Friday, October 30, 2009

Lesson #4: Speaking of Time

Speaking of Time
by Gary Gran, CYT, DAy.

“You there, wake up!” the teacher exclaimed. “It’s about time!”
I suppose I had been daydreaming. My mind had drifted away from the present moment to other times, other places. Now I was fully awake. Or was I?
What does it mean to “wake up?”
How much time do we spend “dreaming?”
How often do we “lose” ourselves?
We tend to go about our daily activities in a dull mechanical way, perhaps never fully aware of the incredible mystery and majesty of life all around.
Now it is true that some of us are “thrill-seekers”. In ayurveda, the ancient science of life, this quality falls into the fire or “pitta” group. There is a marked tendency to push to the edge, to explore new territory, to feel the intensity of life, even to the point of being reckless.
In yoga practice, for example, this attitude can at times feel liberating, but can also lead to injury. One injury should be enough to help us listen to the advice “cool down, moderate your actions, look before you leap...” You see, fire can burn out of control. Many fire types blow right past their internal cues, push way too hard, and risk injury, all for the sake of that intensity, that feeling of being alive.
But most of us go with the crowd. We get lulled to sleep by the monotony of our everyday routines. We are creatures of habit. We don’t examine our attitudes until we are out of balance (if then!). In fact, sometimes it takes an illness, or a crisis, or a teacher saying “you there, wake up!” to break us from our slumber.
But there is a paradox here! Perhaps you’ve read about the importance of cultivating good daily habits. Brush your teeth, maintain cleanliness, eat regular meals, exercise regularly, and don’t burn the candle at both ends, etc, etc.
Ayurveda tells us that most illnesses are caused by a disturbance of the life-force, our prana. A disturbed life-force throws all the elements of the body/mind out of balance, that is, out of rhythm, or out of harmony. A disturbed life force disturbs the mind, the senses, the breathing patterns, and the nerves. Our digestion and assimilation are disrupted, and we feel ill-at-ease, “off”, disturbed, sick.
The key advice for correcting disturbances in our life-force is to practice routine, to create regular activites. Set times especially for sleeping, eating, exercising, and relaxing. How boring! Isn’t this the type of thing which lulls us to sleep! How dull! Maybe I’d rather be a dare-devil fire type living on the edge.
So what is the way out of this mess?
The word for “routine” in Sanskrit, the language of the Vedas, is “ritam”. Another translation of “ritam” is “rhythm”. Most people think of “routine” as dull and boring. But “rhythm”! Rhythm means music. Rhythm has a tempo, a beat, a pulse. Rhythm is alive.
When our life has no rhythm it becomes noisy, chaotic, discordant, out of step. But when our life has rhythm we are making music. Add some harmony and a melody and we have beautiful music.
So how do we make music out of our everyday routines? First we must wake ourselves up a little. Pay attention. Practice listening. Be mindful of even the most mundane tasks. Try to make little variations in your habits to avoid falling asleep. Watch your breath. Sing! Try to see through the ordinary and reflect on the extraordinary.
This is called spiritual practice. It requires constant effort. It never becomes habitual, for anything that becomes automatic lacks awareness. In yoga, this constant effort is known as “abhyanga”, or “practice.” Thus we are encouraged to “practice, practice, practice”.
