Focusing Inward in these Covid-19 days

Sri Gayatri MAtA by Raja Ravi Verma Source Wikipedia

ॐ श्री मात्रे नमः Source: Illustration by Raja Ravi Verma as published at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gayatri

Hot humid summer days open up opportunities for early morning walks. There are some days, though, when early morning hours are hot and humid and the body and the mind resist and find excuses to stay within air conditioned comfort.   In 2020, there are added reasons with Covid-19 and social distancing. In New Jersey, at the time of this writing in mid-July, it is generally accepted to be prudent and wear a mask or face covering even while out on a solitary walk, with runners and joggers, many young of age with  a sense of immortality, who may run past you breathing heavily.

On one such early hot and humid Thursday morning, instead of walking I found myself sitting in air-conditioned comfort in front of my laptop, logged into Zoom and waiting to be connected to an ongoing discourse on Suresvara Ācārya’s Naiṣkarmya Siddhi by Swami Shantanandaji[1].    Thursdays are Guruvāra, Guru’s day and a good day to listen and reflect on Vedanta teachings from Adi Shankaracharya.  While waiting for Swamiji to connect, I wondered what light would be shown to us through the discourse this morning.

Swami Shantanandaji is no more than 2 miles from where I am sitting and, in these Covid 19 days, we connect only online for the early morning discourse. This Thursday, Swamiji expanded on two key terms: cidābhāṣa and vṛtti which while not new in my many decades of study of Vedanta, are quite elusive to grasp and immerse and revel in for their full import. In the process of writing this post I am hoping to root these subtle concepts a bit deeper in myself.

Cidābhāṣa points at once to the human capacity to be self-aware (cit) and to the ability to experience a limited structured world (bhāṣa). For instance, I have the capacity to say “I am” to myself and, going further, I can also sense my own presence without using any language. That is what happens in my meditation seat: as I focus inwards, languaging drops away and, with it, thoughts disappear. There are moments when I only have a sense of being present. This sense of being present, without any thoughts, is cit, the capacity to be self-aware, presenting itself. 

Such a sense of presence is momentary, fleeting, for me.  Because, in the very next moment, the body intrudes and signals that it is thirsty or  hungry. And like a mother reaching out to a child, this capacity of cit, to be aware, flows out to be entangled  between solving the problem of overcoming the thirst or hunger and negotiation of the urgency of these signals with reveling in and extending the moments of being self-aware in meditation. In this moment, Cit energy (Cit śakti) flows away into the body and only the body and its particular problems exist. There is a limited sense (bhāṣa) that arises for those moments, that the body is all that exists and this limitation is false. But in that flow of Cit to the body, in these moments, the capacity to even explore the possibility that I am not limited to the body is not available.

The possibility of limitlessness, that I am not limited to my body, is what I am not capable of fully immersing, like water to a fish. The fish does not have knowledge of the vastness of the waters it is in; it may not even be aware that it is in something like water. The fish is an extension, and integral part, of the water ecosystem (before I do the ‘so also’ let me say I am alert to the limitations of this ‘fish in the water’ metaphor and use it only to help visualize what I share next).  Like the fish, the human lives in an ocean, one of cosmic vibration which manifests itself as Cit śakti in the human body. In the process of manifestation, the property of connection with the ocean appears to be lost. So, Cit śakti gives us the capacity to be self-aware and also be aware, in a limited way, of the human body in which it manifests. But this dynamic awareness enabling energy, Cit śakti, that manifests does not allow for an easy connection back to its source, the ocean of cosmic vibrations.

What is this ocean of cosmic vibrations? One way is to describe it in terms of its properties: Sat-Cit-Ānanda. Sat is the property of being always and everywhere. One of the properties of satcitānanda is manifestation outside of space and time; it is not bound by space and time. We can, however, begin to sense its presence through certain of its properties. Just as we can sense the presence of water in the ocean, through its properties of wetness and its liquid flow, so also, can we sense the presence of Satcitānanda through two of its properties: the property of self-awareness, which is Cit, and the property of contentment, which is Ānanda. Our awareness capacity, Cit, is limited. We experience sukha (happiness) and duḥkha (sorrow),  but rarely contentment, Ānanda. And because we are bound by space and time – we are a-sat (not sat). Here, in my meditation seat, in my own little personal reservoir of awareness, cit, is fed by a trickle from satcitānanda, but I cannot sense that connection. How do I get to this place, where I can begin to sense a connection with satcitānanda and, then, actually connect? This is where mokṣa śāstra comes into play, and to have a Guru guide you through the systemized process (śāstra) to connect with and immerse (mokṣa) in satcitānanda.

