Not Your Body

From a young age, we are taught to identify as our bodies.  We fill out forms for school, work and hospitals that are filled with bodily identification questions (gender, ethnicity, hair color, etc).  As we grow, social norms/stereotypes for our bodies guide our lives.  Boys are supposed to be tough and strong, athletic success or physical gains are desired and good grades in school will lead you to happiness.  The media also reinforces how our bodies are tied to happiness. From magazines touting easy body slimming/building exercise routines and celebrities who defy aging to television commercials showing young, successful, beautiful people enjoying life on a beach with their favorite beverage, we are constantly bombarded with depictions of the perfect body.  The message is simple, if your body is beautiful then you’ll be happy.  Follow a few simple exercises or take the new revolutionary health supplement or makeup product and you too can enjoy life like your favorite celebrity.

An issue with tying happiness to your body or bodily enjoyment is that it is temporary.  The happiness you received from these sense enjoyments will either fade away or will make you want more.  Think about it, was there an item you really wanted? What happened once you obtained that item?  It may have provided happiness for a while but it doesn’t solve your problems and can even become a source of stress, if you begin to worry about losing it.  Or exercising with the hope that a more physically attractive body will bring you happiness through increased relationships with the opposite sex. While the increased attention from others may bring more confidence or positive feelings, it can also lead to insecurities about what will happen if you don’t maintain your physical gains.  And this in turn will cause you to focus more time on your body and reinforce in your mind that your body equals happiness.

 The idea that bodily happiness is temporary never crossed my mind growing up.

I idolized sports figures and tried to emulate them.  I exercised and practiced in an attempt to gain the success and perceived happiness that athletes enjoyed.  On a few occasions, I was persuaded by crafty infomercials into purchasing fad exercise equipment that promised earth shattering results with minimal time and effort.  I really believed that if I could get in great physical shape, my life would be better and I would be happy.

Things changed when I learned about the Science of Identity Foundation and the teachings of Jagad Guru Siddhaswarupananda Paramahamsa.  In his book, “Who Are You?“, Jagad Guru talks about bodily identification and why sense gratification will never bring you true happiness.  He explains that we are not our body or mind, rather we are spirit souls and our bodies are merely “vehicles” we use to maneuver in this world.  It is the spirit soul or life force that is necessary for the material body to survive and not vice versa.


Take a look at your body, the body you had as a baby looked much different than your teenage or adult body.  It makes sense that you are not your body when you know your baby body is gone, yet you still exist.  In fact, your body is constantly changing and in “Who Are You?”, it’s stated every 7 years all your cells will be replaced and you will in essence, get a new body!  This fact is truly amazing, every cell will be replaced!  That’s not saying that those cells will be removed, rather its contents or molecules will be replaced so it can continue to function.  Another example given by Jagad Guru deals with people who have lost limbs.  Although the individual has lost part of their body, they still feel that they remain a complete person.  If we were our body, losing part of it would make us feel incomplete.  Knowing these examples, it’s clear that we are not our body.

Therefore, since we’re not our body, there’s no need to strive for a life of bodily or sense gratification because it won’t satisfy our true self.  As a spirit soul and part and parcel of God, we must strive for a life connected to God.  The simplest way to have a connection with God is by hearing and saying his Holy Names.  Gauranga breathing or repeating mantras such as “Madana Mohana Murari” throughout the day are a good way to remember God and satisfy your true self!

 

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Real Forgiveness

A couple of days ago I listened to a podcast of a man who, as a young lad, had lived on the streets of Ireland with a pack of stray dogs. He had been the youngest and smallest of triplets, only a couple of pounds at birth, born into the large family of an Irish father and a German mother, who were often at odds. The dog boy, Martin McKenna, was scholastically challenged, to say the least and hyperactive, what would now be called ADHD. I believe he still doesn’t write although was persuaded to “write” his book with a voice recorder. His father having treated him dreadfully, thinking he was good for nothing, and that the devil was in him. The other children didn’t get the same bad treatment. Whenever his father was drunk, a regular occurrence, Martin would hide or be beaten. When he was as young as seven his father began locking him in the cellar for days at a time, with nothing to eat but coal dust.

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Eventually Martin ran away, initially digging a hole in the ground to hide in, and eventually developing a life on the streets as top dog of a pack of stray mongrels. It was a raw existence, eating maybe every second day, living on pilfered bread and milk from the home deliveries of those times. After three years, with his brothers saying, come back, come back, Ma is sick, he returned to live at home and stayed until she died, at which time the whole family dispersed. Martin has gone on to make a success of his life, based on his in-depth understanding of the psychology of dogs. But the thing that struck me most in his telling of his story was his genuine forgiveness of his father. He says with obvious sincerity, I love my father. He also feels that as his father was never able to give up drinking, his, Martin’s, having done so was also for his father sake. It was a gift to both of them, not passing that unhappiness and pain down the generations.

True Forgive-ness is important from both sides. Jesus emphasized this in teaching his disciples to pray “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive others.” We must learn to forgive for our own sake. Many people today have come across this idea, that holding on to anger and grudges harms us, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, even physically. Anger eats us up. And if we are easily offended, thinking others owe us respect and good treatment, we are more likely to end up angry. There are still many aspects to this for peace & collective happiness.

