In ayurveda, we see the first stages of imbalance or disease in the emotional body, and the mind. With time, If the excess of vata, pitta, or kapha (or a combination) isn’t addressed, the imbalance will progress into our physical body. The entry point into the body is the digestive system. This is why we all have a clear gut response to stress, and even particular gut responses to particular situations.
Since our brains are so preoccupied with the text-messaging and face-booking and all sorts of other wonderful stimuli processing, we sometimes don’t really assess how we feel. Many of us become habituated to feeling a baseline level of anxiety, or pressure to get things done, and we actually recalibrate our interpretation of that experience to be normal. Luckily, (even though it may not feel lucky at the time) our guts don’t play these kinds of mind games.
If there is too much anxiety, stimulation, or overwhelm in your life, you will be gassy or irregular (tending towards constipation or incomplete feeling bowel movements at varying times).
If you have a great deal of internal conflict about your life situation (trouble digesting where you are in any facet of your life), you will have low digestive capacity. This means that even though you may be eating “healthy” or organic, your body isn’t able to effectively harness all the goodness and energy from your food. You may show up as vitamin D deficient even with a good deal of vitamin D in your diet (or B12, or iron).
Too much criticism (even self imposed), perfectionism, and being stuck on the “shoulds?” Well, that usually shows up as loose stool with a pungent odor.
Of course, there are many various ways we can see the emotions affect the guts, and these are just a few examples. Furthermore, you can have combinations of recurrent emotions show up as varying digestive symptoms (as in irritable bowel syndrome).
I don’t want to overwhelm anyone with a gigantic list of every possible digestive symptom here. Rather, I hope that after reading this post, you can spend some time just paying attention to how your digestive system is responding to certain people, situations, foods–and then see if you can identify some of the feelings associated with that response.
I promise you will find patterns.
These patterns are a communication from your body, and are a functional message: something needs to change.
If you have optimal digestions (1-2 well-formed and easy bowel movements at the same time; one in the morning upon waking; no gas or bloating; healthy appetite), you are in a good place emotionally.
If you’d like to learn more, check out my online webinar on digestive health!
Sometimes, after losing myself in drama (TV shows, movies, art shows, theater, books–not the other kind of drama, because I don’t lose myself in that anymore ), I feel an opening that overwhelms me. Several emotions roll to the shoreline of my conscious awareness simultaneously. I feel moved to journal about the quintuplets being conceived and rapidly gestating in my heart and mind, but, I’m too fuzzy on the details. They are feelings more than thoughts and, wow, have I spent a lot of time in my life directing my attention away from the feelings and towards my thoughts. It feels so, so….at a loss for the word to convey the sentiment, here’s a list: full, expansive, opening, connecting, rooting, uplifting, multi-directional.
I can imagine that this is the feeling of neural circuits being built; quick access to a new perspective as another “line of thought” is constructed. I believe, this is the feeling of neur0-plasticity, the ability of neurons to form new connections. Meditation has been proven (by both modern scientists with incredible machines, and thousands of years of ancient observation and practice and documentation) to increase neuroplasticity. I understand on another level now, how art is meditation.
My mind struggles to sieve the experience through the filter of my past, and analyze the details. (At least my pitta can be satisfied with the simple spreading of the experience in a blogpost.) Yet, exploring the experience of increased neuronal connection is more interesting. Once I focused my attention here (a meditation itself to be fully present in any experience), I could feel viscerally what I studied in Italy during my undergraduate study abroad: the therapeutic effect of the arts. When we are in the process of relating to the story, we are in the process of connecting to that which surrounds us, and empathizing. Art, by nature of being an expression of the many facets of life, engenders the experience of feeling interconnected. This is the basis of bhakti yoga, one of the many paths to enlightenment.
Painting everyday meant hours of meditation, as did cooking without any other distraction, watching Felini, and acting in Pinocchio. The peace of mind I felt nell’ Italia bella, which I had previously attributed to the slower pace of life and drinking wine every night (BTW, the rumors are true, there was wine cheaper than bottled water), I now see as a product of practicing art regularly. I didn’t go to Italy with any learning objective. I went to just fall in love with the culture, the food, and the art. My unanticipated lessons on the therapeutic effects of the arts came as firsthand experience.
Where is the art in my life now? In a tupperware box in a cabinet in the garage. I need to schedule time for this, make it a priority, and regard it for it’s true nature: a sacred tool for navigating life with joy.