At the same time we must remain impartial, non-judgemental. We try to be fully present to each moment however mundane, painful or pleasurable it may be. In yoga this impartiality is known as “vairagya”, meaning “uncolored”. When we are uncolored or non-biased in our actions we are seeing clearly, we are awake to the situation at hand, and we are acting lovingly and skillfully. There is no sense of “good” or “bad”, or of “likes” or “dislikes”. It is when we love our duties unconditionally and infuse all our actions with mindfulness and spirit that our routines become “ritam”.
The practice of awakening then is to lift our consciousness just a little, to rouse ourselves awake, to unite (yoga) our bodily presence, our breath, and our mental awareness with the world around us. Instead of simply seeing the surface of the world in a dull, “routine”, manner, we begin to see, feel and hear the amazing “rhythm” of life which pulses deep behind the surface.
Of course, we get tired, we fall asleep, we fall into our old routine habits, the old grooves of the mind known as “samskaras”, and we feel absent, dull, empty. This too is only natural. Remember it requires constant effort (practice, practice, practice) to remain alert and loving. There are bound to be gaps in our awareness. Sometimes we must sleep.
So the practice is to meditate on our daily activities. In meditation practice we try to maintain a one-pointed mind, knowing that the mind will jump or fall from the chosen object of meditation. When we notice that our awareness has jumped or that we have fallen asleep the instruction is “no judgement, no big deal, simply go back to the chosen object of meditation and continue.” When we apply these instructions to our daily routines we call it meditation in action or mindfulness practice.
Practice mindfulness while eating, doing the dishes, walking and talking. “When you walk, dance. When you talk, sing...” Maybe life becomes like an MGM musical!
So we can regulate our daily habits, set up some healthy routines, and practice mindfulness. We can keep our bodies regular by keeping the lungs moving, the bowels moving, and the feet moving. We can create rhythm directly with the breath by making it slow, smooth, and even. And we can harmonize the mind with regular use of a rhythmic affirmation, mantra, or prayer. This steadies the mind and enlivens the spirit.
But the real secret of yoga practice is to be mindful of the transition points between activities. For example, learn to watch your transition from sleeping to waking, when taking your first bite of food, when arriving at work, and when returning home. Mark these transitions with special practices or prayers, and observe the effects of each change. In yoga practice, tune in to the effects of each posture as you release and relax the pose before beginning the next pose. Especially mark the transition from the end of your yoga session back to your daily activities. Be mindful as you fall asleep at night.
In breath work we can watch the inhalations and the exhalations, but the key is to watch the transitions between the inhalations and exhalations. The most important practice is to eliminate any pause or holding of the breath during these transitions to make the breath as smooth and continuous as possible. “No bumps, no breaks, no pauses.” “Slow, smooth, flowing, continuous breath.”
With mantra, the effort is to merge each sound into the next in order to close the gap between sounds. This continuous sound creates a steady harmonizing rhythm deep in the mind-field.
Even when the entire world becomes stressful and chaotic, we can keep our inner rhythm strong, thus living in the world yet remaining undisturbed. Our song, our rhythm, becomes stronger than the crazy noise of the world. The world may even begin to hear our song and join in, harmonizing. This is yoga practice. This is healing.
So “you there, wake up!”. Wake up and begin singing.

