How can you be active in the world without being caught up in the drama? In this episode, we share the concept of the “Gunas” or qualities of nature that run in your life. Discover how these three levels influence your actions and the intention behind them so that you can create your life outside of the rush and hurry that is so prevalent in the world.
3 States of Mind that Influence Happiness
Welcome to Soul Sessions with CreativeMind with Debra Berndt Maldonado and Dr. Rob Maldonado of CreativeMind. Join us each week for inspiring conversation about personal development based on Jungian philosophy, Eastern spirituality, and social neuroscience. Spend each week with us to explore deep topics in a practical way. Let's begin.
Debra Maldonado 00:29
Hello, welcome to another episode of Soul Sessions with Debra Maldonado and Robert Maldonado, CreativeMind. Before we begin, as we continue our series on the wisdom of the Upanishads, I want to remind you, if you're listening to our podcasts, please be sure to subscribe on iTunes, or Spotify. If you're watching us here on video, please subscribe to our YouTube channel, there is a link right in the corner of the video to subscribe, so you do not miss an episode. Wanted to start off with this.
Robert Maldonado 01:03
If you're wondering what is it that we do, we started to extract the psychological principles from spiritual practices, and incorporate those principles in a coaching model, so that people can use this knowledge to solve their human problems.
Debra Maldonado 01:25
The key is the coaching model. We may read higher knowledge, read the Gita, may understand psychological principles, but how do we apply it in a coaching model, which is non brokenness, potential-based model that can go deep, not just about tips and setting goals, but really go deep into your psyche and have a transformation and higher knowledge. Today, we're going to talk about the three states of mind that direct and influence your happiness.
Robert Maldonado 01:56
Very powerful stuff directly from the Gita. But of course, it goes back to the Upanishads. The original Upanishads talk about it, I have a right here, next to my heart. The states of mind are called “gunas”, which translates as qualities. We can think of the qualities of the mind, the quality that is possessing the mind at that moment. It's sattva, rajas, and tamas. Sattva is translated as purity, light, clarity.
Debra Maldonado 02:39
Rajas is that busyness, it's passion, when you're caught up in something, you're passionate, it's faster action, it feels sped up. Also can be driven by fear. Tamas is lethargic, when you get sick and don’t feel you have a lot of energy, you're not motivated, or even disillusionment with life, in the most deepest state can lead to depression and lack of zest for life. I'd like to start off, before we go into this, with a story. I love survival stories. I don't know why, I think because I am not an adventure seeker. I am not out to climb mountains, or go on any extraordinary trip. Maybe it’s part of my shadow I'm integrating. But I heard this story, I wrote about it in my book, Like a Spark from Fire, they call it the log story. If you haven't heard it, I'm going to share. There was a man who was on a cruise ship, he was overweight, he was out of shape. For some reason, one minute he was on the ship, the next minute he was plunged into the ocean, as the ship is sailing away, and no one can hear him. He's basically in the middle of the ocean, has no idea how he got there. Maybe there was alcohol involved, we're not going to investigate that part. He's scared, he’s in the middle of this place where everything out of his comfort zone is taken away. He's treading water, he knows he's out of shape. He's like “I should have gone to gym, I'm not prepared for this.” He was getting really tired and worried “How am I going to survive?” Then he sees in front of him this thing which looks like a fin coming at him. He said “I'm gonna get eaten by a shark. At least it'll be over.” This thing starts coming toward him, he's bracing for it. All of a sudden, it bounces off of him, and he realized it's a log that had branches sticking out which looked like a fin. That's why he thought it was a shark. He grabs onto the log and just collapses. He falls asleep from all that stress. The log is basically holding him all night long. When the sun arises, he sees in the distance, maybe a mile away, this island and he says “This is the greatest thing, I could swim to that island, I'm saved.” He has one hand on the log, and the other hand is swimming toward the island. The problem was that no matter how hard he swam, the current was taking him away. He's swimming in the same space, and actually not even making any ground at all. He has to make a choice, “Do I hang on to the log which has kept me alive? Or do I let it go and take my chances and just swim to the shore?” He goes back and forth for a couple of times, very hard to let go of that log, but at last he's like, “I can't hang on to this log any longer, I'm going to drift out into the ocean. I'm getting farther and farther away from this island that I want to help me survive.” He finally lets go off the log and starts swimming to this place of rescue. He ended up getting rescued before he got to the island. But that story is so powerful for me because I saw it as a metaphor for how many of us are hanging on to our familiar patterns or something that we felt kept us safe but it's not really taking us anywhere and in fact, is taking us farther away from our original desires, our original purpose in life. So sattva, rajas, and tamas. How does this apply?
