Personal Growth - How to live a lifetime
by Ritu Khanna
Consider this simple story: Narada, the famed devotee of Lord Krishna, once requested his Lord to show him maya, illusion. A couple of days later, Krishna asked Narada to travel with him towards a desert. After walking for a while, Krishna told Narada to fetch him water since he was very thirsty. Narada immediately left in search of water. He reached a village where he met a beautiful young girl, whom he married and lived with for 12 happy years. Then came a flood in which Narada lost his wife, children and all worldly possessions. He began to weep and wail. He then heard a gentle voice behind him: "My child, where is the water you had gone to fetch? I have been waiting for half-an-hour."
Twelve eventful years had passed through Narada's mind, and yet they had all taken place within 30 minutes. This is maya, a cosmic illusion in which the One is manifested as many. And this brings us to what Swami Vivekananda observed: "The One becomes many. When we see the One, any limitations reflected through maya disappear; but it is quite true that the manifold is not valueless. It is through the many that we reach the One" Many different ways to lead you to the One: Letting Go, Think Positive, See It Happen, Live From The Heart, Love Your Work, Serve, Grow Spiritually, Pray, Meditate, Try Alternatives, Love Your Body,Eat Right, Make a list of things you are clinging on to:
Material goods: car, house, music system.
People: a relationship long gone awry.
Opinions: refusing to change a certain mindset.
Emotions: fear, hope.
Now just let go. Consciously, decisively, irrevocably.
Apply the letting-go process in all areas of life. This may be difficult at first, but make it a habit, a lifestyle as it were, and watch things fall into place. Getting rid of life's excess baggage leads to release and, it follows, freedom. This is something that has been advised by our sages of long ago; it is also finding its way in popular, catchy songs like Huiyo Ho (in the Indian film, Khamoshi the Musical), with singer Remo Fernandez's enthusiastic refrain of "let it, let it, let it, let it, go…jaane, jaane, jaane, jaane, do").
Susan Jeffers gives the example of an old woman in End the Struggle and Dance with Life, who, when asked why she was always cheerful, replied: "Well, I wear this world just as a loose garment." To wear the world as a loose garment means not to blame anyone; implicitly trusting that life will happen perfectly and harmoniously.
There is this story of a monk who was asked by an angry warrior whether he knew that the soldier was someone who could cut off the monk's head and not bat an eye. To this, the monk calmly replied: "Don't you know who I am? I am someone who can have you cut off my head…and not bat an eye."
Get rid of the chains that bind you, dispel your attachment to these fetters, surrender your right to people, property and possessions, and you will find yourself in the state of detachment that is a prerequisite for those aiming at spiritual perfection. Theologian Mary Reuters compares the three layers of attachment with an onion: each layer has to be peeled sequentially.
We need to become detached from material gains first, then from self-importance, and third from the urge to dominate others. We also need to let go of expectations and of our preoccupation with the past and the future. Chögyam Trungpa, in his book Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior, observes that balance comes, not from holding on to a situation, but from making friends with heaven and earth. The Buddhist teacher has his own DIY approach to letting go: Trust in yourself. Train yourself in the discipline of renunciation. Tell the truth. Be without deception. Only then, will your letting go be complete. Or, as Jeffers puts it: "do the work/let go of the fight/embrace the flow/bliss!"
Believe in yourself. Develop faith in yourself. Have confidence in your powers These three tips mean the same; their goal is also the same—they are reiterated here only to drive home the simple point that a confident person, someone who is secure within himself, will find happiness. In other words, positive thinking leads to success and well-being.
Norman Vincent Peale wrote this over 40 years ago in The Power of Positive Thinking: "…if you feel that you are defeated and have lost confidence in your ability to win, sit down, take a piece of paper and make a list, not of the factors that are against you, but of those that are for you…mentally visualize and affirm and reaffirm your assets and keep your thoughts on them, emphasizing them to the fullest extent, you will rise out of any difficulty regardless of what it may be."
So begin each day with happy, positive thoughts. Repeat them as often as you can. Slow down, live each day, each moment, be with what you are doing, even if it is making a cup of tea or some household chore. Live in the here and now, expecting the best, and no doubt you will get it. Dispel all negative thoughts, replace them with positive ones. This helps the healing process, it builds your self-esteem, it energizes you and gives you peace of mind.