Lesson #3: Same Time, Same Place

Same Time, Same Place
by Gary Gran, CYT, D.Ay.

“Practicing at the same time, same place is most important” the teacher was saying, but I don’t think I really heard it. It was in one ear and out the other. But then every time I listened to instructions on how to establish your practice, I heard “same time, same place”. To practice hatha yoga, “same time, same place”, to practice meditation, “same time, same place”, to practice ayurveda, “same time, same place”.
Finally it began to sink in. This is one of the “root instructions.” The Vedic sciences are an oral tradition, passed down from teacher to student. Being an oral tradition, the teachings are condensed into short phrases or sutras. These “root instructions” are like “seeds”. If properly nourished and attended they will sprout and grow.
Learning in the oral tradition is not like modern academic learning. In modern learning we strive to define each word and phrase precisely. The oral tradition is more like poetry. It uses a symbolic language. Each word or each phrase can have more than one meaning. The meanings can refer to all levels from gross to subtle to super-subtle. There can be personal meanings, cultural meanings, and universal meanings.
Often times in the oral tradition the teacher will give a commentary on one of the root instructions or sutras. Many of these are now written. But we must understand that these commentaries are not the beginning and the end. The sutras have a life of their own and it is the job of each student to contemplate their meaning. As we gain practice and experience the meanings will grow and change. As we move from one era to the next or one culture to the next the relative context and meaning will grow and change. The teachings are “organic”. They must be chewed, digested, and assimilated by each student and each generation of students. We must develop our own commentaries based on our own “time” and our own “place”.
So “same time, same place”. Where do we begin? I remember some early discussions among students. “This means you must pick out a time and a place by the clock.” “No,” someone else would say, “this means a relative time and place. It can shift relative to what else is going on in your life.” Someone else agreed, “yes, consider if you are travelling. How can you maintain the same place? Besides, you may change time zones or go onto daylight savings time or some such thing. It has to be relative time.” “How about organic time, or local mean time,” said another student. “No matter where you are, try to use the same local time.”
So you can begin to see we have two very big subjects here - no less than the nature of time and the nature of space! And we thought this was an easy instruction. Let’s consider what else yoga and ayurveda have to say on these two important subjects.