Robert Maldonado 06:54
Back to the Upanishads, the original teaching, the Upanishads are commentaries on the Vedas, which are considered the oldest or at least some of the oldest scriptures in the world. This one is from the Sariraka Upanishads. It says “I am the actor, I am the enjoyer, I am the speaker, I am the egoist. Such are said by to be [inaudible] Brahman to be rajas gunas. In rajas you feel like it's about you, you are the actor, you are the enjoyer, it's all about you.
Debra Maldonado 07:46
I'm treading the water. I'm scared. I'm the one who's hanging on to the log. I'm the one who's even making the decision whether to let go or not.
Robert Maldonado 07:56
Sleep, sloth, delusion, desire, compulsion, and theft are said by expanders of the Vedas to be tamas gunas. We can talk more about the practical implications of these states of mind as we go along. But tamas is that lower registry of the mind that is very base. Perfect or divine knowledge is sattva guna, meaning knowledge of the higher self. When the Upanishads would say “knowledge”, they mean higher knowledge, anything that explains the true nature of your awareness, your consciousness. Knowledge of dharma is rajas guna, and mental darkness is of tamas gunas. There's the simplified teaching of what states a mind the Upanishads are talking about in the gunas.
Debra Maldonado 09:19
What I love about what you just read is the idea that I am the enjoyer, I am the sufferer, I am the actor. It's really the cause of suffering that does not lead us to happiness. If we are thinking we're aligned with the actions of the world, we're defined by it, whether we have certain things, whether we're happy or sad, we sometimes think “I'm a sad person”, or you're having a sad moment, attaching yourself to some states of mind with the I, or states of experience with the I is really the cause of suffering.
Robert Maldonado 10:00
It's the misidentification of the I with the emotional guna state. The state of mind that you are in, you identify with it, you pour your awareness into it. That becomes your reality.
Debra Maldonado 10:21
It's almost like the witness mind is not there, and you're just enveloped in this identity with your state. If I'm sad, you're really enveloped in the sadness, you become sadness and identify with the sadness, instead of the witness watching yourself go through that state. The same thing with the rushing. I am the hard worker, I am the one who attained success, or the one who attains the things in the world.
Robert Maldonado 10:53
A lot of teachings grew out of the Upanishads. Of course, different schools use them in different ways. But again, our purpose is to look at the psychological principles they're talking about and correlate them with what we know about the brain and the mind nowadays, and hopefully use them in a creative way. Let's talk about rajas first because I think that's the one we're all familiar with. It's that rushing state of “I have to take action, I have to do something, the harder I work, the more success I will get.”
Debra Maldonado 11:37
No matter what we pour our mind into, everything we do, if you align success with how much you're doing, you are going to feel like the more you do, the more successful you'll become, which is actually not true. Because there's a saying that it’s better to be imperfect living out your purpose versus being perfectly executing something that's not your purpose. The thing that's missing in that rushing is that people forget their purpose, why am I doing this? The past couple of years, living with a pandemic, I think a lot of people started working from home, started asking themselves “Why am I commuting three hours or four hours a day, traveling all the time, never see my family, just so I can spend maybe a couple hours on the weekend in my big house in the suburbs? Why am I doing this?” Questioning what we are really chasing when we're chasing success?
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Robert Maldonado 13:47
In rajas, we're attached to getting results. We think when I get the right job, make the right amount of money, get the right car and the right house, the right relationship, the fruits of my actions, I’ll be happy.
