"If you want to make a yogic sankalpa, then adopt the eighteen ITIES of Swami Sivananda:
Serenity, Regularity, Absence of Vanity,
Sincerity, Simplicity, Veracity,
Equanimity, Fixity, Non-irritability,
Adaptability, Humility, Tenacity,
Integrity, Nobility, Magnanimity,
Charity, Generosity, Purity.
Each month practise one ITY. If you are able to live these eighteen ITIES for eighteen months, then you will gain something invaluable in your life. Who knows, maybe even immortality."
Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati
Swamiji asked me to look at the ITIES, so first I wrote down all the eighteen ITIES. I was going to see what would happen every day with each ITY. This method did not work out at all; I was not able to keep track of even a few ITIES, let alone eighteen, throughout the day.
The next method was to choose a group of three ITIES and look at them for a whole week. This approach yielded some understanding about each ITY, which I wrote down.
After six weeks, Swamiji encouraged me to have an even closer look at the ITIES, and I decided to devote one month to each ITY. This approach has evolved spontaneously and naturally. After a few months, I wanted the ITY to be more connected with daily life, so I looked at each one in the form of a diary.
Awareness, detachment and humour are the basic ingredients of all ITIES. Their relation to the SWAN theory became more and more clear as I noticed how the knowledge of my SWAN helped the understanding and practice of each ITY and vice versa.
Looking at an ITY day after day enhances general awareness, and the practice of awareness unveils the existence or absence of an ITY.
Half way through the ITIES, it was suggested that this account be for others to read. I have tried not to let this influence my practice and rendering of it. The insights and the understanding are very personal, even when I do not add the 'I feel' or 'I think'. Of course, there is repetition and, as time goes on, there will be more and more questions.
The poems have become a mirror to the process of the ITIES. Sometimes the idea is there from the beginning, sometimes the idea or the words come midway through the month of dealing with an ITY.
In the same way, some of the understanding comes spontaneously, some needs reflection, trial and error, adjustment and change. Maybe life is about being like a poem, a play between what lies within and the effort to express it, to unite it with the outside world in some sort of harmony.
Learning about the ITIES has been and still is a wonderful sadhana. Living and perfecting them every day will be another.
There are two questions I kept in mind throughout the month of serenity: What makes me lose my serenity? How can I gain, develop and maintain serenity?
To the first question there are various answers. The feeling of guilt - having done something wrong or having omitted to do something - makes me lose serenity. When I became aware that the feeling of guilt could destroy serenity, I remembered the statement: "All that can be done in the context of the Judaeo-Christian culture is to free people of the innate sense of guilt." Serenity is an attitude of acceptance and not of judgement. Whenever there is an over-identification with the action in hand or an exaggerated sense of responsibility, it is almost impossible to remain serene in that situation.
Impatience - the need to wait, seeing that change in my own attitudes and habits is slow - is a big blow to serenity; as is attachment to ideas, opinions, habits and expectations. When there is opposition or when these ideas are being challenged, it is hard to keep the distance necessary for a serene state of mind. Serenity requires complete openness and a mind free of preconceived ideas.
Fear or doubt are other attitudes adverse to serenity. Fear is always future-oriented, while living in the here-and-now leaves no space for fear. Awareness of and attention to the moment at hand guarantee a state of serenity.
These are personal observations, for others different states may cause a momentary end to serenity.
To the other question on how to remain serene throughout the day I could discern different methods. One was positivity - seeing the good in everything, or to quote Simon Weil, "Tout ce qui m'arrive est adorable" (whatever happens to me is adorable). While waiting for a plane, and becoming impatient and restless, I look around to find something positive, and see a little girl enjoying her ice cream, maybe the first this summer. All tension goes and I am able to be one with the girl and her concentration devoted to the ice cream. Children are a wonderful means of reconnecting to serenity, so are animals and nature. To look at a flower, a tree, to listen to birds or to look at the sky are sure ways of recapturing the state of serenity - where there is so much beauty, a positive response is guaranteed. Out of this search, a sense of gratitude towards creation and the creator emerges, and gratitude makes one humble and opens the heart to serenity. It is not difficult to find beauty or something 'positive', however small - all it needs is a will to look for it.
Detachment, the attitude of 'I am not the doer but the observer', is a great help to the cause of serenity. The ability and discipline to become an observer at all times is a safe way to spend the day serenely. To be able to watch the anger, watch the tears flow, watch the heart heavy with disappointment and hurt is a lifelong practice, but worth the while. It is the observer that will help us rise out of sadness and despair with a big grin on the face and a laughing heart.
Humour is taking the laugh a step further. It is seeing the funny side before the tears start rolling, before the anger starts welling up. I discovered that humour is an expression of awareness, an acute sense of living in the present. Again it is awareness that saves. There is always something positive while living in the present moment. This is shown in a very touching way in the film 'La vita e bella' - where even life in a concentration camp turns into a game. Yet it becomes a game only through the love of a father for his child.