"Think positively…and you set in motion positive forces which bring positive results to pass," explains Peale. "Positive thoughts create around yourself an atmosphere propitious to the development of positive outcomes. On the contrary, think negative thoughts and you create around yourself an atmosphere propitious to the development of negative results."
Robert Schuller (best known for Tough Times Never Last, But Tough People Do!) tells the story of a professor who made a circle on a piece of paper, colored it black, and then asked his psychology students what they saw. The answers were many: A black dot; A round circle and it's dark; A round circle colored solid black. Finally the professor asked: "Doesn't anybody see a piece of white paper?" Most of the people you work with and live with are negative people, looking at the faults, points out Schuller. In this search for negatives, "they miss everything that's positive and great".
In fact, Schuller warns us against "the most dangerous and destructive force on earth—the Negative Thinking Expert. Because he is an expert you will be tempted to listen uncritically, trust him, and quit!" 'Don't Quit' is something all positive thinkers affirm; it is the message carried in inspirational books.
Cognitive therapy also helps treat your negative thoughts. But the easiest and most effective way of getting rid of these thoughts and adopting a positive mental attitude is by repeating some positive affirmations, in context, throughout the day. To conclude with two affirmations: I believe God gives me the power to attain what I really want, I expect the best and with God's help will attain the best. Now repeat them as often as you can. And you will get what you want. Positively.
SEE IT HAPPEN
Go to a quiet place where you will not be disturbed. Close your eyes, relax totally, practice deep, rhythmic breathing. Enter a meditative state of mind or be in the alpha level. Now imagine what you want. See yourself getting it. Do not rush this mental imaging process, be with it, savor what comes your way. This is most effective when practiced on waking or before sleeping. Do not worry if you fall asleep or do not see anything at first. Let it just happen. End with an affirmation, a positive statement that reinforces what you have just experienced. Say to yourself, firmly, that you are now getting everything you have visualized. Creative visualization involves using your imagination in a positive manner. It can help improve relationships, heal, bring harmony into your life, and get what you want.
Explains Shakti Gawain in Creative Visualization: "Imagination is the ability to create an idea or mental picture in your mind. In creative visualization you use your imagination to create a clear image of something you wish to manifest. Then you continue to focus on the idea or picture regularly, giving it positive energy, until it becomes objective reality…in other words, until you actually achieve what you have been visualizing." You have to be totally centered, concentrating on concretizing what you hope to manifest.
One reiki master tells you to imagine that you are in a store selling television sets; there is one set here with a big screen, the rest with smaller ones. Think of something, person or event, you want to heal, place it on the large screen, diffuse it with white light, stay with the image as long as you consider necessary, then shift it to a smaller screen. According to the Silva Mind Control Method, if you spur your imagination with belief, desire, and expectancy, and train it to visualize your goals so that you see, feel, hear, taste, and touch them, you will get what you want.
There is also place for visualization techniques in Neuro-linguistic Programming (NLP), a system that helps translate our dreams and desires into reality. You can try future pacing which is an approach that requires mentally rehearsing new skills, knowledge or attitudes in an imaginary future where they will be needed. To further illustrate the importance of the imagination: It is believed that the theory of relativity was properly worked out only whenEinstein visualized himself riding a beam of starlight through space.
The body-mind connection is reinforced by the principles of creative visualization. It relaxes you, helps fight stress and disease, leading to health, happiness and harmony. George Leonard and Michael Murphy of the Esalen Institute in the USA suggest using mental imagery to bring about changes in the body, mind, heart and soul (they call it transformational imaging). It is the intuitive right half of the brain that visualizes things, that believes in imagery, that is the mind's eye. It is therefore essential to see with your mind; imagine what you want, and chances are that you will get it.
Or, as Napoleon Hill observed in Think and Grow Rich: "It has been said that man can create anything which he can imagine." This is somewhat similar to the WYSIWYG principle in computers—creative visualization, when practiced with concentration, determination and patience, leads you to a state of What You See Is What You Get. Literally.
LIVE FROM THE HEART
Try this simple experiment: Just for today, let your heart rule. Allow your brain/intellect to take a break, let all decisions be taken by your heart. Remember Swami Vivekananda's advice: "In a conflict between the heart and the brain, follow your heart." At the end of the day, you will realize that there is no other way to live. For your heart is the center of creative activity. Invariably when the heart leads, the body follows. Also, a determined heart gets what it wants. But, then, are not the head and heart connected, for both are essential to lead a spiritual life.