1. Go on, go make some art or go take in some art. Relate, and grow some neurons. It’s healing, literally.
2. You are taking in the energy of every experience, so censor what you watch on TV. The more fear-based art and media you take in, the more those neural circuits build around fear-based perspectives.
3. It’s important that we support the arts–in every way. The more we are disconnected from our ability to express our experience in non-cerebral ways, the more disconnected we are from our feelings, and one another. This leads to a whole host of imbalances in the mind and body.
4. It’s no surprise that the word ‘art’ is part of the word ‘heart’
A young man followed me from the parking lot to the entrance of the coffee shop the other morning. From my experience on the psych wards of a County Hospital, I’d guess he had schizophrenia and seemed still heavily dosed on sedatives and antipsychotics, clearly not connected with any sense of reality the rest of us may have had in the cafe. He stood at the glass door, holding his belt, which was quickly translated to “there’s a homeless guy staring at you and groping himself.” As I looked at his face, I didn’t see an ounce of malicious intent in his grin. Instead, I saw the same expression my children have when I come home at the end of my day–sheer delight at finding their mother walking in the door. As he was escorted out of the coffee shop, a heaviness came over my heart and I couldn’t help but wonder, “where is his mother?”
A dear friend broke the news of Sandy Hook to me (as I don’t watch television or the news), and her comment stuck with me for days, “how unloved you must feel to do something like that.” Another friend noted that the solution is not in gun control policy, “you have to change the hearts of people.” How do we do that? For me, it keeps coming back to making our children feel so loved and supported.
In my work as a health professional, I definitely am shocked at how common childhood trauma is; but even more astounded at how traumatic not having parents that are present and engaged is. As children, our parents’ actions are all interpreted in a very self-centered way. Children don’t have the ability to process the world in the greater context. So when parents are not engaged, the child comprehends that as “I’m not worthy enough for my parent to make connecting with and loving me a priority“–and we are born expecting that love and attention. It’s just how we are developmentally hardwired, a birthright in a way.
The amount of time and effort we put into our relationships with our children is directly proportional to their sense of self worth as adults. It’s challenging to be a parent. We have to handle our own growth and responsibilities, all the practical needs of the kids, and their emotional development. So often, we get caught up in our own life dramas, our own insecurities, our work, etc. and the time flies by.
There is a precious window to imprint living skills within our kids, and it’s when they are the youngest and neediest, and when we are the most novice in our parenting skills. I think about this often, and so many questions come up:Am I living in a way that teaches my children by example? Am I instilling the importance of listening to feelings in addition to the rules, or “shoulds”? Am I showing them how to resolve conflict in a healthy way? Am I demonstrating how to connect to their feelings and talk about them, and attend to them? Am I creating an environment where they feel validated in the entire spectrum of human emotion?
Most of these center around what I view as life skills that I’m hoping to imprint. And as you can see from the way these questions are structured, it’s not about teaching through words, but rather through modeling.
Does that mean I have to be perfect all the time? No. It means I have to be authentic in my humanness and use my tools to support myself wherever I’m at. That’s it.
How are you supporting yourself as a parent? Some tools to support my quest in being a good parent (and these are just here as simple examples):
1. I now track how much quality time I spend with my kids each day. It’s a took I learned in my coaching program of keeping a “positive scorecard.” If we keep track of what we want to see more of, we are more incentivized to achieve that.
2. Making sure I spend time interfacing with others interested in conscious parenting. Having a community to learn, share, and support me is paramount.
3. Functional Families: this is a class based on non-violent communication and child neurological development. I got a lot out of the sessions and have invited one of the instructors to present at an upcoming Teatime Gathering.
4. Of course, ayurveda! My herbs and self-care regimen are the foundation of my being able to care for anyone.
So all you parents out there, please take a moment to think about how you are connecting to your little ones, or how you can connect more. Each one of our children needs an individual relationship. And know that there are so many tools out there to support you in this journey. We just have to set the clear intention, and the manifestation often happens in spontaneous and mystical ways.
I got a speeding citation a few days ago. I was speechless. I haven’t gotten a moving violation since I first started driving at 16. Of course, I communicated my disbelief, and the officer pulled down his sunglasses and replied, “Are there any more games we have to play?” It struck me, in that moment, that this cop has to deal with all sorts of defensive and evasive maneuvers each time he cites anyone. I wonder if anyone says, “Wow, I’m so glad you cited me because I really didn’t realize how fast I drive and now I’ll be more conscious and perhaps prevent an accident. That’s definitely worth a few hundred dollars!” (I’ll have to ask that next time I run into a cop.)
