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Being happy with yourself is the most important skill


By Leo Babauta (Zen Habits)

If you’re like me, you are constantly learning new skills — gardening, carpentry, pizza-making, languages, sports, and so on. And I think this is a fun and wonderful thing to do.

But what’s the most important skill?

That’s debatable. I think compassion is a huge one, as is mindfulness. I’d go with those two any day of the week.

But if I had to pick just one, it would be this: learning to be happy with yourself.

That seems too simple, to trite! Too mushy and New-Agey! And I’ll grant all of that, but I stand firmly by my pick.

Why? The answer has to do with how this one thing can affect everything else in your life. If you are not happy with yourself, or your body, you become insecure. You think you’re not good enough. You fear being abandoned and alone. You do lots of other things to compensate, and these lead to problems.

So many of the problems people have stem from this one thing — being unhappy with themselves (often in the form of being unhappy with their bodies). Let’s take a look at why, and then look at some ideas of how to master the skill.

Why It Affects Everything

Let’s say you’re unhappy with your body. You think you are too fat, or too skinny, or your butt is too small (or too big). Or your boobs are too small, or your pecs aren’t big enough. Your stomach is flabby, or loose, or covered in stretch marks. Your thighs are too thick. Your hips are too wide, or too narrow. The list goes on and on.

We’ll get into why we’re unhappy in a minute, but for now, just imagine the unlikely scenario that you’re unhappy with your body. What does that do to you? Well, you might be envious of other people (who, you know, are also unhappy with their bodies). You might be worried that you’re not attractive enough to meet someone, and therefore sabotage your chances for a relationship. If you’re in a relationship, you might think your boyfriend/girlfriend will leave you for someone more attractive. You might then act jealously, and do things out of this jealousy that actually leads to your partner being unhappy, and possibly eventually leaving you.

If you’re unhappy with your body, you might not want to look at it. You might obsessively undereat, and then binge eat, and then feel worse about yourself. You might avoid exercise because you don’t want to even think about the problem. You might eat junk food to comfort your bad feelings, and then make the health problems worse.

You might have anxiety about all of this, about your body, your health, your girlfriend leaving you. Then you eat more to assuage the anxiety, and it gets worse. Or you shop to make yourself feel better, and you get deeply in debt and your life fills with clutter. Or you drink alcohol or numb yourself with drugs or television so you don’t have to think about all this.

At work, you’re unhappy because you aren’t confident about yourself or your body, so you don’t do the things that require confidence and that would further your career. You might not leave your work to find work you’re more passionate about, because you don’t think you’re good enough. Even at the work you’re in, you do what you can to not think about the unhappiness you have, so you procrastinate with social networks, games, and other diversions.

There’s much more that’s possible, but you get the idea. Not everyone has all of these symptoms, but they’re possible for anyone. Many of our problems stems from this one problem, and fixing it can change everything.

That’s why, if you have a finite amount of time to learn (and we all do), investing that time into learning this one skill can pay off in innumerable ways. It’s the most important skill you can master.

Why We’re Like This

If this is so bad, why are we like this? How did it get this way? Well, there’s no one answer. It’s a building up of lots of reasons, including:

  • Mass media. We see beautiful celebrities with perfect faces, stomachs, thighs, abs, chests and asses all over the place — on the Internet, on TV and movies, in magazines. Everywhere. They’re celebrated as the pinacle of our society, and we all want to be them in some way. They’re not real, of course — they’re Photoshopped, make-upped, did upped in so many ways that what we see is an illusion. We’re comparing ourselves to an illusion. But even if they were, why would we need to be like them? Why can’t we be like ourselves, and let that be the ideal?
  • Comments from others. Friends, family members, co-workers, even spouses might make a seemingly innocent comment about our butt or boobs that makes us feel bad about ourselves. These comments are small but hit our self-esteem very hard. They’re not really about us, though, even if we almost always take them to heart. They’re about the other person, who is having a bad day, or jealous of you, or projecting their own insecurities on you, or comparing you to the mass media celebrities they idolize for no good reason. See these comments for what they are, and don’t take them to heart.
  • Childhood incidents. In childhood, perhaps our parents made some comments about us that made us feel bad. Perhaps our parents got a divorce, or our dad was never around — if dad left mom, maybe that meant she wasn’t good enough for him, and by extension maybe I’m not good enough for someone else? If dad left, maybe it’s because I wasn’t good enough for him? This might sound like psychological mumbo-jumbo, but it’s real. I’ve experienced it, and so have countless others. It doesn’t mean we have to let it rule our lives, but we should be aware that it’s there, and learn to deal with it.
  • Failures. Perhaps we’ve made some mistakes and failed at some things we tried to do. Honestly, everyone does, but when we do it, we take it to heart. It makes us feel bad about ourselves — we’re not disciplined, we’re not good enough. This leads to further failures, further hurting our self-image.
  • Health problems. While having thick thighs or a bit of flab on the tummy is nothing to feel bad about — love how you look! — a completely separate problem from how we feel about our bodies is the health of our bodies. We tend to mix them together — being fat makes us feel bad about ourselves, for example — but really they can be separated. We can feel good about our bodies but realize that being overweight can lead to heart disease and diabetes down the road, so it only makes sense to lose some weight. Not because we want to look like a celebrity and feel better about ourselves, but because we want to be healthy. Being healthy, by the way, can help your self-image, and even though I said they can be separated, this is one positive benefit from conflating the two that you should accept happily.
  • Spiral of negative thoughts. One bad thought leads to another, and then another, until we have a bundle of bad thoughts that become our self-image. This negative self-image can affect everything we do. But this self-image and these bad thoughts are not us — they are things that happen within us, but we don’t have to let them become us. We can cope with them, and turn them into positive thoughts, into gratitude, into happiness.

These are just a few reasons. In fact, so many things affect our self-image that it’s impossible to list them all, but it’s good to start to be aware of them, so we can cope with them.

How to Master the Skill

Let’s say you’ve accepted my premise that learning to be happy with yourself (let’s call it “love thyself”) is the most important skill to master … how do you get started?

The simple answer is practice. The complicated answer is that it takes awhile, because our self-image wasn’t formed overnight and it won’t be changed overnight. That’s OK. Just focus on this moment, and you’ll learn as you go.