And love is probably the most powerful and the most direct way to feel and radiate serenity. Serenity is an inner personal experience as well as an attitude which expresses itself while interacting with the outside world. To love whatever and whoever is around us, to care for whatever comes in contact with us and to live in the spirit of service. A smile, a kind word, a helping hand or more, it does not matter. The return is so much greater as it satisfies our own desire for serenity.
Mirrors - sparkling drops in the Sun,
Deep darkness drunk with the same Will;
No fear to dance, to laugh, to run,
Free to be silent, to be still.
Forever present - patiently,
To give, to live serenity.
Regularity was a most dreaded ITY because I associated it with boring routine. Any excuse to avoid or circumvent regularity was more than welcome.
I fooled myself by saying that besides the rigorous discipline of a regular structure there was the need to be open and spontaneous. To use time freely as it came I considered almost as a practice in adaptability or even in awareness. But I found this to be untrue.
First of all, disciplined timing requires courage and honesty. Going through the day doing the things that have to be done with courage and honesty is regularity. Order, time put in order, is a most efficient way to conserve energy, but regularity requires more than the external structure of a timetable. It takes courage to withstand the many external distractions, it takes honesty to face the internal manoeuvres of the mind trying to avoid order.
I did a little test. I had three possibilities of going to work. I could take the early train, the late train or I could go by car. I considered this a great expression of freedom; I took pride and played around with these three possibilities. One day I would argue in favour of one option and the next day in favour of another option. I would even call this argumentation awareness.
Then for some time I took the same train every day, without thinking, without prevarication, without indulging in some pseudo freedom. The result was astonishing. I felt much more relaxed, calm, and I achieved a lot more. Time was used much more efficiently, and I had to admit that the more the twenty-four hours are structured the better. Regularity is freedom because it frees the mind of unnecessary mental activity.
The second point I realized was that regularity, in order to be constructive and efficient, implies awareness. An activity carried out without awareness is repetition, is boring and turns into a routine. Only awareness can turn the daily train ride into a unique experience. Routine, boredom and repetition only exist if there is little awareness. An activity may be carried out one hundred times and be different each time if there is awareness.
The total absence of awareness goes beyond routine and leads to addictive behaviour. Addictive behaviour is repetition taken to the extreme. Addictive behaviour is repetition deprived of will and choice. It is the total negation of regularity and order.
It doesn't matter if it is gambling, eating, smoking, drinking, working or any other dependency. Most addictive behaviour shows patterns of regular timing. For the businessman it might be the drink/s before each meeting, the housewife takes her drink/s at certain times, the pill popper has his/her timetable. The chain smoker has extended the timetable over the whole day. Addiction is regular, is repetition but void of all awareness. The junkie who regularly takes his/her shot/s has lost all control over his body, his time and his life. A scrupulous training in and application of awareness could be a sure and safe antidote to addictive behaviour.
Ashram life is of course the best example of living regularity the whole day long; the strict timetable helps, so does the support of the group. But it is possible to establish a timetable in everyday life adapted to the social environment we live in, with getting up and going to bed, the time for sadhana, regular meal timings. Even with a well-established timetable there is more than plenty of, if not too much, time which we have to fill in spontaneously and after making choices. But the benefits of regularity will certainly lead to reducing the 'free' time or to using it in an ordered and constructive way.
Oh wretched regularity!
Dreaded like the deadly boredom
Of prison's drab and dull routine.
Minds regularly bent by bars
Dream wide empty skies of freedom -
Mere bubbles of illusion though.
Repetition and addiction,
Man's mockery of beauty timed,
Deny the sanity to live
Or waste the gift to be aware.
You are no wretch - yet often wronged!
Oh ruling source of energy,
Of order and true harmony.
Oh royal regularity!
The first association I made with absence of vanity was that it implied total forgiveness towards those we feel have wronged us. And this total forgiveness expresses itself in kindness, friendliness and a true openness.
The idea of right and wrong, the idea of 'I deserve this' or 'I do not deserve this', are expressions of vanity. To live in the spirit of absence of vanity is to live one's duty without questioning it.
Vanity comes in whenever I think I am the doer, whenever there is the slightest identification with what I am, what I have and what I do, whenever there is the slightest trace of 'I'. As long as there is awareness that I am an instrument or the flute to be played upon, then there is no time, no space for vanity. Of course the traps are manifold throughout the day and constant vigilance is necessary. From the first glance in the mirror in the morning to the review of the day in the evening, either with pride or self-accusation, as long as there is the idea of 'I' there is vanity, no matter if I see myself as the superwoman or as the total no-good.
The best remedy against vanity is gratitude towards guru and/or God for whatever there is or is being done. And the best proof of the absence of vanity is to live and put into practice the idea of the following prayer:
To have the patience to endure
what cannot be changed,
To have the courage to change
what can be changed,
To have the wisdom to know the difference.
When this wisdom is consciously practised then there is a good chance of living as an instrument and of going through life with little identification but with the feeling of being an empty flute. To do what has to be done - and to do it joyfully - will produce the most beautiful music.
No self, no I -
For You to play upon
Continued next issue.