Of course, I mentioned the incident venting to a loved one…because I knew I would have my feelings validated. Her response to story: “That [insert explitive]! They are out to make money off of innocent people. He must be trying to make his quota before the holidays.”
I agreed, and villainized the policeman in my mind, framing the incident with my victim archetype. I listed all the details that supported my innocence in my imaginatory courtroom, quoting Bernouli’s effect to the judge. I even told my loved ones that I planned to fight the citation and listed again my theorem of justice.
That night, I had trouble sleeping. My mind had trouble turning off because there was an unresolved conflict. I ran over the details of the incident in my mind, and went through a few strategies on how to best approach the situation. As I scripted a defense in my head, I realized that I was going through the experience of feeling attacked, defensive, angry, helpless, aggressive, hurt, and well, you get the picture.
Wait a minute. If I decide to fight this citation, that means I have to deal with this mind being preoccupied, and all of my cells feeling the effects of those emotional states surrounding the situation, until the verdict is reached. That could be months. And, the verdict could have an outcome that affirms my victim stance. Hmmm…a few hundred dollars may be worth my peace of mind in having the situation resolved, and more importantly, to not have to sit in the energetic container of all the above emotions. I can just pay the price, assume that it was a small price to pay for accident prevention and emotional balance over the next few months, and move on in joy. The energy I would have spent fighting this citation could go to other activities that earn more money. Deal! I’m happy to invest in my experience of life being more joyful in the next two months.
The most valuable part of this experience was the insight I came to on the value of my vibrational state/ emotional valence/ energetic container/ experience of life. This lesson was definitely worth the citation experience, as it will pay off for me to prioritize my feelings over “being right” every time.
Make your decisions based on what feelings, or experiences are part and parcel for the given choice. You know yourself best, and just have to be honest with yourself about your likely emotional responses. In the above example, I know I have a tendency to keep running scenarios in the background of my mind until the conflict is resolved (a.k.a. a tendency toward vata pitta imbalance). The choice that has a matrix of emotional responses that is most favorable for you, is the path of least resistance.
In other words, at each junction, there is another path we may not always recognize at first; the path that is how we use the experience to propel our spiritual growth.
At this point, I’m actually even happy to pay the street sweeping ticket I got two days later. (and I won’t even slander LBPD here…:))
Here we are, in the cyclone of vata. We see people expressing their imbalances in extremes of all kinds. A great part of what I’m hearing from people is an expression of vata excess, or imbalance, in the mind. While there are many ways to describe a vata state of mind, the key word in our culture seems to be anxiety. When I think of the patterns of my conversations surrounding anxiety, I find they mostly sound something like this:Q: What is anxiety? A: It’s a state of vata excess, in the mind and body. It can feel like worry, fear, dread, insecurity, overwhelm, hypersensitivity, poor impulse control, internal conflict, indecision, instability, and you get the idea. A lot of people describe anxiety as feeling stressed. Q: What do you mean by ‘a state of vata excess, in the mind and body?’ A: It’s an energetic state where there is more vata present in your life than your being prefers. According to ayurveda, we can sense imbalance at the level of spiritual intuition first. If the imbalance remains unrecognized, we will then see signs of that same imbalance at the level of the emotions and mentation patterns. If the imbalance remains unaddressed, we manifest signs and symptoms of that imbalance in the tissues of the body. In my experience, the first tissues affected in the body are the digestive. This is why we are all acutely aware of the effects of stress on our guts. Q: How do I know if there is more vata present in my life than my being prefers? A: Simple, if you have an excess of vata energy, you will be seeing signs and symptoms of vata imbalance (see table below).
