Filial Love

filial loveFilial Love ….

The word love has, of course, many meanings. However, we don’t have many words to express those many different meanings of ‘love.’ We use the same love in the statement “I love my mother” and “I love my new shoes.” But, clearly, the love is not the same.

Traditionally, there are four categories of love: in Greek the words are ‘eros,’ ‘philea,’ ‘storge,’ and ‘agape.’ In English, this would translate to eros: romantic love; philea: brotherly-sisterly love, storge: affectionate friendship love and agape: alstruistic love.

And then there is filial love. Filial love is the kind of love a child has for its parents. This is, perhaps, a kind of ‘root love.’ It’s a kind of inborn instinct, to love parents. Whether or not the parents are lovable is another story; but, that doesn’t matter, the child loves the parents. How a parent responds to a child then becomes part of the child’s understanding of what love is. If the parents are abusive or neglectful, love, in the child’s mind, becomes almost equated with abuse or neglect. It’s as if neglect = love or abuse = love. No child grows up in an exclusively abusive or neglectful environment; now and then, there are also periods of affection. That too becomes part of the meaning of love for the child, as if it is also true that affection = love. Yelling, screaming, crying, laughing, singing, dancing, talking…..all of these experiences, and more, can link in to meanings of love. Because of the many, and sometimes contradictory, meanings of love, love can be confusing.

Because a child is so dependent upon parents for sustenance, nourishment, safety and protection, dependency becomes one of the equations of love in the growing child’s mind, i.e., dependence = love. One of the predominant needs of a child is attention. Children need to be attended to and it is not uncommon for a child to seek negative attention over none at all. If misbehavior gets the attention, i.e., the love of their parents, then, in the mind of a child, misbehavior = love. Temper tantrums, crying and screaming, aggression, and even gestures of self harm, can all be interpreted as a request for love. Love, of course, also equates to touch, affectionate hugs and embraces, caring, fun, joy and celebration…. Love has many, many different meanings.

Because a growing child is so dependent upon parents for their needs, the association between filial love and dependence is significant. Dependence generates territoriality and possessiveness towards that which one is dependent upon. Filial love is often characterized by a consciousness of ‘mine.’ Children are not only possessive of their toys, but of their parents as well. How many families with several children hear any child say ‘our parents’ instead of ‘my parents?’ A consciousness of ‘mine’ is dominant not only in childhood filial love, but adolescent, and adult, romantic love as well. Romantic relationships are possessive, and territorial. The relationship is based on dependence. There may be little difference between the statement “I love you” and “I depend upon you” or “I need you.” Romantic relationships, in particular, are a form of securing and possessing a source of specific needs satisfaction.

There is an element of love, filial love, in that. Of course, romantic relationships are predominantly characterized by eros, the passionate, intimate and sexual love. But, that does not mean filial love is absent, for it is not, just as every adult still has within them all the experiences of their childhood, and adolescence. It is not uncommon for one partner in a romantic relationship to project their deficit filial love needs onto the other partner who may, or may not, satisfy them. A good love relationship will be aware of the many meanings and forms love can take from the filial to the friendly, to the affectionate, to the romantic, and even to the altruistic.

Altruistic love is the antithesis of ‘mine.’ Altruistic love is a consciousness of ‘ours.’ Ideally, romantic love leads towards altruistic love because a single “me” becomes partnered and a ‘we’ is formed; a small ‘we’…a kind of ‘us against the world’ consciousness. But, then children are born and the ‘we’ expands. The children grow up and have their own children, and the ‘we’ expands more; what started as a fairly selfish erotic love has evolved to a family love which becomes neighborhood love, community love, and can extend to include the planet and all it’s inhabitents….The expansion of consciousness from ‘me’ to ever larger spheres of ‘we’ is the movement towards altruistic love, enlightenment, bliss.

It is said that Eskimos have several words for snow, depending on the quality and texture of it, and that the Zulu people in Africa, have several words for the color green, depending on the shade or hue of it. We have several words for precipitation as in rain, drizzle, downpour, sleet, hail and snow. But, for the most part, we seem to only have one word to represent the many complexities, shades, colors, hues, textures forms and meanings of ‘love.’ I love my mother, and I love my new shoes.