Take this Hasidic story: Rabbi Mendel of Kotzk saw to it that his Hasidism wore nothing around the neck while praying. "For," he said, "when we speak to God, there must be no break between the head and the heart." Giving unconditional love to others, and being generous and compassionate, opens you to divine love: "When all the knots of the heart are loosened, then even here in this human birth, the mortal becomes immortal. This is the whole teaching of the scriptures"—Katha Upanishad.
Here is a physical exercise to help open your heart: Stand straight, feet apart, breathe deeply. Raise your arms above the head. Now bend backwards, letting the head drop back. You can stand near a wall for support. Start by holding this pose for a few seconds, increase gradually. And here's a spiritual exercise: Concentrate on your heart chakra (placed above the solar plexus). Send living energy from this chakra towards others. There is no time limit, for the longer you do it, the better you will feel. Love others, love yourself, love wisely, love well. The Prophet was once asked who was the most virtuous—the person who prays all the time, the one who fasts, or who learnt the scriptures. "None of them," came the answer, "is so great as the soul who shows through life charity of heart." Give with all your heart, and soon enough you will find that you have no heart.
What? Is there a typographical error in the earlier sentence? Not if you read Lao Tzu's Tao Te Ching: "The Man of Calling has no heart of his own/He makes the people's heart his own heart." Share your heart, and watch it expand. As Mother Teresa has shown, it is the heart that gives, the heart that loves, that is the one worth having. And it is that heart that brings you to God.
The question, "Did you know you have two hearts?", appeared large and clear on a cover of Life Positive in 1996, with the additional explanation: "and both, the emotional and physical, are necessary for your well-being." The cover story brought in a warm response, but our favorite remains the gentle, almost perturbed, comment of a reader: "Only two hearts? I thought we had so many more." Forget the numbers, just live life straight from the heart. It is the shortest route to happiness and fulfillment.
LOVE YOUR WORK
Begin with a dream—a vision of your perfect work. If you love books, you can think of a career in a bookstore or a library; if it is animals that you like being with, you can try the veterinary sciences; if it's flowers that you enjoy, you could start a flower arrangement service for hotels and offices. Here are a few pointers to help you find the way to the life you want to lead: Identify your goals. Be absolutely clear on your mission. Truly believe in what you want to do. Be motivated, prepare yourself to work hard and sincerely. Now go pursue your passion. And work will no longer seem like work, it will be more like a calling.
As Robert Louis Stevenson wrote: "If a man loves the labor of his trade apart from any question of success or fame, the Gods have called him." You can apply this principle of doing what you love to all activities, be it cooking, gardening, or washing your car. Make all you do a hobby, and watch the hours fly by.
Soichiro Honda, the son of a village goldsmith, was very excited when he first saw a car. He went to the puddle of oil the car left behind and applied it on his hands and arms, declaring that he would, one day, build a car. Actually he did much more. He built an industry—the $40 billion Honda Motors. Honda's love of cars translated into his vision, he then pursued his passion with single-minded devotion and commitment. Stories like these are the stuff dreams are made of.
Corporate titans often reached the top because they loved what they were doing. But they are no longer the exceptions. Today it is economically feasible to do what you love, to make your work a source of joy—and income. Work is not considered a 9-to-5 routine, the office a place that takes you away from home, your family and friends. It is now up to you to make sure that your workplace is where your heart is. Approach your work with a sense of mission, view your office as a sacred space, your colleagues as those sharing a common goal with you. Obliterate the line of demarcation between work and play. Work hard, have fun. Give up attachment to the results, as advised in the Bhagavad Gita. Invariably you will find that monetary rewards follow, but the pay cheque is more of a spin-off.
For you are also earning self-esteem, confidence, happiness, peace of mind, and more. Once you have changed your attitude towards what you are doing, you will find that you enjoy everything you do. A Zen poem typifies this: Before enlightenment chopping wood carrying water/ After enlightenment chopping wood carrying water.
Writes Dr Wayne W. Dyer in You'll See It When You Believe It: "In order to experience abundance in your life you must transform yourself in such a way as to be doing what you love, and loving what you do. Now! Yes, today." For tomorrow may be one day too late.
Realize that you are not living alone. You are a part of the whole, your acts will have repercussions on those around you. You will also be called upon to take responsibility for what you do. The qualities you need to have in abundance:
Trust: believe in others.
