By Suma Varughese
In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God…
Affirmations are powerful declarations that can transform your behaviour, attitude and nature. Affirmations help you to realize your highest potential. They are the easy path to self-realisation.
Even as a youngster reading through the unfathomable mystery of the Bible, these lines quoted earlier would spring out at me and grip my imagination. Mystical and mysterious they may have been but I sensed in them a strange power. I repeated them frequently and wondered what they meant.
But then I am a writer. Words are my stock in trade and since my very childhood they have fascinated and entranced me. The sound of words, the images they summon up, the emotions they arouse, the worlds they open up for me have held me in thrall all my life.
How apt then, that my spiritual journey began with the word and has all through been strengthened and assisted by its potent magic. In the form of affirmations, it has been the indispensable third part of my path. The first two are awareness and acceptance. While these two have been deconditioning me, affirmations assist in reconditioning me, or, as I now recognize, in transforming me.
It is only of late that I have begun recognizing the invaluable role of affirmations in my life. I see it as a tool that can change even the most recalcitrant. It is the common man’s route to transformation.
Swami Sivananda, founder of the Divine Life Society, Rishikesh, corroborates this view. In his fascinating book, Japa Yoga, he writes, ‘In this Kali yug, japa alone is the easy way to the realisation of God.’
Not all of us can meditate. Not all of us have the discipline to do spiritual practice every day. Certainly I didn’t. But all of us can repeat a few words to ourselves. And from my own experience, I can testify that it is not even required to concentrate upon the words. You can mumble them even when your mind is racing like a horse. You can chant them absentmindedly. Just say them. Of course, the more force and intention you put in them the quicker they manifest. But the results will come as long as you persist, no matter how desultory your utterance. JUST DON’T GIVE UP!
While this goes against received wisdom, which insists that affirmations must be said with intent in order to work, I am supported by the incomparable Swami Sivananda who stoutly declares: ‘Even simple mechanical repetition of a mantra has a powerful effect. It purifies the mind. It serves as a gate-keeper. It gives intimations to you whenever some worldly thoughts enter the mind.’
A Personal Path
My tryst with affirmations and indeed spirituality began several years ago when a relationship broke up and in parting, I was told that relationships were meant to be beautiful and ours had not been. I was also told that I had not made the person happy. Fascinated by the concept of a ‘beautiful relationship’ and by the idea of happiness, I vowed that I would make this person happy, come what may. This was by no means easy to do as I found myself reacting to his behaviour with anger and jealousy. And then I hit upon the magic mantra, which was my passage to spiritual understanding. It occurred to me that if I really wanted this person’s happiness, whatever he said or did should be okay by me. I formulated the thought thus: ‘It’s his happiness that matters and not mine’. I found my anger and reactivity receding and in its place a vast reservoir of peace and goodwill arising. Unbelievingly, I said these words again and again, and each time they worked like a charm, freeing me of my thoughts and feelings and allowing me to focus fully on seeing and understanding the other’s point of view. In my own way I was affirming, though I did not know it then.
The words propelled me right out of my ego and into a state that I called ‘absolute happiness’. For a full year, they retained their magic for me. I used to accompany their recitation by pressing my thumb and my middle finger hard. I later discovered that NLP called this anchoring, and recommended it as a way of recalling an experience intentionally. Alas, all good things come to an end and my year of grace faded away. However, it left me firmly entrenched on the spiritual path.
Why did this mantra wield such power over me during that time? Why not before and why not after? Such things are cloaked in mystery and it is hard to say why. Grace for me, is a good explanation for the first question. As for the second, I think of it as a trigger that launched me on the journey. That job done, it left me so that I could embark upon the hard and long task of dissolving all that stood between me and that state of absolute happiness…
So what are affirmations? They are positive declarations of intent. They are word seeds that germinate within us and recreate us. They encapsulate the power of thought which makes us who we are. Affirmations can be simple declarations like the 19th century French psychotherapist, Emile Coeu’s sweeping assertion, ‘Every day, in every way, I am getting better and better.’ They can be New Age statements that invoke everything from health, love, money, jobs, houses and other material and non-material visitations. Affirmations such as, ‘I am abundance and I attract everything I need,’ are typical of this genre. They can be power words that resound through our scriptures such as the great mahavakya, Aham Brahmasmi, the sufi saying, Al Haq, or mantras like Om Namaha Shivaye. They can be the prayers that we repeat ceaselessly such as the Gayatri mantra, the Mahamrityunjaya mantra, the Lord’s Prayer or the Hail Mary. All good words and thoughts that we repeat continuously are affirmations in action. Whether we call it japa yoga or affirmations, we are invoking the power of the word to create us, regenerate us and transform us.
