By Elizabeth Herman
Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar recently received from Northeastern University’s Center for Spirituality, Dialogue, and Service in Boston, MA. Here are portions of an interview they conducted recently.
Our mind isn’t tangible. If you have a wound on the body, you can always put some balm or cream on it. But what do you do with the mind? Because it’s not tangible. Now here, we find breath is the link between body and mind. Through breathwork you’re able to calm your mind very quickly.
Why the breath generates inner peace and healing
Every emotion has a corresponding rhythm in the breath. People seldom notice this, except in theatrical schools and colleges. There they ask students to breathe differently to evoke certain emotions. So our breath has a lot to offer us. It shows us the state of our mind. If we’re anxious, we breathe differently. If we’re calm and peaceful, our breath is also very rhythmic. So there are different rhythms of breath which are connected to states of mind.
When we attend to breath, and do, first of all it gets rid of a lot of tension, anxiety, and stress from our body. It brings more oxygen to our system. It makes us more centered, so our emotions are more uplifted and uplifting.
Suggestions for people with anxiety, trauma, and mental health challenges
The biggest challenge the world is facing today, on every continent, is the mental health issue. People aren’t used to staying indoors, not going out to work and play. There are so many restrictions that suddenly put a stop to our activity, and it’s caused tremendous stress and trauma in the minds of people.
But I’d like to mention that humans are resilient. Initially, though it appears to be very hard, we’re able to get over it very soon.
Be grateful for connecting through technology: First, though we have social distancing, we shouldn’t disconnect from social interactions. That social and emotional connection is essential. We can continue to be connected socially thanks to technology. Suppose this pandemic had come about 3 or 4 decades ago, we would be in a much worse position. So we see the positive aspect. At least we’re able to be connected through technology.
Celebrate and dialogue: Second, we need to have more multicultural, multireligious interactions and dialogues. Not just dialogues, but also celebrations. In dialogue, you keep yourself in the left brain. But when we sing and dance and celebrate together, it unites us. It heals all the bad wounds that we’ve been carrying from the past. So, with multicultural celebrations and get-togethers, coming together for community feasts, I think we’ll all go a long way towards healing the wounds.
Get past the fear: Third, if you consider someone as the other, different from you, following a different ideology or customs or skin color or religion, that would cause fear in people. But when there’s a lot of interaction and we live together, not in isolated communities, and we stretch out and participate in each other’s functions and programs, I think it will take us where we really want to go.
What enthusiasm means
Enthusiasm represents self-confidence and high, positive energy. When positive energy is high, you don’t succumb to negative emotions and thoughts. Even if there’s a negative instance, you’ll know that you can get over that or it’s not going to bother you much.
So, increasing one’s positive energy by prana, the life force in you, you can be full of enthusiasm. If you watch children, once they’ve had their meal and their time to play, and a good nap or sleep, you’ll find them bubbling with joy and energy. That energy is something that we adults seem to be losing, mostly because we get into a negative mindset. We think more about what shouldn’t happen than about what should be happening. That drains us.
Enthusiasm is like a wildfire. It catches. If one person is enthusiastic, then he can bring that out in others as well.
Reuniting with lost loved ones
You’ve lost them physically, but in a spiritual realm, they’re still there with you. It’s like the boom box or television, when you switch off the channel, you no longer see it on the screen but the waves are still there, in the room.
In the same way, their spirit, the loved ones’ spirit, is always there. It’s eternal. So if you meditate you can feel their presence and you can feel their love. That’s always there.
So, when the loved ones pass, that’s why prayer, , and silence play such an important role in uniting us with the departed souls. We’ve made it a custom around the world now. Whenever someone departs, we observe one or two minutes of silence. But I think that’s not enough, because it takes two minutes, or even more than two, for your mind to just settle down. Once your mind is settled, then we’re able to connect with them and their energy much better.
How to deal with racism, nativism, xenophobia and injustice
This is an issue. You see in this world, there will be people here and there who have prejudice, who are biased. But look, there are so many good people who aren’t judgmental and biased. They’re open minded and they embrace you.
There are some thorns, of course, but there are a lot of petals as well. So focus on the petals, and leave some time to educate and stand up against injustice. We shouldn’t bow down to injustice, but don’t make it an emotional scar in us. We need to heal ourselves and we need to be strong, not get affected by a few people’s stupid behaviors. Otherwise, it can affect us, and then our behavior towards others also will be different. It won’t be normal or natural.
In such situations, know that you’re a warrior. You’re a soldier. You’re going to fight injustice but with a calm mind. When we lose our calmness, when we become emotional, we don’t have right thoughts, and right action doesn’t follow.
It’s important for us to keep calm, be centered, have faith in this one principle, that justice will always be delivered to us and the truth will always win. When we believe these things, we’ll be able to overcome any tough situations with a smile.
Believe me that there are so many good people on this planet who support the unity of mankind, more than those who want to divide and cause pain and hurt in others.