I can’t give you a complete guide to learning to love thyself, as that would take a book, and I’m still learning myself, but here are some tips for starting out:

  1. Become aware of your mental movie. You have a movie (perhaps a series of them) that you play inside your head about yourself. Usually we aren’t aware of this, but it happens, throughout the day. The movie is about who we are: you have a flabby stomach, you are fat, you are too skinny, you aren’t disciplined, you aren’t lovable, your braces look weird, you aren’t good at anything. Start to pay attention when this movie plays — it affects everything you do. Realize that this movie isn’t you — it’s just playing in your head. Realize that it isn’t true, and isn’t based on reality. Realize that it can be changed.
  2. Start to make a new movie. This new movie will replace that play-out old one that keeps running in your theater. It will be a Michael Bay production, with a gorgeous lead actor (hey, that’s you!), great visual effects, lots of excitement … except with more character development and a lot smaller budget. Let’s base this movie on reality, not fears from childhood or illusions of celebrities or comments from others. Instead, it should be based on the fact that you are a good person, wonderful even, who is loving, kind, beautiful, passionate. This might not be what you think about yourself, but let’s make the movie like this anyway. Ask other people why you’re lovable (people who are likely to give a kind answer). Use these images in your new movie. When negative images start coming up (my boobs are too small!), cut them out and tell them they have no place in your production. Put better images in.
  3. Consciously play the new movie. Learn to recognize the flicker of the old movie starting, and shut it off. Put the new movie in the projector instead, and play it. Practice this like it’s your new religion. You will get better with constant practice. Put up reminders all around you so you don’t forget.
  4. Learn mental judo. There will be things coming in all around you that will try to attack your new movie. Comments from friends, celebrities, things you see on Facebook. When they are hurtling towards you, learn to lean to one side and let them whiz by. Give them a small shove, with a thought like, “That comment is not about me, it’s about you.” (And then go give your friend a hug — she’s probably having a bad day.) Or a thought like, “That celebrity probably is also worried about her body — having big boobs or a flat stomach doesn’t solve that problem.” Give the celebrity a mental hug, then play your new movie.

You are already perfect — you just need to realize it. You don’t need anything to solve this problem — you already have it. You just need to practice, like it’s the most important thing in your life, because in many ways, it is.

Photo Credit: LaLaLaLiza

Exploring the Unique Self and beyond …. Searching for God’s place (Part 3)



By Hans Jecklin

This post continues from Part 2.

On my walk around the old pitoresque city of Fribourg, I suddenly got struck by an inspiration: The old images of God have been de-mistified long ago — I started to talk in my head – but many of us still experience a fear of being judged or even punishment by an unconscious authority that is being projected to the outside of ourselves: if it is not God whom we fear, it is society with its threat of exclusion, if we do not fit expectations.

But where could we imagine or locate God or — if we prefer — that all-encompassing force of eternal love and wisdom that is the origin of all that is? I believe to know a spiritual map with only “my” Unique Self and the Prior Unity of all cosmic potentials between myself and the ONE. But there is no room for God, especially if I understand my experience of the ONE as merely the state of oneness at the edge of that huge black (w)hole from which the cosmos manifests and where it might collapse into in a far ahead future; maybe manifesting a new cosmos on the backside of the hole?

And if I imagine a creative pulse from matter to antimatter between the two sides of the black hole, it would be logic — according to the law “as above so below” — that not only the tiniest particles of matter, or my energy centers, but also galaxies and the cosmos all live in (or even: from) this pulsation of expansion and contraction. This image of an all-inspiring cosmic breath is present in most ancient cultures around the planet, but it also exists as a vision for those cosmologists that expect the expansion of the universe to reverse at its culmination — in millions or billions of years — into a huge contraction. The bigger the organism the longer must be the time spans of out — and in breath: a cosmic day of Brahma lasts according to the Hindu knowledge 4,320,000,000 (4.32 billion) solar years; whereas at the quantum level pulsation happens in immeasurable time fractions.

Can we imagine God as a presence beyond the widest in- and out-breath, beyond unimaginable dimensions of trans-cosmic galaxies? With the whole “creation” breathing in a holarchy of pulsations from the seemingly eternal down to the tiniest?

While these imaginations  take place, I realize that — even while walking — I  have changed in a different state of consciousness. And I suddenly perceive the picturesque  old town of Fribourg. sitting on top of the cliff above the Saane river canyon as a kind of theatrical stage set or even as a doll house, I used to play with as child. The state that has taken me in is huge, of absolute grandeur. And it is at the same time so real and intense that I must have stumbled over a dimension I had not known before. God — or trans-cosmic intelligence in whatever form — has found me again, as an unquestionable REALITY. I feel being part of a great pulsation that breathes me and vibrates on all subtle levels from spirit to vital.


Why discipline and will power are completely outdated, and an evolutionary alternative


By Kristen Ulmer

This may surprise you, but discipline, perseverance, setting an intention, drive, the will; all those celebrated states usually taught by sports coaches, are completely outdated. Same with goal setting.

Here’s why. I remember having to perform a difficult ski photo shoot while still recovering from an injury. I wanted to maintain status and sponsors so I “sucked it up” “did it anyway” “refused to give up” “pushed through the pain and fear.” Sounds powerful right?

Such willed effort is fine in a pinch: I skied great that day, but here’s the problem: doing something I didn’t feel like doing was the first step toward future burn out and ultimately resenting my sport.

There’s a better path.

Let’s say you don’t feel like going the gym but force yourself to go anyway. Sound familiar?

Picture a hose. All day long feelings and experiences flow through that hose. In this case ‘should I go to the gym?’ shows up. Next comes ‘no I don’t want to!’

Now picture you’re a corporation made up of 10,000 different employees. The mind is one of these employees. Throw in determination or a fitness goal and the mind becomes very clever at suppressing any employee who gets in its way, in this case; ‘No I don’t want to.’

She puts duct tape over ‘No’s’ mouth and throws her down the basement stairs. You trot off to the gym feeling victory over perceived ‘negativity.’

The mind does this enough times and guess what? The employee of ‘No I don’t want to’ isn’t taking the abuse quietly. She isn’t dying in the basement. She’s fighting back, plotting, building strength, having to do her job in a covert, pathological way and will even scream now in order to be heard.

Your hose is now kinked, and a war has started. You are now at war with your self. And you can’t see it because it’s being carried out in your subconscious.

But you can feel it. Repressed experiences and emotions remain in our systems and run our lives covertly, sometimes for decades or even lifetimes. They come out in the most disruptive ways — straining our relationships, causing injury, showing up as disease and body aches. They pinch off the possibility for happiness to enter. Over time you become burned out. All because the mind and the will refuse to be intimate with anything negetive ot working against a master plan.

What if, instead you had a consciousness practice, where you could first see how the mind and all her buddies act as slave drivers. To see it is to stop it. Stop that war. In today’s evolutionary world, next you welcome your emotions and experiences as they flow through the hose, and this way your mind instead sets you free.

What would you do with that freedom? Could you just listen to the wisdom of each moment as it flows through the hose, rather than crack a whip?

If I could go back and feel that pressure to ski injured over again, I would have honored fear and pain instead, and chosen my ‘No.’

How about you? When you think you should go to the gym and ‘No’ shows up, would you let her be this time? If so, she’ll only speak for about 15-40 seconds before she’s gone and another employee shows up.

It might even be this time: Yes.

Photo Credit: jontunn

Exploring the Unique Self and beyond …. Dialogue and Guidance (Part 2)

Child in Light

By Hans Jecklin

This post is continued from Part 1.

Whenever I wish to enter into dialogue with the Unique Self or ask for its guidance, I first feel an impulse to bow to its all-encompassing wisdom and love. It seems important for me to always remember that the Unique Self is not a useful tool of my ego but that I am its manifestation at this moment, with a determination to become an ever more transparent instrument of its unique potential.

When I thought about writing this blog in the middle of the night, I had a vision of the eternal and undivided ONE from which all potentials and probabilities ready to manifest as and in this cosmos keep arising from moment to moment; my Unique Self being one single aspect of what I understand as Prior Unity of all manifestation. Allowing myself to be taken in by this vision, I immediately experience a state of absolute stillness, like having come home.

