To understand how to take difficult decisions and engage in all type of actions with a positive attitude, we first have to understand what the Gita means by action.
My reflections are primarily based on notes I took during a reading of the Bhagavad Gita by Andrea Boni.
I scribbled, abstracted, combined Andrea’s passionate words with my thoughts and experiences. Thank you so much, Andrea! The Gita is a poetic text. I apologize if during my attempt to apply its wisdom to the modern, western world, a lot of its beauty gets lost. Please keep in mind that my goal is not to explain the original sources, but to distill the original thoughts into a practical guide.
It’s in our nature to be active. The moment we are conceived, the process of life starts. We slowly grow, our heart starts beating. We are born and quickly learn to breath. Our subconscious is always active, controlling heart and respiratory systems, keeping us alive. Then we learn to use our brain, thoughts form in our mind. Most thoughts are directly triggered by sensory input, emotions. We feel hungry, we start crying. Later on we start mastering speech. We look at the people around us and soon realize, that they react when we utter sounds like “play” or “kiss”. It’s an amazing thing to be able to act on the world through speech. Wonderful. Through a lot of practice we learn how to use our muscles, move our body. We grab things, walk around. Start building sand castles, wooden swords. Many years later we are finally ready to explore the world on our own. Our life lies ahead of us.
The three forms of action are thought, speech and physical action. It is paramount to recognize, that thoughts are actions too. If we put our head into a neuroimaging machine, we can observe how our thoughts activate certain areas of the brain. Fascinating.
In the Bhagavad Gita the activity in our mind is modeled using the metaphor of the “battlefield of our life”. One army represents all the worries about the future, painful feelings and bad experiences. The other, much smaller army, stands for serenity, happiness. In our life we often stand between these two armies. Depending on our nature we might freeze, run away or get aggressive. It’s not wrong to react according to ones nature. But will such a reaction really help to win – in the long run – the battle against the army of negative thoughts?
To win the battle we have to revisit how we grow from cell to baby, kid, teenager, student, adult and finally to old fellow. If I tell the story by starting with us as babies, I automatically put a lot of emphasis on the growth of the individual person, its evolution. Scientifically we know that babies develop a sense of self around the sixth to seventh month. Around this time babies start to realize that they are not one with mom any more. As toddlers we commence using words like “my”, “mine” or “no”. Our ego starts developing. I suppose it’s an incredible feeling, when a toddler finally manages to get his parents to respond to its feelings and wishes. It’ a beautiful thing. But we have to be careful. Our sense of ego might grow so strong, that we start thinking of ourselves as the center of the world. Every thing which happens to us is immediately interpreted “why me”. And we might feel a strong sense of separation from the rest of the world. So strong that brilliant minds came up with an economic theory, that postulates that every one is every ones enemy. And that if everyone tries to maximize his own benefit things would balance out, eventually. How sad.
A healthy ego is an important thing. It keeps us alive, focused, eager to take the next step. We want a career, more money, a better job. But we have to realize two things. First we are not in control of every event in our life. It’s not our fault, if the economy breaks down the day we finish university (even if our ego tells us that this would not have happened, if we had not taken that trip around then world). Second, even if we get the CEO job with lots of money and power, our ego will soon tell us that there is even a better job out there. Sooner then later we will feel the urge to move on again, and the cycle for the next step up begins.
What have we learned so far, which could help us when facing a difficult decision?
For me the first step is to imagine myself standing between the two opposing armies. Like in the drawing above. I then let my eye wander across the army of negative thoughts and think: “Wow, all these thoughts! It’s all happening in my mind, incredible. My mind is racing, trying to convince me to speak or act. My ego knows exactly what I should do. But wait! I’m investing all this energy into thought? No wonder I feel tired in the evening. Maybe I’m simply focusing to much on the outcome of my decision, instead of enjoying the fact that I’m in a position to act at all. Incredible how I instinctively react to sensory input. What if I could learn to act in a more balanced way?”
Let’s explore the art of acting in the next post.