This is a good place to ask: what keeps us from beginning to focus our energies to seek this connection to Satcitānanda? Because of Vṛtti.

Vṛtti, the other keyword Swami Shantanandaji raised in his discourse that summer Thursday morning, is disturbance; a disturbance that causes ripples or a storm in the tranquility of the reservoir of Cit śakti in us. Much of the time, most of us have a disturbed Cit śakti.

The key Vṛtti generating factors are our desires to play in this material world. And at this particular period on Earth, in 2020, we have a pandemic triggering particular desires: to survive now and to continue to do so in the longer run, while we consume an overload of information on  how to survive. Much, if not all, of our Cit śakti is spent on this so we can take precautions to be safe and healthy while anxiously worrying about our financial future. The opportunity, even momentarily,  to use some of our Cit śakti to recall and reconnect with the Satcitānanda, is near zero. Unless, and this is a Big Unless, we are blessed with the opportunity to be in satsang with ācāryas who tirelessly and with complete focus, because of their sustained focus on Satcitānanda,  we are effortlessly guided to re-focus on our interior self. That is what happens every time I have the opportunity to attend Swami Shantanandaji’s discourse on these Thursday mornings.

I will hazard a guess that the pandemic has helped many of us focus on a few things. In fact, in pre-pandemic times, many who may have been continually distracted pursuing the narrative of materialist modernity which shaped almost every waking moment of our lives, and in our dream are beginning to avail of the opportunity to seek satsang and become aware of ourselves.[2]

Ācāryas in the past have spoken of many veils that cloud our view of Satcitānanda.  What materialist modernity has constructed over the past 400 years is not a veil but a reinforced fortress wall. Any attempt to scale this wall and turn inward is met with ignorance, since the language of modernity does not have embedded within guidance on Satcitānanda. Any sensibility that is not a part of the modern narrative is denigrated and without guidance to search inward, we are pulled relentlessly, by modern logic, narrative and theories, to find happiness by continually playing win-lose games in the material world of our senses and keep us engaged in this material endeavor.

In this context, I see Covid-19 as an opportunity to turn inward and find satsang, as these distractions have been temporarily brought to a standstill, to guide us to dismantle brick by brick, the wall that modernity has erected within us. That is what Advaita Vedānta can do: gently help deconstruct the modern logic and narrative that is holding us prisoner.

May many of us find our satsang soon. And at that satsang, may we find an Ācārya to begin guiding us to focus our Cit śakti, to begin connecting to Satcitānanda.

And just to close the loop, next time I go for a morning walk and a young person barrels down past me without a mask, I hope to be less fearful as I meditate on this connection, while taking precautions myself. I will think positive thoughts for the young runners and wish them well.


[1] Swami Shantanandaji is President of Chinmaya Mission West and resident Ācārya of Chinmaya Vrindavan, Cranbury, New Jersey.

[2] I have expanded upon this theme of the impact of modernity on human species in my essay: https://www.amazon.com/OUTSIDER-DECONSTRUCTING-EUROPEAN-ENLIGHTENMENT-Death-ebook/dp/B07RHVRV7V

September 2018: The Calm before the Storm?

Devi Kalaratri source Wikipedia 180808

The Destroyer of Ignorance and Confusion – Aum Namo KAlarAtreya NamAhA (Source: Wikipedia, Devi Kalratri, Sanghasri, Kalighat, Kolkata, 2010)

Summary: the level of intensity of the putative physical and economic storms in 2019, with felt impacts into early 2020, is likely to be signaled in political events and directions in the USA in the first half of November 2018 and then in January 2019.

The storms of 2019 may impact up to 10 to 15% of people across the globe in some mix of physical and economic outcomes in a very low to high range. There are no cookie cutter solutions to identify who is more likely to be impacted and how much and what to do about it. Assessment of individual horoscopes can help in this regard. Those who do consistent sAdhanA and connect with the Devi are likely to have less impact.

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The grahAs will be showering their blessings upon us this September.

Venus will be transiting into its home base Libra on September 2nd and staying there until end of the year. Venus will promote a sense of material well-being and harmony, after a month being farthest away from Earth, hence weak.

Mercury will end its long sojourn of the last few months in Cancer and transit into Leo on September 2nd and then into its home base of Virgo on September 19th. Mercury then joins Venus on October 6th and moves into Scorpio on October 27th. Mercury may not cause much volatility between now and October 27th (except a brief few days September 22nd to 25th, when it comes under passing influence of Rahu-Ketu field), and thus helping better communications and analysis, further adding to the harmony component of Venus.