Feeling like you’ve been doing a lot but still don’t really have a sense of where you are headed in this life, what you are about, or where you feel at “home”; A pervading feeling of restlessness, or being unsettled
difficulty completing tasks
cycling of emotions
impulsive speech or behavior
addictive tendenciesinterrupting your own thoughts with tangential ones
|dry (and itchy) skin
brittle nails, dry cuticles
dry lips and mucous membranes
dry scratchy throat
dry, itchy eyes
gas, intestinal gurgling, belching
constipation, hard stools, straining
low appetite and bloating
increased coating on tongue
PAIN, especially musculoskeletal
stiff, creaky-cracky joints
dark circles under your eyes
increased urinary frequency
inability to sit still
tremor, unsteadiness in movement
For anxiety-relief, ten powerful tools to reduce vata in the mind and nervous system (in no particular order) are:
1. Having a baseline routine. Nobody experiences the same thing everyday, but we can have a baseline to our daily rhythm. Rising and going to bed at approximately the same time, and even having a simple ritual (e.g. drink triphala, go to restroom, read affirmations) in the morning and night can be a very effective way to strengthen circadian rhythms. The stronger your circadian rhythm, the less vata there is in your circadian bodily functions (e.g. appetite, alertness, hormonal patterns), and the less anxiety you will experience in your mind.
2. Brahmari Pranayam. This is “bumblebee” breathwork exercise. I won’t do it justice to just write about it, so stay tuned for a video demo. Or you can look this one up in Light on Yoga by Iyengar. The truth is any exercise to deepen and slow the breath is going to activate the parasympathetic nervous system and reduce anxiety, and as such there are a few types of breathing exercises that can be vata-reducing.
3. Forehead-to-the-ground asana. It’s incredible, but true. Literally placing your forehead to the ground (and taking a few deep breaths while you visualize Mother Earth absorbing all of your excess stress) also calms the stress response which anxiety is a byproduct of. You can be in child’s pose, in any variation of a forward fold, or even just laying flat on your belly, and all of these poses reduce vata.
4. Marma Point Therapy. This is akin to using acupressure on a certain point along an energetic pathway (nadi, or meridian). For anxiety reduction, there is a lovely point on the left hand. More specifically, the marma point is on the left palm just below the middle finger bottom knuckle. For most of us, the bottom of the bottom knuckle is going to be about a quarter to a third of the way down from the top of the palm. Allow the left palm to collapse and relax as you press into the point with your right thumb. Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths.
5. Getting enough sleep. We have all been sleep deprived at some point in our lives, and most of us can remember how vata that felt to be moving through the day floating, half-present, and feeling depleted. Sleep is when the body rejuvenates, so making sure we have enough time in slumber is a great way to allow the nervous system to restore itself, reducing anxiety by addressing root causes.
6. Vata reducing nervines. This is a class of herbs that warms, and rejuvenates the nervous system tissue. Most of these herbs also have grounding effects on the subtle energetic body. My favorites are shankpushpi, jatamamsi (hard to get in the US), ashwagandha, brahmi, and tulsi. See your practitioner for appropriate combinations and dosing.
7. Spending quality time with yourself. By connecting to the experiences that bring you true joy, you can reduce vata and reclaim some of your usual energy expenditure to others. Most of us do not have enough time alone where we are engaging in fun, or quality-time with ourselves. We use our alone time to work or clean or get things done. When we enjoy our alone-time (and prioritize it), we ending up grounding in our sense of self and purpose and reduce vata in a powerful way.
8. Consciously reduce the multi-tasking. Focusing on one thing at a time, and completing the activity, is a great way to reduce vata in the mind. The more we try to do at once, the more scattered and anxious we feel, and the less likely we are to produce quality outcomes.
9. Shirodhara. This is a lovely ayurvedic body therapy which involves dripping herbal oil over the third eye (6th chakra) and allowing the warm oil to coat the entire scalp. You can find this at any ayurvedic healing center, and even may upper end spas. Warm oil scalp massage at home produces similiar anxiety reducution, especially when done regularly.
10. Meditate. Most people I know begin meditation because they want to address their anxiety, or stress. Everyone with a regular meditation practice will report diminished symptoms of vata in the mind, including anxiety.
One of my aunts passed this morning, and I have to admit I felt relief getting the news. This aunt was so miserable at this point in her life, and actually, I don’t think I can ever remember a time when she was happy. As I was processing the news with my cousin (her daughter), I realized this is a conversation I’m having with a lot of clients:
How do we process having parents that don’t know how to be happy (and may die that way)?
Our parents are oftentimes very different from us, and let’s face it, they are likely not going to change much in the later years of their lives. The differences we have with our parents can be so prevalent that we feel the need to distance ourselves as a coping strategy or protective mechanism. Coping from what? Well, for example, from the realizations such as:
- your parent(s) may not emanate happiness in this lifetime
- their emotional state is a choice they made, oftentimes despite you trying to help them become aware of this choice
- you can’t ‘save’ them
- you never really learned how to be happy because they didn’t know how to teach you that
- perhaps they trigger you to the extent that you need to create boundaries for your interaction with them
We come into this life instinctively looking to our parents to teach us the many ways to navigate it successfully. As I tweeted the other day, joy is the only true measure of our success. So when you learn that your parent can’t teach you how to cultivate joy, it can be emotionally devastating.