The Advaita Approach to Mental Health

 advaita approach to mental health

Mental health, or illness, is based primarily on a philosophy, a collection of beliefs, about who I am, what I am, where I am. Everybody has answers to these questions, even if the answer is ‘I don’t know.’ And, even if we don’t know, for sure, we can give some semblance of an answer to those questions. We often give answers to questions without knowing, for sure. How we think about not knowing, how it reflects on us, is part of our philosophy of life in this world. What does it mean for you to not know?

For those who do know, that philosophy of life, or world view, whether conscious or not, informs just about everything on a macro scale such as society, family, work, money, moods, actions, conditions. All of that informs our micro life, our personal life with our specific family and our particular work, our own individual ups and downs, circumstances, situations. We interpret all of this through the lens of our beliefs about our life in this world. What if a lot of these beliefs, our philosophy of life in this world, is petty, narrow, short-sighted? What if it is not aligned with reality? What if it is based on ignorance?

Advaita is a philosophy of life in this world based on long established knowledge. In most traditional mental health therapies today, there is a ‘psycho-educational’ component. A lot of this psych-education is about how to think rationally instead of emotionally, realistically instead of erroneously. Advaita not only questions and challenges current thinking, it introduces specific philosophical concepts very conducive to mental health. Applying these concepts as a filter through which to interpret experience can change one’s moods and behaviors, relationships and sense of self.

Advaita is an old language word that means ‘non-dual.’ Non-dual is non-duality. That translates into no battle, no attack, no conflict. So many mental health disorders and dysfunctions are based on internal battles, and attacks, and conflicts. The Advaita approach closely examines duality and weaves a way of understanding it as integrated and unified. The ‘self’ of which we are often so concerned with its many stresses and pressures, goals and duties, responsibilities and obligations, dreams and hopes, strivings and achievements, is entirely based on a dualistic philosophy of life in this world. That philosophy is to transportation as Advaita is to teleportation. Advaita is very advanced. It also extends far into the human past.

At the very least, Advaita offers a way of thinking about things which may be to most rather novel, big, comprehensive and wholistic, which does no harm, and may do good. At the most, it can be very helpful along the journey towards that supreme level of human consciousness we all seek. This supreme consciousness which incorporates, integrates and unifies duality, is beyond happiness and pain. It is more than the pair of opposites which make up our dualistic universe. It is a consciousness which like the sun shines equally on the land and on the sea. It is a consciousness which like the ocean receives all rivers from every continent. It is a consciousness of real love and bliss, the supreme state of mind for any human being.

Mental health is a lot more than coping well. A philosophy of life in this world which requires coping, may be a philosophy worth relinquishing. A world view in which war is for peace and violence is for safety may be worth relinquishing. A belief in oneself as independent may be getting in the way of that supreme state of mind. Our current philosophy of life in this world, our complicated, partial, conflicted and dualistic view of the way things are, can be relinquished, and replaced with a wholistic view of all life, which is Advaita.


 

Psychosomatic Symmetries

psychosomatic symmetriesWe know from our own experience about the mind-body connection. For example, if you were to imagine or visualize sucking on a lemon rind, you may very likely begin to salivate. Even though that sucking on the lemon rind is entirely of the mind, it can easily generate bodily responses.

It’s possible, with a little imagination, to lay out some interesting symmetries or parallels between our physiological body and our psychological mind. For example, we know we have a physiological circulatory system….but, could we also have a psychological circulatory system? We know we have a physiological respiratory system, but could we also have a psychological respiratory system? We know we have a physiological digestive system; could we also have a psychological digestive system?

Our physiological circulatory system carries blood and oxygen to our muscles and organs. Perhaps our psychological circulatory system carries thoughts and emotions into different parts of our lives….our family, our work, our leisure. Our physiological respiratory system oxygenates and fuels our blood; perhaps our psychological respiratory system fuels and supports our thoughts and emotions through the meanings we ascribe to those thoughts and emotions.

