Balancing the Emotions

Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati

You have mentioned that the practices of Satyananda Yoga lead to the balancing of the emotions. After many years of yogic practice, some of us still have difficulties in balancing the emotions. What practices should we do or what approach should we take?

To begin with, we have to understand a few things. Most of our actions are directed by our head, by the intelligence, or buddhi, while emotions, or bhavana, the expressions of the heart, are not really understood.

What is an emotion? If we look at it, we see that the second part of the word is 'motion', movement. When we use the word 'emotion' it means movement of the subtle, psychic self. The intellectual self is in the head, the psychic self is in the heart. The traditions have spoken on the subject saying that the soul resides in the heart centre. We should not interpret this literally, that the soul is literally residing in the heart centre, but we should try to understand that soul means the psychic nature, the spiritual nature, and that the experience and expression of the spirit take place through the heart. Therefore, all the traditions in the past have emphasized the need to nurture, develop and expand the feelings of love and compassion and all the positive qualities that emanate from the heart.

Harmonizing the gross and subtle natures

So emotion is the movement, the dynamism, of the subtle psychic personality. This emotion is not what we experience in the form of anger, or passion, or frustration; it is not even what we experience in the form of love or compassion. Rather it represents a state of harmony between the gross nature and the subtle nature – that is real emotion. What we express in our life is only a reaction that takes place between our feelings and their association with the mind. For example, why do you get angry? It is because of an association between the energy of the heart and the present experience of the mind, and that triggers off your reaction. Jealousy acts as a similar trigger. Anger, violence, crime, compassion, equanimity, serenity are all expressions of an interactive process which is taking place between head and heart. But we can use these expressions to move towards a state of balance within ourselves, by observing, analyzing and understanding where we are going wrong. Even the eradication of anger or the discovery of compassion and love are not the answers to finding this balance or harmony between the gross, manifest nature and the subtle, psychic nature which is lying dormant.

Human beings are extroverted by nature, identifying with the senses and the external environment. We have been looking out so much that we have forgotten to look within. We have lost touch, lost the awareness, the quality of observation that can help us find equanimity between the gross self and the subtle self.

So our experience of the interaction between heart and head is always just a reaction. We react, and we believe that reaction is an expression of our emotion – but yoga says no! The yogic term for emotions is bhavana, which is different from passion, kamana, and mental obsession, vasana. Here we are talking about bhavana where there is harmony between head and heart. In order to awaken the bhavana, the real emotion, the first condition is that we have to stop reacting. When you react, intelligence becomes clouded; the discriminative ability, viveka, no longer exists, and personal peace is lost. Even in love there is a conditioned expression of mind, because in love there is always an expectation, always passion and desire – and these are also reactions.

So yoga says: stop reacting. But this stopping of the reaction does not mean that you isolate yourself from what is happening around you; so yoga also says: be involved. It is an involvement but without reacting; it is an involvement that is flowing, and therefore you do not experience struggle – flow is passive and struggle is reaction. This is the stage we have to come to in order to experience the harmony between the gross and the subtle nature.

Sadhana: regularity, continuity and conviction

Now the concept of sadhana has to be understood in the right perspective. Our mind is a monkey mind. But more than that, just imagine a monkey that cannot sit still, and if that monkey becomes drunk what will happen? And, if that drunken monkey is stung by a scorpion, what then? Our mind is like a drunken monkey stung by a scorpion – it is not even just a monkey mind. We are intoxicated by our passions, our desires, our expectations, our likes and dislikes. And we are stung by the scorpions of life which condition our nature to identify with a certain dimension of reality and experience only that, and to ignore those other more subtle dimensions that we are unable to identify with, logically or consciously. So our viewpoint becomes very narrow. With that narrow viewpoint we begin to believe that we have expanded awareness, that we have expanded our consciousness, that we have attained freedom – but in reality that is self-delusion.

In order to overcome this self-delusion, this is where sadhana comes in – the practice of meditation. Sadhana has to be understood correctly. I have come across thousands of people who say, “I have been practising meditation for the last so many years yet still I feel I have not progressed, I have not evolved, and I am still in the same place.” I ask one thing, “Are you regular with your meditation?” Some say yes, some say no. Then I ask, “Do you follow one type of meditation right to the end, or not?” Then they say, no, one day they do this practice because it feels right that day; another day they do something else because that is right for that day. This is the flirtatious nature of the mind.

There is a sutra in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali which emphasizes the point that sadhana has to be regular, continuous and that you should have faith in the process; these are the three things: regularity, continuity and the component of faith. In the Yoga Sutras, we find also that there are very clear stages: pratyahara, dharana and dhyana. Each stage and each practice has a purpose.

In pratyahara, for example, take antar mouna, the observation of thoughts. You have to complete the process and reach the point where you are able to control your thoughts before moving on to the next stage. You should be able to channel your thoughts, guide your thoughts, direct and express your thoughts before you move on from antar mouna to another practice. If, when trying to know a practice, you only do it for one week and, because you find it too heady, then go on and do something else and try that for another week; and then you feel that that is not appropriate to your nature and try something else, then you are simply skimming the surface, and not diving deep into the ocean of consciousness.

Despite all the guidelines and instructions, the techniques and practices, this is where we fail. We are not able to understand the purpose of each practice of yoga. We compare everything according to our conditioned nature – this is what I need, this is what I want. But how can this mind, this untranscendental mind, know what is required in order to experience something that is transcendental? How can a child, who is learning to read and write, understand the concepts of nuclear physics? We are in the state of childhood where our spiritual life and yoga are concerned. We are inspired, no doubt, by the concepts, ideas and theories, whether of the chakras, or kundalini, or kriya, or consciousness, or prana, or vitality, or the koshas, or this and that. We have to be inspired, we have to be motivated, but our approach has to begin with the very basic steps.

Alignment of head and heart

In this age of supermarkets, yoga cannot be a product that you find in the supermarket. It should be a product that we cultivate in the field of our life according to our ability. This emotion, or bhavana, is definitely a process that can lead us to discover the harmony of all the human qualities. Once there is alignment between head and heart, the expression becomes different. When there is no alignment, no harmony between head and heart, our actions have no aim. So what the yogic traditions say is that you should adhere to a path and go right to the end of the road. When you reach the end of that road, you will see a crossroad, maybe a signpost, and then you take another road.

The true yogic traditions are very firm in this belief: that there is no way you can avoid or jump over the basic instincts which make up the basic nature of life. You have to go through them, you have to awaken them, to experience them, channel and harmonize them. You have to do all the things that are necessary. This understanding of sadhana is very important: regularity, continuity and conviction.

So let us try to become regular, let us try to have that inner conviction, the inner strength that knows that behind every dark cloud there is a shining sun. Let us work on that before we attempt to indulge in concepts which are beyond our reach. Let us understand which class we are in at present, and not count the years of our involvement. Then we can be open to the receptivity, the clarity and the understanding of our mind and of our nature. This is most important.

—Wales, June 10, 2000