We cannot Balance Our Lives with Simplistic “Stress Reduction” and “Mall Yoga”

The very process of living a joyful life in relation to relationships, work and money in the beginning of the twenty-first century requires robust physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual health. It is a complex balancing act that takes more than the simple techniques of stress reduction and a weekly yoga class. Rather, it requires continual awareness of our subtle nature. The world we live in, in the second decade of the twenty-first century, calls for maximizing material wellbeing. Across the globe, there is one underlying assumption that seems to be ubiquitous: we need to strive to decrease the apparent uncertainty of material experiences and to extend continuity of preferred experiences. The most common thinking that follows from this central assumption is that the only way we can decrease uncertainty and maintain our preferred experiences is by acquiring and indulging in more material things.

At the back of our minds there is also the looming anxiety of global warming and depletion of natural resources like fossil fuels and, more immediately, how increases in energy prices and lack of economic growth will drive changes in our lives: in how we work, consume, and related to each other. This is the back drop in which we play out our roles on the global stage. A stage on which the economic, political and media leadership daily celebrate the communication revolution unfolding in hyper-drive, as large systems acquire information about every facet of our lives to store, repackage for endless redistribution. And, as we engage with this hyper-connected world, it reflects back to us a myriad of partially changing identities, continually fragments and churning our sense of self.

The Advaita (Non-Dual) perspective regards classical economic views of living life in this globalized world, informed as it is with rational European Enlightenment based paradigms, as valid on their own narrow terms but needing to be embedded in a much more comprehensive, self-aware, and acute understanding of our own nature and the realities around us. Advaita does not ask us to put aside the insights of the economists and theorists of human behavior, with respect to the material world, but to understand them in a new way.

We may think we understand the material world that we experience. It is something we can touch, smell, see, hear or taste. But what is the essential nature of the material experience? Advaita tradition states that the true quality of experience is sukshma, subtle. Our experience of fresh lemonade, which is wet to touch, sweet-and-sour to taste, fragrant to smell, and cloudy to the eye, is subtle. Science tells us that a glass of fresh lemonade is made of molecules that are different configurations of atoms that are made up of charged particles. Quantum physics tells us that our physical tools experience the charged particles of the lemonade as manifestations of energy waves. When we give this experience a name, “lemonade”, we make it into a gross object, an opaque, dense package of experiences, consequently losing our sense of the subtle.

The basis for our material experience is sukshma or subtle. It is the awareness of that subtlety to which Advaita points us. It is not that we leave the material behind. Rather, the understanding of the dynamic between the material and the subtle becomes the basis for the practices that bring us to detachment and efficiency in the leela of our lives. We cannot achieve the balance that we seek in our lives with simplistic stress reduction techniques integral to today’s mall yoga. A contemplative practice of observation is a first step that is more likely to get you there.

This article is an edited extract of chapter 1 of The Advaita Life Practice by Jayant Kalawar, now available at Amazon.

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