We feel like we have to take this big thing of life on alone, unassisted, or unguided. That brings in fear and overwhelm, and a lack of trust that the universe supports you. And then there’s the the unhealthy patterns we picked up in childhood that we are aware we need to rewire. (deep breath here)
So here’s my recipe for navigating this experience:
1. Create space
We need space and time to process this. If you are in this dynamic with your parent everyday, or several times a week, you may need to carve out clear time to “detox” from that pattern. If you’ve already distanced yourself from a parent relationship like this, you may have already taken this space but not had time to process the emotions. Maybe now is the time to address how you feel about this situation, and it can take any form (e.g. therapy, journaling, processing with a friend).
2. Self care
It’s important that you know in your core that you are showing up for yourself in every way you have intended. I don’t mean you need to be perfect, or have accomplished everything your think you should have. Think about how you nurture and care for yourself, and how you would like to. Then prioritize those intentions. Then fulfill them.
Your self care ritual is the foundation for your happiness. For all of you who have heard me talk about “energetic containers,” the time you engage in self-care is the time you are sitting in the feelings of being nurtured, of trusting, of receiving, of regarding your well being as most important. The more time you spend in this energetic container, the more time you spend attracting these feelings in every aspect of your life.
3. Calling in your support
You are completely supported by the universe. If it doesn’t feel that way now. Think about whom you are looking to for support. (And you may want to read this post on When Someone isn’t Meeting Your Needs) One of my mentors always said, “your needs are not met by any particular person, place, or thing.” If the people in your life are not able to emotionally support you, there are more people that will. Perhaps, to begin the process of feeling supported, we see a therapist (or business coach, or support group…etc). That’s a great way to start having regular structure and sacred space for emotional processing in your life, regardless of the modality. Once we cultivate the feeling of being supported, we only attract more experiences in which we feel that way.
4. Be aware of the doshas
Most of our elders are already in the vata stage of life. This is a time where they can be very susceptible to vata imbalance (signs and symptoms of vata imbalance). If you are taking care of a vata-imbalanced parent, there is great opportunity to help to balance vata to help ease their experience of life (and yours ). If you aren’t in the position to help them balance vata, you can be aware of the energetics and minimize the vata in your interaction with them (e.g. regularly scheduled interaction, certain times of day, aromatherapy, colors, foods, activities, etc.).
In addition, you can be aware of your energetics and interact accordingly. For example, perhaps you minimize interaction during times when you are in vata imbalance (e.g. transition, depletion).
5. Gratitude for the contrast
If you are reading this post, you are likely part of the group of us whom are consciously trying to optimize our experience in this lifetime. Look around you. This group is still not the majority of our population. We are so blessed to have the awareness of our incredible power to create our reality (even if we haven’t completely created that yet). The awareness is the first step. We likely wouldn’t have come to this awareness of conscious co-creation if we didn’t have people in our lives who showed us the opposite. Being able to witness the state of unhappiness as a lifestyle, sparked a desire for something different within us. Even if there are times at which we operate much like the patterns we see in our parents, if we are aware of that, and even at times operate differently, we have benefited from the contrast.
Thank you parent(s) for helping me define what I wanted in this lifetime. (repeat as necessary)
What better gift can a parent give than the ambition to be happy and break old unhealthy patterns? Plus, your gratitude will soften your interaction with them, and pave the way for any forgiveness that may need to take place.
I recently attended a workshop at an ayurvedic school. I got there early (yes, without the kids in tow I’m quite punctual) and offered to help prepare. I ended up in a beautiful kitchen with a third-year student. As I was chopping vegetables, I noticed the giant pot of chai on the stove.
As the smells of the spices filled the room, I went into my natural Indian-mother mode and almost reached out to turn off the chai. I didn’t want to take over her kitchen, so I asked “do you need help straining the tea?” Her reply was, “Yes, after it boils.” As I peeked over, I could see that there was a ring of small bubbles around the top where the liquid met the pot. A few small bubbles were surfacing in the middle. To myself, I thought, “it is coming to a boil.” I kept quiet to allow time for her to be comfortable with her version of boil. Ten minutes later, the pot was continuing to boil but the heat was on low, so it was a slow boil. Five more minutes go by and I felt the chai was going to be ruined. By then my pitta was on a slow-boil. So then I venture out a sweet, “Dear, if you let this go any longer, it may get too tannic and bitter.”
