There are times in every person’s life when personal difficulties arise in one form or another. These difficulties can cause a person to feel despondent, even discouraged. If the issues are overwhelming, or the circumstances really difficult, a person may become extremely discouraged and experience much distress in the mind. In yogic practices, it is the Yamas and Niyamas that address these human struggles. In particular, the practices of Niyama are important in changing how we relate to ourselves.
When psychological issues arise, practicing the Yamas and the Niyamas helps to relieve despondency, stress, strain and mental difficulties because these practices address our attitudes, understanding, and behavior, empowering us to move forward to a healthier paradigm.
When Shaoca is practiced, a pure mind, a pure heart, devoid of complicated motivations begins to develop. When Santosha is practiced, contentment with life becomes a possibility, the potential of a positive sense of acceptance and peace with what is arises. When you accept yourself as you are and what life brings to you as it is, you are in a position to heal the mind and body because there is acceptance of the totality of your experience. There is beauty both in the storms of life and beauty in the sunny days. The storms are needed to bring the waters that sustain life and the sun is needed to bring the life energy and light that allows life to grow and expand. Both are necessary in the cycles of nature and of our lives.
In the cycles of human experience, sometimes it is a sunny day and sometimes it is a rainy day but both are a part of the growth, development and nurturing of life. Recognizing this through the daily practice of Santosha, cultivating acceptance, contentment, finding a sense of well-being and peace of mind with life as it is, opens up possibilities in your life.
Then incorporating the practice of Tapas allows you to open to the experience of selfless love. Not only is peace, harmony and acceptance a real possibility in life, allowing you to appreciate the beauty of even the smallest joys, but cultivating awareness of yourself as part of a network of life becomes possible through selfless acts.
Learning through the practice of Tapas to relate to the world around you with kind and selfless acts towards others, to care for others, assisting them even though you have your own needs, opens the heart. When you assist living beings you begin to realize how much need others have. You begin to see that you are not the only one with troubles in this world and to care about the suffering of others. By seeing the troubles that other people have and helping them, you become more able to help yourself. You become aware that you are part of an integrated whole of life and that your small existence is part of something more vast. Your identity changes and you begin to see yourself in all beings.
Then incorporating the practice of Svadhyaya, you not only read books of wisdom, attend talks, webinars, workshops and so forth on spiritual teachings, but you cultivate access to the wisdom that springs from within the deeper layers of your being. Accessing the wisdom of the true Self within, training the mind to right thinking avoids many problems. The mind, trailing off into distorted thinking gets confused, and difficult states of mind and emotions can arise from old patterns of thought. When you establish the mind in truth, in love divine, recognizing the truth of your own divine nature and the truth of love unconditional, then many of these disturbing thoughts and tendencies fade away.
Finally through Ishvara Pranidhana, meditation upon the eternal One, surrendering everything you have been holding onto, all thoughts, ideas and concepts to the Divine, peace, calm and realization of the eternal nature of the Self can ensue. The Divine can take away all the thoughts that arise out of your identity with your individual existence and the related struggles and bring unconditional love to you. When you surrender all of your conditioned thinking to God, only all compassionate Divine presence is left.
All practices help the mind to gain clarity and balance. When there is purity of mind and heart from the practice of Shaoca, purity of spirit follows and all distortions fly away. In this way the practices of the Niyamas bring the mind to a quiet and still state of self-surrender in which the true Self shines forth. The mind becomes balanced and in harmony with all life.
The practices of the Yamas also help to quiet the distress in the mind. Practicing Ahimsa, keeping your thoughts compassionate, filled with loving kindness not only for others but for yourself as well, being forgiving of others and yourself, letting go of grudges, having compassion for the difficulties of others and for your own self clears many pains in the mind.
When you truly practice ahimsa, you refrain from violence and harmful thoughts and actions, not only towards others but towards yourself as well. It allows you to see the connections between people. The pain and suffering of your isolation in your ego begins to soften. So have compassion for all living beings. Practice forgiveness to those who have harmed you.
This does not mean to allow others to do harm to you or anyone else. It means don’t react to their harmful actions with aggression. Rather, accept the flaws and failings of human beings, and accept your faults and failings as well. All beings are children of the Divine, part and parcel of the family of the Infinite, so have compassion and kindness for all, including yourself.
To be truthful is difficult when the mind is clouded. Satya is not so easily practiced when the mind is distressed or disturbed because the mind generates all manner of difficult thoughts - resentful thoughts, hurtful thoughts, sad thoughts, worried thoughts and amid all of these different thoughts, where is Satya? Distorted thinking abounds when the mind is disturbed. Really speaking, thoughts however pleasant are not the source of truth; truth lies in the one eternal Self.
