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Being human: Whole inside, peace outside

By breathing in and breathing out, awareness rises, disturbances go away, and tranquility follows. We are able to see differences for what they are and the underlying aspect of common humanity starts to prevail.

Gopi Krishnaswamy

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21 September is the International Day of Peace or World Peace Day. It is a holiday sanctioned by the United Nations and observed annually. The day is dedicated to the absence of war and violence, commemorating the ideals of peace both within and among all nations and peoples.

The theme for 2020 is ‘Shaping Peace Together’. This year, it has been more evident than ever that we are not each other’s enemies, as a microscopic foe has brought the whole of humanity to its knees! Life as we knew it has been altered within a few months and we have been reminded that what happens in one part of the planet can impact all of us.

Peace — the word has inspired songs, speeches and even one of the most oft-used farewell wishes, rest in peace or RIP.

Peace means freedom from disturbance and a state in which there is no violence. ‘Is that not our natural state?’ you wonder. Have we moved so far away from our natural state of tranquility that we actually need a day to commemorate peace?

Why has this happened? As man evolved into a social animal, differences of opinion surfaced. Skirmishes between alphas of the species grew and from small tribal conflicts, we gradually grew into an animal that seemed to be bent upon destroying itself! We even smashed the atom in search of peace.

“Homo sapiens hold the record among all organisms for driving the most plant and animal species to extinction. We have the dubious distinction of being the deadliest species in the annals of life,” says Yuval Noah Harari in his book, From Animals into Gods: A Brief History of Humankind.

What is the cause behind this? What has distinguished us so dramatically from all other forms of life? What has brought about the massive shift from nature’s default state of tranquility?

One can argue that violence and wars have actually reduced and there is more peace in the physical world, but what about mental peace? Would it be true to say that ‘peace of mind’ has become more elusive now than ever before? We have law and order and it is enforced in the physical world to maintain peace but what are the deterrents to disturbances that arise in the mental space?

The answer lies in the human mind. Paradoxically, it is the same thing that has allowed us to flourish as a species, build railroads, airplanes, set foot on the moon and today, see each other virtually on our screens as we work from home. It is the same thing that makes us frantic on the metaphorical shores of life trying to hold on to the ‘good’ waves and fighting away ‘bad’ waves; the invisible force that makes us play this fruitless game for decades, only to make us simply sit down in the sand at the end and allow the waves to follow their natural rhythm as we finally rest in peace!

Now, not only do our minds trick us into this dysfunctional and relentless exercise in futility, but also forms alliances with minds that think alike. So the ‘like-minded’ come together in large numbers by believing in common myths they create, like a state or a nation, a religion, a sect, a caste or an ideology. And this collective dysfunction instinctively seeks to destroy other ‘xenophobic’ and ‘bigoted’ groups simply because ‘they’ are different from ‘us’.

So how then do we rise above the ravages of the mind — this brilliant tool that can be a savage master?

“We can never attain peace in the outer world until we make peace with ourselves,” said the Dalai Lama.

The real reason for the loss of peace both internal and external is this never-ending and pointless pursuit of ephemeral feelings, causing us constant restlessness, tension and unhappiness. The mind tricks us into this pursuit without us realizing that even when the mind finally experiences the pleasure it seeks, it is not satisfied because it is afraid that the pleasant feeling might disappear and not last forever!

By staying in the present moment, the realization that nothing lasts forever comes to us and the pursuit stops. By simply sitting and breathing, the mind can become clear, relaxed and satisfied. Feelings arise and pass. While living in the moment, you see them for what they are — mere feelings. You stop your constant identification with them. You can shift from an existential state of mind, like ‘I am frustrated’, to an experiential state of mind, like ‘I am experiencing frustration’. The shackles start to fall away!

Just like courage is not the absence of fear but the mastery of it, peace does not mean an absence of conflict. Differences can be there. However, solving them in humane ways is what makes us human.

Through the simple practices of training the mind, we can overcome this mental dysfunction that destroys peace. By breathing in and breathing out, awareness rises, disturbances go away, and tranquility follows. We are able to see differences for what they are and the underlying aspect of common humanity starts to prevail.