Share: give of yourself. Live in the spirit of generosity; give and receive with grace. For, The Man of Calling does not heap up possessions/The more he does for others/the more he possesses/The more he gives to others/the more he has (Tao Te Ching).
Care: think about the welfare of others.
Tolerance: avoid fault-finding.
As Sufi poet Rumi noted: "Trouble not about others, for there is much for you to think of in yourself" So what is in it for you? Well, doing for others enriches you; it sets your value system in order; you realize that it is in giving that you receive; when you do good, you feel good; and, most important of all, by serving man, you serve God.
There is a Yiddish story that best exemplifies this: It was noticed that every Friday morning, at the time of the Penitential Prayers, the rabbi of Nemirov would vanish. A skeptic decides to investigate. He hides under the rabbi's bed. The rabbi arises before daybreak, gets dressed in a peasant attire, picks up an axe from the kitchen, and goes to the forest. There he chops wood, makes a bundle, and returns to town. He knocks at the window of the house of a sick woman. He tells her he has wood to sell, very cheap, he even volunteers to lend six cents to the poor widow to pay for it. When she asks who will kindle the fire since she lacks the strength to do so, the disguised rabbi volunteers. As he goes about these chores, he recites the Penitential Prayers. After witnessing this, the skeptic became the rabbi's disciple. And ever after, when someone jokes that the rabbi probably ascends to heaven at the time of the Prayers, the skeptic does not laugh. He only adds, quietly: "If not higher."
And here is an incident I witnessed last week: It was 6.15 PM, a busy crossing at Delhi's overcrowded office complex, Nehru Place. A man suddenly jumps up from the pillion of a scooter. He runs to the center of the road, frantically waving at the moving vehicles, asking the drivers to stop. Some almost knock him down. Yet he perseveres, succeeding in clearing the road for the passing ambulance. The Unknown Citizen probably saved a life by his prompt and totally unselfish act. A story like this would not make headlines, you could even dismiss it by simply saying he was doing his duty, his dharma.
Sure, and so are those who plant trees, or do voluntary work at hospitals, or help a blind man cross the road. But they are the ones who make this world a nice place to live in. Going that extra distance for a stranger is an act that is prompted by the heart. It is done in service, by the service-minded, who would, in all likelihood, dispute the use of words like "serve". And they would affirm what Swami Vivekananda said: "Our duty to others means helping others; doing good to the world. Why should we do good to the world? Apparently to help the world, but really to help ourselves."
Let us turn to the Bhagavad Gita for the correct definition of a spiritually developed person: When a man puts from him all desires that prey upon the mind, Himself contented in the self alone, he is called a man of steady wisdom. The goal of a spiritual seeker is to reach a state of sat-chit-ananda (existence, knowledge, bliss), to find the God within, to be in communion with the Higher Self, to know the Divine Truth. We can take the example of the lotus leaf. It floats on water, regardless of its environs. But not a drop of water stays on its surface. Similarly, when we attain realization, we go above the law of karma to be one with God.
Spirituality is the very essence of our existence. Avoid dogmas and doctrines, superstitions and sects. You do not even have to visit temples or mosques. For God lives everywhere, He is in your soul. And having realized that, you have realized everything. But how does one reach this state of spiritual evolution? To begin with, you have to have a pure heart and soul. Be accepting and tolerant, with faith in the universe.
But, cautions Dr Haridas Chaudhuri, founder of the California Institute of Integral Studies, in The Essence of Spiritual Philosophy, "we may be brought up in a certain faith, but let us not end our life there. The fundamental spiritual task in our life is to transform that faith into living, flaming personal realization. The God becomes a tremendous reality in our life. This is what I call existential depth." Dr Chaudhuri has outlined three stages of what he refers to as spiritual dialectics: First follow the method of negation, neti neti (not this, not this).
In our search for the Ultimate, we keep going beyond and beyond and beyond. Now realize that nothing is outside of Brahman or the Being. We affirm everything: iti, iti (this too, this too). The third stage is synthesis. You will look at the world in a different light, as a manifestation of the supreme spirit. But reaching this stage by yourself is not easy. A teacher, an enlightened person, is required. Invariably you will find that when you are ready to learn, the teacher arrives.
You will recognize your guru almost instinctively, he will be the one to lead you through moments of darkness and doubt. The spiritual journey never really ends, however, as many a seeker has found. In fact, the moment you think you have attained enlightenment, you have probably lost it.