Experience has taught me to understand all energy centers, regardless of their spiritual tradition or school, as projections of the Unique Self, whereby each center filters out the information that it needs to function. The higher up in or beyond the human body, the finer or more subtle is the information received, whereas downwards — also beyond the body — the energy becomes ever more dense. This is why I like to connect through a vertical column — either within the backbone as Kundalini or through the middle of the body according to other traditions — the most subtle above with the most dense below.

As to the densest region, I used to take the center of the planet into my vision, but lately I had the impulse to ask for a connection to the most dense level of the cosmos, which might be, according to the findings of a young physicist, Nassim Haramein and his Resonance Project, a giant black (w)hole from which the cosmos keeps constantly arising and which might contain all information for the universe to manifest. The resulting energy proved to be extremely powerful, at least to me, and I needed a steadfast and warm heart to slowly attune to its intensity. There is a great strength, but be aware!

Likewise, I now like to see the energy centers functioning as doors between the manifest world and “their” black (w)holes. This makes deep sense for the adapted Tonglen practice I had picked up from a video by Sally Kempton at the Integral Institute: Breathing in all incoherence from situations in the outside world through my heart chakra, directly into the black (w)hole at its back side, and breathing out the coherent information from the back to the situation in front of me. It seems important to me to always surrender such activities to my Unique Self, trusting its love and wisdom to exactly bring into effect the quality and quantity of energy that the situation or the person needs.

To surrender to the Unique Self — our own and that of the person we might be working with — is not new to most healers. I had to learn early that the other’s Unique Self will always have the final decision on what might be healed and what not, regardless of my intentions. In spiritual coaching, wonderful results were experienced, when I asked the client to write his wish for understanding, transformation or healing on a piece of paper as an intent addressed to her or his Unique Self and then radically let it go out of the mind; no thought activity should then distort the coherence of what may be happening by the grace of the Unique Self.

It even seems to me that the space between out- and in-breath where all activities come to a stand-still is the best moment for communion to happen. I consciously use the word “communion” rather than “communication” because I do not believe that the information is traveling from here to there; it seems much more likely that all happens in a space of non-locality, so to speak of Prior Unity (or a black (w)hole?). Local or distant healing: there is no difference under this perspective.

This for today; with more to come!

Photo Credit: Mara ~earth light~

In the blogosphere, attacks on alternative medicine from questionable sources


By Joe Perez

At first, I saw no reason that I should link to this blog post by a pseudonymous blogger who calls himself Orac. He claims to be a surgeon/scientist, and I have little doubt that he is. He is skeptical about all complementary/alternative medicine, which he likens to The Secret and New Age woo-woo nonsense.

At his Respectful Insolence blog, he writes:

…CAM [complementary alternative medicine] is nothing more than placebo medicine. It makes it easier for me to remind people that intentionally practicing placebo medicine is unethical (because it requires lying to the patient) and paternalistic, just like 60 years ago when conventional doctors did actually order placebos for patients. In a perfectly Orwellian turn of phrase, advocates of “health freedom” and CAM advocates are in essence advocating a return to that sort of paternalism. As I’ve pointed out before, CAM cloaks itself in rhetoric suggesting that it “empowering” patients to “take control” of their health. In actuality it denies them the most important tool to do that: A appraisal of the rationale behind a proposed treatment, along with an assessment of its potential benefits and risks based on science, not fantasy. Instead, it substitutes tooth fairy science, pre-scientific vitalism, and utter faith in the practitioner for science and reason.

So calling advocates of alternative medicine unethical peddlers of fantasy with Orwellian delusions is “respectful insolence” now?

I’m not saying that he doesn’t make a good point about the Placebo Effect, and I’m not saying that there isn’t some flakiness to some New Age thinking and some ways in which alternative/ complementary/ integrative medicine is practiced. There certainly is, but there are also professional standards and evolving wisdom. And there is also quackery among surgeons and standards by which the inadequate must be expelled from the practice.

This post is pretty much what you would expect from many mainstream surgeons, whose occupation tends to favor individuals with a certain sort of subjectivity and way of looking at the world which biases them in ways which create blind spots to more subtle, non-rational dimensions of reality. If they can’t understand it logically or see it under a microscope, to them it ain’t real. Like I said, I wasn’t going to link to the post, which didn’t say anything new, even as it said old stuff pretty darn well. World Spirituality makes room for a spectrum of divergent health modalities — traditional, modern, complementary, and integral — based on what works, not an ideological commitment which paints all but Western approaches as “unethical.”

But then I thought: what really bugs me about this post is that he writes under a psuedonym. What an odd thing to be bothered by! While pseudonymous writing is occasionally justified (as when an individual faces political oppression or social ostracism), it is very odd that a respected scientist and surgeon would take the very risk-adverse move (some would say cowardly and unprofessional) of refusing to give his name.

The story I have about the connection between the surgeon’s anonymity and his viewpoint is that he knows that if his name is connected to his writing — what he says AND the way he presents it, which comes off a bit as an arrogant know-it-all, condescending to everyone who thinks differently — that his business will suffer and people will respect him less. Maybe I’m wrong, but that’s my best guess. Pseudonyms shield writers from reality, giving us the illusion of safety when it only puts us into our own sort of “fantasy.”

But if only Orac would sign his real name, then his patients could see what he really believes, and (if they stayed with him) they could educate him about the experiences they have had with alternative medicine or faith-based healing. Then he could see that you don’t have to be ignorant or flaky in order to think that it’s all right to look beyond narrow Western medicine in terms of understanding dimensions of healing not yet well understood by the mind constituted by a narrow view of rationality.

If only.

What is Somatics?


Originally published on iEvolve on February 1, 2012.

By Mary Ann Gray Voorhies

Somatics, in the tradition of Thomas Hanna, is a powerful new discipline in the field of health care.  Somatics (also called Clinical Somatic Education) gives us the technology and the tools that enable us to learn to control our own physiology. Now, arguably for the first time in history, we have the POWER to change our own bodies in relatively rapid ways — ways that can dramatically improve our health and well being. Now, thanks to Thomas Hanna, we have at our disposal simple ways to become victorious over the negative effects of accumulated stress or trauma on the human body.

Through the use of this “new” discovery and the employment of simple movement techniques, we can harness innate powers of self-sensing, self-regulating and self-healing. Through the discovery and the utilization of these innate powers we have “set foot on a new continent as far as health care is concerned” as Hanna said. This discovery is a giant leap for humankind — a paradigm which its proponents say significantly advances our embodied understanding as well as our ability to transform our own bodies through leading edge somatic technologies.  It is evident to practitioners that the practice of somatics enables us to create fast, direct, long-lasting changes in our movements, range of motion, postural alignment, coordination, pain relief, youthful appearance, and body efficiency.

The practice of this type of somatics (which reprograms the neuromuscular system through simple movements) can place in one’s hand the wonderful key that that can powerfully and easily change the brain/body wholistically and systemically from within. The practice of this slow, gentle non-invasive movement technique relatively quickly brings the body back into balance and alignment and can naturally and effectively clear up (and prevent) up to 80 percent of all functional bodily complaints, pain and diseases.