And then, finally, something truly liberating starts to happen. Standing on the shores of life, you see that each wave is different — and that each wave is beautiful. And each can be observed in bliss, without feeling the need to control or change it. A shift happens from ‘doing’ to ‘being’. Now, you really are a human — a human being. Whole inside, with peace outside.

Shanti. Shalom. Salam.

Gopi Krishnaswamy is a mindfulness coach & regional lead at the Google-born Search Inside Yourself
Leadership Institute. He is also a Zen practitioner and an author.

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Spiritually Speaking

JOY AND VALUE OF MEANINGFUL COMMUNITIES, BUILT ONLINE

JUDY JOHNSON AND DAVID FLETCHER

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The time of Covid has extended beyond what any of us could have imagined. Alone in our homes, we watch the world through news headlines that scare us and push us psychologically apart. As social beings, we miss the experience of community. Many of us feel alone and lonely, even when we are living with others. Researchers indicate that meaningful involvement with others reduces burnout associated with the pandemic.

We spend much of our time online for work, school and social encounters because the online environment provides a physically safe way to come together and yet, the call to be in community is stronger than ever. How can we use the online platform to create and sustain meaningful communities?

In community and social conversation, we can support and nurture each other. A sense of belonging is created when a person is seen and heard and able to contribute to others, which builds a foundation for resilience and positive mental health.

Every day we meet with a group of people for a spiritual study session online. Although we are nourished by our practice of meditation alone in the sweet territory of silence, as social beings, there is still a pull to be in community, to feel a sense of belonging and togetherness with others.

We take it in turns to read the spiritual lesson of the day out loud. We then have a few moments of silence, after which each one shares their thoughts and reflections on what they understood. Taking time to listen to each person with caring attention has created a sweet energy and a feeling of belonging. It has given us an appreciation of the uniqueness of each of our classmates. It has also yielded priceless jewels of insights, new and marvellous, as each has come from the deep mines of a different mental terrain.

We take care to share our thoughts with love and respect for their beauty with the best words we can find in an essence-full way, so as not to demand too much of the listeners. Silence after the sharing allows us to digest the rich spiritual food with an inner smile of contentment and appreciation of our fellow learners and our learning community.

Feelings of kinship and a sense of belonging have been nourished in this online platform. Our manners, care and attention to honour each one’s contribution while offering our best input has created a culture of respect and belonging; a model for the world we wish to live in.

Judy Johnson and David Fletcher are members of the Brahma Kumaris community in Halifax, Canada.

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Spiritually Speaking

TO BE HAPPY AND STRONG, WE NEED KNOWLEDGE

B.K. Sheilu

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Millions of devout people across the world have great love for God. Few among them, however, seek to know Him as He is. Their love does bring rewards in the form of happiness, peace, and Divine love, but they are short-lived, and vanish when their feelings wane. That is not the case when we know who we are and how we can connect with God.

Recognising the truth that we are souls, children of God, is the first step of spiritual learning. Once we understand that we create our destiny by our actions and God, the Father, gives the guidance for that, we live responsibly and face life’s challenges without too much fuss. Those who love God but lack this understanding have unrealistic expectations from Him, and when those are not fulfilled, they are unhappy.

Both kinds of people—those with only love, and the better informed ones—experience the joy that faith brings, but the former are not strong. When they are full of loveful feelings, they are on cloud nine, but a small problem can shake them as they lack the power that comes with knowledge. One day you see them dancing with joy and the next day a trivial matter has them wailing: “What can I do? How can I do it? What will happen? How will it happen?”

They are like schoolchildren who love their teacher and enjoy being with him but make no effort to study. They do not understand that the teacher is there to teach, not just be nice, and unless they pay attention to his words and do as he says, they will learn little. The result is that they fail the test.

The devout but naive souls are sustained by the power of love but lack the strength to face difficulties. The informed souls, on the other hand, know that they are children of the Almighty and can be powerful like Him if they remember who they are and who their Father is. This twin awareness makes them strong. They do not ask for anything, trusting that the Father has their back and anything they need will be received at the right time. Their connection with the Divine and the strength it brings enables such individuals to easily overcome obstacles.