Alcoholics Anonymous cofounder Bill Wilson had planned to write a book on spirituality. Here is the reason why the book never managed to reach the publishers: At an AA meeting, Wilson approached a member who was what you could call a spiritual soul, to gather data for his book. "You seem to have a real spirituality…" Wilson began. "Oh, no," the man replied, quickly. "I mean, thanks, I am working on the spiritual angle; but if you want to know more about spirituality, you'd better talk to Donald over there, or maybe you could look up Phil…" "That's how I learned the most important thing about spirituality," notes Wilson. "Those who have it don't know they have it!"
There is no manual, no step-by-step techniques to teach us how to pray. For praying is simply a way of reaching out to God, for being in communion with Him, and yes, it is generally a selfish act, for we tend to ask God for something. A prayer usually takes the guise of a petition or plea turned heavenwards. When you pray, you surrender yourself to God, faith in God being the source of all prayers. But have you even wondered about the "size" of your prayers?
Norman Vincent Peale quotes a friend who advised him to "learn to pray big prayers". Taking it further, Peale recommends that you "drive your prayers deep into your doubts, fears, inferiority's. Pray deep, big prayers that have plenty of suction and you will come up with powerful and vital faith."
He also suggests solving problems with the help of his formula for prayer power:
Prayerize—live in prayer.
Picturize—visualize what you want, and then totally surrender the mental image to God.
Actualize—realize your wish coming true. You can also take this piece of advice from the Bible: "…when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly" (Matthew 6:5-6).
We have externalized the act of praying: chanting, rituals, priests, candles, flowers and so on. But the simple fact remains that you can pray any time, anywhere, anyhow. You can pray on a full stomach, an empty stomach, before meals, after meals, even during them. You can pray before sleeping, after sleeping, and while sleeping (you could be conversing with God in your dreams). All that is required is a pure mind and an elemental faith. Something as easy as that, and yet not many do it on a regular basis, or with the right attitude.
Consider this story taken from The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna: Once three friends were going through a forest, when a tiger suddenly appeared before them. "Brothers," one of them exclaimed, "we are lost!" "Why should you say that?" said the second friend. "Why should we be lost? Come, let us pray to God." The third friend said: "No. Why should we trouble God about it? Come, let us climb this tree." The friend who said, "We are lost!" did not know that there is a God who is our Protector.
The friend who asked the others to pray to God was a jnani. He was aware that God is the Creator, Preserver and Destroyer of the world. The third friend, who didn't want to trouble God with prayers and suggested climbing the tree, had ecstatic love of God. It is not possible to develop ecstatic love of God unless you love Him deeply and regard Him as your own, concludes Sri Ramakrishna. Once you begin to love God, this love, this feeling of being one with God, becomes a part of you. And you will invariably find that even without even saying them, your prayers have already been answered.
Sit upright, your spine should be straight. Concentrate on your breathing. Relax totally, be sure your heart is clear, and mind is calm. Focus your attention on a particular image. Watch your thoughts. Practice in solitude for at least half-an-hour. These are just some of the instructions your meditation teacher may give you. There are many techniques of meditation, ranging from simple transcendental meditation (TM) as taught by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, where a mantra is repeated effortlessly, to Osho's dynamic, which calls for chaotic breathing, screaming and dancing, among other things.
Then there are Sufism's mystical exercises, yoga nidra with its emphasis on conscious relaxation, and the mindfulness of Buddhism where you are aware of your breathing, from moment to moment, not unlike vipassana, or insight meditation. In guided meditation, you follow taped, easy how-to instructions; preksha dhyan of Jainism is certainly more complicated. Different methods, the end result the same. All meditators state that they feel healthier, happier and more relaxed when they meditate on a regular basis. Their lives are stress-free, they can concentrate better. Meditation makes them more creative, it helps them cope better with their problems, it fights depression.