Thoughts inconsistent with the nature of the eternal Self are not the deepest truth. Thoughts that recognize the Divinity in all beings, holding all with unconditioned love including yourself, those thoughts bring you closer to truth. When you see the one eternal Brahma in all things, you abide in truth. When you feel self-criticism, when you feel resentments, angers and hurts – when you feel that others have the power to harm you, you reside in only partial truths and the deeper truth evades you.
The eternal Self is omnipresent and omnipotent. The truth of that existence is eternal. Cling to that one alone and you will find safety. When all the desires in the mind become directed towards the Infinite One, when all the wishes, all the engagements of life are directed to the Divine, when all is seen as Divine, then the sometimes unpleasant life, the mundane is transmuted into a Divine arena. Your relationship to your existence shifts.
Practicing Asteya, not stealing or desiring what others have, also brings mental balance and not practicing it can bring psychological struggles. When there are difficulties in life, sometimes you may wish to be like someone else whom you might admire. You project on to them happiness, success and abundance that you may feel you do not have. If money is your issue, then you may think, "If only I were rich like this person, then my life would be fine". If emotional struggles are your issue then you may think, "If only I were calm and peaceful like that person, then my life would be good. Then I could be happy". If loneliness is your issue, then you may think, "Oh if only I had a partner like this other person, then my life would be good". Instead of practicing Santosha and finding the joy and harmony in your own existence, you begin to covet, to desire and to think that somebody else has it better than you. You begin to think that only if you had what they have, then your life would be good. When you feel this, resentment comes in the mind. Resentment that they have something you do not. Anger arises and out of anger and resentment, perhaps mean thoughts and even aggressive actions.
So to practice Asteya, to not steal is more complicated than simply not stealing others’ property or their identity. It has a subtle psychological form where not stealing means not wanting what others have. Thinking someone else has more than you, more friends, more social skills, more money, more power, more prestige, more happiness and therefore you want what they have leads to unhappiness about your own situation.
When the mind flows in these tracks, Asteya is broken. There is an attempt to steal, even if only in the mental plane, to want, to desire. This means there is a feeling of lack inside yourself; somehow what you are, how you are is not good enough. What you have is not good enough so Santosha is lost and Satya is broken because it is not the truth; you are Divine. You are perfect as you are. Ahimsa is also violated with this thinking because you do harm to yourself with your thoughts. Brahmacharya is broken because you are not seeing all as Divine.
So, you see, when you move out of alignment with these principles, it goes in all directions and when you recognize these pitfalls and step away from them, changing your attitude, that also assists you in all directions. To have love for yourself, to feel secure in your own Divine nature, to have compassion for yourself as well as for others, to have self-acceptance, contentment, joy in what is, this aligns with the Yamas and Niyamas and brings harmony and joy in your life. To have gratitude for all the little joys God has provided in your life, all the beauty - the beauty of a sunrise, the beauty of a flower, the opportunity to help another, all the joys, all the kindnesses provided in your life - the fact that you are cared for, that you have food on your table, that you have anyone who does kindness to you, this gratitude brings you in alignment.
You are provided for in so many ways. When you feel the abundance of unconditional love, what need is there to accumulate so much? But when you feel a lack inside of yourself, then to cover that lack you want to acquire and to acquire, to have more and more. Then simplicity goes out of life and Aparigraha is violated. When Aparigraha, not accumulating beyond your needs, is followed, there is a fullness inside. You acknowledge the fullness of your own life. You acknowledge the fullness of what the Divine has given to you.
When you do this, you do not feel lack, you feel safe in your Divine origins and you know that you do not need to have so much money in the bank to be safe. You do not need to have so many possessions to be safe. You do not need to have so much power to be safe, to be loved, to be cared for. You realize all you need is in your natural state of being. Your safety and well-being are in the shower of unconditional love and grace falling on you every moment.
This desire for material accumulations need not be indulged. Have what you need to live a comfortable life. Do not engage your fears of not having, for you are always cared for through thick and thin. You know, though Parama Purusha loves you, old age still comes. Illness still comes in people’s lives, struggles and trials and difficulties come in people’s lives and eventually death comes to your body. This in no way negates the shower of unconditional grace that is your very Source.
But human life is such that it is fleeting and the human body frail, so that both pain and pleasure exist in this realm; gain and loss are a part of human existence. And the pain and sorrow of loss can be very deep indeed. With the Yamas and Niyamas, allow yourself to appreciate the beauty of your own existence, the beauty of the love that is Divine, even in the pain of loss and the struggles of sorrow. Good times and bad times come and go in human life but love Divine is a constant. As you do these practices to train the mind, remember this and look on the bright side of life. Then surely you will lead a happy life and all will be well, even through the hard times, the losses and the struggles.