Becoming strong is not difficult—it is a matter of having the right awareness. When we are constantly aware, the pulls of desires and emotions and the deceptions of ego no longer affect us. Freed from all inner neediness, we are able to use our resources fully to serve others and help them become strong.

B.K. Sheilu is a Rajyoga teacher at the Brahma Kumaris headquarters in Mount Abu, Rajasthan.

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Spiritually Speaking

SPIRITUALITY IS FULL OF LOVE AND RESPECT

B.K. Mohini

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Spirituality means living in simplicity with a clean heart. It is good to check that I am living in this way. If I find that the heart is not clean and filled with good wishes for everyone, then I need to pay more attention to my spiritual practices.

All of us are souls, in different bodies, fulfilling the responsibilities of different relationships, just like actors inhabiting different costumes. If we see each other in that way, soul to soul, there is so much love and power.

All karmic accounts are created between souls. We create good karma when we speak and act with respect and regard for each soul. Each soul has a different and important part to play, and each soul has a different personality. Spiritual love is distinct and totally different from the kind of love that is felt when we are only aware of the body. It is when we have spiritual love that we can give respect and regard to the other. This is not an outward show of respect but emerges from deep internal feelings.

We are all souls, brothers, children of the One Father, and we all come from the same home. As we travel on this journey of lifetimes, birth after birth, we take on different costumes and take part in different relationships. The one who is my mother in this birth was someone else to me in another birth.

Spiritual love is a very important principle and when we have this deep realisation it creates a beautiful experience. With this awareness we remain truly happy and are able to have love for everyone; friends, relatives and even those we do not know. In this way, our attitude and vision become loving.

So, let us concentrate internally with honesty and respect, and have deep spiritual love for everyone.

B.K. Mohini is the Additional Administrative Head of the Brahma Kumaris.

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Spiritually Speaking

YOU NEED NOT THINK TO UNDERSTAND GOD

Dadi Janki

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Human beings believe that in order to understand something, you have to think about it. However, to understand God, you do not have to think. When it comes to physical matters, then there is a need for thinking—you need to analyse in order to figure a thing out. But not with God.

Have you ever had a thought simply come to you ‘out of the blue’—an intuition, or a sudden inspiration – without any actual thinking? God gave you that inspiration. Did you do any thinking? In one flash, God gave you the understanding. You did not think, but suddenly the whole thing was clear to you, whereas under ordinary circumstances you would not have got the picture even if you had thought about it for years. God gave you that intuition. He touched your intellect, your heart, like light.

It is truly a wondrous thing that God can touch us in this way, while He Himself is beyond thoughts. God does not think. God does not have the need to create any thoughts. And now He is making us like Himself—beyond wasteful and ordinary thoughts, beyond thought altogether. Actually, there is no need to think. Thinking too much is just a habit.

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Spiritually Speaking

How to be free from false perceptions

NEVILLE HODGKINSON

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The essence of problems that many of us face is that we have two selves, and their interests do not always coincide.

One is the sense of self acquired over time. As soon as we are born, we are surrounded by instructions and information and experiences that slowly build an identity with which we navigate life. From parents, teachers, and peers, we learn ‘who’ we are in terms of our gender, our abilities, our weaknesses and our predispositions.

This acquired self is largely a matter of memories that have become recorded in the brain, often without our conscious awareness. The recording is vital for negotiating life. It enables us to respond moment by moment to the circumstances in which we find ourselves, as individuals. In psychology, it is called the ego self. It is a constructed self. This ‘persona’ can be egotistical, demanding, negative, but it can also be healthy and positive. Just as we need a body, we need some sense of identity to play our parts on the stage of life, rather as an actor needs a ‘back story’ as well as a costume.

However, there is also a deeper or higher self, the soul. This identity is independent of gender and in its highest form, independent of abilities and weaknesses. This higher self has intrinsic positive energies such as love, peace, joy, playfulness, and generosity of spirit. This is true of each one of us. It is who we really are, but it becomes covered with layers of the more limited sense of identity.