Her response was a curt, “That’s the way our teacher taught us to make it and so that’s the way I’m doing it. It has to boil.” Awkward silence filled the kitchen as the others all tuned into what now had become a confrontation. I smiled and apologized for stepping on any toes and acknowledged the importance of her doing what her teacher had asked of her.
After I left the kitchen, I had several thoughts surrounding the interaction. Indivual interpretation is inevitable. How do we define the boil we are looking for to signal the chai is ready? “Allow to come to a boil” can be ambiguous directions. I’ve described a recipe for chai in this way before. Here, her interpretation was the pot needing to come to a vigorous boil. Had her teacher discussed how to adjust chai process when making a large pot, and over different levels of heat? I’m not sure, and it didn’t matter.
What was at the core of this interaction was being closed. I decided to come to peace with how closed she was to my suggestion, and how closed I was to the possibility that this chai would taste good. We can only learn if we are open. I created space in my mind for yummy chai; maybe I would learn a better way.
The chai was bitter and the milk was overcooked. I learned an important lesson (which was, of course, facilitated by “being the observer”):
At some point, we grow beyond following directions, and develop an intuitive sense of how to do something.
I’m no authority on chai, but I’ve been making chai since I was about 6 years old. I can tell when it’s ready because of the smell and look. There are subtle differences in the various nuances of preparation, such as putting the tea in the pot while the water is too cold, or waiting too long to add the milk—I’ve made all of these mistakes. One of the most potent forms of learning is direct experience; especially, making errors to learn consequences and thereby formulate solutions. It is direct experience that allows us to develop an intuitive feel. This is why “practice makes perfect.”
Take home lessons:
- Stay open if you really want to learn. This is especially poignant for us Pitta-predominant folks. We tend to find the greatest authority and loyally stand behind that research/opinion.
- Respect authority, but give just as much respect to direct experience. Read the books and try things out for yourself.
- If you really want to be good at anything, immerse yourself in the experience until you build an intuitive feel.
- If you are learning something that comes from a foreign culture, know that someone from that culture is likely going to have some insights from their personal experience that are going to round out your education.
So it’s one thing to feel guilty because of something you did; it’s another thing feel guilty about something you did not do.
With the former, there are going to be times in our lives where our behavior causes harm to someone or something (whether intentional or not). Here, guilt is appropriate and functional. It helps us identify ways in which we can change our behavior to not cause harm.
With the latter, well, this tends to be dysfunctional and chronic. So let’s look at this scenario a bit closer. Feeling guilty about something you did not do usually comes in two flavors:
- There’s something you’ve been procrastinating but just haven’t gotten to, either for yourself or others;
- There’s something someone is asking you to do that you are choosing not to do.
In both of these scenarios, your guilt is rooted in not truly showing up for yourself.
Take a moment to digest that. Guilt over something you are not doing is rooted in the subconscious that knows you are not living based on your innermost intentions.
To explore scenario 1, let’s envision I have a desire to start a regular meditation practice. This desire stems from an inner wisdom that knows this would be balancing for me. If there was a match between my intention, words, and action, then I would seek a meditation group, or style and take the appropriate steps to make this desired meditation practice a reality.
All to often, however, I may have that desire, and then maybe speak about it a little bit, or maybe seek out a few resources, and somehow not get to actually meditating. Then I feel guilty about it. The guilt stems from the knowledge that I didn’t show up for myself. I’m choosing to not give myself something that I know is balancing for me. Additionally, there is a mismatch between that thought-speech-action pathway, that is inner conflict.
Here, again, my guilt is functional; it serves to make me aware of this inner conflict, and hopefully encourages a change in my decisions to resolve it.
On the other hand, if deep down I know I have been showing up for myself, I probably wouldn’t feel guilty. For example, perhaps I take my herbs daily, do yoga regularly, practice ayurvedic awareness, etc. If I’m doing all these things that are balancing for me, I have an established history of manifesting my intentions for self-care, and my subconscious knows that. So, I may not have manifested this desired meditation practice yet, but I know that I will when the time is right. I don’t feel guilty, because my intentions-words-actions are generally well matched and there is no inner conflict. I feel that I am aware I desire meditation, I will manifest that and I am at peace until it happens.
