by Dr. Kausthub Desikachar

Recently I was asked to comment on my feelings towards the school bombings in Oregon that occurred on the 01st of October 2015. I said I was very sad about this incident and felt great grief for those who suffered from it, directly or indirectly. To this one of the students retorted back “As Yogis, should we be moved by such things and not be still?” 

This grieved me even further. 

As Yogi-s we search stillness. But very often the result is stagnation. 

As President Obama inferred during his response, ‘The Routine’ of Mass Shootings’, has made the United States numb to this problem. Now numbness makes you stagnant. Numbness is very different from stillness.

In Yogic parlance there is the concept of the Guna-s. The state of our minds is influenced by the three Guna-s: Sattva, Rajas and Tamas. While Sattva is responsible for stillness, Rajas for movement, Tamas is the one responsible for Stagnation. 

All of the three are necessary at different points of our lives. Yet the wrong one dominant at the wrong time is indeed considered one of the signs of disease, and perhaps also one of the causes of illness. 

In the state of Yoga, we feel connected to ourselves and there is a dominance of Sattva, which helps us to remain still, while still being sensitive to what happens around us. There is stillness through clarity and wisdom. It does not ever imply that we must not feel happiness, joy, suffering, grief or the plethora of other emotions that we are influenced by. 

While on the other hand, when we are so disconnected with ourselves and our environment, there exists the dominance of Tamas, which makes us insensitive and numb. This state is truly not the same as stillness. It is in fact stagnation. 

Stagnation is strongly connected with stubbornness, resistance to embrace change, resistance to feel the reality of the moment, and most importantly the resistance to experience wisdom. 

“How is this connected to the resistance to experience wisdom?” One may ask. The response is quite simple. One form of stagnation is to remain with memories and not embrace reality. When people live based on romantic or traumatic memories only, and don’t connect with reality, its is indeed Tamas that is dominant. 

On the positive side, Tamas is responsible for holding on to our memories. On the negative side, Tamas is also responsible for holding on to our memories a bit too long. And when we hold on to such memories or ideas that are not consistent with the reality of the moment, then it isn’t wisdom. Is it?

These experiences are not just associated with the bombing in Oregon. This happens everywhere. 

Take the case of persons living in toxic relationships. ‘I have to consider the children, and stay and save this marriage.’ This is one too common a reply that I have heard. But then is it really an example that the children need to learn? Often its fear of change, that prevents people from realising the reality and moving on. Or it could sometimes be that they are so numb, they don’t feel the pain or hurt. 

When such is the case, then the person who chooses to remain in the toxic relationship is shooting himself/herself dead.

There could be similar stagnations. Stagnation in a toxic job. In an unhealthy friendship. Living in an unsafe environment. Even stagnating in a particular Yoga practice, even though signs are clear that it is not appropriate at the current moment. 

On a side note for further reflection, the fact that many who practice Yoga, especially for a long time, still remain stagnant is certainly a cause for worry.

The mind dominated by Tamas can play so many games to keep us stagnant. Its the reason why so many are lazy to wake up in the morning and justify not to practice, or go for a walk or just enjoy the sunrise, move out of a relationship, resign from a job etc. 

How can we understand stillness? Take the case of a still silent lake. It reflects beautifully what is in front of it. No projections from the past, no projections from the future. Does it reflect the mountain in front of it, based on how the mountain was yesterday? Or how it will be tomorrow? 

That is stillness - being present in the moment, being sensitive to all that is going on, and reflecting it as it is.

In our society driven by the ‘comfort’ culture, where we need a comfortable house, comfortable car, comfortable partner and an overall comfortable life, we choose to align with tamas. And that is like sleeping with the enemy. 

On the contrary, we must choose to align with stillness and awareness, so that we have a life full of awareness, which can sometimes be comfortable, sometimes challenging, and at other times mysterious. So celebrate life in all of its forms, not just when its packaged through the stagnating package of comfort.

Stagnation may be easy. But stillness is a better choice.