Debra Maldonado 14:04
Even if I get acceptance and acknowledgement. A lot of people aren’t looking for money as much, or success, or a relationship, but it serves some inner need. I need to be acknowledged, to feel normal, to feel like part of the group, to feel praise. Those are all rajas state. In times in my life where I was so worried, rushing around, making sure everyone is happy, it was out of attachment disguised as me being a good person, wanting to make everyone happy. But it was more a selfish desire and attachment to worrying about what other people think, making sure they're taken care of. We all have done that, people that are parents or have had parents, trying to control what other people think about you. I'm going to measure myself by these external rewards. It'll never be enough. It's empty.
Robert Maldonado 15:09
We think about how we're conditioned in our society, it is precisely on that principle that you should act, you should work, you should educate yourself, so that you can get the fruits of your action, you can get the money, you can get the prestige, the accolades, etc. We're conditioned in the wrong way because again, the binding of the soul — and for our secular friends who are not comfortable with the idea of soul, you can just think of consciousness — it attaches our pure awareness that is not the conditioned mind, it pours that pure awareness into attachment, into thinking that we need those external things, the fruits of our actions are precisely what we need to make us happy, to make us feel solid.
Debra Maldonado 16:05
I can relate to that, being single forever, feeling that once someone loves me back, I'm in a relationship, I could just relax, my life would be perfect. I just looked at my married friends, they have the happiness that I want, they have this love, they have this partner. All that chasing made me miss out on so much of my life. It was such a distraction. I was chasing someone to love me. I realized I didn't love and accept myself. It's an inside job all the time. When we're in rajas, we're looking for something we lack without all the time. You're acting from that lack, you're acting from that without, it's like a hamster wheel. You're just spinning and spinning. But eventually we get exhausted from that. Especially entrepreneurs, sometimes we try a lot of things, and things aren't working. We think it's what we're doing that actually gives us the results. We try, and then we're like “I guess this isn't for me”, we go into tamas, which is that giving up, that lack of passion, lack of motivation. We spin around enough in rajas, that eventually tamas is like a balancing way of going back, all that energy has to relax in some way.
Robert Maldonado 17:39
That's a good point. A lot of people use tamas as a relief from the rajas because it is exhausting, but tamas is not a good way to deal with it. Listen to how the guna of tamas is described. “Arjuna, tamas, which is born of ignorance, is the cause of illusion for the embodied souls. It deludes all living beings through negligence, laziness and sleep.” When you drink to escape the stress, the hurry, when you take drugs, when you veg out on Netflix, you do it compulsively or habitually. That’s you cultivating tamas.
Debra Maldonado 18:41
When COVID happened, the whole world was in rajas. Then we were forced to be in tamas, it felt like the whole energy just stop. In a way, I think it's not bad. Sometimes we need to dip down into that lack of action to maybe recharge, to get that this isn't really helping. It's a wake up call. Sometimes we have to dip deep down where we're in more pain to finally wake up.
Robert Maldonado 19:17
Let's say, we look at the addiction problems in the world, people abusing prescription medications, alcohol, the internet in all kinds of ways. That is the ignorance of tamas. It says it is ignorance, meaning you're not aware of what the nature of the mind is, you're simply seeking to escape.
Debra Maldonado 19:47
Would tamas also be someone who's in a job that really isn't challenging, they're working for the paycheck. It's like an autopilot thing. They're not literally stressed out, but they don't have a passion about it. Like they say in the research that most people are actively disengaged. They're going through life in this dullness.
Robert Maldonado 20:17
It can be part of it, the Gita explains that all actions are combination of three gunas, these three qualities, but one predominates. There's always a little bit of tamas in everything, we all come from ignorance. We want to achieve things, we want to do things that express our creativity. We get attached to things. It's our nature. But the next one, sattva, is what we want to cultivate because it leads us to the true balancing of action without pushing it away, without seeking escape. We stay with the action, but we understand it at a much deeper level. Sattva binds one to material happiness. Rajas conditions a soul towards actions, tamas clouds wisdom and binds one to delusion. But sattva binds one to happiness. As human beings, we need to cultivate first that state of happiness, of lightness, of clarity.
Debra Maldonado 21:42
We can't make good decisions when we're in rajas or tamas, we're caught up. At least in sattva we're starting to get the clarity.
