The art of removing and creating habits – part 2
PEACE & COMPASSION
Last month, DAAJI introduced us to ways to change our behavior patterns and habits according to the wisdom and practices of Yoga – traditionally known as the Yamas and Niyamas. This month he focuses on the first Yama, known as ahimsa or non-violence.
In the field where PEACE prevails
It fascinates me to read some of our ancient texts and realize that the wise people of those times understood human nature so well. For example, Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras are just as relevant today as they were thousands of years ago. Does that mean humanity is still at the same level of evolution as it was during Patanjali’s times? Patanjali starts his treatise on the eight limbs of Yoga with the Yamas, and the very first Yama is ahimsa, which means to cultivate the habit of non-violence. If you reflect on that for a moment – that the first step in Yoga is to remove violence, aggression, and any other habits that hurt other living beings, from our nature – you will realize that this is our starting point for becoming human.
It somehow resonates with the golden rule, which simply put is, “Treat others the way you would like to be treated.” Saying it a bit differently, “Don’t do to others what you don’t want them to do to you.” Apply this simple principle to non-violence, truthfulness, compassion, prejudice, empathy, love, anger, hatred, etc.
Non-violence has been an aspiration of many wise people from all cultures for thousands of years, and still we have not mastered it collectively. What would a world look like where there is no violence? Most people will agree that it would be such a beautiful vision. The question is: How do we arrive at that stage? And is it even feasible in today’s uncertain times? In fact, it is precisely during such unstable, uncertain times that it is important to cultivate the habit of non-violence, in order to build a better future for our children, grandchildren, and all other living beings. And it all starts with inner peace.
Creating the field for peace
Peace is not something that happens by talking about it, writing about it, or attending peace rallies. It requires a regular daily practice – a method that removes the inner obstacles to peace, the inner causes of violence, and helps us to go deeper within to find the stillness at the center of our being. Peace is always to be found at our center; it is our inner nature. It simply needs to be uncovered and nurtured.
So, what are the obstacles we need to remove to arrive at peace? They are the mental deviations we accumulate in the field of our consciousness, and they create heaviness, complexity, and emotional turbulence. They have been described in detail in the series on Yogic Psychology in 2019 in Heartfulness Magazine. Until we remove these complexities, collectively known as the samskaras, it is difficult to feel peaceful, because they form whirlpools, knots of energy, that disturb our inner balance. These vibrational knots lead to specific programming of our subconscious minds and hardwiring of our nervous system along specific neural pathways. This process leads to habit formation, and we know from science that it takes regular repetition to form a new habit through this process, which all starts with the intention of a thought.
It all starts with inner peace.
Such subconscious programming has developed over millions of years for our survival, and has many positive purposes. Imagine if you did not have programs to prevent you from walking onto a road full of traffic, jumping off a high cliff, or putting your hand into a fire. Without the automatic habitual responses of the subconscious mind, we would neither thrive nor survive. Also, imagine if you had to read a book or drive a car without the automatic programs that allow you to read without thinking about every letter and every word, or multitask while you are driving. But there are many subconscious programs that are not useful, even though they originally formed because of repetitive experience that may have been relevant at the time. It is those programs that keep us stuck in useless habits.
Take, for example, a person who is too scared to express a difference of opinion in a work meeting, even though they have something very valid to contribute. They may have developed a fear of expressing differences of opinion in early childhood, because they did not learn to do so in a healthy respectful way. They kept quiet, agreeing with others, in order to stay safe and maintain harmony. We all have fears, attitudes, emotional reactions, and other behaviors because of our past experiences. They determine our habits, which is why it takes more than just knowledge to remove them.
Why are we not able to be peaceful all the time?
One of the most important programs we have wired into our hormonal and autonomic nervous systems is the “fight or flight” response, also known as the stress response. This activation of the sympathetic nervous system is designed to put us on high alert whenever there is a threat or danger, and so it generally overrides our sense of peace and calm. Whether we respond by fighting, fleeing, or even freezing, the associated emotional reactions in us when our consciousness is disturbed are often anger, fear, sadness, self-pity, anxiety or depression. This is especially true in today’s world where most triggers are not actually life-threatening, but are of an emotional nature; for example, a work colleague is a bully, a spouse is insensitive, or a friend disappoints us.
