A few days ago my son and I were walking in the beautiful Tahoe National Forest in Northern California. We were enjoying the peace and beauty of this magnificent environment: the trees, the wildflowers, and the little chipmunks scurrying around. We strolled along, talking about this and that with long periods of silence in between. Then the peace was broken by two rowdy, yelling people in a noisy ATV (all-terrain vehicle).
Once they passed, our talk drifted to the sorry state of American politics, where greed, power, and fear seem to have driven out common sense. No, this blog is not going to be about politics, but I am reminded of a bumper sticker I saw many years ago: “If God had wanted us to vote, He would have given us candidates.” We didn’t remain on this subject for long—the environment was too beautiful to be spoiled by such nonsense.
Our son, although born and raised at Ananda, has not chosen to follow our spiritual path. And yet, a deep sense of good values and dharma seeps from his pores. As our talk returned to more spiritual subjects, he said, “I noticed that I had a really strong negative reaction to those people driving and acting that way. I don’t like having such judgmental attitudes. How can I overcome them?” What a great question to build this blog around! Here is some of the discussion that followed.
Our thoughts, I explained to him, follow our feelings, which are centered in the area of the heart, the anahat chakra. Think of the heart area as the sending station for energy or prana. Negative reactions send the energy down the subtle spine, and the thoughts that follow are contractive and self-protective. Positive feelings send energy up, and then the mind supports the rising energy with affirmative reasoning. To control our reactions, we have to start by controlling the reactive process in the spine, and this brings us to the science of yoga.
Here are three ways to control the reactive process that I shared with him and now with you.
1) Breathe Your Way Out. The recognition of the link between breath, mind, and energy is one of India’s great gifts to the world. I recommended to my son that his first line of defense be the breath. “As soon as you realize you are reacting negatively,” I told him, “breathe in for a count of ten, hold the breath for ten, and exhale for ten. Do this two or three times and the negative reaction will dissipate like fog under the sun.”
2) Neutralize the Thought. You can neutralize negativity by introducing a positive thought in the opposite direction. “If,” I explained, “as soon as you had the negative thought about the noisy vehicle, you had introduced a positive thought, it would have neutralized the downward flow of energy.” I suggested that he think of something good about the people in the vehicle.
3) Divert Your Mind. “Think about anything except your judgmental thoughts,” I added. Even politics, although the conversation wasn’t exactly positive, was at least diverting. It pushed thoughts of that ATV into the background. Once we had regained our equilibrium, it was much easier to get the energy flowing positively again.
The trees and wildflowers worked their magic, and soon we again were enjoying a lovely walk and an even better talk.