After 18 months I stopped the daily practice of the ITIES. They returned again and again though like flashes. Especially at those moments when I failed to apply an ITY and found myself saying: "Why didn't you.....? You should have....!" Yet there was no judgement involved, I had become an observer of my actions in relation to the ITIES.
At the same time, I started to see the ITIES in a larger context, firstly as part of the hustle and bustle of a life between birth and death, secondly as part of the SWAN theory and therefore as part of the psychological make-up of man, and thirdly as the link between man and nature. These three areas correspond in a certain way to Yoga Philosophy, Yoga Psychology and Yoga Ecology.
The ITIES remind us that we have to live life with death and birth in mind. The ITIES are a process of continual births and deaths. The deaths of habits, preconceived ideas, prejudices and behavioural patterns give birth to a new approach, a new vision and new possibilities of interacting with the world. Life is the time span given to practise and perfect all ITIES. The ITIES help to overcome opposites, to sharpen the faculty of discrimination, to be constantly aware, to let go and know detachment. Maybe at the end, after so many deaths and births, we will be ready to die without fear, without desires.
The practice of the ITIES takes us beyond the mental fabric of opposites and to the range of human experience as symbolized by the chakras. We stop seeing the world in opposites. There is no more good and bad (mooladhara chakra). The difference between man and woman (swadhisthana chakra) loses its impact. The roles of master and servant (manipura chakra) are reversed and become irrelevant. The opposites of 'mine and yours', and of 'me and you' (anahata chakra), of giving and taking (vishuddhi chakra) disappear. The world within and the world around are but reflections of each other (ajna chakra). With the opposites gone, there is no need to judge. With the opposites gone, we leave the prison of the mind and we are free to be aware. Life without opposites and therefore without judgement is a life free of expectations and desires. Instead there is conscious contentment. There is a contentment that knows where it has come from and why it exists.
This contentment, santosha, we also find as one of the niyamas or inner disciplines along the path of raja yoga. Serenity is a beautiful expression of contentment. All the ITIES aim at shaucha, cleanliness. A focused mind is a clean mind. Head, heart and hands that know what to do are clean and free of unnecessary mental chatter and wasted physical energy. The whole process of the ITY practice is tapas, austerity, because it is a process of transformation, of purification. In the same way, the ITIES are a process of swadhyaya, self-study. Ishwara pranidhana, generation of faith, is also one of the aspects of the ITIES. Like the SWAN theory, the practical application of the ITIES helps us to know our limitations, our strengths and ourselves. They show us where and how we can become better human beings. Negativity is reduced, and does not stay for long. If we are not able to be positive at all times, at least the ITIES have shown us how to regain a positive state. At the end of the 18 ITIES we have learnt to develop faith.
The external disciplines, the yamas are also contained in the ITIES. Satya, truthfulness, is possible after the ITIES have crystallized ideas and patterns of behaviour, and shown the way to overcome both. Ahimsa, or non-violence, is a direct outcome of many ITIES. Opposition ceases and we learn to accept and participate in an active way in the world around us. Veracity or asteya, honesty, is also the result of a perception free of a preconceived, programmed vision. The last six ITIES are a lesson in aparigraha, non-possessiveness of material wealth. But all 18 ITIES teach us how to let go of attachments to mental limitation. The last yama, brahmacharya, means 'to roam in Brahma consciousness, to follow the law of the divine'. The ITIES allow for a glimpse of this divine law in everyday life. Yet in order to follow it, we will need to perfect all 18 ITIES and live them at every moment.
Besides contentment and the lesson of the yamas and niyamas, the ITIES teach us how to find balance. The first six ITIES (serenity, regularity, absence of vanity, sincerity, simplicity and veracity,) give us the tools to overcome sluggishness and laziness (tamas). The next six ITIES (equanimity, fixity, non-irritability, adaptability, humility and tenacity) have a hold on the excessive, uncontrolled mental and physical activity (rajas). The last six ITIES (integrity, nobility, magnanimity, charity, generosity and purity) offer an outlet and a way of expressing inner strength and balance for the good of others (sattwa). It is a continuous process implying and involving all 18 ITIES. They coexist and need each other, but the direction is clear: the aim is to live life in a sattwic way.
The ITIES are a way to integrate life into the play of birth and death. Each time we fail to live an ITY, we fail to die to a long overdue pattern or attitude. Each time we put an ITY into practice, we live a little birth, a moment of renewal. Awareness helps to bring the ITIES to the surface and the will to practise the ITIES increases awareness. Both awareness and ITIES are able to turn every moment into a unique creative instant. Awareness and ITIES are the two sides of the coin called creativity.
The ITIES unfold the wealth of human experience; they unveil self-imposed limitations as well as new horizons. A coexistence of all possible expressions emerges, allowing for a life of unity within diversity.
