Lord Krishna, a manifestation of the Divine Lord in the Universe (in the Gita), talks about the importance of mental training or perspective when we are faced with difficult situations. For example, Arjuna says “ O, Kesava, it is easier to control the wind than to try and control the fickle, unsettling, dominant and suborn mind” (The Bhagavad Gita, Ch. 6:34). Lord Krishna addresses Arjuna’s question that despite the restlessness of the mind, there are techniques to control the mind so that it is not swayed by the circumstances and senses. Lord Krishna agrees that the human mind is difficult to control, but, it can be controlled with “practice and disentanglement” (The Bhagavad Gita, Ch. 6:35). Lord Krishna, thousands of years before the rise of modern cognitive-behavioral therapy, stated, “Whether one attains elevation or degradation through one’s mind depends on oneself only, for the mind can be one’s friend or one’s foe.” (The Bhagavad Gita”, Ch. 6:5). Lord Krishna is referring to developing a mindset for difficult circumstances. Lord Krishna, in the Gita, talks about how spiritually evolved people maintain a calmness and equanimity in the midst of either extreme happy or futile and sad circumstances or faced with friends or foe. Lord Krishna talks about mental equanimity being like a calm ocean, rising above the duality of extreme emotions and focusing on the Divine and one’s purpose. Cultivating the yogic mindset and recognition of the Divine Spark in all human beings, is critical in having calm conversations and finding common ground with people, especially people who have diverse viewpoints. The identification of common ground is critical in addressing the crises facing us today.
Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)Model
The primary assumption of CBT model developed by Aaron Beck (1960s) is that our thoughts are main drivers of our emotions and behaviors. In CBT, unhelpful thinking styles, cognitive distortions, lead to negative emotions and maladaptive behaviors. One of the main treatment challenges is identifying maladaptive thoughts which trigger negative emotions and challenge the distorted thinking.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy
Modern CBT models, like Acceptance and Commitment (ACT) therapy developed by Steven Hayes (1980s), integrated mindfulness strategies into CBT ideas, with overall goal of developing psychological flexibility . According to ACT, psychological flexibility is key to dealing with the changes in life, since human life is marked by impermanence. Mindfulness practices in psychotherapy (ACT) may include observation of thoughts without judgment, but curiosity and compassion as thoughts arise and dissipate as waves. Mindfulness practices reduce reactive behavior and increase intentional action. Mindfulness has been prevalent for thousands of years in Eastern philosophy/religion (Buddhism and Hinduism) and Christian contemplative traditions.
Mindful practices have been important in observation of thinking patterns with the understanding that we need to accept and embrace that both positive and negative thoughts and feelings will arise in the human experience. Thoughts, positive or negative, arise and dissipate, like waves in the ocean.
Cognitive detanglement (ACT) is observation of unhelpful thoughts and letting them go without entanglement to reduce suffering. Entanglement with unhelpful thoughts is like fighting to get out of water with underlying heavy currents. The more you fight, the deeper you sink.
According to ACT, the practice of cognitive defusion is that we cannot believe everything we think. We need to realize that thoughts are by products of a restless mind and thus we cannot give them power to reign over our behaviors. We need to realize some thoughts are more reliable than others. We need to decipher which thoughts to empower and which ones to dissipate. The ideas of acceptance, cognitive detanglement and cognitive defusion can be important tools to prevent sinking in unhelpful thinking, like turbulent waves.
Sitting with Discomfort with No Reaction
Once we are skilled observers of our thoughts and feelings, like waves in the ocean, we can choose to observe thoughts and feelings arise to reach a peak and dissipate. We can let go of certain thoughts and feelings without need to react to everything. Sitting with feelings, like anger, when someone hurts you is very difficult. I would love to shred to pieces people who have said hurtful words to me. But, my goal is to practice stillness when in emotional turmoil. Sometimes I can maintain nonreactivity in my personal life, but not always. (I will discuss strategies of sitting with negative feelings in later post). Living a life of constant, mindless reactions to outside events or internal thoughts/feelings can be exhausting. We need to recognize we are not our thoughts and feelings.
Without reaction, we have the option of intentional action, action based on contemplation. We then also have the freedom to pick our battles. We become, like skilled surfers, choosing which waves to surf and which ones to let go.
Gita and the Yogic Mind
Lord Krishna, in the Gita, talks about how spiritually evolved people maintain a calmness and equanimity in the midst of either extreme happy or futile and sad circumstances or faced with friends or foe. Lord Krishna talks about mental equanimity being like a calm ocean, rising above the duality of extreme emotion and focusing on the Divine and one’s purpose. Cultivating the yogic mindset and recognition of the Divine Spark in all human beings, as discussed by Lord Krishna in the Gita, is critical in having calm conversations
without reactivity and finding common ground with people, especially people who have diverse viewpoints. The identification of common ground among people with diverse points is critical in addressing the crises facing us today.
Yogic mind versus the untrained (very human) mind
As a human being, I realize the difficulty of developing the yogic mindset. I find myself very reactive when I hear people who argue that COVID-19 is a hoax. This is something I do not understand. I believe that the pandemic is real and wearing mask and social distancing are safety measures.
It is very difficult to understand others and maintain equanimity to people, whose ideas, I totally cannot fathom. I am far behind in Lord Krishna’s advice in the same behavior and approach to all. However, I wonder as a divided nation, we need to actively cultivate skills to practice “namaste” or “pranam” so that conversations among diverse groups can happen to effectively deal with the crises confronting us