All spiritual traditions everywhere have intuited the awful majesty and power of the word. Whether it is the karadjeru of Australia, the Dogon and Igbo communities of Africa, the Mayan community of Mexico, the Sumerians, or the Buddhist, Christian, Islamic or Judaic traditions, there is a clear understanding that language, or the word, is a manifestation of God. Many of them, including the vedic tradition of India, maintain that sound is the building block of the manifested world. For the Dogon, words uttered during religious ceremonies contain nyama (life-force), which is conveyed by the breath and flows through the mouth of the holy person.
Even in the Christian tradition, God is said to have created the universe simply by uttering a command-surely an early example of affirmation in action? ‘And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.’ (Genesis 1: 3)
The Power of Sound
In India, the power of the word has long been recognized and used for spiritual transformation and for the ultimate understanding of life. Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, head of the Himalayan Institute, USA, writes in his book, The Power of Mantra and the Mystery of Initiation, ‘According to tantric and Vedic sources, the world manifests from the Word, exists in the Word, and at the time of annihilation returns to the Word. They tell us that for those who are unaware of the power of the Word and its binding and releasing force, this world is the source of pain and misery. Yet, according to the Shiva Sutra, this same world is a wave of joy to those who have penetrated the mystery of the Word.’
According to Wayne Dyer, author of the book, Manifest Your Destiny, the sound aaah is common to almost all the names of God, ranging from Brahma, to Allah to Yahweh and Ahura Mazda. This is no coincidence, he believes, but is rather proof that it is the sound of creation. Therefore when we chant God’s name we are invoking the power of creation. Many ancients would attribute the mantra om, with this power, but, says Dyer, ‘Whereas aaah is the sound of creation, om is the sound of that which is already created. Om expresses gratitude for all that has manifested.’ According to tantric adepts, the word is considered to be the Shabda-brahman, the Creative Source (Ashabda-brahman) embodied as sound.
Scientists today confirm that the universe is actually composed of vibrational energies. Writes Wayne Dyer: ‘Every sound is a vibration made of waves oscillating at a particular frequency. The frequency range of the human ear is approximately 16,000 – 40,000 vibrations per second. It is theorized that thoughts and the unknown etheric and spiritual dimensions are in the realm of increased vibrations beyond anything that is calculable at this point of time.’ He adds, ‘Sound is the intermediary between the abstract idea and the concrete form of the material world. Sounds literally mold the abstract world of thoughts and spirit into shapes.’
Swami Sivananda confirms this by writing about the experiments conducted by an Englishwoman called Mrs Watts Hughes, who sang into an instrument called the eidophone. The sound traveled through a tube and was received on a flexible membrane holding tiny seeds. The seeds formed entrancing geometric patterns depending on the notes she used. He says, ‘Once when Mrs Hughes was singing a note, a daisy appeared and disappeared…now she knows that precise inflections of the particular note that is a daisy and it is made constant and definite by a strange method of coaxing an alternation of crescendo and diminuendo.’ Mrs Hughes apparently was able to summon up sea-monsters, forms of trees, and even landscapes of trees with a foreground of rocks, and the sea behind.
Santosh Sachdeva, whose family owns the website indiayogi.com, affirms that when they conducted a yagna on behalf of one of their clients, the fire threw up images of om and the swastika, when invoked by the pundit.
Why Affirmations Work
Affirmations work because they embody the power of sound. Not just when you choose to utter them aloud, but even when expressed through thought, they create specific vibrations within. These vibrations have the power to write over the grooves of our subconscious mind. It is the thoughts that we feed into our subconscious mind that produces our habitual behavioural patterns and attitudes. Our unconscious thoughts have created our present persona. In order to recreate ourselves, we need to counter them with conscious positive thoughts.
This is the central truth behind most spiritual philosophies. For instance, the opening verse of the Dhammapada, the core Buddhist scripture, states implacably, ‘We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts we make the world. Speak or act with an impure mind and trouble will follow you as the wheel follows the ox that draws the cart.’