Scenario 2 is where most of the dysfunctional guilt experiences come in. They usually take the form of not doing something for someone else, because that action is not in the best alignment for you. So many of us feel guilty about not being able to meet the requests of our family and friends.
This is a good time to remember that we cannot fully be present to help anyone if we are not taking care of ourselves. This is especially true when you are taking care of children or elder family members. Those in need always benefit from an abundance of love and peaceful presence. At it’s core, all the help we give anyone is a donation of positive energy. How can you offer these when you are depleted?
Oftentimes, we can recognize this and actually acknowledge our depletion, but have a hard time communicating this to our loved ones. Here’s a lovely secret I’ve experienced firsthand:
If you come from a place of joy when you communicate where you are coming from, it is usually well-received.
So think about how you are envisioning the reaction to your communication that you cannot help. Are you expecting disappointment, anger, hurt, etc? That means you are projecting this outward and already calling forth that reality. Can you come to a place where you are communicating your decision in joy? And can you imagine that loved one supporting your making healthy decisions in your life?
So, to recap:
Scenario 1: There’s something you’ve been procrastinating but just haven’t gotten to, either for yourself or others.
Approach: Start fulfilling your innermost intentions. This will build that inner confidence that you show up for yourself. Begin with baby steps (a healthier choice for a meal; taking care of small tasks that you have been procrastinating) and then take on bigger ones.
Scenario 2: There’s something someone is asking you to do that you are choosing not to do.
Approach: Applaud yourself for recognizing that you are not at peace with doing whatever the obligation is. Imagine communicating that with joy, and having it received with joy. (Even though this may not happen the first time, it will change over time if you keep it up). Feel the relief of laying down that guilt. Use that time and energy to nurture yourself so that you can eventually be more able to give to others.
A recent meditation on relationships was so healing for me; I felt inspired to share it with all of you.
I had a dream, and actually a series of dreams recently, about my college boyfriend. So this morning I sank into the memories and etchings of that experience on my soul. What I came up with was regret. Not regret that we are no longer together, but regret over the energetics of the interaction.
Boy, was I a jerk. I was a typical pitta imbalanced, self-centered, narcissist. And I had also a good amount of vata imbalance=codependency, poor impulse control and need for drama. Some of that comes from the unhealthy aspects of my parents’ relationship; and likely he stayed with me because it mirrored the unhealthy facets of his parents’ relationship. Looking back, I see the regret is really that I hurt him.
I don’t think I’ve really ever hurt anyone, definitely not intentionally. Even this was a hurt that I caused because I wasn’t paying attention. I was so focused on me and the effects of my choices on me, that I disregarded how he would be affected. Therein were the seeds of disconnection with the universe. From there flourished other poor decisions rooted in that basic disconnection. As Dr. Vandana Shiva describes true democracy, it’s making choices that are in awareness of their impact on the whole.
We are still in touch and he has, in a very mature manner, moved past our tumultuous relationship to be on good terms. I think we are still friends in part because I was able to take responsibility for my poor choices and own my mistakes. Of course, in the same situation today, I have the wisdom to handle situations with more grace and awareness. What I wish I knew then, and truly felt in today’s meditation, is that when you hurt any living being, you hurt yourself. You lose trust and respect for yourself. In addition, you invite fear of being hurt by others into your experience of life.
As a mother, I try to highlight “the golden rule.” Sometimes this is not a good fit with my personal life philosophies. I don’t want to teach my children not to be real with people just because it may hurt someone’s feelings. If we are overly concerned with how we will affect others and do not address our own feelings, we are still hurting them in the long run, and hurting ourselves. I don’t know when it is healthy to deny how your really feel. And, not having harmony amongst your innermost intentions, words and actions is fertile ground for disease. Giving someone superficial access to your feelings denies them the depths possible in true intimacy. Plus, in most cases your true feelings will come out in other nonverbal ways if you don’t express them. In short, I cannot think of anything good that comes from suppressing your innermost musings.
Perhaps more than “the golden rule,” I try to emphasize internal-external alignment. If every cell of my being is not feeling good about a decision or situation, it’s likely not the right decision or situation for me.
