Several weeks into lockdown, we are hanging on in there, with no idea how things will pan out in the short or long term.
“The only thing you ever have is now” – Eckhart Tolle
The uncertainty we encounter as part of a spiritual practice has been magnified, and for the global population.
Naturally, uncertainty and crisis can feed fear. Worry, anxiety and even anger are some of its expressions.
What do yoga and life experience offer us as an antidote or way through?
I remembered the Sanskrit word shraddha recently when I noticed my mind wandering into what-ifs for the next generation.
Shraddha is an essential part of life and practice. But what does it really mean? How does it relate to fear, and how do we find it?
Shraddha is somewhat tricky to translate into English. Practitioners, spiritual teachers and scholars offer helpful insights into its meaning.
Eknath Easwaran states that ‘faith’ is not an adequate translation. Rather, the underlying meaning is ‘what is held in the heart… the sum total of our values, what we really hold to be important in our lives.’
In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna tells Arjuna that every human being is shraddhamaya – made up of shraddha.
The mystical Upanishads shine further light on this. In a dialogue from the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad the sage Yajnavalkya offers this:
On what is faith (shraddha) founded?
On the heart, for one recognises faith with the heart. So faith is founded in the heart.
As a quality of the heart, it allows us to open, trust and love, to be courageous and take informed risks and to rest easefully without demands, guarantees or solutions.
Both the Bhagavad Gita and the Upanishads teach us that spiritual practice without shraddha is without power.
Juan Mascaro emphasises that shraddha comes from the Spirit or Atman within us.
The English word ‘faith’ can feel religious, which may not be helpful for all. How about ‘trust’ or ‘inner knowing’? There is a trust in oneself and a confidence about it too.
My personal experience is that it’s only when we have a sense of our connection to a more expansive reality or simply to something greater than ourselves – of which we are a part – that we know what shraddha is. This is a deeper, inner knowing, not a belief in something that comes from the outside.
The yogic teachings share that shraddha leads to the end of fear. How?
Shraddha arises when we have a deeper understanding of who we are, and of our relationship with others and the universe, ultimate reality, truth or whatever you would like to call it. A realisation that our essence is greater than the ‘me’ created by the mind, the senses and our interactions with the material, form-dependent world.
Our essence is unchanging and unshakeable, and undisturbed by uncertainty.
Eckhart Tolle suggests that ‘an inner deep trust‘ could be a better expression to use than ‘faith’. This is a trust in life, divine presence or universal intelligence ‘that can only be there when you are connected to that which is beyond the mind… deeper than belief and nothing to do with stories… the end of all fear… connected to the totality of life, with the essence of who you are, which is one with the essence of the universe.’ He also says that ‘one definition of trust is an absence of fear.’ If we don’t live within this greater dimension (he calls it the vertical, rather than the horizontal dimension), fear is inevitable.
How do we get in touch with shraddha? Being still, becoming quiet, practising with determination, sensitivity and devotion and, importantly, meditating. Through meditation we learn to see the mind and to know the heart. In meditation we learn to meet fear, look into and be with it, rather than avoiding, denying or resisting it.
Practices that calm the nervous system go a long way in preparing us for the deeper inner practice, self-regulation and realisation that unveils shraddha. Breath awareness, pranayama, yoga nidra and restorative yoga are supportive.
Collectively, these practices enable us to go beyond the habitual mind – and its rushing into the future or ruminating on the past – in order to be able to see it clearly and to be in the present moment. So, when our thoughts start racing – together with our heart rate – and we begin to worry, become anxious or create imagined scenarios, we’re able to recognise that this is happening and to gently bring ourselves back to a place of steadiness and expansiveness in the present moment. The latter often begins with feeling sensations in the body, or something as simple as feeling our feet on the ground.
In this way, fear is actually its own route to shraddha and to freedom from it. It is the pathway between knowing and being comfortable with not knowing.
Tolle says that the source of all trust is to come home to the now. Further, that there is only an inner solution for discovering our own depth in order to be at peace with ourselves, with others and one with all.
Yoga is an internal practice. The teachings guide us to turn towards our inner life. It can be a challenging process at times, but this is the life that sustains us in all circumstances.
This is also the presence we share with our loved ones, friends, strangers and the world.