Perhaps you have heard some of the stories about yogis or vedic sages who made a determination to complete a certain ayurvedic healing practice or yogic spiritual practice. They would go on “retreat” to some suitable place and maintain their practice at the same time and same place until completed. If interrupted in their practice, the “fruit” of the practice would be lost, and they would have to begin again.
Perhaps we can emulate them. Set yourself a modest goal. First decide on your practice. Good choices are a hatha yoga practice, a meditation practice, cooking , getting to bed “on time”, or an aerobic exercise routine. Next “fix up a time” as one teacher used to say. You may need to make arrangements with your everyday duties and responsibilities involving others. Pick a frequency, once a day, twice a day, once a week, once a month. Then pick a duration. “I’ll practice once a day in the morning before breakfast for 30 minutes for one week.” Start small and slowly build your willpower and sense of accomplishment. Remember it doesn’t matter how many times we lose our concentration. No judgement. Simply try again.

Ayurveda gives us a related saying, “the greatest medicines are punctuality and regularity in good habits.” Ayurveda also gives us the advice, “no two people are alike.”
The so-called “air” types love variety and hate to miss anything new and exciting. It can be especially hard for them to maintain a practice or routine. “How boring!”. Yet for health reasons, slowing down and following healthy routines are highly recommended. What gives? The real danger for air types is to lose their center, to be so dispersed that they become ungrounded and lose their bearings. They become lost and can’t find their way home. It is important to have an idea of “this is when I go to bed, this is when I take my meals, this is when I relax, and this is when I exercise.” This becomes sort of an “ideal” and even if we don’t live up to our ideal, when we start to feel unbalanced at least we know how to get back “home.” Slow down, go to bed on time, take regular meals, etc, etc.
The so-called “water” and “earth” types, known as “kaphas”, know routine only too well! They love when things are homey and predictable. They enjoy the same foods, the same places, the same activities, over and over. Why try anything new? The real danger for kaphas is to “get stuck in a rut”. They are advised to break up their routines, to try something new, to practice variety, or to practice a little longer or more vigourously. Keep it fresh. No stagnation.
“Fire” types can be more than willing to take a risk or push themselves. They can be a little too driven or intense for their own good. They may enjoy setting themselves difficult goals, pushing aside any resistance, and moving forward. Their advice is to practice moderation. “Chill out a bit.” Try to lessen that intensity and pay attention to what you’ve been “pushing aside.” It could be your loved ones! Or your body! Fire types make good leaders only if they stop to consider the impact of their ideas on everyone. Of course this can be frustrating to them because they prefer driving “full speed ahead.”
We are beginning to see that “same time, same place” can have very different implications for different people. But what about the universal aspect of “same time, same place?”

Place indicates where we are. We can distinguish seven measures of space. First is our center. “Same place” could mean returning to our center.Second is the inner space of our body. The cliche says “wherever we go, there we are.” Third is the space around us, our field of action. This also travels with us as we expand the field of our actions. Fourth is the whole world. Same place is easy at this level unless you are an astronaut! Fifth is the solar system, sixth the galaxy, and seventh the universe. We are always home. We live in the lap of the divine.
Time can also be seen to have seven measures. The first measure is the pulse, the rhythm of the heart. The heart beat is primary. Perhaps practicing “same time, same place” could mean returning to your heart center. The second measure is the breath. “Same time, same place” could mean returning to the gentle rhythm of diapragmatic breathing. These first two are the inner keys to successful practice.
The third measure of time is the time of day which is the most obvious. Fourth is the time of month. Fifth is the time of year. Yoga and ayurveda distinguish between what are known as daily practices and occasional practices which are done only as needed, perhaps monthly or seasonally. For example it may be important for you to exercise every day (or every other day), but you may only need to fast once a year.
The sixth measure of time is the time of life. Our practices when we are young are different from middle age and from old age. Young people need more of a dynamic approach to support their growth, confidence and skill, middle age people need more moderation to help balance the stress and strain of multiple responsibilities, and older folks need a slower, more mindful pace with plenty of restful, nourishing routines.
And what is the seventh measure of time you ask? This is all lives. This is our place in history. What are the kinds of practices that are needed at this point of time? What are the kinds of practices that will help all beings, in all places? Perhaps “same time, same place” could mean “all times, all places.” You see, it is always time to wake up to the big picture and begin working to make the world a better place, to act more lovingly and skillfully, and to give up the fruits of our actions for the benefit of all.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Lesson #2: The Inner World

