January beginnings. Are you starting fresh? Are you starting anew? January resolutions. How are they going? Are you feeling strong about the changes you are bringing into your life? Whatever your resolution, there are specific steps you can take to ensure that you stay on the path you have set out for yourself and reach the goals you are working to achieve. Just as with any task you set out to accomplish, the first step in reaching a goal is awareness.
From an Ayurvedic perspective, mental focus and following through on tasks is considered in terms of your natural physical constitution, your natural mental constitution, and the physical and mental state that you choose to cultivate. Physical constitution is in many senses like the DNA of the body, providing a framework for physical development and capabilities, though neither are completely set in stone, demonstrating tendencies rather than certainties. Each individual has a natural composition of the five elements (space, air, fire, water, and earth) formed at the time of conception which dictates physical features and internal state of functioning and with this what constitutes individual health as well as individual tendencies to imbalance. To some degree, it also influences mental functioning though this aspect is more fully due to the individual’s natural mental constitution.
For instance, an individual of primarily Vata constitution (space and air) would tend to be more indecisive (think air- a lot of movement) and have difficulty following through in completing tasks while a Kapha individual (water and earth) would be slower to take on a given task (think earth- heaviness but stability) but then would ensure its completion. Generally, individuals are a combination of all three doshas (Vata, Pitta, and Kapha) though predominating in one or two doshas and their associated qualities. Additionally, your mental constitution (one or a combination of 16 types) also provides a framework for your mental and emotional tendencies.
Knowing your physical and, in particular, your mental constitution, can help you understand where you are as well as when you are getting out of balance and what causes that imbalance. However, in all of this, what each individual, no matter his or her constitution, can do to encourage mental focus and strength, a significant tool in achieving goals and implementing positive change, is to work towards cultivating Sattva, or “luminosity” in his or her daily life.
Sattva is one of three mental qualities which comprise mental constitution and is associated with purity, light, clarity, and understanding. A lack of clarity, or a depletion of Sattva, can lead you to make decisions and form habits which are self-destructive. Conversely, harnessed, Sattva is what propels individuals to heightened states of mental and emotional functioning characterized by peace, calm, joy, and contentment which enhances physical existence. Sattva is what enables an individual to experience pure love rather than conditional love. To cultivate Sattva you can incorporate practices which enhance physical and mental health in your daily routine:
1) Eat foods which are light, pure, and wholesome. Foods that make you feel tired or sluggish (Tamasic) or agitated (Rajasic) lead you away from developing Sattva. Gradually start replacing processed, heavy, and overly spiced foods with organic grains, legumes, milk, ghee, and fresh fruits and vegetables. Since a Sattvic diet is generally more (energetically) cooling with more exclusion of animal products, a Sattvic diet generally also includes mildly warming spices and herbs.
2) Engage in activities which use the breath to ensure proper movement of the body, both externally and internally, and calm and strengthen the mind. Incorporating a regular physical yoga practice, learning pranayam (balanced breathing), or meditating on a consistent basis help to build luminosity of the body-mind and increase mental strength.
3) Cultivate luminosity in your relationships. Are you gravitating towards heaviness in your relationships or are you encouraging more light, love, and growth? Acceptance, compassion, and understanding are traits which tend to cultivate Sattva in a relationship. Though not a yogi nor involved with Ayurved in any way, Kahlil Gibran touched on very much the same note when he wrote, “Love one another but make not a bond of love.”
4) Enjoy your life with Sattva. Pay attention to what makes you fearful and angry versus what lifts you and makes you feel joyful and peaceful. Peaceful does not necessarily need to be “quiet” since activity can also create stillness and peace of mind. Tailor your life according to what makes you feel lifted at heart. However, do not mistake what is “easy” for Sattva since the two are not necessarily interchangeable. A hesitancy to create change can be more of Tamasic nature inhibiting you from steering your life towards a Sattvic route.
Creating Sattva in your life, through whatever route feels comfortable to you at this time, can help you stay on track no matter your constitution or the draw of patterns which you are trying to change. If you are looking to make long-term changes which you can still feel the next time the countdown comes around, incorporating Sattvic principles into your daily life is for you. If you are looking to make small changes in your life without putting too much pressure on yourself, you can still benefit from some Sattvic practices. Patience is a principle which we sometimes forget to practice towards ourselves. Be patient with yourself as you make changes for the better. We all fall down. What counts is not how many times we fall down but how many times we get back up. Each time you stand up straight again, looking towards the sky, your light shines even brighter than before.