This week’s post is inspired by a string of words written by the Finnish-Swedish poet Edith Södergran. In one of her poems Södergran defines the concept of beauty in the following way: “Beauty is to go to war and to pursue happiness”. This provoking sentence offered me a strange sense of comfort as I was reminded of something essential: Life is a battle. It is true that most of us in the western world are blessed with being alive at an incredible time in history. We have the freedom and possibility to try whatever we want in life and can transform ourselves in any way we desire. We can aspire to any type of job, any kind of relationship, and even decide our own biological sex. Yet, a lot of us feel sad, stressed out, bitter, angry and anxious, and on top of that we are ashamed of feeling bad because we know that we have it so good. We do have it good, but “good” does not equal “easy”. To pursue our happiness means to go to war, it means to step out of our comfort zone, take on challenges, and face our fears…all of which is quite demanding for the human heart and psyche.
Freedom is demanding, it requires a lot more responsibility, intelligence, adaptivity and courage than the old hierarchical class-based society where everyone was born into a specific role and grow up being told what to do and knew their limits. The freedom to choose is tremendously stressful because we can make the wrong choices, we can fail, and we can’t blame anyone but ourselves. Freedom is a lonely road to walk.
Our culture celebrates the accomplishments and fulfillment of the individual. While this is not necessarily a bad thing, it tends to become very one-dimensional and unbalanced when accompanied by demands for constant productivity and endless success. This type of demands, created by the individual or society or both, turns the desire for self-fulfillment into a need for self-glorification. A self-glorifying mind is a self-conscious mind turned in on itself. The need for self-glorification arise when we don’t feel that we are enough. There is no way to fulfill this need because its a malady, a virus that keeps reproducing itself inside of us. Just as the body will signal it’s need for recovery through physical pain and exhaustion when we’re ill, the mind shows that it needs to be re-balanced through an unhealthy, painful mindset. Because our society is free it is also unbalanced so we need to create the balance ourselves. If we keep challenging ourselves we also need to keep working to maintain balance. Luckily, there are many old and well-tested ways to acquire and keep a balanced mind and heart.
Let go and grow
According to all ancient healing systems the human being is a holistic creation. The body, mind and emotions are powered and connected through an unseen force of divine energy. This spiritual essence is the power-source of all life and runs through everything in the universe and it goes by many names: Qi in traditional Chinese medicine, Prana in Ayurveda, the Holy Spirit in the Christian faith. In these healing systems illness is defined as a state of imbalance, meaning that pain and suffering occurs when we are not properly aligned with the the spirit of life. I have found that viewing stress as a state of energetic or spiritual imbalance and using traditional techniques to overcome it has greatly improved my quality of life.
I think of the energy level in the body as the blood sugar of the psyche. Just like with your physical blood sugar, you need to keep your energy level stable and balanced. You have to feed your mind and emotions the right type of energy and regularly connect to the great spiritual source of life (whatever you prefer to call it). The pillars of mental balance can be described as a holy trinity of sorts: focus on the positive, let go of the negative and let go of your ego.
Positive thinking does not mean that we are suppose to pretend that there is nothing negative in life, but that we train our minds to see and focus on the good things that do exist. Thoughts are words so thinking about the language you use when you talk about your life and your situation is a good place to start. This can mean keeping a journal to write down what you’re grateful for in your life everyday, and to create affirmations that help you visualize yourself as happy, healthy person. To physically write words down is to take action, it’s a way of manifesting. It brings your thoughts out of your head and into the world so be mindful about what you want to put out in the universe. Cultivating positive thinking is a twofold practice. Besides putting positivity out you also need to bring it in by feeding your mind with positivity from outside yourself. It’s important to read and listen to spiritually uplifting words in order to grow a vocabulary that can help you shift the mind towards positivity.
The second pillar of mental balance is deeply intertwined with the first one. To be able to focus on the positive we have to avoid the negative. We cannot avoid negative things happening to us but we can control our response to them by avoiding negative thoughts and attitudes. Staying away from negative thinking can be even harder than cultivating positivity. It is not difficult to smile, what is difficult is to stop crying to be able to smile. Negativity is a strong force deeply rooted in our most primal fears and anxieties. To control negativity we have to stop trusting our thoughts and emotions and realize that there is a level above our day-to-day consciousness. In this state, which the spiritual teacher Eckart Tolle calls awareness, we can separate ourselves from our thinking mind and look at ourselves from outside. It is from this higher state of awareness which transcends the mind that we can tell ourselves: “slow down, “stop that thought”, “this is just a feeling” etc.
Don’t let negative thoughts and feelings take root by constantly thinking and talking about the problems in your life. It’s okay to talk and write about difficult things to “get them out of your system” every now and then, but repeatedly writing and talking about the same negative stuff is not a way of clearing things out, but keeping them in. The bottom line here is, that to a great extent, our thoughts create our reality. We become what we think, say and write. If we think and talk about ourselves in negative ways we will attract more negativity into our lives.
Letting go of the ego simply means to connect with the great spiritual life-source. You can call it surrendering to God, connecting with your higher self, aligning yourself with the universe, etc., it all means the same thing. Regular spiritual practice such as going to church, doing yoga, praying or meditating opens our minds and hearts so that we can receive love and healing from a higher power. When we receive, we expand. We attend these rituals of intense spiritual experience so that the love and healing we receive will inspire us to give love and healing to others. To be in alignment with love and in the mood to give is a state of true happiness. There is an egocentric and immature idea in our society which state that happiness means that we are able to do whatever we want. But doing something “just for yourself” will not make you happy, only lonely. Happiness is to be able to help where there is a true need and to serve where there is a good cause.