In order to rewrite the mind we need to understand its composition. The mind is composed of three parts, the conscious, the subconscious and the superconscious. The conscious mind is the part we are aware of – the part that does the thinking, worrying, planning and creating. It is a tiny part of the structure; it is the subconscious that is the looming bulwark, a massive entity with incredible powers and potentials. Its unique characteristic is that it can create anything that we command it to create, by virtue of the thoughts we think.
Writes Dada Vaswani, head of the Pune-based Sadhu Vaswani Mission, ‘If you believe that you cannot achieve something, if you believe that you cannot have something, the subconscious will create conditions, so that your beliefs are proved. To transform your life, it is very important that you seek the help of the subconscious.’
Thus the negative thoughts that create our negative conditioning can be overthrown by affirming their opposite. The belief that we are lazy can be overwritten by the affirmation that we are hard working and industrious.
Writes Dada Vaswani, ‘ To transform your life you must have a picture of yourself as you wish to be… The picture that we paint of ourselves is assimilated by our subconscious. The subconscious is there to obey you. It is a very obedient servant who takes orders from his master. Its decisions are to be made by you.’
Awareness of the incredible power of the subconscious, conveyed by writers such as Joseph Murphy, author of The Power of the Subconscious Mind, is behind the New Age deployment of affirmations to change oneself. Affirmations in this light cover the whole gamut of life, employed literally as a magic genie to create money, abundance, love, friendship, and even the acquisition of material objects such as a house, a car, etc.
Louise L. Hay, author of You can Heal Your Life, one of the first books to shine a light on the spiritual and psychological causes of illness, uses affirmations extensively as a tool for creating better health.
She writes in her website, www. Louisehay.com, ‘Our thoughts are creative. This is the most important law of nature that we need to know…thoughts are like drops of water-they accumulate. As we continue to rethink the same thoughts over a period of time, they become puddles, ponds, lakes or oceans. If they’re positive, we can float on the oceans of life.’
Affirmations have helped Usha Miglani, who lives alone, cope with fears of getting a stroke in the middle of the night. Says she, ‘I practise the nine positives taught by Brahma Vidya and they make me calm and peaceful. The affirmations that I am healthy, I am young, I am powerful, have stuck to me.’
Roxanne Marker, a psychic and seeker, makes use of words like love and peace for affirmatory practice.
She says, ‘I am more at peace. The tendency to assert myself is decreasing. I will not try to prove a point at the expense of making someone else feel bad. I no longer want to be always right. What a boring individual that would make me. In fact these days I say when I falter, ‘Yippee dippee, I am wrong!’
How to Affirm
Dada Vaswani reveals that the subconscious is physically located at the back, where the base of the skull and the spine meet. He suggests that the best way to harmonize the conscious, subconscious, and superconscious (the divine potential) is to combine affirmation with meditation. He writes, ‘The peace of meditation filters not only into the conscious but also into the subconscious and the superconscious self.’ There can be little doubt that when affirmations are made in meditative stillness, they are more effective. Deepak Chopra, for instance, suggests that we release all intentions into the gap between thoughts, which is arrived at through meditation.
Swami Sivananda, however, points out that dhyana is inherent in japa, ‘Name and the object signified by the Name are inseparable…Whenever you think of the name of your son, his figure stands before your mental eye, and vice versa. Even so when you do japa of Rama or Krishna the picture of Rama or Krishna will come before your mind. Therefore japa and dhyana go together. They are inseparable.’
There are however, several guidelines to help us affirm more effectively, because the subconscious does not discriminate and takes what we say literally:
o Construct your sentences positively. Choose ‘I am slim’ to ‘I am not fat’. The subconscious does not recognize negatives and would translate the latter sentence as ‘I am fat’.
o Use the present tense. ‘I am love, joy and compassion’ is preferable to ‘I will be…’ or ‘I want to be…’ The subconscious lives in the moment and does not recognize future tense. The phrase ‘I want’ reflects powerlessness and all you will get is the state of ‘want’ and not the actual state.
o Believe in what you say. Know that it will manifest for sure.
o Put as much intensity as you can in your affirmations. Says Dada Vaswani, ‘You must develop the will to speak to it with magnetic determination.’
o Dada Vaswani also suggests repeating an affirmation loudly three times, softly three times and in a whisper four times.
o The times before you go to sleep or immediately on waking up are when the subconscious is most receptive to commands.
o If you can meditate, do so. When your conscious mind is peaceful and still, seeding the subconscious is a cinch.