Problems arise when memories of loss and hurt, often experienced early in life when we are very helpless, emerge from our subconscious and influence how we respond to people and situations. They cause us to lose faith and trust in ourselves, and others, without good cause. These tendencies are often put in place as a protection against sorrow. They are defensive habits, which we develop to try to avoid further pain. But because we often suppress our awareness of them, they emerge inappropriately, distorting the way we see the world, causing confusion, and limiting our capacity to love and prosper.

So, how do we become free from these false perceptions? The secret lies in accessing our true, divine self. Rajyoga teaches us self-realisation, and through that, how to connect and fill with the power of truth from God. With this strength, we become able to bypass the conditioning in the brain, which limits us. We experience our intrinsic, beautiful qualities of spirit, and learn to bring those qualities into everyday life with authenticity and dignity.

Neville Hodgkinson is a UK-based author and journalist, and a long-time student of Rajyoga.

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WHY DEVELOPING AN ATTITUDE OF GRATITUDE IS ESSENTIAL

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People think that God is far removed from our lives. We feel God exists in some distant place unconcerned about our lives here on earth. We wonder how such an omnipotent and infinite being such as God would even have the time or interest to think about us, let alone answer our prayers. Yet, God’s concern with us is the opposite. God knows about everything we do and cares about us far more than even parents care about their children. God’s prayer line is always open for us. If we were to listen to God’s prayer line and hear all the prayers of people from all over the world, we would find similar conversations. We would hear many people praying to God. We would also notice God answering their prayers. But the moment we do not get something we want, or do not get it in the time we want it, we are disappointed and sad. This is human nature. It is not the case with one person but is common with most people.

Gratefulness is a special quality that many of us lack. We may do a hundred things for someone but that person focuses on the one thing we did not do or did not do to his or her liking. We may provide hundreds of toys for our children but they complain if we hold back one toy. We may help someone thousands of times but he or she focuses on the one time we were not able to help. We may cook ten thousand delicious meals for someone but that person only focuses on the one meal we burned. We may send lovely greeting cards for someone’s birthday for many years but he or she complains about the one year we forgot to send one or could not send it. We may type tens of thousands of pages at our place of work and never hear a word of praise but all we hear about is the one time we made a typographical, grammatical, or spelling error. Similarly, God may send us daily blessings week after week, year after year but we only focus on the one prayer that was not answered.

Why do so many people focus only on the one thing they did not get instead of all the things they do receive? The problem lies with a misinterpretation of living in the current moment. Living in the current moment refers to stilling our mind, and forgetting thoughts of the past and the future. But often people live in the current moment only when it relates to their current desires. People often lack gratitude for what they received as they are focused on only their desires of the current moment. The mind is filled with desires. It keeps us always wanting more and more. The mind makes us forget what we received in the past and focuses only on what we desire at the moment. If we do not get what we want, the mind makes us forget all the good we received previously. This is the way the mind stops us from being grateful. The mind stops us from being grateful for what we receive from other people and what we receive from God.

Why does the mind enjoy it when we are ungrateful? When we are ungrateful for what we received from other people or God, we are in a state of agitation. We begin to feel sad and troubled. In this state of sadness and depression, we are busy thinking about how bad we feel. When we think about this sadness, our mind is not still. Our thoughts are reviewing what we prayed for and did not get. When we are in such a state we cannot still our mind and get in the loop of unproductive thoughts.

We need to express gratitude to God. If we look at all the blessings God has given us, we will find that we could never thank God enough. Whenever we feel God has not given us something, we should stop and think about all the things God did give us in the past. We should not become sad or depressed over what God did not give us today but think of all the millions of things God gave us in the past. This will help us put everything in perspective. If we can live in gratitude, we will be more peaceful. We need to be aware of the mind’s trap to keep us in a state of being ungrateful. We need to realise that if we give in to the mind, we will not be able to stay peaceful and happy as we will always be thinking about our sad thoughts. We want a still mind so we can progress in our meditations and go back to God. Once we go back to God, we will not even need anything anymore as we will merge with the source of all. We will be content and peaceful as we merge in the ocean of love and permanent happiness. Let us trade-off the brief moments of unhappiness we get due to the mind and develop an attitude of gratitude, so we can rise above this temporary world and find eternal happiness in the lap of God. 

The author is the head of the Sawan Kirpal Ruhani Mission. 

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