According to Thomas Hanna, through the proper use of human consciousness (by directing our intention and attention inward) and by performing specific easy slow movements, we can easily overcome physiological limitations in heretofore unheard of ways. According to Hanna, our bodies are not THINGS or objects to be manipulated from the outside. We are somas whose minds and bodies are one. In fact, CONSCIOUSNESS is a powerful and causative force that can reshape our whole system. Somatics is based on a thorough understanding of neurophysiology and how we can harness innate powers of self-balancing, self-healing and self -ejuvenation.

In his book “Somatics,” Hanna quotes a physician who attended one of his classes, saying, “This is the missing link in health care. What I have learned (from Hanna) has as much potential for understanding the mind-body relationship as Einstein’s theory of relativity had for physics.”

How Does Somatics Work?

Many diseases have as their root cause a “disconnect” between the sensory motor cortex and the muscles or muscle groups. To put it simply, the practice of somatics restores that connection. The disconnection (which occurs because of accumulated stress or accident, i.e. physical trauma) results in chronic muscular holding patterns that can wreak havoc on one’s health and comfort. When the muscles or muscle groups become chronically contracted — what we call sensory motor amnesia — the posture is pulled out of balance, often causing pain or discomfort and can contribute to many complaints and diseases. The chronically shortened and contracted muscles can impinge on and pull on nerves, bones, organs and joints and other bodily structures causing a myriad of common and painful complaints. Among these are bursitis, some types of arthritis, bulging discs, scoliosis, knee problems, back pain, hip problems, bent over posture, fibromyalgia, avoiding surgery, impotence, some forms of high blood pressure, and much more.

Sensory motor amnesia can also be a cause of breathing problems and the root cause of many of the major health problems (such as heart disease). Sensory motor amnesia is also widely mistaken for old age. Clearly aging is a healthy process of the body which  the body can gracefully experience with enormous beauty and  dignity.  Yet so much of what we feel is inevitable and label as “old age” is really not that all. Much of the decrepitude of old age is what Hanna refers to as myth. In fact it is the result of sensory motor amnesia and can be fully overcome through somatic learning and practice.

Through the practice of somatics, the signs and symptoms —so much of  the creakiness, decrepitude, poor posture, aches, pains and discomforts of aging can now be prevented, alleviated or even at times, reversed! All of this is possible because the brain controls the body. And, we can learn to reprogram our brains! Aspects of Hanna’s leading edge work has since been confirmed by multiple studies in the nature of neuroplasticity, and ongoing research continues to contribute to the scholarship around somatics and holistic health to this day.

Sensory Motor Amnesia

A more detailed scientific explanation of sensory motor amnesia is that it is a loss or distortion of freedom of movement, of control of muscular tension, and of the body-sense. It’s a maladaptation that occurs in the brain — in the person’s internal self-sense, and in their capacity for activity.  Here’s how it happens:

Commonly, with long-term stress or injury, the memory of stress or bodily trauma displaces the memory of healthy movement and feeling. Memory takes place according to contemporary neuroscience, primarily in the sensory motor cortex which is right behind the frontal lobe of the brain and it is the part of the brain that controls all movement and motor actives.  The person forgets what free and balanced movement feels like and how to move freely. (That’s the “amnesia” part.) Involuntary muscular tension and, often, pain sets in.  The person starts limiting their life to avoid pain. So, the effects are both physiological and psychological (right and left sides of the AQAL matrix of Integral Theory).

The practice of clinical somatic education frees a person from the grip of memories of stress and/or trauma and develops healthy memory patterns in the brain of sensation and movement that, in turn, restores healthy movement, a healthier self-sense, and healthier physiological homeostasis among all systems of the body, with corresponding psychological effects. Since the brain controls the muscles the brain transmits these new memories into the muscular system and this in turn produces healthier movement patterns.

Hanna found that through the skillful employment of the pandicular response (an innate action pattern), one could easily, effectively, rapidly and powerfully:

  1. Dispel the “controlling charge” of memories of stress and trauma,
  2. Develop healthy patterns of function,
  3. Cause large, durable improvements in one’s health and self-awareness.

As a mind-body learning process, the practice of somatics develops new neural pathways in the brain (which is why it is called education). And, since the mind and body are the “inner” and “outer” sides of the same thing (“soma”), not only is the “body” affected, but the whole human being (inner and outer) is affected in very positive ways — in energy level, self-awareness and capacity for participation in life. In fact, as part of an integral life practice, somatics can assist powerfully in spiritual transformation.

Hanna says that “the human species, possessed with a brain whose genius is unlimited learning and adaptation, is a species that is genetically designed to age by GROWING. (Not by declining.) Not to expect to grow (physically and psychologically) is to misunderstand what it means to be human. Not to do so is to fail in the God-given task of living a fully human life.”

This marvelous discovery  — that we can somatically learn our way back to restored vigor, health and wholeness in a relatively easy and rapid fashion (through somatic learning) is tantamount to saying that we are now is in possession of an amazing powerful evolutionary technology and knowing, which teaches us how to  easily care for ourselves in marvelous, effective and wonderful ways. Somatics gives us valuable tools and practices that  have the power to literally transform our bodies, and shift inexorably the experience of aging, in ways that were never before thought possible before in the history of humankind. We now have the know-how and the God-given ability to become autonomous, self-determining, self-balancing and self-healing which, in turn, can lead to human freedom — and optimal health and well being. No longer do we have to be helpless victims of negative circumstances and many physically painful situations.

In his book Somatics, Hanna says, “Somatic exercises can change how we live our lives, how we believe that our bodies and minds interrelate, how powerful we think we are in controlling our lives and how responsible we should be in taking care of our total beings” …  “This new discipline in health care realizes that sensory motor amnesia describes a category of health problems that has not been recognized until now. Sensory motor amnesia (which can wreak havoc on one’s health and comfort) is a somatic pathology that requires not treatment but somatic movement education.” He goes on to say that ”we must break the bonds that limit us, so that the growth and evolution of the human species may continue toward that greater destiny which now, with increasing impatience awaits us.”

Thomas Hanna’s Vision

As put forth in many of his books, writings and teachings, Thomas Hanna was concerned not only with Clinical Somatic Education (the education of the sensory motor system) but he also had a larger concern about the somatic education of the entire human being. He was very concerned with the more philosophical and psychological aspects of somatic education. He was also concerned with alleviating psychological and emotional suffering (in the thinking mind). As a trained academic philosopher himself, he focused his study on the figures that he referred to as somatic psychologists and somatic philosophers. These included the likes of William James, Kierkegaard, and key teachers of Eastern philosophies. In this sense somatic meant for Hanna embodied  experiencing from within. For Hanna the somatic experiencing which lies at the core of his system was already to be found in nascent forms in the teaching of many of the great traditions.  For Hanna there was not split at all between body, mind and heart all of which came together to form the wholeness of the human soma. Hanna had a deep and thorough understanding of how spiritual teachings and practices can be somatically life giving and transformative.  For Hanna it is empirically clear that consciousness can be directed also to change attitudes, interpretations, negative beliefs and values and by doing so can actually change brain chemistry and reshape the system.