If we are to cultivate feelings of
contentment, benevolence and compassion,
we need to learn to master our reactiveness
to whatever triggers the stress response.
In addition, in our urban environments, the fight or flight response is almost perpetually switched on due to the bombardment of noise pollution, light pollution at night, chemical pollution, electromagnetic pollution, and human thought pollution. So when our personal challenges and relationship issues are added to these environmental triggers, the baseline level of stress that we feel can be overwhelming. In that chronic state, is it any wonder it is so difficult to feel peaceful and non-violent?
So, if we are to cultivate feelings of contentment, benevolence and compassion, we need to learn to master our reactiveness to whatever triggers the stress response. For that, we need to look into our heart in order to respond differently to the triggers, both external and internal. The wonderful thing is that those higher faculties of discernment naturally evolve through Heartfulness practices. In a sense, we can say that we rise above our biological drives and function from a higher level of consciousness. We develop greater mastery over the triggers. This transcendence is very much associated with the field of practice of the Yamas and Niyamas.
Swami Vivekananda said this in another way: “Man is not to regard nature as his goal, but something higher.” Babuji also alluded to the same concept in his statement that in spirituality we are moving from “animal man” to “human man” to “divine man.”
How will this happen? It starts with the heart. The heart is the balancing midpoint in our system and the seat of the soul, and when we meditate on the heart, gently turning our attention to the soul, we learn to transcend the reactiveness that may happen at lower levels of consciousness. The lower chakras that are associated with the more animalistic instinctual responses no longer govern our behavior. And once we have journeyed through the chakras of the Heart Region, under the guidance of a true spiritual Master, we can say that we have transcended “animal man” to become “human man,” mastering our emotions and functioning from a higher plane of consciousness.
But the first step is to purify the field of consciousness through which we respond to the world around us, by removing all the complexities and impurities. When we are burdened with so many subconscious programs resulting from all the complexities and impurities we have accumulated, threats will always be perceived. Per contra, the purer our consciousness, the greater our level of discernment; it goes up proportionally. When we can rise above reactiveness, when we can pause, the wisdom of the heart can truly guide our responses and decisions.
When we can rise above reactiveness,
when we can pause,
the wisdom of the heart can truly guide
our responses and decisions.
Heartfulness practices create the habits of peace and compassion
In practical terms, it is Heartfulness Cleaning that purifies consciousness. Without purification, we don’t remove the complexities that are the root cause of the subconscious programs, and it is very difficult to change our patterns of habitual response.
This doesn’t mean that we no longer need the fight or flight response – that response is there for our survival. For example, if a fire is threatening your home, you need to act to save your family. What changes is that a purified meditative mind will respond only when it is truly needed, and it will also respond in a more refined way, rather than reactively.
It is through Heartfulness Meditation that we learn to pause, so that the soul can witness and respond through the heart’s wisdom in any situation. And through Prayer we develop the habit of resting in the soul’s realm, and the heart becomes vacuumized so that the flow of the current of Divinity can fill our being. A simple analogy is the flow of current from positive to negative in telegraphy. We may still be aware of fear, anger or anxiety, as they are useful emotions. They alert us to the need to respond or change. But how we respond, how we use those emotions for positive change, for the betterment of all, is life-transforming. We are able to master them so that they take us forward, rather than keeping us locked into patterns of emotional turbulence, conflict and violence.
By violence, I don’t just mean physical violence – it can be emotional violence, passive-aggressive behavior, and resentment in the case of a person who feels victimized. Violence can also be expressed through withdrawal. Anything that hurts another being can be included in this umbrella of violence.
A degree of mastery over these emotions comes from regular meditative practices, which refine the mind so that it responds from a progressively higher and higher plane of awareness. The mind works best when it is guided by the wisdom of a pure heart. In fact, even the regions of the brain that are activated are different.
One of the main catalysts to bring about this mastery over our reactiveness is yogic Transmission. Why is it so? For this we need to first remind ourselves of our human anatomy.