It gives them better values, makes them kinder, more accepting. It even helps in spiritual growth for it brings them to a state of consciousness which can lead to self-realization, or enlightenment, for meditation's final goal is samadhi, or oneness with God. But then if meditating is also a way of reaching God, how does it differ from praying? In praying we talk to God, in meditating, we listen.
v Writes J. Donald Walters in Superconsciousness: "Meditation is listening not only with the ear, but with the soul—not only to the sound, but to the silent language of inspiration." Walters, a disciple of Paramahansa Yogananda, refers to meditation as "simply the most meaningful activity in my life—indeed, the most meaningful activity I can imagine. I seriously wonder how people live without it". Glen Peter Kezwer, a disciple of Swami Shyam of the International Meditation Institute in Kulu, describes the technique of meditation: Let the thoughts come; Let the thoughts go. Watch the space behind the eyes; And watch the Watcher of the space According to Kezwer, meditation is an entirely scientific method, "devoid of any mysticism, irrationality or hocus-pocus".
You can meditate with mandalas or mantras; or let it just happen. But forget about the results, or, simply, do not try too hard. There is a Zen story about a nun, Chiyono, who studied Zen but was unable to attain the fruits of meditation for a long time. One moonlit night she was carrying water in an old pail bound with bamboo. The bamboo broke and the bottom fell out of the pail, and at that moment, Chiyono was set free. To commemorate the occasion, she wrote this poem:
In this way and that I tried to save the old pail Since the bamboo strip was weakening and about to break, Until at last the bottom fell out. No more water in the pail! No more moon in the water!
Got a headache? Put aside the painkiller you normally take, and try:
Acupuncture: specific needles are inserted at specific points
Ayurveda: balances the three doshas—vata, pitta and kapha Homeopathy: works on the 'like cures like' theory
You could even try healing by reiki, reflexology or rolfing.
Or what about mudras, mushroom tea, magnets or massage? Or colors, crystals and creative visualization? Then there are Bach Flower remedies, Tibetan and Unani medicines, nature cure, pranic healing and many more alternatives. You also have choices in the method of diagnosis—aura reading with the help of a Kirlian camera; dowsing with the aid of a pendulum; iridology, where the eyes are systematically observed. Or simply have your pulse read by a vaid (traditional Imdian doctor).
Today, there is a baffling range of cures available to you. For the sake of convenience, they are put under the heading of holistic treatment. You can also try more than one method—integrated medicine is now becoming a common practice. Based on the premise that the whole is greater than the sum, these treatments work on the body, mind and soul. There are many remedies as well as diseases, but only one health. There is also one fundamental force, one vital energy, chi or prana, that heals, though its manifestations are many. Realize that both health and disease have meaning, they exist for a reason.
Dr Edward Bach observed: "…disease, though apparently so cruel, is in itself beneficent and for our good and, if rightly interpreted…will guide us to our essential faults. If properly treated it will be the cause of the removal of those faults and leave us better and greater than before." No one on this earth is without an illness of some sort, that is the way it is meant to be, as is highlighted in this Sufi story: Ibn-Nasir was ill and, although apples were out of season, he craved one. Hallaj suddenly produced one. Someone said: "This apple has a maggot in it. How could a fruit of celestial origin be so infested?" Hallaj explained: "It is just because it is of celestial origin that this fruit has become affected. It was originally not so, but when it entered this abode of imperfection it naturally partook of the disease which is characteristic here."
Accepting the fact that disease, illness and suffering are an intrinsic part of this world is an important step in your recovery. As is faith. Belief in your healing system, a strong conviction that you will be better soon, a positive attitude, does lead to a quicker recovery. Each system has its own adherents, there are plenty of "converts" who have tried and tested the remedy—and lived to spread the story of its efficacy. For them, the cure often proves almost miraculous in nature. But then, have not Jesus Christ, Shirdi Sai Baba, Mother Teresa, to name just a few, tried faith healing.
Lakshman, a character of the epic Ramayana, was cured by the sanjeevini (an ayurvedic plant) that Hanuman, the monkey-god got for him; Ganesha, the elephant-god's head was successfully "transplanted" by his father, Shiva. And prayer therapy often works when even the doctors have given up all hope. There are also many other therapies that practitioners report are very effective. To give a few examples: writing, art, dancing, music, gem, pet, past-life… And then there is laughter. Easy-to-do, effective and free.
In inspirational writer Og Mandino's words: "If laughter could be dispensed at your favorite drugstore, your family doctor would have you taking some every day." So laugh, and watch its effect—physical, emotional, as well as spiritual—on your health.
LOVE YOUR BODY
Love your body... …and your mind …and your soul. Can we really separate the three? For a healthy mind in a healthy body makes for a whole person. "Most of us probably don't think of the body as our ally in the quest for good health. That's because most of us don't usually think about the body at all. We take it for granted. At least while we're healthy. But the truth is, the body constantly works to keep our system balanced and strong. That work is called healing"—Carl Lowe and James W. Nechas in Whole Body Healing.