In Body of Life, Hanna says, “What the neurophysiological research of the last several decades tells us is that the kinds of thoughts we think determines the quality and effectiveness of our lives. It has been found the thoughts are sensory motor events and thinking can tense and activate muscles (causing contractions that can negatively affect our health).” He goes on to say that when we repeatedly think thoughts and memories of hurt, despair, anger, revenge or fear, we are physically injuring ourselves — we are engaging in self destruction. You can be sure that the weight of neurological evidence is massively on the side of those who advise us to think positive thoughts rather than negative ones when at all possible. Hanna said that what he was teaching was NOT just a manipulative technique (not just “body work” — heaven forbid), but a wholistic science of total transformation that would include all aspects of our beings and that “mind” and “body” are “one.” He called this learning process Somatology — the wholistic science of human experience and behavior.

We must “shine a light,” not only on our unconscious maladaptive memory patterns in the sensory motor parts of our brains (which keep us stuck, suffering and unfree) — but we must also “shine a light” on our unconscious maladaptive psychological and behavioral memory “habit” patterns, as well.

According to Hanna this is done by unlearning the maladaptive patterns that keep us stuck and enslaved to our own conditioning, like puppets on a string. We must enact more empowering patterns, which will liberate us to relate in a more loving and whole way  to ourselves and others. To be liberated from these patterns of “suffering” in our total beings —both physiological AND psychological — is  to be truly free. To be free in both of these ways is what Hanna called “The Fair State.”

Who Was Thomas Hanna?

Thomas Hanna ­ — born 1928, died 1990 — was a philosopher who through years of study, research and practice, developed Clinical Somatic Education, also known as Hanna Somatic Education. Hanna spent his life searching for ways for human beings to become free — intellectually, psychologically and physically.

After receiving a Ph.D. in philosophy and Divinity from the University of Chicago in 1958, Hanna began a successful teaching career at several colleges. He also had the fortune to teach, conduct research and write in Paris, Brussels and Mainz, Germany. In 1965, Hanna became chairman of the Philosophy department at the University of Florida. While there he studied neurophysiology at the medical school. His experiences in studying divinity, philosophy and the neurosciences led him to the idea that all life experiences lead to certain physical “patterns” in the body. He coined the word somatics (with an s). To him, soma did not mean only body (like the old Greek meaning) but soma means the entirety of who you and I are, wholistically. He contended that we as somas are always wanting life and wanting life more abundantly. He believed that we can, through certain somatic practices, both “bodily” and “psychologically,” we can achieve what he called the “Fair State,” — optimal mental and physical health. In other words, human beings have the capacity to FREE themselves from suffering on all levels, wholistically … body, mind, spirit.

In 1973, Hanna moved to San Francisco, where he became the director of the graduate school at the Humanistic Psychology Institute. There, he discovered Functional Integration, which was developed by Moshe Feldenkrais. Hanna founded and directed the first Feldenkrais training program in the United States in 1975.
From the previous experience, education, research and background, plus the experience he gained from his studies with Feldenkrais, Hanna developed his own very powerful way of dealing with mysterious symptoms with his clients who had seen many doctors without relief. Hanna was able to relieve and eliminate the pain and suffering quickly with his new technique. During the 1980s Hanna continued his work and research calling himself “a philosopher who works with his hands.” During that time Hanna helped many people overcome what were thought by the medical community to be hopeless cases.

In 1990, Hanna began his own training program. Tragically, though, he was only able to complete the first summer of a three-summer training period. Thankfully for us, he was able to transmit the core of his teachings and practices.  Thomas Hanna died in the summer of 1990 in a car accident.

Thomas Hanna’s Vision and Dream

Thomas Hanna was engaged not only with helping individuals, but he was passionately concerned with the collective well being of the human race  in a larger cultural and societal context. He was interested in educating people in how we as a society could learn to understand how to prevent suffering from happening in the first place. In his book Body of Life he wrote that “all somatic distortion (and suffering) reflect problems that are simultaneously problems in the person`s lifestyle. A somatic understanding of ourselves allows us to understand, to a larger degree, what is happening to us and why our THOUGHTS , our culture and our individual ways of living affect us in emotional and physiological ways. By understanding ourselves and the fuller aspects of our functioning, we are empowered to help ourselves. We can learn healthier ways to process our experience. Our total beings can be transformed by our daily experience and what we focus our consciousness on. We know now that our sensory-motor systems are just as capable of positive life-giving transformations as of negative ones. Quite apart from society and culture, we can redeem ourselves and take control of our own sensory-motor growth just as easily as we can abandon ourselves and lose control. We simply need to know how. It is a question of somatic LEARNING — learning those patterns that are more efficient and unlearning patterns that are painful and inefficient.”

Above all else, Thomas Hanna was concerned with the evolution of  the human race as a whole. And, he envisioned that a somatic understanding would lead us there. He also had a traditional yet evolutionary spiritual understanding of who we are as humans. He believed that we have a destiny to fulfill. In his book The End of Tyranny, he wrote, “As humans move toward the possession of themselves and our brotherhood, there is only one thing that stays our hand and holds us back — the uncanny inward voice that tells us that is really not possible — that the control of one’s destiny is naive, unrealistic and foolishly utopian. It is the taunting pessimistic voice that says — you will fail — you will fail.” He goes on to say that we CAN transform the world by transforming ourselves into “free humans” (though  inner experiential somatic education — body, mind, spirit.)

In the conclusion of The End of Tyranny, Thomas Hanna anticipates the potential emergence of a World Spirituality rooted in love. He writes:

“Our religious traditions are correct, mankind does stand in need of forgiveness, and we need to forgive one another. The prophetic injunction to love one another always seemed to be a promised destiny and a forceful necessity. We must LOVE or DIE! Learning to love other human beings and achieving the happiness of creating positive community bonds with others is a crucial need of us all. Only human LOVE and the realization that we are all ‘one’ can save us from ourselves (our ego driven madness) and heal our social fragmentation. We can create conditions that can create superior human beings.”

So, in my opinion, Thomas Hanna would be delighted and thrilled that his work has become a part of World Spirituality because his mission is our mission, as well — nothing less than the positive evolution of consciousness of the human race. In his book Bodies in Revolt, written in the seventies, Hanna talks about the Evolution Revolution. It the energy of this evolution revolution which drew me to support and participate in the Center for World Spirituality.

Prof. Richard C. Schwartz, Ph.D. in Dialogue with Dr. Marc Gafni

Richard Shwartz

By Marc Gafni

In a long discussion with my friend and colleague Richard Schwartz, founder of Internal Family Systems Theory, I shared with him my perspective on the relation of Ego and Unique Self and the larger set of core distinctions that comprise Unique Self teaching. Dick excitedly concurred and added important empirical validation from his clinical perspective and sent me this written communication after our conversation:

Many spiritual traditions make the mistake of viewing ‘the ego’ as the problem. At worst it vilified as greedy, anxious, clinging, needy, focused on wounds from the past or fear in the future, full of limiting or false beliefs about you, the source of all suffering, and something one must evolve beyond in order to taste enlightenment. At best it is seen as a confused and childish — to be treated with patience and acceptance but not to be taken seriously or listened to. My 30 years of experience exploring internal worlds has led to very different conclusions regarding the ego. What is called the ego or false self in these spiritualities is a collection of sub-personalities I call ‘parts.’ When you first become aware of them, these parts manifest all the negative qualities described above, so I understand why this mistake is so widespread.