Mars is strong and exalted in Capricorn between now and November 5th, providing a positive energy to those who are adept at channeling its energies constructively by connecting with Devi DurgA. There is an exception period when Mars energy may be quite disturbed (not as intense as the June-July / Early August time frame) as it once again crosses the much weakened Rahu-Ketu field, between September 19th and 30th. Disturbed Mars energy shows up as natural disasters on Earth, including wild fires and volcanic eruptions, military and police action and generally aggressive interactions and thoughts at personal level. But overall Mars will still provide positive energies especially to Devi sadhakAs.

Sun is in its home base of Leo until mid-September and then in Virgo until mid-October. Sun will bless those of us who seek to remember their IshTa DevatAs and chant the GAyatri mantrA.

Jupiter will be generally strong in Libra between now and October 11th.  In turn it supports Saturn to be strong in Sagittarius during this time.

Rahu-Ketu axis is moving between now and December 5th. Its negative influence is weak at this time.

So you see the overall picture emerging: a mostly positive environment may be expected between now and October 11th.

So what made me headline this post Calm before the Storm?

Well, I see this to be most positive period before storm clouds begin to signal themselves, and the storm momentum builds up. Watch out for the signals during the following periods in the next year or so and make your own assessments (I may likely keep coming back to this in future posts opening up more details). The way to approach and develop a series of potential scenarios is to apply the intensity of the outcome from one event set as the starting point of amplification of the next time period. So here goes:

Jupiter will go through the influence of a weak Rahu-Ketu field from October 22nd to Nov 14th, with peak dissonance between November 1st and 14th. At the same time Mercury will go through the same field November 1st-2nd. And Mars will be weak as it ends its long transit in Capricorn on November 5th. This may likely cause volatility in political and financial arenas combined with unfocussed energy, especially in the USA. All this points to chances that the November 6th mid-term elections in USA may end up giving a weak result for the current US president.

The Rahu-Ketu field will be strong between December 5th 2018 and March 6th 2019. On January 10th 2019 when the newly elected US Congress convenes the Rahu-Ketu field will be at its peak intensity. The result of the mid-term elections will likely be amplified and may likely begin impacting the ability of the current US president to carry out strong positive leadership actions in 2019.

So by end of January 2019 we may have a sense of how 2019 may likely unfold. Any sense of political weakness in the USA may translate into financial and economic weakness not only in the USA but throughout the globe.

The Rahu-Ketu field will be positioned to have intense impact between May 20th 2019 and August 19th 2019 – this one has particular potential to trigger both natural disasters and war like situations between multiple nations around the globe. This in turn may have negative impact on health and economic situations of large populations.

Fall-out from the May-August 2019 events may likely be felt in physical and economic terms, almost like after-tremors across the world, from November 13th 2019 to February 2nd 2020.

To sum up: the level of intensity of the putative physical and economic storms in 2019, with felt impacts into early 2020, is likely to be signaled in political events and directions in the USA in the first half of November 2018 and then in January 2019.

I may cover topics of how to begin to prepare and position for 2019 in the next few months.

The storms of 2019 may impact up to 10 to 15% of people across the globe in some mix of physical and economic outcomes in a very low to high range. There are no cookie cutter solutions to identify who is more likely to be impacted and how much and what to do about it. Assessment of individual horoscopes can help in this regard. Those who do consistent sAdhanA and connect with the Devi are likely to have less impact.

II Aum MAtre NamAhA II

I practice Systems Approach to Vedic Astrology as propounded by the late Professor V.K. Choudhry and now being carried forward by his son Shri K. Rajesh Chowdhary.

Celebrating the DevA Savitr in Leo August 17th – September 16th

Sri Gayatri MAtA by Raja Ravi Verma Source Wikipedia

ॐ श्री मात्रे नमः Source: Illustration by Raja Ravi Verma as published at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gayatri

Source: https://sreenivasaraos.com/2012/10/07/sri-gayatri-part-one/

This morning, August 17th, the Sun rose in Leo. Ever auspicious, the Deva Savitr in Leo is even more so. He transits Leo in the period between August 17th and September 16th in the 21st century. The Deva channels Sri Gayatri MAtA’s blessings to us.

