Working with What’s in Front of You
My apologies for the unannounced hiatus from this blog. When I published my last post in September 2011, I intended to take the rest of the year off to complete a project, resuming with new posts in January.
That’s the thing with momentum and inertia. Maintaining a weekly workout routine is one thing; getting started and developing that routine is a different matter. An object in motion tends to stay in motion; an object at rest tends to stay at rest. Thank you, Sir Isaac Newton. You are correct, but the Hindus have known this for thousands of years.
In Hindu philosophy there are three gunas or qualities of consciousness. Tamas represents inertia, darkness, or sloth. Rajas is activity, action or change. Sattva is the principle of purity or goodness.
In tamas, we tend to get stuck, lethargic, listless, and lazy. In rajas, we thrive on activity, motion, and busyness. And in a sattvic state, we are filled with freshness and positivity; are minds are steady and calm.
There’s good reason that we project a value judgment or ranking on these three qualities. In fact, they are generally represented in a hierarchy as in the Bhagavad-Gita. Purity seems to trump activity; activity trumps inertia. But all three gunas are part of life. All three qualities serve a vital function. We aren’t any one quality; in a manner of speaking, we possess all three.
And yet, it seems apparent that we have a tendency to identify with a single quality. Highly active people pride themselves on their rajasic efforts. Tamasic people do as little as possible—the iconic couch potatoes. And sattvic folks, too, can develop a pride in respect to their tranquil ways. Every quality of consciousness has its shadow, its opposite.
Integrating the Three Qualities of Consciousness
Integration requires us to transcend and include. Moving beyond the state of inertia, we include tamas. Transcending rajas to enter a sattvic state, we include rajas.
If we think that one quality of consciousness is better than another—that we should always be active instead of inert, for instance—then we have dissociated from a part of ourselves, for surely all three basic qualities are part of us. Each quality is necessary and vital in its own way.
At times, we desire to be active but we find ourselves in a state of inertia. Our conscious minds want us to push through the inertia to build momentum and energy. But sometimes the state of inertia is exactly where we’re supposed to be.
This tamasic or inert state is associated with darkness, and darkness is associated with the unconscious. The unconscious includes all that exists outside of our conscious awareness (as such, some call the unconscious “God”).
It has been said that the source of our creativity lies in the unconscious, which is why illumination often comes after a period of reverie or mindless wandering. When we’re in a state of constant motion, as most of us in modern life inherently are, it’s difficult to tap into the wellspring of the unconscious. During periods of rest—as in sleep—dreams allow our minds to access this non-rational realm.
There are times when we must push through inertia and times when it’s best to simply ride it out. Knowing how to proceed requires us to learn to stop, to be still, to pay attention, and to listen. Amidst endless distraction and constant busyness we miss the subtle signs the unconscious gives us on how best to proceed.
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