Have you ever wondered why we do the same dumb things again and again in our lives?
Perhaps you are repeatedly attracted to the same kind of partner, or get triggered by your spouse or kids in the same way, over and over again.
According to Ayurveda, we create these reactive emotional responses in our minds in order to feel safe and secure, and to avoid hurt feelings.
Making deep transformational change is a challenge that involves a series of steps, and according to the Ayurvedic model, it starts by knowing your emotional body type.
Join me in the first step of changing old emotional patterns by taking this simple Emotional Body Type Quiz.
Three Principles in Nature
According to Ayurveda, there are three principles in nature that govern the mind and its emotions: sattwa, rajas, and tamas. These three principles are known as the gunas, which means “to bind.” When the gunas are out of balance, they can “bind”—or inhibit—spiritual growth, contentment and joy.
Let me explain the nature of the gunas, and how they affect you when they get out of balance.
1. Sattwa: At Peace
Sattwa is the first of these gunas, or principles. It refers to the inherent nature of the mind to be intelligent, virtuous, loving, joyful, kind and giving for no reason. This is the state children are born in. They do not have a care in the world. They live totally in the moment and function with awe-inspiring enthusiasm, which is why adults are so drawn to them. It is the aspiration of human life to experience more sattwa, as sattwa denotes the fullness of the heart and the freedom of the mind.
2. Rajas: Stimulated
Rajas refers to the qualities of action and drive, movement, stimulation of the senses and emotions.
As children grow up, they are quick to realize that the outside world is not as safe as the one at home. Hurt feelings at the playground or in pre-school can result in our receiving the message that the delicate and fragile experience of being sattwa is unsafe. The mind’s reaction is often to shield itself by engaging in rajasic activities. The child realizes that if they become a good athlete, a straight-A student or the “class clown,” they can feel safe again. Unlike the sattwic experience, this rajasic experience of safety is dependent on an outside influence, namely the attention of others.
In this way, the initial sattwic experience of a full heart and a free mind is replaced by the drive for accomplishment and acknowledgement. As children grow into adults, the dependence on stimulation often leads to a mind that cannot be still and is unsatisfied unless it is buying something new, making more money, falling in love, being praised, or otherwise engaged in sensory stimulation.
Most of us live here, in the world of rajas, continually seeking satisfaction through our senses.
3. Tamas: Withdrawn
Tamas, the third mental principle, refers to the qualities of dullness, laziness, and protection.
In an attempt to become satisfied through rajasic activities and drive, the mind burns out. Without the energy to forge on as before, gleaning temporary satisfactions through the senses, we retreat into a safe protective cocoon.
The tamas principle is dull, fatalistic, judgmental, jealous, dark and depressed. It is a retreat into an extreme mindset of safety in which we blame others and the world for our own problems. The mind becomes rigid in its beliefs, creating isolation and dissociation from others. On this trajectory, we can become lonely, bitter, angry and often seek drugs, alcohol or other addictions to maintain the illusion of the safe cocoon.
Once here, it is difficult to climb out and requires the addition of sattwa to offer a glimpse of the long lost experience of truth, joy and happiness, and also of rajas, to provide the energy needed for action and change.
* All three gunas have a place in nature, but in our Western culture, we have become so separated from the sattwic principle, that the goal for most of us is to move away from rajas and tamas, towards sattwa.
Sattwa, Rajas, and Tamas in Everyday Life
We all have sattwic, rajasic and tamasic moments—this is natural. This questionnaire below will offer some feedback to see if you are drifting away from sattwa and becoming more rajasic or tamasic, as is so common in our culture. If you notice that drift, use your findings, and this moment of honest self-reflection, to inspire a shift back to the joy and love within.
Please take the questionnaire and tally up your scores. Remember, the gunas are always changing and, as such, this questionnaire is not intended to provide a static diagnosis. The idea is simply to bring awareness to the places where we tend to go out of balance. I will then try to offer some strategies to navigate our way back to a more sattwic experience of life.