Another thing I’d like to mention here is if someone is behaving badly, arrogantly, you call him a culprit, right? But these culprits are themselves victims. They were never educated. They never had an opportunity to mingle with everybody. The fear and narrow-mindedness in them, the lack of proper education, all of this has contributed to their present behavior and their state of mind.
So, when you see these people from a broader perspective, you’ll end up having compassion for them, too. Unfortunately, they’ve not had .
Learning from places of conflict
When you see the world as one family, you can’t ignore when something wrong is happening. When people are suffering in some part of the world, you’re drawn there. It’s natural. If your arm is aching you’ll definitely attend to the arm. This has become so natural to me.
One principle I’d say is a guiding principle for me is “clarity in mind, purity in heart, and sincerity in action.” When we go with this principle, we’ll be welcomed anywhere on the planet. You’re not going with some preconceived opinions, ideas, ambitions, or intentions. You’re just going there with a pure heart and clear mind, and you just want to help.
Duality in our experience of faith: healing vs. strife
A human being has many identities. How he prioritizes his identity contributes to these difficult situations. The first and foremost identity of an individual human being must be that we’re all part of one light. The second is that we’re part of one human race. Third could be our gender. Fourth could be religion. Fifth could be nationality.
All of these identities, when they don’t lead to our basic identity as human beings, as part of a spiritual being, a light, then we’re in trouble.
Religion has three aspects. One is customs and traditions, which vary a lot. Second is practices, and third is philosophy or spirituality. When spirituality isn’t the focus in religion, but just outer customs and practices, then conflicts abound. For example, there was only one Lord Buddha, but today you have 32 sects of Buddhism. There was only one Lord Jesus, but there are 72 sects of Christianity. And the Prophet Muhammed was one, but today there are so many different schools of Islamic thought. In Hinduism, you can’t even count them. There are so many saints, rishis and paths in Hinduism.
What we really need to understand is that we need to focus on humanism. Without humanism, no other ‘ism’ will work. Love and compassion, when that’s missing, when the spiritual experience is missing, religion becomes like a dry skin. I often say that religion is like the banana skin and spirituality is like the banana. If we throw away the banana and just hold onto the skin, we’re in trouble, and that’s what has been happening on the planet.
We forget the essential teaching of religion. We don’t adopt it in our lives. But we just identify ourselves as belonging to certain clans, religions, denominations. Then there’s one upmanship, where people say, “My religion is better than yours. I have the only way to truth.” These are the paths for self-destruction. When you say, “I have the key to heaven and nobody else does,” then you’re creating hell for everyone else.
Fanaticism, extremism, radicalism in religion have come from this exclusivity and one upmanship. The answer for this is, first of all, spirituality, which unites people of all denominations, all religions.
Second, interfaith understanding. Every child should be taught a little bit about every other religion. Then, the child grows up knowing that just as Jesus has said the kingdom of God is within everyone, the same thing is said by Lord Krishna. Buddha said the same thing. The same wisdom you can see in many religions.
Of course, there are many differences. If you focus only on differences, you’ll get into conflict. But if you focus on the commonality, which is compassion, love, togetherness, then we can have a better world. A world which is much more harmonious and the type of world we’d like for our young generations.
Moving to a higher purpose beyond negative emotions
We convey more through our vibes than our words. You may talk a lot about love, but one glance, one touch, one hug, can convey what you cannot convey through words for two hours.
With the people who have pain and suffering, when you just sit with them, with true, sincere care, you’ll see that they feel comfortable. They’re able to get out of it.
And is such a wonderful tool. One sitting of can help people to get over a lot of those traumas. In the very first sitting they can experience a breathing technique. That’s why has become such a boon to people who have a lot of inner wounds, pain and trauma.
For example, war veterans in the U.S. have the Welcome Home Troops Project, which we initiated. Some of them would not come out of their basement. Their families were shattered. We taught them the in just a couple of days. They became normal. They could come out and they could mingle with everybody. Some of them said they’ve started laughing after four or five years of undergoing this traumatic condition.
We convey a lot through our vibes. Even spending a few moments of silence, and giving them the feeling that you understand them, will help them to rise above the state that they’re in.
When you meditate, wakes up and becomes alive. Then you find the right thoughts and ideas just pop out of you. They’ll lead you to where you want to go and increase your intuitive ability.
Breathing techniques and help you to increase your innovative spirit, your intuitive ability or gut feeling that you can explore, and your enthusiasm. All of these three things come to you if you can give 10 minutes to yourself every day. Do the rhythmic breathing and a few minutes of . Then you won’t have to ask all these questions about your life.
One who knows the purpose of life will not tell you. If someone tries to tell you, know that they don’t know. This very question is a vehicle for you to reach where you want to go. When you ask yourself this, then all that which is not your purpose will fall away, and that’s how you’ll progress. Keep asking this question to yourself. Don’t give it away to anybody else.
See that there’s something beyond your feelings and emotions, beyond the money and fame that you desire. Life is so precious. Let’s honor our life.
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Elizabeth Herman is a long time meditator, a trained yoga teacher, and a PhD in English, with concentrations in Rhetoric and Composition, and Literature. She offers writing support to clients, teaches locally, and volunteers for a better world.