As you get to know them from a place of curiosity and compassion, however, you learn that they are not what they seem. Instead, they are spiritual beings themselves who, because of being hurt by events in your life, are forced into roles that are far from their natures, and carry extreme beliefs and emotions that drive their limiting or suffering perspectives. Once they are able to release those beliefs and emotions (what I call burdens) they immediately transform into their natural, enlightened states and can join your evolution toward increasing embodiment of your true nature, what Marc Gafni importantly refers to as correctly, your Unique Self.

Thus, if instead of trying to ignore or transcend an annoying ego, you relate to even the apparent worst of your parts with love and open curiosity you will find that, just like you, they long for the liberating realization of their connection with the divine and provide delightful and sage company on your journey toward enlightenment. In this way you will be relating to these inner entities in the same way that Jesus and Buddha taught us to relate to suffering, exiled people.

Richard Schwartz is a leading expert in the field of psychotherapy and recognized as the founding developer of Internal Family Systems Theory, an influential therapeutical model which combines systems thinking with an integrative view of the mind and its discrete qualities.

Daily Wisdom No. 9: Happiness is responsiveness to your deepest self

Happy Chef

By Marc Gafni

From Daimon Comes Eudaimonia

The novelist Honoré de Balzac wrote, “Vocations that we wanted to pursue, but didn’t, bleed, like colors, on the whole of our existence.” If we do not pursue our particular call, then the ghost of that call will pursue us, like a haunting that stains our days.

For when you respond to cues that are not yours, when you’re a police officer instead of a painter, ultimately you can’t be happy. Happiness comes from being yourself in the most profound way possible. The ancient Greeks referred to happiness as eudaimonia. “Daimon” is the word for calling. You are happy only when you are responding to your daimon. Your daimon calls you to realize your Unique Self. Your happiness lies in your hands, if you would but take it.

To be happy, then, is to be responsive to the call of your deepest self. To be happy is to wake up in the morning and feel that you have a mission in the world that no one else can perform. To be happy is to know that among the billions of people on this planet, you are irreplaceable. This is true for every human being on the face of the globe, for what we share in common is our uniqueness.

The Western notion of the sacredness of every human life bursts from the bedrock of the biblical-myth ideas that bring forth the idea of the Unique Self. The prospect of happiness exists for us only because the call of Unique Self animates the Universe.

Daily Wisdom: Joy (Chiyut)

Chi Gong

By Marc Gafni

From Your  Unique Self:

Joy is your life energy. Joy is a by-product of Unique Self living.

Joy, as we have seen, is realized as the natural by-product of the passionate pursuit of something other than happiness.

What is that other thing that you pursue passionately that is not joy, that is a by-product of its pursuit? Of course, you must pursue virtue, goodness, integrity, depth, values—all necessary, but insufficient to give you joy. It’s not just virtue, goodness, integrity, and depth that you need to pursue; you must pursue your virtue, goodness, integrity, and depth, that is to say, your story.

Joy is a by-product of Unique Self living.

The Chinese taught us that joy is chi, joy is energy. In Hebrew mysticism, joy is called chiyut, which means “vital energy,” or “life force.” So both the Chinese tradition and the Hebrew mystical tradition use virtually the same root word to allude to joy.

Photo Credit: Chi Gong by I’m Daleth

Free feeling: Using emotions for liberation


By Sally Kempton

Practice can change your relationship to emotions, so that instead of being swamped by certain feeling states, you can hold them, contain them, see into their essence, and ultimately, use emotions in the service of your liberation.

Many years ago, I walked into the kitchen of my guru’s ashram, and found him shouting at the cooks. Force- waves of anger were bouncing around the room, almost visible to the naked eye. Then, in mid sentence, he turned, saw us standing there, and smiled. The energy in his eyes went soft. ‘How did you like the show?” he asked. Then, chuckling, he slapped the head cook playfully on the back, and walked away. The cooks giggled, and went back to work, galvanized by the energy he had injected into the afternoon.

That moment changed my understanding about emotions. The clarity and fluidity with which he had shifted from intense anger to good humor was only part of it. More interesting, I felt, was the fact that he had been using anger as a teaching tool. Was he really angry? I don’t know. All I know is that he seemed able to ride the wave of his anger with perfect easiness, and let it pass without a trace.

One of the ideals of yogic freedom is detachment from emotions. It’s a basic axiom, in fact, that an advanced practitioner has perfected the ability to control, transcend, or at least be a disengaged witness of his emotions. Yet because we have so few models of what genuine detachment looks like, we tend to confuse yogic detachment with being buttoned up, or unemotional, or indifferent.

My teacher was modeling something quite different. As I saw it at the time, he was demonstrating a kind of freedom in emotions. This allowed him to work with emotional expression as an artist or an actor might work with a palette of feelings in order to inspire others, or induce a shift in the situation around him. The secret was that he was able to be conscious within the emotion.

Most people assume that a good spiritual practitioner never gets carried away by emotion—at least not by negative emotion. It can leave you disconcerted when, even after five, 10, or 20 years of practice, you become swamped by fear when you’re in an unfamiliar situation, or feeling waves of jealousy arise as you listen to your lover speaking to another woman in the same intimate way he speaks to you.

Yet the deeper truth is that spiritual practice will not eliminate negative emotions. Emotions are part of the palette of life, part of the way consciousness moves. Not only can’t you get rid of them, but you’d feel empty and impoverished if you did. Practice can change your relationship to emotions, so that instead of being swamped by certain feeling states, you can hold them, contain them, see into their essence, and ultimately, use emotions in the service of your liberation.

In the tantric tradition, it’s understood that every emotion has an enlightened as well as an egoic side. Egoic sadness is an expression of the ego’s sense of emptiness and loss, a depressed reaction to the blows dealt by life. But we can also experience essential sadness, which is one of the flavors of compassion, and which comes up in recognition of the innate poignancy of life. As sadness softens the heart, fear gives sharpness and clarity; at the survival level, it heightens our perception in times of danger, while at a subtler level, fear morphs into a mind expanding awe when we contemplate God’s immensity of the sky, or the complex mystery of nature.

Anger can be the ego’s response to frustrated desire, but it also shows up when we care so deeply about a person or a task that we are willing to focus sharply on correcting something that doesn’t work. It can also be a way of creating energy in a situation. Tukaram Maharaj, the 16th century poet-saint, used to write angry poems to God, accusing God of deliberately concealing himself. His great skill was to use his anger to generate energy in his practice, to break through barriers in his inner world.

As spiritual practitioners, our real goal is not just to control emotions, but to touch and live in the enlightened expressions of these feeling states. In other words, we want to become masters of emotions not so we can become free of them, but so that we can become free in them. Why else do human beings long so much for emotional authenticity? Its not that we want to be authentic to our temper tantrums or fits of hurt feelings. Its because we intuit the potential for richness and beauty that exists in our feelings once we’ve freed ourselves from the conditioning that keeps emotion tied to childhood pain.

Flavors of Feeling

A radical key to the enlightened expression of emotion can be found in the theory of rasas, emotional flavors, first propounded in the Treatise on Aesthetics by the 10th century Kashmiri sage Abhinavagupta. Abhinava was a philosopher and an enlightened yogi, whose unique way of being was to approach life as an art form. He saw human beings as unique microcosms of the divine, each playing in her own universe, using feelings and emotions as their palette for creating each moment as a work of art. As artists of feeling, we need to learn how to work with emotions, each of which has its own essential rasa, or flavor, and each of which is an indispensable part of the tapestry of human expression.

