Making Peace with our Body and Mind, Finding Joy in the Self
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Reflecting on my life and the lives of those I know and read about, I see how much we all struggle with our material natures and tendencies, and how these can negatively impact our relationships with others. Even though we suffer on account of identifying with our bodies and minds, we remain attached to our limited perspectives or biased lenses, finding it difficult to accept that our entire problem of life is physicality. Ignorance is bliss runs the material world, and since we have invested so much time and energy in trying to enjoy worldly happiness, we don’t want to admit our folly in its pursuit. This is why spiritual knowledge is so essential, and even more so, realization of these truths.
Stated another way, many people may casually understand that they “have” a soul, but few try to act as one, or make realizing their soul and its relationship with God their life’s true quest. Genuine spiritual paths are meant to give us tools to realize our spiritual nature. In Gaudiya Vaishnavism, chanting the holy name and engaging in pure devotion (shuddha bhakti) are the means to uncover our soul and let it shine in love of Krishna. Material consciousness is muddy consciousness, while soul consciousness is like pure mountain water. This is why we speak often of “purification” when speaking about the effect of spiritual practices. Purification means taking away the mud of matter from our consciousness, so our real nature as willing instruments for divine purpose will gradually manifest.
The basics of bhakti are frequently repeated since the fundamentals need to be mastered before higher stages are obtained. While devotees of Krishna accept the fact that the ABC’s of spiritual life involve realizing that “we are not the body,” this isn’t so easy, even after many years of practice. This is why we have to continually study the Vedic scriptures with good guidance in how to apply them practically, and also why I continually write to try to explain Krishna consciousness in a way I pray will be both understood, and inspire putting it into practice. Although bhakti is primarily a path of grace, there is much we can and must do to make spiritual advancement. Bear with me, as I again try to explain the basics of the soul’s predicament in the material world, and her embarking on the pilgrim’s journey of enlightenment.
Imagine for a moment that what is behind your eyes, senses, and mind, as the experiencer or perceiver, is not just the brain—but is the soul, who is a particle of consciousness, part of the Supreme Consciousness—your Source. Presently your soul is mixed up with a particular body and mind that have nothing to do with the real you. In your eternal natural state you are like a clear crystal that shines the unfiltered light of the soul. Presently that clear light is obscured, or colored according to the nature of your vehicle, or body, which hides your soul, your true self.
You are meant to fly in the spiritual sky, but now you are earthbound, forced to be a VW, or even a BMW, limited to traveling on roads made of oil with restrictive laws. How unsatisfying for a soul of great possibilities! Unconsciously you know that real happiness is returning to your original state, yet you ignore this in order to try to enjoy matter. Thus, by identifying with something you aren’t—the body—you feel frustrated, cramped, or limited, without being sure of the actual reason. You know something is missing. O boy, if you could just figure out what it was! However, because you think you are a body operating within conditions that seem to threaten your existence, you tend to get caught up in fighting to fulfill desires that may allow you to survive, or experience some relief—material happiness.
Assured of at least temporary life, you attempt to fill up your spiritual emptiness by adjusting your body and mind. The search is to find meaning and joy in your fleeting survival, so you rearrange your environment, try to be pleasured by others, or create offspring, in the same perilous predicament as you, or you collect things that only clutter your life. Our skirmish against the conditions of nature is called the struggle for existence, or survival of the fittest. Actually this struggle is simply due to forgetfulness of our true eternal self, which is by nature full of all we seek in matter—eternity, wisdom, love, and joy. We are like a person with amnesia who will never feel satisfied until we solve the mystery of our life—who are you, and what might your life be like if you knew? Adrift in a foreign ocean, only landfall on the shores of home will charm our heart.
In Gaudiya Vaishnava literature and its commentaries, we are referred to as “conditioned souls,” or souls conditioned by our karmic tendencies manifested in our body and mind. Look in the mirror—that is the consequences of your past. Our present karma is a product of our previous lives actions and choices—good, bad, or mixed. This is crystalized as our consciousness or tendencies/attachments/desires that create our state of mind. This absorption/remembrance at death determines our next birth, after birth, after birth, or trying to be happy in illusion. In such a temporary, foreign situation, a good portion of our time, even for spiritual aspirants, is making peace with the type of body and psychology we have.
Part of this peace is cultivating knowledge of the soul and its relationship with God, or in my tradition, Krishna, and having serious, regular spiritual practice (sadhana). The fact that we are souls having a human experience, doesn’t mean that we can deny the body—we can however, make our body and mind as favorable as possible for spiritual practice. This should be the guiding principle for any introspection, healing, or counseling we undergo. The intern result of such endeavors should be living and acting in the mode or quality of goodness as outlined in the Bhagavad Gita, and being a balanced human being—so helpful for steady sadhana for the long haul of a life.
Being balanced means having a healthy psychology and positive self-esteem based on being part of God, and thus not being defined by our pain and sadness from the past. It means understanding our physical propensities, or psycho-physical nature (occupation or life mission), and using that in relationship to progressing toward Krishna. Let us make Krishna consciousness real by putting it into practice in the unpredictable field of life. Fence sitting isn’t helpful. To make progress we are advised to unplug from, or let go of, whatever binds us to people, places or things, and thus continues our material sojourn. Our life should be progressive. As we age and mature we will ideally feel we have fulfilled our natural propensities, and be able to completely give our heart to Krishna, with no strings attached, and without unresolved karmic issues and desires. This is ultimate and lasting peace progressively obtained by awakening the pure life of the soul.