Robert Maldonado 21:55
When we look at the practices of yoga, meditation, contemplation, concentration, they're all aiming at this sattvic state of mind, of clarity, of non-attachment to material things. It explains also that it doesn't mean inaction. It doesn't mean renounce things or quit your job. It says, continue to act, all you're doing is non-attachment towards the result of your action.
Debra Maldonado 22:25
Non-attachment is meaning we're not defined by the mistakes, we’re not defined by the successes, we're not defined by the results. Because only the ego can attach itself to those things. If you think about results, they're fleeting, it's not a permanent state. You're chasing this permanent vacation. It's over eventually, it's just like being attached to a vacation that you'd ever want to leave. It doesn't happen, you have to go back into the world. These states are fluid. We get attached to events in our life, even good ones. We all think, when we're little girls, about our wedding day, most of us, some don't. But we think what it’s going to be like to have that day. I remember going to one of my best friend's weddings when I was 23. I thought to myself, the day she planned for a year, is gone in a second, it's all gone, all that planning. You can't hang on to it, it's just gone. It's like all things we build up. Even good things don't last, we can't really hold them or possess them. That's the illusion we keep, the sight is still clouded in that illusion that we can use those states of happiness all the time, there's this permanent state of happiness we could ever be in, when we're attached to the I.
Robert Maldonado 24:02
It says then, when all the gates of the body are illumined by knowledge, know it to be the manifestation of the mode of goodness, which is sattva. The gates of the body refers to the senses. When you understand and you're clear on what my perception is telling me, what these objects that I have to deal with are, you’re understanding their true nature so that you're not caught up. They're not driving you compulsively. You are using them as tools in your creative endeavors. That's the proper enlightened state of sattva, the mind that becomes pure, clear, light. The light bulb goes off in the head. That's what we want to cultivate. The way we cultivate it is, first of all, you have to understand what is the nature of the mind? What is the nature of these objects that I'm experiencing, that I'm attached to? How can I cultivate that pure awareness? How can I understand that I am the observer of my actions, my thoughts, my emotions. I'm not the emotions themselves. They don't define me. Notice that we're not saying push them away either. We're not saying they neglect them.
Debra Maldonado 25:36
Instead of saying “I am angry”, we can be present to “There's anger arising in this body.” Not even my body, this body. We could start to it. When we're saying I'm angry, all the ego gets caught up in “Why am I angry? Who wronged me?” It becomes this projection versus “There’s anger arising within this body that I'm experiencing. What is this about?” We can become more curious about it.
Robert Maldonado 26:07
That's the beginning of it, that curiosity, self inquiry. We're looking at the nature of the mind, instead of buying into the appearance of the senses. It’s verified by neuroscience, our senses are not designed to give us a true picture of reality. They're essentially designed to help us survive. Of course, that's a great thing, there’s nothing wrong with our senses. But they're designed for survival, not to perceive reality.
Debra Maldonado 26:43
We're conditioned to see what we perceive. Each of us has our own way, even though we look at the world and agree the world looks a certain way, each of us individually has our own filter of the senses, reading it based on our conditioning.
Robert Maldonado 27:01
At the end of the day, these principles are sound, they're in alignment with what we are finding out through neuroscience, neuro psychology. We're essentially seeing our own perception, or making up our own reality, based on our past conditioning. If we mistake that for reality, we're caught up in our own struggles. We're recreating our own past, bringing our past hang ups, conditionings, traumas into the present moment, thinking they're fresh. I keep running into the same thing, I keep finding the same kind of boss who reminds me of my father, I keep creating the same relationships that ends in a heartbreak.
Debra Maldonado 27:56
I keep having money issues because my family didn't like money. They told me I wasn't worthy of anything, I can't create success because of that. It's going back to the log story. Even though we don't like that narrative, we hang on to it, because it's all we know. We don't even know another because we identify with the story. This happened to me, I am this because of this past experience. That binds us, it's like a log we hang on to that we can’t live outside of. We can’t have a change in our life, if we keep continuing to identify with the past and ourselves as a character who had these terrible experiences that are never going to be free. But we hang on to them because in a way, it's a weird comfort because it's what we know. We rather hang on to what's familiar versus the possibility of who we can become.