The Inner World
by Gary Gran, CYT, D.Ay

Imagine for a moment that you have been caught breaking the rules at work. The incident is sure to be reported upstairs. The next day you and your accomplice see the boss walking slowly towards you. You don’t quite know what to expect - perhaps a good scolding, or worse. Or, maybe, just maybe, you hope beyond reason, he isn’t coming to speak to you at all!
In any case, you brace yourself and keep working, albeit a bit nervously. As the boss nears, you work a little harder. When the boss does arrive, he sits down, and looks directly at you. There is a long, long pause. You keep working, wondering what comes next. Finally, the boss shakes his head and says “you are perfect.” He gets up and is on his way! That was it.
I am perfect? What did he mean? What part of me is perfect? My action breaking the rules wasn’t perfect. If I am perfect, then who am I?
Sound far-fetched? This scenario actually happened to me while working at one of Swami Rama’s ashrams. The transgression? Being up after hours. The boss? Swami Rama himself. The punishment? As above.
The age old question of philosophy is “who am I?”. In the traditions of yoga and ayurveda we are taught that we live in two worlds, the outer world and the inner world. To truly answer the question “who am I?” requires an exploration of the inner world. Luckily for us, a map is provided!
The map looks like a series of concentric circles. Each circle is called a layer, or a sheath. In three dimensions, this would appear like an onion, layer upon layer. The inward journey is a process of peeling off layer by layer to see what lies at the center.
The outermost layer is called the annamayakosha. The word is composed of three parts: anna-maya-kosha. Anna means food. Perhaps you have heard the name Annapurna, which means perfect food or complete nourishment.
Maya has many meanings. In eastern philosophy it is sometimes defined as illusion. To call something an illusion is to say it has no permanent existence. It is said that the outer world represents maya. It may seem very real right now, but it is temporary, which means subject to time. At some point everything in the world will pass away.
It is interesting to note that the root of the word maya is ma, which means mother. In this context, mother is that which brings things into existence (birth), sustains those things in existence (nourishment) , and passes things out of existence (death).
Kosha is the part that means layer or sheath. It is related to the English word cushion as in a protective covering. A kosha is a protective cushion that can help protect us by absorbing blows from the outer world, like a shock absorber.
All together, annamayakosha means a temporary cushion or layer of protection composed of food, that is to say, the physical body. We have a body, but we are not the body. The body is impermanent, subject to time.
Whenever the body is hurting we can say “thank you for absorbing that shock and protecting me.” But who is this me? Let’s continue our journey.
The second layer is called pranamayakosha. Prana means vital energy.
Thus the second kosha is the temporary cushion or covering composed of vital energy. If a shock to the body is strong enough, the energy layer also absorbs part of the blow. Sometimes, after the physical body is healed, the so-called energy body remains weakened. Conversely, if we can heal or rebalance the energy field first, physical healing occurs more quickly.
Our primary access to the energy level is through breathwork or pranayama. Pranayama can be divided into prana- yama which means control or restraint of the vital force, or it can be divided into pran-ayama which means expansion or freeing of the vital force. The alternate conditions of contraction and expansion of the vital force provide an enormous range of energetic potential which we can learn to master.
So we temporarily have the capacity to breathe, but we are not the breath. Ultimately the breath is something we share with all beings.
The next layer is called manomayakosha. Mano means mind. Our mind is also a temporary or changeable form of protection. Certainly the condition of our mind can change most rapidly. And our mind can also be influenced by external events. Oftentimes we can shrug things off mentally and emotionally, but sometimes the mind absorbs and holds on to the event. The mind is constantly receiving input through the five senses and also from the storehouse of memory. We can learn to strengthen the mind by examining and then releasing our thoughts.
It is important to note in this context that the mind is considered to be different from the contents of the mind. The mind is like pure water and thoughts are the particles of matter suspended in the water. In this way the mind, like the physical body and the energy body, can be seen as a cushion which absorbs and holds thoughts and emotions.
We can thank the mind for absorbing and processing all of our sensory input. And we can say that we have senses and a mind, but we are not the senses or the mind or the contents of the mind.
The next level is vijnanamayakosha. Vijnana is divided into vi- and -jnana.
Vi- means inner. Jnana means knowledge. In fact, jnana is directly related to the English words knowledge, knowing, and gnosis. A gnostic is defined as one who knows. An agnostic is one who doesn’t know or isn’t sure. The prefix a- negates the meaning of the root word. So vijnanamayakosha is the temporary cushion composed of inner knowing.
It is a great blessing to wake up and strengthen this inner knowing which is variously referred to as discrimination, wisdom, intellect, conscience, and intuition.
The vijnanamayakosha is said to be like a sword or a mirror with two sides. One side faces the outer world and learns to discriminate and make judgements. Like a sword, it is able to cut through all the sensory inputs of the mindfield and make decisions.
The other side faces inward. The outer side represents the intellect, but the inner side represents intuition, knowledge that is received from within. The advice is to continously polish the mirror to avoid distortions. The intellect and the intuition should always be tested. Developing our intuition is sometimes called turning the mind around or looking within. This means to continue our inner journey.
Next comes anandamayakosha. Ananda is a most interesting word. We know that the prefix a- negates the root word, in this case -nanda. However, nanda means bliss, and ananda also means bliss. This is the joy or bliss which has no opposite. We are leaving the field of duality, the field of time, to find our inner happiness, the flood of bliss which is constantly flowing. We are near the inner source. The source is called sat-chit-ananda: pure existence, pure consciousness, pure bliss. We are that source of life, light and love which is ever-pure, ever-knowing, and ever-free.
Now it is time to retrace our steps back to the external world. On our way we begin to realize that the koshas are not just protective layers, but also means of expression. We begin to see that the inner world and the outer world exist together like a vast continuum. We begin to see the inner perfection of all beings. Our thoughts, our speech, and our actions become the instruments to express our inner knowing. Then when we speak to others we can look past the surface and say “you are perfect.”