The Sanskrit word rasa is sometimes translated as flavor, but it also means ‘juice’—the luscious essence of something. The sweet taste of a ripe plum is its rasa, its essence. It’s the rasa in food that makes it tasty, that makes us want to eat it. In a deeper sense, rasa is the juiciness in life, the subtle lusciousness that gives the world its savor. Without rasa, life feels literally dry and flavorless.

The notion of rasa comes from Ayurveda, the traditional Indian medical science. Ayurvedic medicine recognizes six basic rasas, or tastes—sweet, salty, sour, bitter, pungeant, and astringent, each of which has an important effect on the body. According to ayurveda, a healthy diet is supposed to include all 6 tastes.

Nine Emotional Moods

Abhinava took this insight about rasa and applied it to the emotional resonances in music, dance, and drama—and by extension, to life. He identified nine emotional rasas, or moods. As you read through the list below, you’ll probably recognize that every emotional reaction you have goes with one of these rasas—not just in art, but in your inner life. These nine rasas are:

Erotic—the flavor of love and romance
Comic—the flavor of laughter
Pathetic or compassionate—the flavor of sorrow
Furious—the flavor of anger
Heroic—the flavor of noble and courageous ardor
Terrible—the flavor of being scary or scared
Odious—the flavor of being disgusting, or repulsive.
Marvelous—the flavor of wonder or amazement
Peaceful—the flavor of serenity or stillness

When you’re thinking about seeing a movie, you’ll often make your choice on the basis of its rasa. You go to see a movie like Friends with Benefits movie because you’re in the mood for the erotic (romantic) with a flavor of the comic. You’d choose a film like Lethal Weapon for a taste of the heroic and furious, perhaps Resevoir Dogs to revel in the odious. Not everyone likes every rasa, of course. But it’s interesting to note that truly universal works of art have many rasas. Shakespeare’s tragedies, for example, always had a bit of the comic, a bit of the terrible, a bit of the heroic, a bit of the odious, a bit of the pathetic—and in many cases, a flavor of the erotic.

Your Flavor Range

If you look at your emotional life, you’ll notice immediately that your emotional energy tends to flow between four or five of these different rasas, and to occasionally touch others. I generally find myself hanging out in the peaceful, the pathetic, and the erotic rasas, with periodic shifts into the comic. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t regularly slip into the fearful, the furious and sometimes even the heroic—and I’ve noticed that when things get too peaceful I’ll generally look for excitement by getting myself scared or angry. I have my own methods for arousing fury or fear in myself, and if you think about it, so do you. Some people do it by reading reports on what’s happening to the oceans, or watching at tv news. Others go to horror movies or ride rollercoasters or tell gross jokes. Of course, we often engage these rasas unconsciously, and any rasa can become problematic if we over-emphasize it. But the essential impulse behind engaging any one of the rasas is to create more aliveness. Put simply, our consciousness needs a wide palette of emotional experience, and constantly moves to create it—internally as well as on the outside.

I always remember one moment that occurred during my father’s last illness. he two of us slipped and fell down as I was helping him get to the bathroom. As I was hauling him to his feet, his pajamas fell down. I burst out laughing. It was involuntary: the laughter just bubbled up out of me, and of course I was appalled at myself. “I’m so sorry,” I said. “I wasn’t laughing at you.”

“Oh, I understand,” my father said. “It’s gallows humor.” And he laughed too.

In fact, the laughter was a release, a way of balancing the rasas in a situation that was both terrible and pathetic. Had I suppressed the laughter, the painful energy would not have been able to move, and we would have stayed stuck in the pathos of it. There’s an innate wisdom in the way emotional energy moves when it’s allowed to follow its natural course. Comedy lurks inside even the most terrible situation, just as pathos is the other face of comedy. If we are willing to accept the way emotions move, we can appreciate the miraculous fluidity with which our inner world keeps rebalancing itself. Then, when a poignant romantic moment morphs into an argument, instead of mourning the loss of the erotic rasa and wondering what went wrong, you can enjoy the sudden emergence of the furious. All these emotional flavors are part of the tapestry of human life. You can’t keep any of them out.

The theory of rasas, in short, provides a framework for enjoying the rise and fall of emotional states with something like the appreciation we’d experience at a movie. Our emotions only become problematic when we identify with them, get stuck in them, when we privilege certain emotions and try to deny others. But if you have the right combination of open-heartedness, receptivity, and detachment—attitudes that Abhinava Gupta considers proper to an engaged spectator—then even the most painful feeling state becomes full of interest, even entertaining. You can recognize the rasas—including the difficult or problematic ones—as part of the tapestry of your human expression. This doesn’t mean that you give into violence or exploitative behavior. But it does let you honor our own emotional expressions, even the apparently unacceptable ones. When you can be in a particular rasa without judging it, or trying to hang onto it, or projecting it onto someone else, that’s when you begin to be truly free in your emotions. Free, of course, in the yogic way which always includes a natural discipline and sense of proportion, a built in recognition that we aren’t just our emotions.

Observing the Play

When you begin working with emotional rasas, it’s often enough just to observe them. You might try it first during meditation or shavasana, or when you’re riding in a car, or taking a walk. Begin with recognizable emotions, like love or anger. When you notice a particular feeling state arising, try to identify it—anger, guilt, pride mixed with embarrassment—then stand back from it for a moment, like a spectator at your own emotional drama.

As you watch the play of your own emotions, you begin to know them more intimately. You learn the feel of different nuances of joy, the difference in texture between irritability and full-blown anger, the sharp burn of fear gripping your stomach or knotting your shoulders, and the soft lassitude of erotic opening. You can even feel the approach of a particular emotion as it begins to appear in your field. And this is the first stage of mastery. Once you can discern the initial bud of a strong feeling, you have a better chance of being able to choose what to do with it—say, whether to deflect a burst of fury, channel it into some sort of physical activity, or express it.

At this point, your practice of balancing emotion begins to become less of a discipline and more of an artistic practice. The art of Indian cooking is all about the balance of flavors. If a dish is too spicy, you add some sweet. If it’s bland, you add a bit of the pungent. In the same way, you can learn to inject unexpected flavors into your own emotional mix. Every rasa has its place. We may not believe we like the feeling of disgust, yet one of the most popular perfume fragrances, jasmine, carries within it the slight odor of animal decay—and that touch of the odious is part of what gives a jasmine-flavored perfume like the classic Joy its allure. So it is with certain emotions.

In my practice of working with emotional rasa, I was surprised to discover that as I learned how to recognize the textures of my own emotional world, I became comfortable with feelings that I had never allowed myself to admit to consciousness, much less express. At moments, I’d even find myself trying on different emotional shadings. I discovered that I liked the feeling of the heroic, and that there was a certain secret satisfaction in acting scary. For instance, a certain quality of cold rage that I had often deployed unconsciously suddenly became identifiable. I began to see that this aspect of the terrible rasa could be useful when I could use it skillfully and with discrimination—for instance, to scare away the cat who was trapping birds in my garden, but not as a way of distancing myself from friends and partners.