Robert Maldonado 28:58
That's part of it. If you think about the narrative of our life, it essentially feels very real and solid to us, but it doesn't exist anywhere except in our mind, like this concept that we carry around as this is who I am, this was what happened to me. But for us, because we never questioned that, it feels very solid and real. But when we examine it through meditation, through this self inquiry, we realize there's nothing there. It's simply memories, thoughts, few scattered emotions.
Debra Maldonado 29:39
A lot of it is our mind putting together assumptions that were implied when we were younger. Generation after generation, we're taught how to see the world, we're taught what's good and bad. We absorb that from our parents and grandparents and culture around us. We're not even making these assumption ourself, we're shaped by them. We think we're making decisions or we have an opinion on something. But it's because the seed had been planted within us to see the world a certain way.
Robert Maldonado 30:14
If you find yourself in the tamas state, which is that lower state we were talking about, of lethargy, depression, lack of motivation, a sense that things are hopeless, you can't really move, your movement, your agency is ineffective or you don't have that willpower to do things. Do not try to jump to sattva. Meditation is not going to help in that state. The first stage, or the first step you have to take is to move to rajas, to set some goals for yourself.
Debra Maldonado 31:11
Even if you're attached, it's better than not acting at all and giving up. You're moving, and even if you're attached and get caught up in it a little bit, it’s okay, because it's going to lead you to the higher states of sattva, and then the ultimate state of being outside of the I altogether. They say it's a fool's errand. You start off with “I'm just going to do this. I'm going to take one action.” You practice non attachment with it. You're not always going to be perfect. We're always going to have attachment, that’s fine. That's where you work it out in the rajas. Don't you think it's like the sparring ground for you and the external world? How do I work with this world in my mind?
Robert Maldonado 32:05
Rajas is a very useful state because in activity we start to really get a sense of who we are, how attached we are, what kind of things we are attached to, what motivates us, what discourages us. Those are aspects of rajas. If you're observing, then you start to understand this knowledge, ignorance is starting to be dispelled by knowledge, you're starting to understand: What are these objects that I'm dealing with in the world? What are the emotions of anger, frustration, joy, happiness, what is their nature out there? They are arising in the mind, not from the external objects, but it appears so. When we experience the world, it appears that the external things are making us angry, the external things are making us happy. But that's an illusion that the mind creates.
Debra Maldonado 33:01
One thing I heard when I was first starting out as an entrepreneur, there were a lot of coaches in our group, hundreds of people, and a lot of them weren't taking any action at all, they were waiting for the right time, for everything to line up. But I remember hearing that unless you take action, you don't know what's happening in your mind, you could sit and assume, I don't know if I'm going to be successful, or I don't know what's going to happen if I take this action. You can assume people are going to criticize you. But until you take action, you don't know. You can't really see what's in your unconscious until you step out. When we take action and fail, or have a result that we don't like, it's an amazing opportunity. The key is to just get a results, whether it's good or bad. Get a result because that result is something you can use to grow. If you're not acting, the only results you're getting is more of the same. When you're in action, you’re seeing different results and you're be able to work with it.
Robert Maldonado 34:12
I have a little story. This is from a Daoist writer named Zhuangzi. He was fishing with his bamboo pole by the Po river. The Prince of Chu sent his vice chancellor with a formal document. “We hereby appoint you Prime Minister”, they said to Zhuangzi. Zhuangzi held his bamboo pole still and watched the river and said “I am told there is a sacred tortoise offered and canonized 3000 years ago, venerated by the prince, wrapped in silk in a precious shrine on an altar in a temple. What do you think? Is it better to give up one's life and live a sacred object of cult in a cloud of incense for thousands of years, or to live as a plain turtle, dragging its tail in the mud?" “For the turtles,” said the Vice Chancellor, “it’s better to drag its tail in the mud.” “Go home,” said Zhuangzi, “leave me here to drag my tail in the mud.” It’s very much renouncing that rajas attachment state to external rewards. There's nothing wrong with the external rewards. But if you're motivated by them, you lose out on that direct experience of your life.
Debra Maldonado 36:10
So why is it good to drag your tail in the mud?