We tend to neglect our body, little realizing that we are also neglecting our soul. It is therefore crucial that a number of us—that critical mass required to bring about a change in consciousness levels—appreciate the significance of this body-mind-spirit trinity. This brings us to the story of the hundredth monkey. A monkey discovered that sweet potatoes washed in sea water were better to eat. The others in the group soon began to ape her. This same behavior was simultaneously found among monkeys on other islands as well. The belief that an attitudinal change on a large scale can occur once a critical mass of believers has been reached is significant for it leads to our evolution. And that gets us back to the body-mind-spirit connection.
There are three practices crucial for those who desire a healthy and vital body—in a sense, all three are interlinked, and they in turn lead to purity of soul: Breathe properly. Do yoga. Maintain a correct posture In addition, eat well, exercise well, and sleep well. According to Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh, "our breath is the bridge from our body to our mind, the element which reconciles our body and mind and which makes possible oneness of body and mind…illuminating both and bringing most peace and calm."
In yoga the techniques for breath control are called pranayama. These teach you to inhale, exhale and retain your breath in a set pattern, leading to the raising of kundalini energy and, it follows, a state of bliss. In addition, yoga teaches us cleansing exercises which purify our bodies by getting rid of toxins. The importance of the correct posture is also underlined in yoga, which literally unites the mind, via the body, with God. Yoga asanas help maintain a flexible and strong back. But did you know that you have, at the very least, three bodies? These are: the gross, physical body, comprising the five elements the subtle, astral body the causal body—the cause of our gross and subtle bodies, also known as the seed body. Regard your body as a temple in which the spirit resides, and learn to love it. Or rather, love all three.
The purpose of food, according to the three modes (satva , rajas and tamas ), as explained in the Bhagavad Gita: "Foods in the mode of goodness (satva) are juicy and fatty; they increase the duration of your life, purify your existence and bring health and happiness. Foods in the mode of passion (rajas) are bitter, sour, salty, pungent, dry and hot; they bring distress and disease. Foods in the mode of darkness (tamas), cooked more than three hours before being eaten, are tasteless and foul-smelling; they are best avoided.
There is today a growing awareness of the need for a correct diet, with more and more people turning to vegetarianism, realizing that a low-fat diet of fruits, vegetables and fibers is essential for a healthy life. There are various categories of vegetarians, such as the vegans who avoid all food of animal origin, including dairy products; or the quasi-vegetarians who occasionally eat small quantities of chicken and fish. Health food advocates recommend a diet comprising bran, nuts and fruits, and food that is organically grown.
Naturopaths advise you to care for your body in the way intended by nature. For them, nature cure is a means to a healthier life. Ayurveda practitioners tell us to eat saatvic (ascetic) food—vegetarian, fresh, properly cooked food that is not overly spicy or oily. In China, clear (qing), light or bland (dan) food is considered the healthiest. An occasional fast is also recommended for it allows the digestive system to take a rest and restore its vital energies.
Here are some tips taken from the bestseller Fit for Life by Harvey and Marilyn Diamond, based on their Fit for Life program: Diets don't work. Be aware of your body cycles—noon to 8 PM: appropriation (eating and digestion); 8 pm to 4 am: assimilation (absorption and use); 4 am to noon: elimination (of body wastes and food debris) Regularly consume an adequate amount of high-water-content food. Do not overeat. But even more important than what we eat, or do not eat, is the spirit in which the "food" is offered—and received.
And of still greater significance is the food meant for the soul, for it gives sustenance to both your body and mind. There is this Kenyan fable of a poor man's wife who was flourishing, while the queen got thinner by the minute. The Sultan sent for the poor man and demanded to know the secret of his wife's happiness. "Very simple," replied the poor man, "I feed her meat of the tongue." The Sultan promptly bought ox and lark tongues, but his wife did not improve. He then made her change places with the poor man's wife and she immediately began to thrive, while her replacement became like the queen. The tongue meat that the poor man gave his wife was not material—it comprised teaching stories, jokes and fables. We, too, can thrive on "meat of the tongue", provided it is given generously, with an extra large helping of love and compassion, and served on a platter of spirituality.
Indeed, what better diet can our body, mind and spirit possibly ask for?
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