Your Emotional Body Type Quiz
Circle the answer that best applies to your current experience. Tally the answers to determine your Emotional Body Type.
|Diet||Vegetarian – Fresh||Some meat, processed foods, or comfort foods||Excess meat, processed foods, or comfort foods|
|Drinking or Drugs||Never||Some||Frequent|
|Control of Senses||Good||Moderate||Weak|
|Speech||Calm – soft||Agitated||Dull|
|Attached to $$$||No||Somewhat||Very|
|Forgiveness||Easily||With Effort||Holds Grudge|
|Peace of Mind||Yes||Occasional||Rare|
*This questionnaire has been excerpted from David Frawely’s book, Ayurveda and the Mind
Sattwa is when there is no need for the mind to provide protection; you are free to be yourself fully. Rajas is that first attempt of the mind to protect and offer sensory or emotional stimulation, creating a temporary experience of satisfaction. Tamas is a more aggressive, emotional attempt to be safe and secure.
• Sattwa: If your Emotional Body Type is predominately sattwa, then life is good. Remember, one can always chip away at changing some of the rajasic and tamasic qualities that exist. Remember, being 100% sattwa is the profile of a saint, and not necessarily the goal.
• Rajas: Excess rajas indicates the risk of burning out, or chasing love and satisfaction with activities that may never deliver what you truly seek.
• Tamas: Excess tamas usually means you have drifted into a protective cocoon that your mind has convinced you is the safest place to be.
Once you have determined your Emotional Body Type, you can use this information to start moving away from some of those tamasic and rajasic qualities, towards sattwa.
Attachment to Money: Sattwic, Rajasic, and Tamasic Presentation
Money and wealth is a subject all of us have to relate with in our culture, so it poses a good lens for understanding the qualities of sattwa, rajas, and tamas.
Sattwa has no attachment to money because there is no fear. A feeling of total safety and security exists. A lot of money would not make a sattwic person happy, and the lack of it wouldn’t have the power to make them unhappy.
The rajasic mind is somewhat attached to money because the first layers of fear have settled in and the mind latches on to the need for money to ensure a feeling of safety and security, even though it is an illusion.
The tamasic mind is very attached to money—in fact, it is holding onto it for dear life! Feeling very unsafe, the mind holds on even tighter, drifting even farther away from sattwa where true safety, contentment and freedom reside.
In this case, we can ask a few self-inquiry questions to create some awareness around our patterns regarding money. It is interesting to see that, from the point of view of a rajasic or tamasic mindset, you can never have enough money. A sattwic mind has the clear vision to see that money is an illusion and will never make you happy, content or safe.
Self-Inquiry Practice—Ask Yourself:
1. If I let go of my attachment to money, what would I lose?
2. What if I started giving money to charity, even if it is just a little – would I feel better or worse?
3. What if I stopped driving myself to be successful and allowed myself to just enjoy my life – how would I feel?
4. On my death bed, what would I regret more: not making more money, or not playing more?
5. Sometimes, imagining the worst case scenario can help us realize that the reality of a feared situation is usually not as bad as the fear makes it seem.
Imagine, for instance, that you are homeless. As uncomfortable as that would be, you would find resources to help you survive, and ultimately to find your way out of that situation. Along the way, you have no bills or taxes to pay. No debt, no need to get up and work your butt off. You are off the grid. It’s possible to think about that as an opportunity to restart a life that is simple again, without all the stress and strain that come with our civilized culture.
While this is not something we would ever wish upon anybody, knowing that even the worst case scenario is still workable can help us to loosen our grip on the fear.
This process of self-inquiry can be adapted to any or all of the rajasic or tamasic qualities you may be experiencing. This questionnaire provides the first step for change, which is the awareness that your mind has created this rajasic or tamasic illusion in the first place, in the name of safety and security.
Even issues like not being able to concentrate, poor memory, or that you cannot forgive someone, may be protective mental traits that can be changed. The mind uses these qualities to cover up mental clarity, a great memory, or a forgiving nature, because it has determined through a veil of illusion that you are safer without those qualities of clarity or forgiveness.
Your job—if you decide to do it—is to realize how your mind has hidden the experience of your true, joyful, happy, and most powerful self in the name of safety. It is time to take that risk of experiencing life fully by chipping away at the qualities that are serving you no longer—one step at a time.
> A Yogi’s Healthy Diet Guide According to Ayurvedic Principles.
> Ayurveda’s List of Incompatible Foods: Things that Don’t Go Together.
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Editor: Kate Bartolotta