Friday, October 9, 2009

Lesson #1: We Live In Two Worlds

We Live in Two Worlds
by Gary Gran, CYT, DAy.

Have you ever noticed the connection between your inner world and your outer world? Yoga tells us that we live in two worlds, and that the inner world is more vast than the outer world! Ayurveda, the science of the life-force, says everything that exists in the outer world has a counterpart in the inner world.
So what are we to make of these statements? If each of us lives in two worlds. . . perhaps one of those worlds is the Internet? No, that’s not exactly what the yoga tradition is telling us, but maybe we are living a big portion of our life in virtual reality! The first point is that many of us tend to pour most of our life-force, and sometimes our entire identities, into different areas of the outer world. Perhaps I love the Internet, and you spend most of your time socializing. Or perhaps you prefer spending time with family, and I am a work-a-holic. We say “I am a scientist”, or “I am a mother,“ or “I am a Democrat.” We tend to identify with our outer roles and preoccupations. The yoga tradition says where our mind goes our life-force goes.
In ayurveda, we study three different orientations of the life-force, known as the three doshas, vata, pitta, and kapha. Each dosha is said to represent the combination of an active element and a supporting element. The active elements for vata, pitta, and kapha are air, fire, and water respectively. The supporting elements are space, water, and earth. We can study the elements in the outer world of nature in order to gain insight into our inner world and our health.
For example, ayurveda calls air the wind. You cannot see it directly but you can observe its effects. We can see leaves moving in the wind. Ayurveda tells us that wind represents the principles of movement and changeability. It’s not hard to see that the wind often changes direction and speed. We can also feel the wind touching our skin. Ayurveda says that air represents the sense of touch. Air is also considered to be light as opposed to heavy. Being light, air tends to move upwards and disperse in all directions. Air is also seen to be drying. We can see puddles of water quickly drying up on a windy day.
When we apply these observations to an individual, we call them an air type, known as vata. Vata types exhibit a lot of movement and changeability. Their mind and therefore their life-force are constantly moving out to experience new things. They can be very talkative, like the wind rustling the leaves. There is a restless movement or spending of the life-force out to the external world followed by tiredness. There is changeability in personal habits, energy level, and interests. They can have trouble gaining weight. The can be ungrounded. Ayurveda says the energy of the body moves up to the mind and out through the senses, in a real sense, leaving the body.
Vatas can be very sensitive in a touchy way. They are thin-skinned. Perhaps they observe no clear boundary “between” the inner world and the outer world. The wind passes freely through both. The result can be a disorganized or unstable outer world and a disorganized and unstable inner world, as if they had left the window wide open during the storm! As we shall see, a most interesting question is where is the dividing line ‘between” the inner and outer worlds? It is possible a vata has no dividing line.
Our best advice to them is to slow down, learn to regulate the life-force, the prana, through slow, deep, even breathing, and periodically “close the window”, that is, withdraw or “rest” the senses, practicing deep relaxation. In addition, applying warm oil to the skin can create or strenghthen the boundary between the inner and the outer worlds. Remember that air represents dryness, the sense of touch, thin skin, and lightness. This can result in very sensitive nerves close to the surface of the body. Warm oil soothes and protects the nerves, relieves dryness, and gives a feeling of protection and groundedness.
Next, vatas needs to clean up and organize the clutter around them and set a reasonable schedule. As they succeed in organizing their outer affairs, their inner life will also become more centered and grounded. This represents the application of opposites. If air tends to move up and disperse, the strategy is to center and ground.
Let’s consider kapha, which is a combination of water and earth. In nature, we can see water coming down in the form of rain, flowing downstream in a river, and collecting together in a lake or an ocean. Ayurveda tells us that water is heavy and tends to move downward. Also, water is said to be held or supported by earth. In nature, we can also see water pushing or wearing against its boundaries such as the bank of a river or the shores of the lake. Too much water can wash out the structure of earth. Water then merges with the washed out particles of earth. As the water fills with earth it can become too thick and stagnant like mud or muck.
If we now consider a kapha person, one who has plenty of water and earth, we note the quality of heaviness in the form of weight. Weight collects in the body, literally weighing a person downwards, and it then tends to push out to the sides filling out the physique. Too much weight can actually break down the structure of the body.
We see that kaphas tend to collect familiar things and hold on to them, creating attachments. This is said to be like water collecting particles of earth. Be careful not to become stagnant! If water becomes too thick and heavy with attachments it becomes harder and harder to move.
Kapha’s attachments tend towards familiar things like food, personal possessions, and, above all home, family, and tradition. Kaphas often becoming totally identified with their role in the family. I understand this trait to be related to water as the holder of memory. Here we see the memories and traditions of the family held together like the particles of earth being held in water.
