere but in contentment. We get pulled out of ourselves, longing for what we don’t have, longing for the world to be safer and more sane. And where the mind goes, prana follows. The price we pay for our discontentment is loss of our vital energy.
I am writing at a time when in my country Charlottesville has just happened and the rare eclipse of the sun is about to happen. We are asking ourselves deep questions about the hatred and “isms” that seem so prevalent. At the same time we are being swept into one of the mysteries of the universe. It is a reflective time for most of us.
I remember several years ago when my heart felt heavy like it often does when I hear the news. I was suffering what for me had been an experience of betrayal that left a bitter taste in my heart. Try as I did, the taste didn’t go away; the heaviness of my heart continued to burden me.
Then I found myself in the presence of a wise, holy teacher. When I embarrassingly asked him how to get rid of the bitterness in my heart, he replied with gentle eyes and compassionate voice, “Give it all to the Divine, just keep giving it to the Divine.” What followed for me was a purification process that left my heart light and free. In these times, I find myself returning vigorously to this practice.
David Brooks, in his book The Road to Character, makes a distinction between what he calls “resume virtues” and “eulogy virtues”. Brooks defines resume virtues as the accomplishments that contribute to external success, while eulogy virtues are the ones that get mentioned at a funeral, the ones that sit at the core of ones being. [paraphrased from page xi)
Like virtue, purity has an external and internal process. Personally I find it easy to fall into the trap of external purity as an end in itself. I am programmed to equate purity with cleanliness and to focus the crux of my efforts towards outer appearance. I can forget to reflect on the condition of my heart and mind, which is where the real conversation about purity resides.
Have you ever taken the plunge to commit to eating better? Somewhere along the line, you decided that fast food and candy bars were not giving you the kind of vitality and wellbeing you wanted from your body? Maybe you read some healthy eating books or enlisted a food coach or took the plunge with a friend for mutual support. However it may have happened, you were determined to leave the world you knew and walk into the unfamiliar territory of broccoli and other vegetables you had never even heard of.
For me, the practice of the yamas and niyamas has become a similar journey, a way of looking at just what it is we are feeding our minds. In giving us these 10 ethical principles, Patanjali has for all practical purposes given us a healthy diet book for the mind. The first step, he says, is to understand that violence, non-truthfulness, stealing, excess, and possessiveness are junk food. They not only cause harm for others, but they cause harm to our minds by making them chaotic, disturbed, dis-eased and out of harmony. A steady, focused mind cannot be sustained by these harmful actions any more than a vital body can be sustained by processed food.
“Possessiveness is nourishment for the ego.” -Rajneesh
Imagine that you were a person of great influence and power. Imagine that you had so much power that you could fire people, start wars, negotiate shady deals, and make others dance to your tune. Now imagine that you had a certain idea of just how your life should be, just how the world should be, and just what you expected of others around you. You would never have to be challenged; you could enforce your will on others as you pleased. And you could destroy what is not pleasing you.
We all know of people with this kind of power. Some of them inspire us with their continued humility and generosity. Others make us shudder at the suffering their possessiveness inflicts on the world. Yet whatever degree of influence we have, the question remains, what is our possessiveness doing to others?
“…when possessiveness is not there, relationship has a beauty of its own. When possessiveness is there, everything becomes dirty, ugly, inhuman.” –Rajneesh
We come into this world with the need to survive and the need to be loved, and yet we are completely helpless to make either of these things happen for ourselves. We learn early on that some outside source has to fulfill these needs for us. And we learn to shape ourselves into beings that please that outside source. It is this learned behavior that becomes the source of possessiveness.
“We redeem ourselves and help redeem the world a little through a conscious and continuous effort to find and live the inner dream and unique story of our lives.” –Michael Meade
I wonder if the biggest casualty in these challenging times is our inability to stay grounded in a sense of lightness, joy, and sacredness. Certainly where fear, anxiousness, suffering, and insanity prevail, our spirits get heavily weighted. I continue to ponder Hildegard of Bingen’s definition of sin, which is to dry up. Perhaps, in light of her words, one of our biggest acts of protest is to stay wet and juicy and bursting with the life force.
Week Three. There is a passion, a life force that runs through us. How did this life force express in you as a child? A young adult? Middle age and beyond? What has “dried up” this passion in you? What has nourished and fed this life force within you? What wants to express itself through you now?
We have become a junk culture with a voracious appetite for embracing things of poor quality and little value: junk food, junk toys, junk clothes, junk mail, junk tweets…
The 4th yama, Brahmacharya literally means “walking with the sacred”, yet we live in a culture that invites us to “walk with junk”. What would happen if the 5000 advertisements we are exposed to daily turned our attention to what is holy? To what nourishes our entire being? Instead, our attention is directed to that which disappoints and so quickly finds its way to a landfill.