This 30 day period in 2018 is likely to be more positive than the same time in the last two years, when the Rahu-Ketu axis was afflicting Leo (and we experienced eclipses September 1st and 16th 2016 and August 21st 2017). This year Leo is clear and the Sun can bless us unhindered. Late last year the Rahu-Ketu axis moved on to Cancer and we experienced eclipses in June-July 2018 – and many of us have just about begun working our way out of some rather stressful situations at personal and social levels.

However (and there is usually a ‘however’), Mercury and Venus may send some mixed signals to quite a few of us during the next two weeks to September 2nd 2018.

Summary: Auspicious Sun in Leo, Volatile Mercury in Cancer, Weak Venus in Virgo. Sun will transit into Leo August 17th 2018 and will be there until September 16th 2018. Sun in Leo is auspicious for all signs in different ways. For example, Leo may show leadership, while Virgo works on inner peace and Gemini starts new initiatives. Capricorn may benefit from partnerships and inheritance, while Pisces may find it easy to win in competitions and get financial benefits. And so on.

However, Mercury, may throw a spanner in the works until September 2nd as it moves slowly out of Cancer. It makes for volatility in communications and analysis, in turn impacting volatility in many areas in our lives, including financial markets.  In this case, the volatility of Mercury is mostly related to Moon transiting from one house to another. Dates to watch for mixed and missed signals: August 17th-21st (Moon transiting from Libra through Scorpio and into Sagittarius), 23rd, 25th/26th, 28th, 30th and September 1st-2nd.

Meanwhile, Venus continues to be weak and distant in Virgo until September 2nd. Luxury items and sales targeted at women have less chance of success and this will be reflected in the financial markets as well.

So September 3rd to 16th may be less volatile, more enjoyable. More on that later.

August 2018: Mars Receding, Venus Distant

Durga MAtA by Photo by Soumik Dey on Unsplash 180807

ॐ श्री मात्रे नमः (Photo by Soumik Dey on Unsplash)

The heat waves and the wild fires that seem to have gripped many areas in the last few weeks may begin to recede, as Mars begins to move out of the Rahu-Ketu field August 7the. Time to step back and assess the impact of Mars transit through the Rahu-Ketu field, acting out in different areas of your lives in June and July. Take some time by yourself to scan your physical and emotional health and that of your loved ones. We have a breather here – to calm down and heal. Those of you who have continually been connected with MA DurgA would have sensed the protection and blessings and a sense of calm, even as the fires raged, emotional and physical, in various shapes and forms, all around us.

In August 2018, Venus will be most distant from Earth. It will be seen in the sky to be transiting the zodiac of Virgo. A milder form of confusion (unlike the raging storms of Mars) is likely between August 8th and 17th, with peaks around August 10th to 13th. We may see this manifested in the social and political arenas and in turn inducing volatility in financial markets. Fashion and luxury goods sectors may be particularly impacted. The inclination, for many of us, may be towards being more analytical and less emotional – and thus out of balance in situations which require emotions to play.

Usual caveat applies: the experience may be in different areas of life for each ascendant sign and intensity depends on particular ascendant degrees. Those who continually connect with the Devi are blessed with strength and calm to better navigate through the squalls and storms of life.

July 2018: Venus may provide respite, from turbulent Mars, for some.

Venus in Leo - Photo by Mohammad Metri on Unsplash - 180704

Venus in Leo in July Balances the Turbulence of Mars for some of us (Photo by Mohammad Metri on Unsplash)

By Jayant Kalawar

Venus will be energized as it transits through the cluster of nakshatrAs (constellations) that make up SimhA lagnA (Leo ascendant) from the evening of July 4th to the early morning hours of August 1st. This will provide a welcome cushion for those with lagnA (ascendant) birth signs of Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Libra and Scorpio. The rest of us (those with Leo, Virgo, Sagittarius, Capricorn, Aquarius and Pisces) may have to manage by keeping a low profile and very patient.

Mars, as of this writing on July 4th, is beginning to close in and will fully immerse into the turbulent field of Rahu-Ketu between July 12th and 29th. Expect more of the events such as freak storms, volcanic eruptions, as well as strong emotional expressions of frustration and anger, within us and amongst us, that we saw during the previous Mars immersion in the first two weeks of June. This transit of Mars will be experienced by most of us with varying degrees of intensity, depending on how much we practice focused awareness, enabling us to channel and sublimate out (not suppressing for future eruptions!) the turbulent energies, which trigger memories of past angers and frustrations, leading us to actions which we later regret.