I was once struck by a precept from a 12th step program, from a list of things I can do, “just for today”: “Just for today I will not show anyone that my feelings are hurt, they may be hurt but I will not show it.” I was intrigued by this but could not really see the point. But since then I have realized that often our being unkind and hurtful and offensive to others is based on defense mechanisms. We feel we have been hurt somehow, or not shown the respect we “deserve” and we strike out.  So if we are not going to show our feelings are hurt, we will not be immediately striking out in defense, hurting others. Often there was no intention to offend or hurt us anyhow, so by showing we are hurt we may stir things up, or hurt someone else as well, with no cause other than our over sensitivity. And just as important as not showing we are feeling hurt, is not holding onto a grudge that later causes us to strike out. Not holding onto a grudge means forgiving.

That is one side of the equation of offenses and forgiveness: If others offend us, we should forgive. But just as importantly we must also beg to be forgiven from those we offend.

Myself, I am often needing to be forgiven. Sometimes I have had to go to great lengths, dressing up as a witch to apologize to a work colleague who was justifiably angry at me, or carrying a white flag to a friend’s house so I could go in and beg forgiveness. I hope my outbursts have lessened and diminished, but again just yesterday I lost patience and showed it. It worried me, and during my time for meditation I could not settle, knowing that that Supreme Being on whom I wished to meditate was not happy that I should be unkind to another soul. So I sent a text to this person apologizing for my impatience and unkind tone. After writing the text (although I didn’t send it as it was early and I feared waking her family with the beeps of the text going through), I was able to concentrate better and dive into my meditation.

But why is offending others so damaging? To someone who is sensitive it is naturally painful to see others hurt. But it affects even the dull hearted. This is because we will only really be happy when we have an intense personal loving relationship with the Perfect Person, and that Perfect Person doesn’t like seeing His children hurt each other, it makes Him unhappy with us, therefore the development of that relationship is hindered, even cut off, if we are offensive to others. This is recognized in the 12th step precept that states one must make amends where-ever possible, to anyone we have harmed. The 12th step program understands that addiction is due to lack of relationship with a Higher Power, and that if you are harming others you are damaging your contact with that Higher Power, so you will not be serene and happy and thus may be prey to addictions again.

We should not be so shallow as to think that this only pertains to hurting someone physically, or stealing from them and so on. Even saying bad things about someone is offensive.  And the more spiritually developed the person you harm or offend is, the more damaging such comments and offenses will be. So the best thing is to never unnecessarily hurt or offend anyone. (Yes, there is necessary pain… think of a surgeon for instance.)

I recall hearing of a friend, who on being acclaimed for never losing her temper or even sounding cross at anyone said,”Ah but in my mind I do.” How much better than most of us that is. How many of us can keep our ire inside, not express unnecessary anger and hurt others in the process? If we cannot keep from saying and doing hurtful things to other, even to the level of cold shouldering, or rolling your eyes, or otherwise using body language and tone of voice to hurt or intimate bad things of someone, then we have two choices. We can suffer the diminishment of love and happiness that follows such behavior, the hardening of the heart and the gradual coarsening of character, or we can seek forgiveness of the person we offended. No use asking Peter to forgive you if you have beaten up Paul right? And similarly no use asking God to forgive you for hurting someone else. The Vedic texts make this very clear. The good news is that once having sincerely apologized, the spiritual block is removed, and we can develop further, hopefully having learnt a lesson.

Of course most of us will lose our temper from time to time, especially with those we spend a lot of time with, often our family members, but just because they are family doesn’t mean it is OK to be mean. We should learn to control that tongue, and if we fail in that, to humble ourselves and apologize to make things right again. It may be as simple as a quick hug and “Sorry I was such a grouch,” or it may be something that requires more formality and explanation. Every situation is different.

But, unless we are blessed with such equanimity and sweetness of temper that we never offend anyone, learning to humble ourselves to apologize is something we all must undertake sooner or later, if not in this life, then in another.

🙂

Simplify Your Life

Managing our life in this modern world all too often means managing a virtual avalanche of activities, responsibilities, decisions, information, and “stuff”. We have more on our plate than we know what to do with. Although we take on so much in the hope that it will bring us real happiness and fulfillment, very often we end up feeling overwhelmed, frazzled, stressed out and burnt out. Ironically, we experience relatively little peace, happiness, and satisfaction for all of our sacrifice and endeavoring in the pursuit of it.

Responsibility

If we are feeling overwhelmed by the fullness of our busy lives and yet we do not feel full and happy in the core of our hearts, then it is clear that something is out of balance. It is not just that we need less stuff in our lives, rather we need to be able recognize what is actually fulfilling for us and what is not, so that we can reorganize our lives accordingly.

In order to do this, we need to know very clearly who we are and what the actual purpose for our existence is. If we do not, then it will be impossible for us to discern what will be truly beneficial to have in our lives and what merely drains our valuable time and energy.

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Happily Let Go of the Desire To Control

We are obviously not in control of everything. When we take an honest look at the immensity of what is beyond our control, it is a wonder that we would even try. In all of our years here, we have not even been able to gain more than very limited and temporary control over just our own mind and body – and virtually no control over the natural environment, other living beings, and so on. Yet, despite our tremendous lack of control, many of us still have such a strong desire to be in control that we feel compelled to keep trying – even though our attempts to do so our are causing us almost constant anxiety, frustration, and misery.

anxiety and frustration

So why do we do it? Why do we continue to try to control what is beyond our control?

Because we think we will find the happiness, peace, and satisfaction that we are longing for in manipulating material circumstances to our liking. We think if we can just control things enough, we will actually be happy and fulfilled – and remain so.

But the reality is that material things and circumstances can never bring us real and lasting happiness. Not simply because we can never completely control them, but because we are made of spiritual energy, not matter. Material things can stimulate temporary and superficial pleasure sensations in the mind and body, but they can never actually touch us – the spiritual being that is temporarily wearing the material mind and body.

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