If you live on the North Island of New Zealand, like me, it’s been a charged time. My heart goes out to all those who have been affected by Cyclone Gabrielle.
Whether you’ve watched the cyclone devastation unfold on the news, or you’ve been on the ground in the areas hardest hit, it’s near on impossible to remain unaffected.
Can you relate to feeling heavy, sleepy, inert, or a desire to resist or just “numb out” from it all?
After any excessive activity – be it physical (i.e., helping communities clean up and rebuild) and/or mental (fears/anxieties/worries/overwhelm/ helplessness), we often fall into states of low energy, dullness, inertia and depression. In Ayurveda, this is known as the energy of tamas manifesting in the mind. While that description may sound negative, tamas actually serves a purpose and contributes to an overall balanced way of living.
We require the quality of tamas every night when we settle in for sleep, as well as when our bodies need rest to recover from illness or periods of over-exhaustion. The key is moderation and this is where we often get stuck.
Too much tamas in our lives results in sluggishness, laziness, dullness of the mind, and even depression. It can manifest itself as resistance to moving forward in some or all areas of our lives. When tamas becomes unbalanced it causes disturbances in the body, mind and spirit.
Tamas brings heaviness and lethargy. It tips us off our perch.
Rajas is the opposite of tamas. Rajas is the movement and activity of the body and mind. We need rajas (also in moderation) to go about the business of our lives, from eating to working to entertainment, rajas gets us out of bed each morning.
Just like tamas, too much rajas can be harmful. Rather than a dullness of the mind, rajas can produce over-stimulation of the mind. Lots of thoughts, restlessness, tension, too many desires and too many things to be done, swinging between being very happy or extremely sad – these are all signs of excessive rajas.
When we are sustaining a proper balance of tamas and rajas, we invite sattva into our life. Sattva is our inherent quality of awareness, compassion, clarity and balance – and is the key factor in bringing us to lasting peace and happiness.
Our lives are a play of these three gunas – tamas, rajas and sattva – both inwardly and outwardly. It’s a bit like Goldilocks and her porridge – not too heavy (tamas), not too light (rajas) – just right (sattva).
Each of us has all three gunas, which change over the movement of time, starting on a daily basis. The three gunas also show us the way of development and transformation, or how we can evolve in consciousness.
We need to learn to promote sattva within us in order to overcome the suffering caused by the other two gunas.
A helpful practice is to find a quiet place to sit with yourself and check in with your body. Ask yourself these questions and meditate or journal on what comes up;
Physically: Am I feeling sluggish or lethargic (tamas)? Am I feeling restless or tense (rajas)? Perhaps your body is feeling just right, in which case you may already be in balance (sattva) physically.
Emotionally: Notice your heart. Am I feeling depressed or lonely (tamas)? Am I feeling anxious or aggressive (rajas)? Then again, perhaps your heart is feeling calm and harmonious (sattva), in which case you might simply express gratitude for this.
Mentally: Is my mind slow, cloudy and dull (tamas)? Is it racing with thoughts or dwelling on fears and worries (rajas)? If your mind feels focused and clear (sattva), enjoy it!
Spiritually: Do I experience difficulty connecting with my spirit or something bigger than myself? If yes, it is likely due to an imbalance of either tamas or rajas, as both can present barriers to spiritual connection.
If you find yourself being unmotivated or not able to concentrate properly; if you find yourself numbing out with temporary fixes – Netflix, scrolling, dumb (dead) foods, alcohol, drugs or [insert binge vice here] – this is tamas and your invitation is to choose something different. What are you going to do differently?
You can’t just think your way out of tamas; you have to take action (rajas). And you always want to start with the body – through movement and diet. Clarity, lightness and steadiness of mind (sattva) will always follow when the body is well nourished and moving freely.
Some ideas to consider;
Do you need to boost your level of physical activity or breath work (rajas), or spend some more time in mindful relaxation (tamas)?
Do you want to engage in a creative activity to stimulate your mind (rajas), or set aside some time to meditate to offer your mind some much-needed stillness (tamas)?
What about the food you’re nourishing yourself with? Eating fresh foods, in quality and quantity, that leave you feeling light and at ease. If you don’t feel too heavy when you go to bed or wake up, then you are eating the right amount of proper food.