Worried? Burdened? Frustrated? Here are some amazingly effective techniques that can bring shanti into your life
By: Satguru Bodhinatha Veylanswami
In Mauritius, our spiritual park—along with the country’s many temples, large and small—fulfills the inner purpose of inspiring visitors to uplift themselves and experience some of the peace, shanti, that is within each of us, that is our soul nature, that is our very essence. My Gurudeva, Sivaya Subramuniyaswami, was boldly direct. Of peace, he declared: “For peace in the world, stop the war in the home.” This was his message to 1,200 delegates at the Millennium World Peace Summit of Religious and Spiritual Leaders at the United Nations in August of 2000. While Gurudeva recognized the importance of governmental peacemaking, he placed even greater emphasis on the role of the individual. He stressed, at the United Nations and elsewhere, that each individual who becomes more peaceful inside himself or herself creates a more peaceful planet and moves us a tiny step closer to world peace—one person, one home, one community at a time.
Even though we may manage to find peace, shanti, when we go to a temple, it can be difficult to maintain that sense of peace and contentment when facing the duties and challenges of our daily life. Perhaps we hold on to it for a day or two, but then it is gone. Gurudeva gives clear advice in this regard: “Maintaining joy and serenity in life means being content with your surroundings, be they meager or lavish. Be content with your money, be it a small amount or a large amount. Be content with your health.... Be content with your friends. Be loyal to those who are your long-time, trusted companions. Basically, contentment, santosha, is freedom from desire gained by redirecting the forces of desire and making a beautiful life within what one already has in life.”
Here are some examples to illustrate maintaining peace and contentment.
First example: A man is passed over at work for a promotion that he thought was a certainty. His first reaction is to feel discouraged and sad, but after a few days he pulls himself out of his mood by the decision to accept his current employment circumstances and be happy within them, while continuing to strive for progress in his career.
Second example: A wife feels the family’s apartment is too small and complains gently to her husband, expressing her discontent. Later in the day while playing with her young daughter, her mood changes into gratitude for her child and husband, and the feeling of discontent for the size of their apartment diminishes.
Third example: An attorney has spent his day doing difficult research on a technical legal issue. He finds his intellect over-stimulated as a result, and he feels agitated. On the way home he stops at a park and takes a walk, relaxing and enjoying nature’s healing beauty. This quiets his intellect, and he returns home in a peaceful mood.
Fourth example: A teenage boy lies to his mother about where he went one afternoon. Afterwards, he finds that his mind is agitated. Disturbed by his guilt, he tells his mother the truth and soon finds himself peaceful again on the inside. Let’s look now at some specific suggestions on what we can do to experience the peaceful state of mind called contentment. The most basic requirement for maintaining contentment is avoiding adharmic or unvirtuous actions, such as dishonesty and lying, which will keep the mind and emotions stirred up and prevent us from being peaceful. A related strategy is not allowing ourselves to let disagreements turn into arguments. Disagreements are natural, but they need to be handled in an intelligent and harmonious way. Always being willing to compromise is a key to keeping difficult discussions from turning into arguments.
One of the major causes of family arguments is holding the faulty attitude that the home is the proper place to let off steam. The husband is frustrated with his boss, but can’t confront his boss about it. The daughter is upset with her teacher, who unfairly picks on her, embarrassing her in front of her classmates. Each family member may bring such frustrations home at the end of the day and takes them out on others. This generates discord, frequent arguments and keeps the family disturbed. The home ceases to be a protective refuge.
Gurudeva has a brilliant insight about the home. He says that we need to consider the home a sanctuary for the entire family and never look at it as a place where we can let off steam or vent our frustrations emotionally. He stresses that it must have an even higher standard of professional behavior than school or the workplace. In such a haven, parents interrelate in a cultured, religious way, without disharmony or argument. Children are respectful, parents are loving, and all are inwardly at peace.
One might ask, if we cannot let off steam at home, where, then, can we? Leaving work or school in an emotional state, we can stop at a temple before going home or take a walk through a beautiful place, such as a park or botanical garden, or walk along the beach and let the beauty of nature quiet our mind. Another place to let off steam is a fitness center where we can swim, run and bicycle away our stress. When we reach home, we will be calm and ready to enjoy the family and not disturb it.
Those who are at home all day, such as a housewife raising a young child, can also become stressed. The same remedies apply. Leave the home for a while and visit a temple, a beautiful place or a gym. Getting out of the house on a regular basis for stress-reducing activities is important. Gurudeva suggests that certain kinds of stress can best be released at the temple. The temple is the special place where we can let our emotions pour out to the Deity. Whatever we feel, we can express to God and the Gods and relieve ourselves of that burden without burdening other people. This may result in crying a lot, but that is acceptable at a temple.
Another way to lose contentment is through getting caught up in cycles of desire. In our modern world we constantly encounter advertisements implying that we will be happier if we buy some new product. Fancy cars, faster computers, high-tech mobile phones, fashionable clothes—all promise the elusive state of mind called happiness. Of course, new possessions do give a sense of elation, but that emotion is short-lived and we soon return to the same state of mind we were in before we bought the new possession.
The key is to rise above this cycle of unhappiness, desire, acquisition, happiness and unhappiness again. To overcome desire’s powerful impulses, hold the perspective: “I am grateful for and content with what I currently have. I am acquiring this product not because it will make me happier but because my family will benefit in a meaningful way by having it.”
Being content with what you have, however, does not mean you should not seek to progress in life. It doesn’t mean you should not use your willpower to fulfill your plans. Rather, it means you should not become upset while you are striving toward your goals, nor frustrated if you do not get everything that you want. Gurudeva proclaimed, “Life is meant to be lived joyously.” Holding this buoyant attitude helps us avoid falling into the misconception that if we are serious about making spiritual progress and being regular in our sadhanas we must hold tightly to a somber attitude toward life. We can be strict with ourselves but joyous at the same time. Of course, if we are struggling with major difficulties, this perspective may temporarily be lost. However, Gurudeva’s affirmation reminds us of the need to work with ourselves to regain a joyful perspective as quickly as possible.
A potent metaphysical tool that Gurudeva offers in Merging with Siva is living in the eternity of the moment. It produces the feeling that one has no future to worry about and no past to regret. Worrying about the future is a frequent cause of discontent. Gurudeva teaches us to live in the now. He discovered a useful technique when he was just seven years old. His father was driving him in a 1934 motor sled, heading home to Fallen Leaf Lake in a snowstorm. When they got stuck, he found himself worrying that he would be late and miss his favorite weekly radio program, “Captain Midnight.” The boy saw his awareness go off to the future and brought it back by telling himself, “I’m all right, right now. It hasn’t happened yet.” Each time this worry came up in his mind, he repeated, “I’m all right, right now.” Through this process, he learned to control his awareness and vanquish his worries about what might or might not happen.
Gurudeva urges seekers to practice being in the eternal now by asking the question, “Am I not all right, right now, right this instant?” and answering, “I’m all right, right now.” You can perform this simple exercise whenever you find awareness wandering into the future and worrying about what might happen. Keep asking and answering until you strongly feel positive, secure and content.