Robert Maldonado 36:13
He's asking, there's a turtle shell that is venerated like a holy relic in some temple. Is it better to be that turtle that was killed to have that shell there or to be free and live in the river, dragging his tail in the mud. He's saying “I'd rather stay in the river and just drag my tail in the mud.” It’s not being attached to the external things. And of course, it's a story, it's a parable, it's a way of saying that the things you think will make you happy, and wise, and venerable, are false. The things that make you happy are being yourself. The turtle is simply doing what it's meant to do.
Debra Maldonado 37:19
If you’re a writer to write, if you’re a singer to sing, if you’re a musician to play, if you’re an artist to paint, if you’re a teacher to teach, if you’re a scientist to work in the lab, if you’re an adventurer, go on your adventure, that's your duty, your dharma. To do it out of the state of what you are meant to do, what you came into, but without attachment, without saying you need to be the best artist in the world, or the best singer in the world, or make lots of money being a singer, make lots of money being a teacher or get lots of praise for teaching, for coaches to get a lot of fans and build up your Instagram following. You lose that sense of what you're doing. If you're called to share wisdom with others, it shouldn't be about how many followers you have. Of course, you want to share, but to be attached to that, like you're better now because you're popular, we can get caught up in that. That's where we get into rajas, we forget that it's okay to do whatever we're doing as long as we're doing what we're meant to.
Robert Maldonado 38:44
It's very much about transcending those categories. Eventually, we have to really express our true nature, our true self.That’s what makes a human being happy. Not the dependent attachment to the external circumstances, which is always the mistake that people make. Right now, people are the richest they've ever been, most people have more than enough. Yet many people are deeply unhappy. Why? Because they're depending on the wrong things for their happiness. There's nothing wrong with the things. It's simply the over dependence on them.
Debra Maldonado 39:30
The things in the world aren't making you suffer, the events in your life that happened in the past aren't making you suffer. It's your mind that makes you suffer. It's not the things in the world that make you happy. It's the mind that tells you you're happy. How do we rein in and direct the mind? It's all about turning inward versus moving outward through the senses. Use that turtle metaphor, we pull the hands and legs in, we go inside. That's the only way. It doesn't mean we don't act externally. But if we're free from that, imagine that you could take an action, you care about succeeding, but you're not crushed by defeat, how powerful can you be? But imagine someone who's crushed every time with defeat. I used to see this a lot with the single clients I'd work with. They'd have a date and be excited. Then the guy didn't call, or he’d go to someone, they were crushed by it. After a while, you get so exhausted, they say “I just don't want to date anymore”, or “Online dating isn't working.” You’re attached, you're giving that person, that man or woman, power over your happiness. The best thing that can happen for you is to deal with that disappointment. Look inside and say “Why does this make me so unhappy?” It's not about them not calling. It's more about my mind making that important. When we're free of that, we can have the things we want and enjoy it more than constantly white knuckle it through life, trying to rein in the world. That's that righteous state we get into, I gotta get it. In the tamas, we're gonna give up again.
Robert Maldonado 41:20
It's ironic because we think the harder we try, the more we act, the more likely we’ll succeed. But often it's the opposite. We have to let go of that attachment, then success comes of its own accord. The great philosopher, one of my favorites, Lao Tzu says “When you realize nothing is lacking, the whole world belongs to you.”
Debra Maldonado 41:54
When you realize nothing is lacking, the whole world belongs to you. That's a great way to leave it today. Think about your life. Think about where you're at right now, where your energy is, is it in sattva attached to being good? Is it in rajas attached to material things, is it in tamas, with loss of hope? If you are in those states, try to get to the next one and work your way up. Simply practice identifying with the awareness that's having this mind body experience versus actually the mind body in this character that you're acting in this world. That's where freedom is.
Robert Maldonado 42:42
Thanks for watching. See you next time.
Debra Maldonado 42:45
Take care everyone. Have a great, wonderful day.
Debra Maldonado 42:50
Thank you for joining us. And don't forget to subscribe to CreativeMind Soul Sessions. Join us next week as we explore another deep topic where you can consciously create your life with CreativeMind Soul Session. See you next time.