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Our Personal Undercurrent—And What We Can Do About It!

Karnamrita Das

(this blog is recorded on the full page: quick time player is needed; works best with Firefox or Explorer; if you are using Google Chrome it will automatically play, so if you don't want to listen, mute your speakers.)
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As I was working on last week’s blog about undercurrents in communities, I also thought about a related, important topic concerning our personal undercurrent, and how that affects our life, relationships, and whatever groups we are part of—such as family, school, occupation, and religious organization. I did bring up the subject, without naming it, when I spoke about how devotee’s unresolved “life issues” or undiagnosed mental health problems can create difficulies in any group they are part of. However, that was about “them,”—you know, those “other” devotees that cause all the problems—and I wasn’t specifically addressing you, that saintly person who never causes any conflicts. (Smile!) Many “you’s” make up any group, and each person has an effect on the whole. We must soberly consider that we can’t change others, but only ourselves—and that with great difficulty and endeavor. Never the less, changing for the better, within and without, is our most important work in life, and specifically for those on the path of loving devotional service to Krishna, or our conception of Divinity.

If we are in a leadership position, we can carefully and lovingly point out problem areas we observe in others, or if serious enough, recommend they seek professional help. Ultimately each person has to accept their shortcoming and see the value of working toward improvement. Taking personal responsibility for relationship conflicts is the first step, combined with a willingness to do the difficult work of introspection and self-examination. I have written before about our “shadow” side, or those disowned or repressed parts of our psyche, that we don’t want to accept or deal with. “Undercurrent” is another way to label those problematic parts of ourselves and encourage everyone, in addition to spiritual practice, to be engaged in self-improvement and developing less reactionary ways of dealing with others. The principle to “Seek first to understand, then to be understood,” applies if we are to minimize our problems with others, and be a positive force in our family and/or community!
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To work on improving ourselves means being more in the mode, or quality, of goodness (sattva) and becoming a more balanced human being. For a devotee of Krishna, being a balanced human being means harmonizing our material and spiritual selves to serve our highest good. I admit to having a bias toward this work, having been benefited from therapy and self-help books over a period of about 20 years; plus my wife is a therapist who I sometimes work with in helping devotee couples. To not address devotee’s mental health problems, or to think they will just magically go away, is very short sided and unrealistic, and may cause undue stress and conflict in a group or community. If we were able to chant purely and properly associate with saintly devotees, avoiding offenses to others, there would be less need of personal growth work, but this isn’t the fact by a long shot. Otherwise, why do long standing devotees seek our help, or leave their service, due to their personal problems?

In the traditional mental health community in the US there is a growing awareness that the mental health problems of college students are increasing at an alarming rate. Additionally the World Health Organization (WHO) has named depression as the 2nd leading cause of human suffering and disability. As the population of society is affected, so are the people who come to Krishna consciousness. This means that devotees will tend to have more mental health challenges than before—which was bad enough 40 years ago—and need to be addressed. I can’t say if the mental health of new devotees is any worse than the general population, though often people come to Krishna in intense distress, depression, or when having a major existential crisis.
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Possible causes of the increased mental health problems of the general population are thought to include the breakdown of marriages and the extended family, modern parents being ever more distracted and thus less present for their children, and the general stresses of modern life. This shouldn’t be surprising to devotees who know about the negative effect of the current age of Kali, but regardless of the causes, leaders of temples or sangas need to be prepared with appropriate services and the knowledge of when devotees should be referred out to competent mental health professionals.

Equally as important is that devotees are trained to understand the importance of having a balanced psychology in their long term success and staying power in bhakti in addition to good spiritual practices, saintly association, and a support system of other devotees who care about and know them. I would like to see facilities for personal growth available at every temple with trained facilitators, and that this work becomes part of every devotee’s daily routine. If this is done we will have far better interrelationships and thriving, harmonious Vaishnava communities and sangas.

In the next blog I talk about the benefits of personal growth work in manifesting our unique gifts and contribution to the world--our personal world, and the larger world. Positive change in any group or community begins with each individual, and that can change the world. Imagine advanced devotees with healthy psychologies, a sense of personal and spiritual mission, and open, loving hearts. That's what I'm talkin' 'bout!

If you missed my last blog which fostered this one, please read how our personal undercurrents can negatively effect communities:
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