That was when I began to intuit what it was that my teacher had actually shown me in that long ago encounter. A Kabbalistic text says that to be a true master means to have mastery over your heart. Not in the sense of being able to control emotions but to have free access to all your emotions. A master is one who can recognize the unique texture of each feeling, and has learned to deploy each emotion authentically at the exact moment it is needed. If you can do that, the teaching says, you can actually use emotional expression to realign yourself and others with God.

When my teacher yelled at the kitchen workers, he was actually realigning them. His anger was famous, and when I was its target, I often experienced it like a sharp burst of awakening energy that kindled in me a feeling of excitement flavored with intense bliss. His anger was like a depth charge that broke up stuck energy, galvanized you, focused your mind on what was truly important. In similar, if less dramatic ways, when you’ve mastered emotion, your emotional expression will naturally align you to the need of the occasion. You can cry when its time for grief, and laugh when its time to celebrate, and both your tears and your laughter will connect you to the answering current in other hearts. You can say “I love you” and genuinely mean it, and when fear rises up, you can inhabit that fear so that it wakes you up rather than shutting you down. Your emotions, in short, become not just authentic, but inspired and inspiring. They become like instruments in a perfectly attuned orchestral piece, or a choral for blended voices. Then, you are both actor and spectator in the play of feeling that is creating your world. You play within the flavors and tastes that rise and fall, with the exquisite enjoyment of a true connoisseur.

Try this as a meditation: Sit for a few moments, allow feelings and emotions to arise as they will, seeing them all as flavors or colors of the Self, threads in the weave of your consciousness, details in the tapestry of the great consciousness that has become all this. And notice that when you become the spectator at the emotional dance, the dance becomes interesting, even beautiful.

Try this: Spend a day being actively conscious of how the rasas show up in your life. Identify the rasas you move through. See the rasas being played out in conversations, in events you see on TV, in situations you pass on the street.

<small>Photo Credit: greekadman</small>

Psychology and karma: Connecting the dots

KarmaBy Mariana Caplan

Reprinted from the Huffington Post.

If somebody had to live my life, why did it have to be me?!

As a young woman on the spiritual path, I was always both intrigued and bothered by the concept of karma. It just didn’t seem accurate that everyone I knew who remembered a past life was a princess in Egypt or a king in medieval Europe. Or perhaps they had done something really terrible in a past life and they were being punished by God by not being able to get pregnant or running into continuous relationship landmines. The deeper principle of karma called to me, while many of the explanations seemed superficial and overly linear. So I did what any diligent young spiritual journalist would do, approaching each spiritual teacher or great yogi I met on my travels, and asking “What is karma?” and over the years try to sift through it all.

My conclusion, to date, is twofold: 1) The deeper principles of karma are so subtle and intricate that a lifetime of skillful inquiry and practice are necessary to begin to near a real understanding of it; 2) Viewing karma through the lens of deep psychology provides a means to approach the question of karma in a user-friendly and practical way.

Our personal psychology is how our karmic patterns show up in this lifetime. A general Buddhist or Hindu perspective on karma suggests that the individual soul moves through consciousness lifetime after lifetime, incarnating again and again in the school of life in order to complete various tasks and lessons, and to release contractions of consciousness.

The conditions and circumstances of each incarnation are based on forces far greater than most of us can conceive of. These forces determine the quality of consciousness we are given, the culture and families we are born into, the bodies we have and the significant experiences and relationships we encounter. “The accumulated imprints of past lives, rooted in afflictions, will be experienced in present and future lives,” writes Patañjali in The Yoga Sūtras, the text that outlines contemporary Classical Yoga. If we want to unravel the karma we have accumulated in past lives, we need look no further than our present life circumstances.

Whatever we are experiencing in the present moment is both the fruition of our previous karma and the planting of seeds for future karma. The circumstances we encounter are our karma, are the expression of our consciousness, are the seeds of our future. We are in a great hologram of karma, and our lives reflect the intersection of our family or genealogical karma, the collective karma of our culture and, in many cases, a particular set of karmas that is expressed through the teachers and communities we encounter on the spiritual journey.

There are confrontational moments of bare honesty in life during which we perceive clearly that we are reaping the seeds we have sown at an earlier time, whether through accident, illness or misfortune. An illustration is the case of the father of a friend of mine who ran drugs for many years. When he tried to get out of the business, he was brutally tortured by a group of hit men who had come to his house looking for his hidden stash of cash. He could change his karma, but he could not evade having to experience the karmic seeds he had sown.

More commonly, many of us have found ourselves in a situation in which a seeming white lie, innocent exaggeration or an act of ignorance or indulgence comes back to haunt us. At other times, there is a nonlinear ripening of certain past karmas arising from a time or circumstance that is beyond our conscious capacity to perceive. To even consider that the psychological and practical circumstances we face are powerfully influenced by karmic forces requires a willingness to significantly broaden our viewpoint; it also offers the possibility of accepting a degree of self-responsibility that can be simultaneously daunting and liberating.

It is possible to trace our current psychological challenges not only to our parents but to our grandparents, great-grandparents, great-great-grandparents and even earlier. We discover that so many of the deep challenges we face on many levels, and that sometimes feel so devastatingly personal — not only emotional challenges but relational, physical and circumstantial ones — are literally passed down through generation after generation and result from a degree of conditioning that is totally impersonal and unconscious.

We may be shocked to realize that the essence of many of the powerful experiences we have are influenced in an immediate way by our great-great-grandparents and even further back in history. These include depression, relationship patterns, illnesses, divorces and even the age at which we die, as well as many “choices” we experience ourselves making, such as how many children we have, having an abortion or who we choose to be in relationship with. Only now, they are being lived out in a different circumstance and moment of history. For many people, it is easier to understand and believe the reality of karma when perceived in this tangible and practical way than through the vague notion of a soul moving from lifetime to lifetime.

It is not easy to open ourselves to a wider perspective of reality in which challenging questions of justice, victimization and fairness are seen through such a wide lens. Yet, as with everything, even this perspective can be misused. Here is one example: A woman I know was kidnapped, badly raped and almost murdered. Her New Age boyfriend persuaded her to drop the charges, convincing her that she had attracted the situation to herself. Later, she suffered for this premature psychological “bypass” of the trauma she had endured. We cannot presume to understand the full complexity of karma, as it is vast and difficult for anyone to grasp.

The implications of this perspective are manifold: On the one hand, we are not at “fault” for many of the thoughts, feelings and challenging circumstances that arise in our lives; on the other hand, we are totally responsible to our lives in the present and for the implications of our actions. We release shame and self-blame, while strengthening our personal accountability and responsibility.

A number of therapies concern themselves with past-life traumas, and spiritual students are endlessly fascinated by who they might have been or what they might have done in their past lifetimes, but from a practical perspective we need look no further than our present circumstances in order to address our karma: It is all right in front of us. Whether we were a farmer in Mesopotamia, a slave trader in the American South or a bus driver in the 1940s is irrelevant for most of us. What is important is whether we are able to meet our present circumstance with a clear and discerning perspective and refrain from taking actions that further the endless repetition of unfavorable and limiting aspects of our karmic conditioning. From this perspective, psychology becomes a tool we can use to unlock, work with and evolve our karma.

Adapted and updated from Eyes Wide Open: Cultivating Discernment on the Spiritual Path (Sounds True, 2010) Reprinted from the Huffington Post.

Photo Credit: vramak