Our physiological digestive system takes in, breaks down and assimilates nourishment in the form of food. It also eliminates what is waste. Perhaps our psychological digestive system takes in, breaks down and assimilates nourishment in the form of ideas, concepts, facts and knowledge. And, it too eliminates what is waste.

Psychological, or mental, health, like physical health, depends on these systems working properly. Though not generally recognized as much of a vital system as respiration or circulation, digestion is critically important, and perhaps the most important aspect of this system is elimination. Most people know how it feels to be bloated and constipated physically, but may be unaware that there can be a kind of psychological constipation as well. If we hold on to ideas, concepts, beliefs and information which is waste, which is outdated, which is not valid….which is not nourishing, it is waste. If that waste is not expelled, it becomes putrid and stale. And yet, it may continue to influence our thinking and emotions.

Mental health counseling is one good way to facilitate the elimination of psychological waste. By talking with a professional, old ideas and beliefs can be challenged, and discarded, making room for new, fresh understandings and perceptions. Also, because of the intimate relationship between the mind and the body, physical exercise (which is a lot like exorcise) can also be helpful in toning the psychological systems of circulation, respiration and digestion, especially elimination. Singing, dancing, laughing and crying, though physical in nature, and healthy, also has a psychological counterpart just as visualizing positive mental imagery has a physiological counterpart. There is a psychosomatic symmetry to our lives.


 

Mental Health is Contained in Language

mental health is contained in language

Our experience in life, even in the womb, is one of sensation. All our physical sense channels, collectively referred to as ‘the sensorium,’ make up the body of our experience, which is then represented with language. In other words, we can share our experiences because of representational language, because of words and pictures. It makes sense then, that a lot of our mental health is contained in language because all of  our experience of which we have identified, codified, is contained in language.

Sensation is just sensation. It is raw experience. Sensation can be described, with language, in terms of intensity, duration, frequency, temperature, weight, pressure color, hue, shade, sound, rate, rhythm, bitter, sweet, pungent, aromatic. Lots of words available to help codify and represent raw sensational experience. Sensation itself is without words,without description, without meaning, other than what we give to it, with language.

We use language every day all day, both with others, and internally in what is referred to as internal dialogue, or ‘self-talk.’ Self talk is the undercurrent of chatter, using language, to make statements about situations; those statements, valid or erroneous, become the platform then for our sense of personal self, our sense of others, the experience we recognize as our reality. A lot of that reality is ‘shared reality’ in large part because of the same language. Language is a kind of encoding, and decoding, system. We use words, spoken and printed, to convey experience, ideas, concepts, information. We also use visual images to convey the same. Visual symbols carry a lot of power. Even language is composed of visual symbols, the letters, which make up printed, and spoken, words, associated with sounds, and sights, and feelings.

We typically refer to physical gestures we make, which are visual images, both obvious and subtle, as body language or non-verbal behavior. The term non-verbal behavior is non-descriptive. It is like saying the sky is not green. But, what it is it? The sky is blue; non verbal behavior, or gestures, is visual communication. It is sight. Words, images, behaviors are all used in communication. Behaviors, from slumped in a chair with depression to ecstatic acting out in mania, is communication. We communicate with others, and within ourselves, using language, primarily composed of words and pictures. Words and pictures makes up the bulk of our thinking. Thinking is using words and pictures to define and give meaning to our sensory experience.

The sensorium, the collection of different senses, is composed of the 5 channels we are all familiar with: sight, sound, touch, taste and smell. The content of our sensorium, our raw sensory experience, through these basic 5 channels, is the material we use to build our reality, through codification, with language. One of our more sensational channels in the sensorium is touch, and body feelings, technically referred to as ‘kinaesthetics.’ Our kinaesthetic experiences are preverbal. We feel sensation before we describe it. A child of 1 year feels a lot, and has no auditory or visual representations for it, yet. We codify our kinaesthetic feelings with words, and pictures. In some cases, those feelings are so intense, or so sublime, they cannot adequately be codified by language; they cannot be expressed; they are ineffable, inexpressible.