The ITIES can be seen in relation to the SWAN theory (strength, weakness, ambition and need). They not only shape each strength, they reveal hidden and hitherto unknown strengths. Each ITY is a strength, and any other strength is part of at least one of the 18 ITIES.
Each ITY is an antidote to any weakness. If we take impatience (as a weakness) then serenity can help us to be impatient without the accompanying feelings, like moodiness or anger. Regularity may help to adjust time management, absence of vanity may demonstrate how much self-centred vanity and desire to control lie beneath impatience. Sincerity will teach us how to make good use of the time we think we are wasting. Simplicity will reduce the frenzy of mental activity that is always part of impatience; veracity is a way of setting right our own responsibility in regard to the situation.
Equanimity is of course the direct opposite of impatience, so are fixity and non-irritability. Adaptability teaches us to make the most of the situation in a positive and constructive way. Humility again reduces the self-importance that is probably feeding the impatience. Tenacity keeps us from running away or from giving up.
Integrity brings head, heart and hands back in line after each has gone its separate direction under the influence of impatience. Nobility simply does not tolerate impatience.
Magnanimity, charity and generosity open the heart for something greater than the little personal will. Purity is surrender.
In this way each ITY deals with a weakness such as impatience and contributes to the process of reducing or eliminating the weakness.
The ITIES give ambitions a positive and efficient shape. No ITY could ever be in the way of an ambition that seeks to do good. An ambition that intends to harm could not possibly resist the persuasive force of the ITIES.
Definitely the first effect of the ITIES is to reduce the number of needs. Maybe once the ITIES are applied there won't be any but the most essential needs left. Detachment grows and desires disappear.
The SWAN theory and its practical application have a transformative potential. The purpose of the ITIES is nothing else but transformation. They are the tools to increase awareness, thus opening the gateway to a life full of harmony.
Mother Nature is an inspiring model, an ideal: the generous apple tree, the vineyard, the noble mountains, the river and lakes, the flowers, the sun, the moon and the sky. It is easy to find ITIES exemplified in nature.
But what about nature unleashed? The same sun that gives us warmth and guarantees growth may scorch the land and burn the harvest of millions of people. The rain that nurtures the earth is the same torrential rain that uproots trees and washes away houses and crops, leaving millions unfed.
In these situations nature is far away from being an exemplary ITY. Instead of serenity there is harshness and cruelty. She is vain, insincere, she is more than just irritated, she does not adapt to her surroundings but destroys without mercy everything along her path. She is not humble but wants to control and it seems that in such moments she only takes and has forgotten to give. Nature may reflect man, his destructive and creative potential.
Pollution though is the insane battle between man's arrogance and nature. It is a battle that needs to stop because both sides will be left losers. Man has lost respect for the natural environment and it is the role and duty of each one to restore the balance. We see nature only as the servant of man. She is good when she serves man, she is bad when she destroys what man has created. We have to learn to coexist with her. We shall not only take from her, but also learn to give her the chance she needs to live.
Albert Einstein said that the atomic bomb had changed everything except our way of thinking. He said: "We cannot solve a problem with the same mind that has created the problem. We need a new way of thinking."
For me, the ITIES are a way towards "a new way of thinking". The ITIES reveal to us that there is no difference between what goes on around us and within us. The ITIES show that there is an ongoing process, a process of destruction and renewal, of deaths and births. The ITIES have the potential to make us more responsible and more active in this process. The ITIES have the potential to change our way of living and acting. They have the potential to give us a "new way of thinking" and show us how to use it in a life of service to man and nature.
The ITIES seen in this context will also relate to children. They could be a counter-force to the emptiness and feeling of loss children face today.
In the family, the different family members could invent games around the ITIES. Playing charades is a possibility where each family member has to enact an ITY while the others have to guess. Children could draw whatever they feel like in an abstract form, just colours and shapes, or figurative pictures. Sound is another means of approaching the ITIES - children could invent melodies and songs for each ITY, tales and stories. There are no limits.
At school, a class could practise the ITIES in different ways. An hour a week could be set aside to discuss the ITIES, either the whole class practising one ITY a week, or different groups practising different ITIES and then exchanging their experiences and discoveries. More of the treasures inherent in the ITIES would be revealed once seen through the eyes and lived with the open heart of a child. The discussion and exchange could help to make the children feel part of a group, a community. To know that all are striving, all are failing but trying again could help to break the exaggerated sense of individuality that only leads to isolation and loneliness.
Another way is to confront children with the opposite of each ITY, to show and discuss the destructive aspect of the ITY-opposite. Here are just a few examples.
The ITIES are easy to relate to, they are practical and their presence is everywhere. Children will surely enjoy looking at their lives through the ITIES. Through play the children will make these 18 qualities a living reality in their own lives - qualities that we all possess but need to express. The ITIES could be a game of self-discovery, a way to explore the world and a key to keep the heart open for a new way of thinking and a life full of joy.