Affirmations are particularly effective in repairing and enhancing poor self-esteem. The website called Tools for Personal Growth has a detailed piece on the negative self-scripts that we operate under. These are caused by the beliefs we have of ourselves, the negative feedback we may have got from family, teachers, peers, spouse and colleagues and that we have internalized. These in turn create over-dependence on the approval of others, make it difficult for us to take risks in life, drown us in self-pity, cynicism and pessimism, and cause us to don a protective armour in our interaction with others.
I should know about the pain imposed by negative self-scripts. When I launched into an inquiry on how to make this state of absolute happiness a permanent one, I realized that the chief impediment was a compulsive obsession with myself. And behind the obsession, I found, was an almost total lack of self-esteem. I didn’t like myself at all. I was sure I would fail miserably in everything I did. There was, I discovered, a tyrant established in my head who watched me like a hawk. This personage viciously abused me each time I messed up, which I did all too often. Consumed by the unceasing internal warfare, there was just no mind space for others or indeed, for living.
It was a disconcerting discovery. Help came when, for a moment, I got in touch with my true nature. That nature, I discovered, was whole, perfect and complete. I didn’t have to be anyone or anything or get anywhere to be that. I already was that. The rest was conditioning.
However, unlike the earlier revelation that had an almost instantaneous effect on me, this one was not impacting the negative self-script running compulsively in my head. In the serendipitous way that life flows, an article came my way which explained about the power of the subconscious mind and why it is that we think the way we do. It gave suggestions on how to seed the mind afresh. Voila, I had discovered affirmations! Although my mind was a fevered rush of thoughts, I persisted in repeating the words, ‘I am whole, perfect and complete’ to myself wherever and whenever I could. Within four months a shift happened. I can describe it best as an almost physical feeling near my heart region, where I felt as if a foundation had been laid, sealing off for keeps the dreadful pits of depression I would fall into. I understood that I had been given the ability to withstand whatever and however I manifested. I could, as Clarissa Pinkola-Estes, the talented writer of Women Who Run with the Wolves perceptively says, ‘stand to see what I had to see.’
Ever since then, the task has been to face and repair through awareness and acceptance, the ravages to my mind caused by years of depression. I could never have withstood the pain of this prolonged surgery had it not been for the comforting use of the affirmation that I was whole and perfect, even when I seemed entirely imperfect.
Throughout the journey, I developed the habit of converting insights into affirmations, which I would repeat to myself. I had to. My mind was far too chaotic to attempt meditation or any form of spiritual practice. These affirmations would trigger changes which then would set off fresh insights. Among the most significant of these was the discovery that I was fully responsible for my states of mind and that the outside world had nothing to do with it.
Affirming this took me deep within myself and I could sense that I was withdrawing the power I had invested in the external world. Taking my reactions within unleashed an enormous love of the self, for the self, and I found myself embarking on a fevered love affair with myself. I love myself, I would affirm passionately and in various different ways. I discovered that I did not need external support, endorsement and approval. I discovered that all the qualities I longed for were within me. I would warble out these affirmations through the day, particularly while traveling up and down the city in local trains!
Right now I am in the throes of another insight, which is that I do not need to be anything other than who I am. As I affirm this to myself, the tottering stockpile of expectations that high ideals and low self-esteem have stacked on me is sliding away and I am finally learning to live with myself. I am learning to love myself. That feeling is a wonder only someone who has never experienced it before can truly appreciate. The internal warfare is waning. Ceasefire has been declared and amnesty papers are being drawn up. A lot more learning and a lot more affirmations await me still, I feel sure, and I cannot wait to discover what lies next. For my goal is enlightenment and I have not the slightest doubt that affirmations have the power to get me there.
Santosh Sachdeva, author of two books on Kundalini, including Kundalini Diary, was first exposed to the power of the word at age 13 when her guru gave her the Shiva mantra, Om Namaha Shivaye, to chant. By the time she was married she was chanting it diligently for half an hour every day. This steady practice for close to 40 years stood her in good stead when she decided to do a course in Brahma Vidya in 1995. The course is a combination of breathing exercises, affirmations and meditation. When Santosh began to repeat the affirmations, to her surprise she saw images of all that she affirmed vividly appear in her mind’s eye. ‘Now I imagine a great light over my head,’ she would say and she would see a wing-like manifestation of light above her head.
