Sattva: Balance. Purity. Calmness. Neutrality. Equilibrium. Peace.
Imagine a raging fire consuming a forest of ancient trees, the charred branches left after the fact, the newly fertile soil, and then the regrowth of the shrubs, bushes and trees over time to again reveal a pristine woodland of animal life and nature. After the burn and regrow, there is a space and time of balance that is achieved and seems to be maintained over time, during which you can hang a hammock in the trees and fall peacefully asleep while crickets sing and water flows down the mountain. This cycle represents the manifestation of the three main elemental gunas, or states of being, in the universe thought to spring forth from the prime, eternal consciousness: Prakriti.
The three gunas, or states of being as described in the story above, are known as Tamas (the tearing down, decaying, disintegrating force of the fires which is negative in nature); Rajas (that which builds, accelerates, stimulates; it is constructive, catalytic and creative as nature is rebuilding the forest and is positive in nature); and Sattva (that which holds everything together; it is peace, harmony, balance and equilibrium and is interpreted as the neutral force in the universe).
How do we live a Sattvic life? And is that even desirable? Let us explore this idea further.
My first encounter with Sattva
In yoga school in India, I spent 4 months immersed in the concepts and practices of what was considered a sattvic lifestyle. All the chanting, meditation, yoga nidra, and various bland meals we were served were all meant to cultivate the quality of sattva in a person. Through refining the ability to access sattva within, I was put more in touch with the quiet space in my mind wherein meditation and self-reflection were possible. I also realized that it was in this quality of being that healing and a greater sense of purpose was cultivated.
We are made up of the interaction of the three gunas, down to our very cells which contain these three states as protons, neutrons, and electrons. From the foods we eat to the people we hang out with, the thoughts in our heads and the type of surroundings we choose, everything is functional as one of these three forces (or the evolution of these forces) and affects us on a very real and very pranic level.
Prana is the life-force energy which keeps us alive. By consuming Sattvic foods, having Sattvic experiences, and behaving in a Sattvic way, we are not only helping to sustain our lives, but to build prana and thereby extend our lives by living in harmony with our highest possible expression.
What are Sattvic foods/experiences?
- Highest quality, fresh
- Cooked/prepared with love
- In accordance with natural laws
- Energetic, though not overly stimulated
- Connected spiritually
- Community/world minded
- In its natural state
- Supportive to homeostasis and health
Though we can seek to live a Sattvic life and consume sattvic-promoting foods and experiences, the truth is that sometimes what we need in order to evolve is either rajasic or tamasic in nature. Rajasic foods and experiences are often necessary, especially if we are feeling sluggish or have experienced an illness or depression, because they stimulate the body and help to move the prana that we have—though too much rajasic force will eventually make us feel agitated or restless.
Some examples of Rajasic foods/experiences: ginger, onions, garlic, spices, loud music, vigorous exercise, sex, all stimulants, immediate change, anger, reactions to situations, moving, crying, or any basic human emotion.
Tamasic experiences are those which allow the things not working in our lives to dissipate. It is like fall and winter on the earth. Old patterning, programs, feelings, choices, and even emotions are often in need of the tamasic element of decay and death in order to spur the movement of rajas, which helps us change, leading us back again to a Sattvic experience.
Just like our bodies naturally move into homeostasis if we are healthy, though often require a sickness or emotional turmoil in order to spur such, life moves naturally between the three presiding elements in order to hold the balance in the largest sense.
Is Sattva World Peace?
Writing this article got me thinking about world peace and the desire for it. We all say we want peace on earth—which is the governance of the element of Sattva above all else—but in order to attain this state, do we look at what is required for such? Balance cannot often be achieved so easily overnight, but it is even less reachable if we are constantly feeding our desire for peace with both rajasic and tamasic states of minds, actions, and experiences. For example, wanting peace, where we can feel comfortable in our realities and really sink into who we are, while at the same time buying into the fast-paced society of “right now” living, expecting everything made to order and by precision without recognizing the sort of waste that goes into that style of living, well—it’s sort of a sattvic contradiction.
I can’t help but say it, and it may strike a nerve, but wanting to live a peaceful existence and to have all your needs covered while at the same time buying the new iphone 8 for a wild $1000 knowing it took the work power of hundreds if not thousands of small children in a foreign country to produce such is sort of a paradox, don’t you think? If we see the value of peace and harmony, and we strive for it—even downloading meditation apps on the iphone in order to validate our desires—while basically supporting a lack of peace and balance for others on the planet, it’s sort of crazy. Right?
Perhaps it is less about attaining a Sattvic lifestyle 100% of the time and more about recognizing where you put your energy and resources in the quest for peace in this life. For when we recognize that rajasic elements are required sometimes in order to move the stagnancy, and often the stagnancy came in order to clue in the need for change—both leading up to the next experience of sattva realized—then we can begin to honor the position these states have in our reality.
Sattva, Rajas and Tamas in the Body
When we note the relationship between the positive, the negative, and the neutral forces, and when we go so far as to see how we need all three in order to fully awaken (by opening up the channels in the spine which are positive, negative, and neutral by nature), we can begin to see the intimate dance of the cosmos playing out in our very beings. It is interesting to note that in order for Sattva to awaken in the spine—which does so through the sushumna channel—first both Ida and Pingala must be active and awake, which are the negative and positive forces, respectively. So what that means is that for Sattva to exist, both Rajas and Tamas have to unite and be in harmony. For prior to their awakening we live very much in a dualistic state of mind, coming either from the left hemisphere of the brain or the right—expressing dominantly either logically or intuitively. Through the practice of yoga, we learn to bring these two poles together, which thereby activates the neutral force of the sushumna channel, the sattvic reality in the spine where balance, peace, and harmony are realized. Fascinating, huh?
What is even more interesting to note is that we come into this reality with all of these forces already in balance. A baby looks completely sattvic most of the time, and yet just basically sits there growing, eliminating, emoting, and emanating pure peace through the roller-coaster ride that is their aware, yet very mysterious, existence.
Coming back to the point of bringing both poles together in the spine prior to awakening the channel where-through kundalini finds its passage and prana is fully distributed to the entire body/mind complex, I am caused to reflect on the concept of shadow work, and how important it is to the process of enlightenment. We cannot be truly awake or whole without both acknowledgment and embrace of all sides of us. We must honor both the elements of change and creation as well as the elements of destruction and decay to really even have access to the keys of harmony and balance, to really even begin to open the doors to our own enlightenment.
It must be said, I believe, in this whole conversation about whether a sattvic lifestyle can be realized or if it is even desirable, to remember that while we can learn to honor the processes of change and destruction, it is perhaps desirable and attainable to know sattva to be the overriding frequency instead of the anomaly. With this in mind, shaping your reality by incorporating more sattvic foods and experiences, including yoga, meditation, simpler foods (such as cooked grains, vegetables, and such), mantra, and the like, can help to lessen the pain of change and death and allow balance to more easily be achieved after the necessary delving we do into these zones.
So is a Sattvic lifestyle desirable?
Overall, I would say that it is. Who does not wish to experience peace and harmony, balance and poise as their overriding frequency/experience? With this in mind, let us choose to see more consciously where these elements play out within our bodies and in the world and move forward with greater awareness, making more informed choices as to how we go about living, interacting, and consuming. Then, I believe, Sattva will become our home, with Rajas and Tamas like the necessary visitors of evolutionary advancement.