So, what about indecision? Well, as I’m learning, it’s really present when the emotional valence on either side of the decision is about equal. For example, “staying in a relationship or job is just as challenging as not having it.” However, as my good friend says, “You cannot imagine India fully sitting in your American home.” Her point is that until I’ve actually made the decision and really immersed myself into being without that job or relationship (etc.), I cannot really know what it will be like. I’m only feeling indecisive because of my projected expectations of what that decision will bring. So here I am, projecting how tough it will be, knowing how tough my current situation is, and feeling stuck having to choose between a “rock and a hard place.” What I can do is change my projections, or change my approach to my current situation. In most cases, trying to change our perspective on the current situation is a first step. And if even still, something doesn’t feel great, change your projections of what is to come for you in this infinite universe.
So in summary, a heart-opening meditation for all of us that have a roller-coaster ride of a relationship in our past:
- own your poor choices
- reflect on where the seeds of disconnection were in those choices (usually they are first between us and our spirit and then between us and our loved ones)
- apologize (if you haven’t already…and yes, this is part of the 12 step programs)
- forgive yourself
- consider where you are today
- identify any areas of disconnection or disharmony between your deep desires, words and actions
- breathe into the possibility of bridging those gaps within yourself and in your life (imagine internal alignment with the external reality)
- make decisions for today (or start with this hour) that reflect this harmony inside and out
- practice the integrity to express your true feelings in a loving way
When I took the time today to really do this, I felt a restrictive feeling in my chest (which I didn’t realize was even there before) dissipate. I felt expansive and light, and unafraid to love and relate again. In other words, I let go of some stagnant emotions (Kapha) and heaviness. This is a practice that is healing year around, but perhaps even more poignant in the Spring–spring cleaning your heart.
1. Oil every orifice! (I’m serious.) We are oil-pulling (mouth); doing nasya (nose and ears), and basti (colorectum) in my house. Vata is dry, dry, dry. We may notice drier nasal passages and lips, but we don’t do anything about it. In ayurveda, oiling helps to fortify the epithelium that lines the orifices and prevents against vata imbalance in these areas (e.g. prevents upper respiratory infections, earaches/tinnitis/infections, constipation/diverticuli, etc.)
2. Oil your skin. This is the largest organ of the body, and a digestive organ. Medicinal oils are so important this time of year. Although traditional abhyangha (daily self massage) is recommended before bathing, I recommend oiling yourself after bathing in place of a lotion or sheabutter. 20 minutes on your skin is all it takes for something to be seen in your blood stream! So medicinal oils are a great way to take in herbs that are balancing and reduce dryness from the outside in.
3. Cook with ghee. Ghee, to me, is clarified life-force from breastmilk–minus the lactose sugars and waxes/debris in butter that clog arteries. It nourishes all tissues, is known to help rejuvenate deeper tissues, and pacifies vata and pitta. Ghee reduces dryness and increasing the quality of tissues from the inside-out. On this note, avoid dry and cold foods!
4. Lock into some kind of routine. Routine is rhythm and that rhythm is what our internal clocks (e.g. circadian rhythms) will set to. With routine to anchor your mind and body, there is greater harmony amongst the millions of processes taking place inside your miraculous self. This synchrony helps prevent against imbalance.
5. Spend quality time with supportive people in your life. AKA bring in healthy kapha. Really plug into the people that ground you. Maybe instead of going to get a drink in a noisy bar, you go for a walk together; instead of watching a movie, prepare a meal together. You get the idea, it’s about feeling present during your time together.
6. Move around less (that means stay at home more) Constant movement is the hallmark of vata. Stay still. Leave space in your schedule. Lie on the floor, stare at the trees out of the window, meditate…just be. After all, we are human BEings, not human DOings.
7. Go to bed before 9pm. I know, that is a G rated bedtime…and almost impossible during holiday festivities. But really, this is when vata time of night really kicks in, so as many days as possible that you can accomplish this (or closer to this than you are now), you will reduce the vata you take in.
8. Spend less time around electronics. All EMR is movement–TV and laptops screens are moving so fast. And that movement is stimulating to our brains. Less stimulation=less vata.
9.Get massaged (with oil of course). Human touch is grounding. Massages reduce tension, and soften the body. Soft, supple, warm and oily are all qualities that balance vata.
10.Flame-gaze. This is so great when you are feeling scattered and having trouble focusing. So many holidays this time of year incorporate candles and light (Hannukah, Diwali, Kwanza…), so take advantage. Just stare at the flickering flame and allow yourself to become fully immersed in it’s dance and nature. That’s it! It also calms the nervous system.