Using Ancient Wisdom to Find Your Balance
How to find true happiness and greater power using an ancient perspective on body, mind and spirit
In one way or another, we are all looking for happiness and pleasure. Whether you are chasing after something, someone, or an achievement- perhaps a certain amount of money or a certain status of relationship. Maybe a better car or house. A business, job title, thing, or experience. When you look into what is really driving you, it comes down to achieving a state you desire.
While it is great to explore, learn, interact and have meaningful achievements, it's also important to know that none of those things will be the complete answer to your happiness. It all comes down to the experiencer, the ÝOU in the deepest possible sense: your soul and the extent to which you can connect with it. When you know who you are, when you know your soul, you can have peace and bliss regardless of whether you win or lose. You will even enjoy what you do have much, much more.
That's why, when you're in a great space, anything can be a route to an experience of bliss. The sight of a stunning vista, the sound of beautiful music, the feeling of a pleasant breeze or the taste of good chocolate.
But we also know what it's like to be surrounded by the best of everything, but still be having a terrible time.
That whatever "is" at that moment, is not enough to fill the hole of loneliness, dissatisfaction and meaninglessness. When we forget or have yet to discover ourselves at a deeper level, we tend to think that happiness is going to come from the outside. But it's never about the thing, it's about the consciousness of the person experiencing the thing.
Work on who you are, and your perception needs little evidence to construe the things in your life for the positive or optimistic. And it's better to feel good for nearly every possible reason, unless say, you are doing accounting!
Left unattended however, our consciousness looks outwards more than is ideal. Happiness appears to our perception as being about getting someone, or something or some condition that fixes it all, makes us feel loved, important and never ever lonely again. Living in our modern world, it is easy to get seduced to look outside. We swim in a sea of messages which tell us: "Buy this, otherwise nobody will want you!" "Get that large house and then you'll be happy!" "Get a sexy car then you will feel good about yourself!" The message is that you always need a certain thing that someone is selling you in order to be complete. That you'll be happy when you have a certain thing or degree or person or status.
The 'things' we fantasize about can never really deliver the long-term happiness we hope for, because the answer isn't there, precisely. But if we knew more about who we are, this dissatisfaction would not happen. If we could regularly experience our true Self, the YOU in the deepest possible sense, there is little that can happen that will throw us off for very long.
This knowledge and experience of our intrinsic, eternal "Self" is the true aim of yoga and can be experienced when you have a good teacher and right knowledge. The many tools of yoga can truly bring us to richer satisfaction in life, but they are not often taught in most yoga classes that you would know of.
The Ancient Perspective
While knowledge alone will not change your consciousness, it can help to serve as a map and tell you which tools to use. One particularly useful map comes from a yoga text from the 6th century BC called the Taittiriya Upanishad. In it, the concept is that we have five aspects to our full self: body, energy, mind, wisdom and spirit. These aspects are called "koshas" which can be translated from Sanskrit as either a 'pocket' or a 'sheath'. The implication is that we are like Russian dolls- the innermost aspect is the True Self covered over, or in the pocket of the next, denser layer. The goal, by understanding and working with each layer is to get to a realisation that who you are is the True Self, your soul, so to speak, and not just your body or mind.
These five aspects and the practice tools you would use for them, in their 'Russian Doll' order are:
1. Spirit: The true YOU, which is spirit. What makes up spirit are the feeling-principles of truth, bliss and love. By knowing and being identified as this, you can experience these qualities as part of your personality and perception of how your life is. There is not much you need to do with this layer other than to be in it. This becomes natural when you have attended to the following four layers.
2. Emotions and Wisdom: An aspect of our Higher Self as intuition, the wiser choice and our gut feelings. The yoga tool here is expression and the allowing in of love, devotion and gratitude.
Practice: contemplate at least five things of which you are grateful for and do it at least twice a day. And research has your back. Science shows that gratitude literally changes the human heart and molecular structure of the brain.
3. Mind: Your conscious, rational mind and subconscious. The cognition and ego. Your monkey mind. The key is to learn how to use the mind and direct it as is best for the outcomes you want in life. For this, the tools are mantra and meditation.
Practice: If you have not yet learned to meditate, make a point to find a retreat or course somewhere near you. It is an essential life skill. It is worth learning properly and even taking a retreat to immerse yourself in the practice.
4. Energy: It moves, has different qualities and states and extends around your physical body as your aura. To work with your energy, we use breath exercises such as yogic pranayamas as well as visualisation. Reiki and other energy modalities fit here.
Practice: Find a teacher of "Connected Breathwork" - a powerful breathing technique which has incredible healing potential. It is a rising health trend and well worth looking into.
5. Body: the what you can see and feel. What mostly people identify as themselves. We must provide it adequate sleep, clean and nutritious food and the yoga postures that you may already be familiar with.
Practice: in addition to maintaining a healthy lifestyle, invest in yourself with a great yoga class at least three times per week. If you don't like the first class or style or teacher, try another. There's a style and approach for everyone.
Once you have enough knowledge to practice on your own, for a total body-mind and heart maintenance program, we can simplify all of this as:
2. breathing practices
3. meditation or focusing the mind on a mantra
4. gratitude or love practices.
A commitment to a well-balanced practice that considers who you are in total and doing it several times per week will begin to change your life. Not only will you be happier with your life as it is, you will also become more effective in how you apply yourself in the world around you. In future articles I will go into more detail on the techniques and theory on how to work more with each level. Stay tuned!