One of the most challenging aspects of true gratitude is accepting all things in life as precious; without judgement, without control. It’s so easy to fall into the habit of perceiving things in our life as good and bad, extending appreciation only to those things we deem as beneficial to our small, ego-driven selves. When we begin to look at all of life’s manifestations as part of something bigger of which we are interconnected, something we only begin to skim the surface from the vantage point of theÂ “I”, the ego, we develop an understanding for events happening according to a larger plan.
According to the ancient yoga philosophy, all of creation can be boiled down to consciousness and the life force. In the same way that the big bang theory thrust the material world into existence or a sperm and ovum create a new life by merging together, purusha (consciousness) and prakriti (life force) attract to each other and intertwine, spawning all of animate life.
All that is manifest is subject to the three gunas; qualities of the world we can see, feel and sense. These gunas are tamas, ragas and sattva. While each can be understood in a variety of ways, the basic nature of each can be understood as:
Tamas – the mode of destruction. Physical inertia with a tendency towards the past. Tamas is dark, heavy, and stubborn; cool in temperature, pungent in taste. Examples of tamas are expressed in a dead animal; someone who is manipulative, procrastinates or is stuck in the past; food that is starting to rot.
Ragas – the mode of creation. Physical activity tending towards thoughts about the future. Dim, needy and aggressive, ragas is hot in temperature and spicy in taste. Examples of ragas are a spicy curry; someone in need of constant affirmation, with excessive energy or frustrated by the world around them; an angry skin rash.
Sattva – the mode of preservation. Calm and alert, sattva exists in the present, bright and luminous. Sattva is pure and sweet in taste. Examples include a ripe fruit; a compassionate, karma yogi meditating in the present; a flower having just opened into it’s full foliage.
The gunas are woven together like a braid; intertwined into our physical reality, present in all things at all times. As a braid has one strand on top of the other two at any given time, one guna reigns over the others and the dominant guna is constantly changing.
Each guna has a natural lifecycle, not unlike the cyclical nature of seasons or a life that begins as a seed, developing into its full potential before it’s decay and ultimate death. Moment by moment, the evolution in the cycle of life transforms continuously.
As yogis, the paradox is that the sattvic state appears to be desirable, as a goal to attain. However, as soon as the mind attaches to its preferences seeking out one thing while trying to avoid another, we become ragasic with our expectations for the future and tamasic in our tendency towards manipulation. The true sattvic nature desires nothing, becoming sattvic through the process of staying present and detatching from our preferences and aversions, self-serving intentions, expectations and fears. Even the sattvic state morphs into something else as the peaceful body and mind inevitably seek new sources of stimulation.
We so often use these official times of year as superficial points to stop, reflect, and reset our expectations. It can be easy to forget that each day, each hour, each moment is a chance to begin anew. By practicing patience and cultivating awareness of whatever our present state of mind and body, we can begin to live more dynamically, as we listen and respond to our changing needs. Living becomes a practice acknowledging that all phenomena is subject to the gunas – to impermanence and constant change.
True gratitude lies within the knowledge (bhuti) that all of the sensual world is temporary. Rather than forcing ourselves to change at a pace that is self-controlled, we cultivate an appreciation for the knowledge that there is actually very little in life we have control over. The more we can accept all the aspects of our life as transformative, as gifts that we can choose to use as empowerment, the more the gunas can evolve fluidly and the more we can truly be present and grace-filled.
(caveat: of course, consuming products, services and media mindfully, including eating a vegetarian diet will naturally enhance the sattvic state, not that we are seeking that out;-))