For Santosh too, affirmations, coupled with the other Brahma Vidya exercises, have had a transformatory effect. She says: ‘I have become more confident. I no longer worry about the future or regret the past. I live in the moment. I feel happy, which is a feeling whose meaning I didn’t know earlier. Complaining and expectations have disappeared and there is no judgement left.’
She says: ‘The fact that I could see my thoughts in the form of images has proven to me the power of thoughts. It tells me that the parental advice to be good and to think good thoughts is based on sound reasoning.’
Kamala Jain, a designer in her 40s, was inducted into chanting the Shiva mantra by her father in order to moderate her strongly emotional temperament when she was around 12. She followed the advice sporadically and although she cannot quite figure which, if any, of the changes she has experienced within herself can be attributed to the practice, she admits that she is remarkably detached today. A serious seeker, she also finds herself powerfully drawn to the personage of Shiva.
Japa yoga has a tried and tested place in the Indian tradition. Innumerable saints have danced their way to Godhead singing the name of God. Tukaram of Deo, Valmiki, Ramakrishna Paramahansa, Mahatma Gandhi and Swami Ramdas of the Anand ashram are among those who have surrendered to the intoxication of God’s name. While affirmations are frequently used for inner healing and self-development, japa yoga is employed for one reason and one alone: to awaken one’s inner divinity and unite with the Absolute.
Swami Sivananda says ardently: ‘Japa ultimately results in samadhi or communion with the Lord.’ He adds, ‘The chanting of His name is but serving Him. You must have the same flow of love and respect in your heart at the time of thinking or remembering His Name as that you naturally may have in your heart at the time when you really see Him.’
According to the swami, japa purifies and cleanses one of lust, anger, greed and other defilements. He says firmly, ‘The repetition of a mantra destroys your sins and brings everlasting peace, infinite bliss, prosperity and immortality. There is not the least doubt about this.’
Mahatma Gandhi was an ardent practitioner of Ram Naam. At the time of his death, such faith came to his rescue for he died with the name of the Lord in his mouth, having uttered ‘Hai Ram’, when the assassin’s bullet ripped through his spare frame. Considering that it is our state of mind on death that guarantees our future progress one assumes that the Mahatma has rightly attained the highest heavenly honors.
Swami Ramdas, whose mantra Om Sri Ram Jai Ram Jai Jai Ram is the central spiritual practice advocated by the ashram, was so imbued with faith in the power of Ram, that he left his home and wandered into the wide world, surrendering entirely to the protection of his beloved Ram. Convinced that everyone and everything was a manifestation of God and that every event that befell him was the Lord’s will, he accepted hunger, destitution, insults and rejection with utter faith. His account of the journey, In Quest of God, is an inspiring account of the spiritual strength that japa can inspire.
How to do Japa
While one can technically do japa anytime and anywhere, its efficacy is considerably heightened if we imbue it with a sacred presence.
o Swami Sivananda suggests that it is best done facing the east or north, during dawn and twilight, that magical period betwixt light and darkness.
o Sit in a steady pose; padmasana is highly recommended but sukhasana will also do.
o Choose the mantra that you most resonate with or think of your ishta devta- the deity you give allegiance to.
o Invoke the presence of the Lord with as much intensity as you can utter- though you can take comfort in the awareness that even mechanical repetition has its merit.
o Repeat the japa steadily at a measured pace.
o You can either repeat it aloud or mentally. The latter is considered to be more powerful.
o You can do it with a mala or without. The advantage of the former is that it enables you to keep count and ensures that your attention is buttressed to something concrete.
Desiree Punwani, housewife and Buddhist practitioner, swears by the practice of metta bhavna, or the state of loving kindness. The metta prayer goes thus: May all beings be well, peaceful and happy. Says she, ‘When I first started affirming it, I didn’t know if I believed to what extent it would work. But whatever you give out you get, and I find that health and peace and happiness are coming my way’. She also uses it to de-escalate contentious relationships. ‘ I very rarely use the direct confrontation method these days, ‘ she reveals. An example is the strained relationship she had with a family member that has taken a dramatic shift for the better ever since she began showering the person with metta. ‘We can discuss even sensitive issues with goodwill.’
The Zoroastrians say it all in a nutshell: ‘Good thoughts, good words and good deeds.’ It all begins with the thought, so be aware of what you put in there. Even better, choose to avail of the magic power of affirmations to pull out the weeds and sow fresh seeds of goodness, strength, love and joy, and total transformation. There is nothing you cannot think yourself into being, so aim for the Absolute.
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