Practicing focused awareness makes us observe the churn of emotional energies arising with the waxing and waning of planetary energies. When we are accomplished in this practice, we can watch them trigger our own particular memories, which become thoughts that we take to be all too real. We then act upon this reality of our mind. It takes a long time, many births perhaps, for this practice of focused awareness to be rooted, become one of our limbs in the subtle space. There are many techniques one can use, and many paths one can take, to climb this mountain. It helps to have a seasoned coach, at least to get ready and started on this climb, at the base camp of this mountain!

(c) Jayant Kalawar and 21BanyanTree.com

I use Systems Approach to Vedic Astrology as propounded by Professor V.K. Choudhry in my use of Jyotisha as one of the range of modalities in my coaching practice.

Socializing, Intimacy and Privacy in the Digital Age: Socializing – Part 1

Is Your Socializing Fragrant 180701

Bring the fragrance of jasmine to your social group! (Photo by Socialpictures CH on Unsplash)

You may have noticed that when there are times we want to be alone and we give it a positive value. At other times, we may feel lonely even when we are amongst family, friends, colleagues and so on. The physical situation may be the same, but the time and place that the situation of being lonely is happening is something we do not want. Then we give it a negative value. What makes for being alone and what makes for being lonely?  I hope to write about this in a series of posts in a contemplative exploration of what being alone means, in the context of socializing, intimacy and privacy that each of us may relate to and practice in different ways.

Many people inhabiting the 21st century digital world feel that being alone provides the opportunity for rejuvenation within the boundaries of privacy. They want only a certain amount of socializing. And with certain individuals of their choice, they would like the intimacy. There is a balance between intimacy and socializing, which seems to be managed by signaling privacy boundaries.  When that balance is right, we may get to the alone time we value. When that balance is skewed, we may either end up with too little of the alone time or too much of the alone time, which at some point becomes lonely time.

This may happen both over time in different phases of our life cycle, and across the spaces we inhabit. When young, we may sense the need for more socializing and less alone time. When older we may feel the need for more alone time. It may also differ from person to person the same age group, due to a myriad of reasons. Join me in this contemplative, intuitive exploration.

In this Part I post I will explore socializing and what it means in the digital age. Future posts will cover socializing in the context of different degrees of intimacy and privacy factors, how we create boundaries and manage them and how it comes together in giving us positive alone time sometimes, and leaves us feeling lonely and hungry for company at other times.

Socializing

The framework I use for this contemplative exploration is from the Advaita Vedanta perspective (and this is just touching one point of the shore of the surface of the breadth and depth of the Vedanta framework on being human): the human is considered to have 4 capabilities – physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual. In these contemplations I articulate that perspective using 21st century memes.

We socialize physically, by being present in a team meeting or on the playing field or at the coffee shop.  We cannot have the physical presence in our digital social interactions (yet – sometime in the future that may change given augmented reality and holograms and so on, they may be able to produce the sense of smell and touch, which is part of the core of our physical socializing).

During these social physical together times we interact emotionally, often times with the full range of emotions: from affectionately positively friendly to angrily upsettingly negative. Being in the same physical space and in a group, makes for moderating influence. We are more circumspect on both sides.  On the other hand, when we have emotional social interactions digitally, we may end up not being so circumspect. Losing some of our composure and expending physical energy in the process.

We socialize intellectually too: we have conversations about politics, education, health care, welfare. We have opinions based on our observations, we propose them using models we have in our minds. We defend and argue about our models. And learn and sometimes change our models (often surreptitiously, without admitting it) in the process, so we can argue better next time. Those are the steps of an intellectual process. Scientists and academics do that more formally. This type of intellectual socialization may work in a digital space, especially if we leave our emotional interactions at the door. That happens more in a physical setting, and not as much in digital settings, as we notice in the flame wars on social media sites.

As I have grown older, I find I value socializing less and intimacy (which I expect to explore in a future post) and alone time more. I manage it through setting privacy boundaries (which also I will explore in a future post in this series). I see a similar pattern both in those close to my age around me, as well as my children, as they get closer to 30. My work based socialization has become very focused individual or group based problem solving interactions, strategic and wide ranging as they may be. My socialization outside of work projects, coaching and satsanghs is down to a few select friends. My alone time is filled with long walks, meditation, chanting, reading, writing, doodling, sketching (and lately sporadically knitting a scarf).

I have reached over the 800 word limit already on this post, which apparently is the expected attention span of a digital interaction. I will continue in my next post.

Meanwhile, on a scale to 100, I would say I value socializing at 30, intimacy at 30 and alone time at 40 at this stage of my life. How about you?