Earth is said to create or represent boundaries. Kaphas tend to draw a strong boundary between “ours” and “theirs”. Thus the outward world is that which is outside the family or the family role and is largely ignored, and the so-called inner world becomes family life and tradition.
Our advice to kapha is two-fold. First, keep things moving, let go of objects, attachments, even your control of family members! Lighten up! Try something new without trying to make it into a possession, or part of your family. That is, see that things in the world can have their own identity and function without reference back to you. Remember that too much water, too much possessiveness, will tend to push out and test boundaries, gradually wearing down the resistance and trying to merge. Learn to respect healthy boundaries while opening yourself up to new possibilities.
Secondly, clean out your basement! As you clean your basement, you are cleaning your mind. This is like periodically dredging the sludge and silt out of the bottom of the river-way so ships can continue to pass.
We observe fire and the light it provides in nature as being warm and intense. Fire is also fragile. In nature fire can be put out by all the other elements. Earth can smother fire. Water can drown it. Air can blow it out. Given the chance, however, fire will burn up or transform all things around it spreading into a great conflagration. Ayurveda says that fire moves upwards and spreads.
Fire-type persons, known as pitta, are those who exhibit signs of heat and intensity. Physically we note tendencies to excessive heat and inflammation. Externally, pittas tend to join together in different causes. For them it becomes us vs them, not in a family sense as with kaphas, but in an ideological sense. Think of all the “isms” in the outer world: socialism, communism, militarism, feminism, environmentalism, to name a few. It takes a cause or an “ism” to get pitta’s inner fires really burning. Fire needs an outlet, a single direction to pour its life-force. If fire is blocked by the other elements, it is smothered. Given a cause, the fire-type moves with burning enthusiasm towards the goal, towards victory!
In fact, fire-types often wonder why others don’t join in with their enthusiasm. It is no doubt because they don’t always stop to observe the needs of others. Pittas are competitive and oriented toward success, often pushing others to the side. “What do you mean, you don’t agree?” says the fire-type. “If you’re not with me, you are against me!”
Our advice to fire-types is to moderate their views, to take other peoples’ needs and opinions into consideration. Granted this can be extremely frustrating for a pitta who is ready to take action. If they can manage, they will become excellent leaders of people and not blind fighters for a cause.
A helpful image from nature is a campfire. It is safely contained within a circle of stones, which represents and protects other peoples’ interests. At the same time, it is not smothered, and is free to burn in one direction, upwards, radiating light and warmth that others can enjoy.
Let’s review how we can learn from the outer world.
~We can take lessons from nature, like the lessons of air, water, and fire above.
~We can look at our surroundings, like the clutter in the room, to give us direction.
~We can observe the qualities of our relationships with others, remembering the old cliche, what bothers you most about others is really inside of yourself.
~We can look at our physical condition and general state of health to gather clues about our unconcious habits.
We begin to see that everything in the outer world has its counterpart in the inner world. If things go well at work, we feel good. If I receive criticism, I feel bad. We can see how the outer world affects our inner mood. If we feel blocked by circumstances in the outer world, our inner fire suffers.
The truth may be that most of our vitality is still locked up inside of us like the power in the nucleus of an atom. This power lies in the recesses of the subconcious mind. The yoga tradition says that our mind is conditioned, our energy is asleep, and it is time to wake up!
If our life has fallen into a pattern like the vata-pitta-kapha scenarios we outlined above, we need to make some kind of shift. Usually our body acts like a messenger of the sub-conscious forces which lie within. If we are stuck in an unbalanced pattern, the body may become dysfunctional or ill in some way. Sometimes our inner conflicts manifest in some other aspect of our outer life like our relationships or our job. These are clear messages that we need to make a change!
This is popularly known as the body-mind connection. In this scenario, the body is seen as part of the “outer” world! It reflects conditions of the “inner” mental world. When we become physically sick, we can look for the “inner” meaning. An illness can point to a variety of emotional, mental, attitudinal, or habitual conditions. Until the underlying “inner” cause is addressed, the manifesting “outer” condition will persist. We often attack the messenger, which is the body, and refute the message, which are the bodily symptoms, by suppressing or countering the symptoms directly.
Of course, sometimes it is not enough to make inner changes, for the process can work both ways. For example, someone who is tired all the time may need to change his or her job, or find a new hobby. The fire is being smothered and needs a healthy outlet.
For now, begin to examine your own life and your so-called external relationships. See how you identify yourself by your external roles and how your inner life is easily affected by all the external ups and downs, gains and losses, praises and criticisms. Gradually you can learn not to let those ups and downs overly affect your inner life. The yoga tradition tells us that the true source of our strength and happiness lies within. As you develop your inner strength, you can truly become a citizen of both worlds, with a strong inner life supporting a strong outer life.
In our next lesson, we’ll take a closer look at the inner world.