The three bodies
We have a physical body made of matter. We also have a subtle body, known as the astral or mental body, which is made up of energy, vibration, thinking and feeling. It is what we also know as the field of consciousness of the heart and mind. Our third body, the causal body or the cause of our existence, is the soul. The soul is associated with the absolute state of nothingness, the substratum of existence. It is pure, unchanging and immutable.
When we identify mostly with the physical body, then it is easy to be surrounded by threats in day-to-day life, because our physical being is constantly being bombarded and may not be in a state of full health and well-being. By the way, the part of the mind that creates this sense of identity is the ego, ahankara in Yoga. When we identify mostly with the subtle body – our thoughts, feelings, emotions, intellect, knowledge, and ego – we will also be susceptible to threats in day-to-day life, because our minds and hearts are also constantly being bombarded, even more than our physical bodies. Think of the emotional upheaval created by an argument with your partner, your teenage child, or a work colleague, and you will understand how destabilizing this can be to the peace of mind of all the individuals involved. This is also why we have a stress epidemic in the 21st century, which is clinically affecting the mental health of more than 10% of the world’s population according to the World Economic Forum.
Now, let’s compare this with what happens when we identify with the soul, which we do when we have a spiritual goal, and when we acknowledge that we are souls having a human experience in the world. Then, something very different happens. The soul is the still, peaceful center of our being, like the eye of a tornado. Swami Vivekananda spoke so beautifully about this shift of attention in his lecture called “Nature and Man,” which you can find in his Complete Works, Volume 6. He says, “The whole process of evolution is the soul’s struggle to manifest itself. It is a constant struggle against nature.”
We are firmly grounded in that stillness
where we find peace, joy, love and contentment.
There is no longer a need to
look for those qualities outside;
instead, we tap into them at the center of our being.
I would say it a little differently, as in today’s Yoga we have a way to reduce the struggle: Thanks to Transmission, when we very gently turn our attention toward the soul by meditating on the heart and through prayer, it is naturally pulled inward, and a prayerful receptive inner state is created in the heart. Transmission allows us to rest in the center, so that outer turbulence does not destabilize our inner condition. We are firmly grounded in that stillness where we find peace, joy, love and contentment. There is no longer a need to look for those qualities outside; instead, we tap into them at the center of our being. Then, we share them with others – we become “givers” rather than “takers” – radiating peace, joy, love and contentment into the world, bringing solace and peace to others. We carry the fragrance of Divinity with us wherever we go.
Love leads to compassion
So, Yoga begins with love. The fundamental divine law that governs life is “Love all.” And we cultivate love by connecting with the soul, and nourishing the soul through Transmission. If the idea of hurting anyone or anything remains in our hearts, we will fail at the first step itself. Our Heartfulness practices help us to transcend violence in all its forms. This is the essence of ahimsa.
But I feel that there is something more to ahimsa. While it is good not to hurt others, that is just the removal of the negative state of violence. How about cultivating the positive state? There is a greater need to live in such a way that others are also comforted and supported with compassion and love.
It is only when love is self-seeking that it will destroy,
and that is not compassion but passion.
The difference is this: passion is the
manifestation of a desire-driven ego,
whereas compassion is the manifestation of the soul
directing our life through a pure open heart.
When we truly love, where is the question of being violent or hurting others? When we truly love, we are ready to sacrifice our comforts, our possessions and ultimately ourselves. In fact, the whole idea of sacrifice does not even enter our awareness. Is this not true compassion? It is only when love is self-seeking that it will destroy, and that is not compassion but passion. The difference is this: passion is the manifestation of a desire-driven ego, whereas compassion is the manifestation of the soul directing our life through a pure open heart.
So, to realize this first vow of a seeker, ahimsa, our awareness needs to expand to embrace the soul’s existence. The more we nurture the soul through Transmission and meditative practices, the more we will become compassionate, loving, joyful and peaceful. Then, all that remains to be done is to remove the obstacles along the path that pull us off course – our desires and personas of the ego – so that we can soar into the sky of divinity and realize our true purpose. In a sense, everything is encapsulated in this first step of Yoga.
Article by DAAJI
March 01, 2021
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February 28, 2021