Mental health is a poorly understood term; but then, so is health, and so is mental. We typically think of health as the absence of disease when in fact it is so much more than that. To say a person has gone mental is to suggest they have lost their mind, when in fact it could mean they have gained insight, understanding or have had a transformational breakthrough, what is sometimes called ‘metanoia,’ which is kind of like a ‘new mind.’ We use the term mind a lot, not really knowing what it does, how it works. Learning a bit about how we use language within ourselves, and with others, can help us understand the relationship between mind and body, mental and physical, because the language we use on ourselves, and with others, does influence state of mind, which does have influence over state of body, just as state of body has influence over state of mind. The language we use on ourselves can generate hormones in the blood, just as seeing somebody bleeding generates self talk.

We use words a lot, perhaps too much; that undercurrent of self-talk chatter is actively interpreting and evaluating and commenting upon sensory experience of sights, sounds, feelings, smells, tastes, situations, contexts. Kinaesthetic sensations, ie,, the sense of touch and body feelings, as one of the sensorium channels, is often overshadowed by sight and sound but may at times be more valid than conclusions arrived at through the more visual and auditory processes. There is a lot of ‘body intelligence’ that communicates through kinaesthetic sensations. How does one talk about kinaesthetic sensations, ie, feelings, in, and on, the body, using language? How do we incorporate kinaesthetics into our self talk, and into our thinking, more consciously? How do we invite feeling into thinking?

Mental health is contained in language; it is about how language organizes the content of the sensorium in a way that is coherent, comprehensive and wholistic, or not so, in which case, dis-ease and dis-comfort would be expected. The sensorium is somewhat like a complex woven tapestry of many threads in many colors with shifting scenes, sights and sounds and smells and tastes, and feeling, like a living garment, woven day by day, hour by hour, by our own thinking and use of language; a web, if you will, in which we are entangled, by thought and language, trying to get out, to understand, to know. In a crazy world in which we drive on parkways and park on driveways, language can have us parking in the street,or driving in the park, just as it can also have us drive well on the highway and park comfortably at home.


 

Yoga: The Life Breath of Generations

Yoga: The Life Breath of Generations

Yoga is generally considered to be a set of physical postures; often a class to which millions of people throughout the world go to stretch this way and that. Yoga, however, is a much grander philosophy which encompasses not just physical health but mental well-being and spiritual regeneration. Yoga is often ridiculed and made fun of in today’s modern materialistic societies; it has also been revered in many of yesterday’s ancient spiritual societies.

Yoga goes back thousands and thousands of years. It is an ancient and time tested approach to physical health, mental well-being and spiritual regeneration. It is the ultimate self-care, and could be considered a requirement if not for surviving then definitely for thriving. Throughout these ages and ages, there have been many excellent teachers expounding this comprehensive view of physical health, mental well-being and spiritual regeneration which is Yoga. One such teacher was the East Indian Yoga Master Patanjali. Patanjali expounded Yoga as having eight limbs. Each limb is a practice or set of practices, some for physical health, some for mental well-being, and some for spiritual regeneration. These limbs are not hierarchical; they are systemic. That is, one does not necessarily lead to the next. All eight limbs, like the tentacles of an octopus, are independent, though connected through that ninth element of the whole octopus itself.

The language of Yoga is Sanskrit, an ancient technical and scholarly language which translates to English as ‘refined speech.’ The word Yoga itself is Sanskrit and translates to English as ‘yoke’ or ‘union.’ The terms used to label these limbs of Yoga are Sanskrit as are many terms used within the field of Yoga.

The limb, or tentacle, of postures and bodily positions, of stretching this way and that is called Asana. But, that is just one limb of Yoga. Two other limbs are called ‘Yama’ and Niyama.’ These two limbs are along the lines of guidelines for behavior which are conducive to physical health, mental well –being and spiritual regeneration. Yama is more concerned with physical behaviors and actions, such as having compassion for others or being honest in relationships whereas Niyama is more concerned with psychological behaviors and actions, i.e., thoughts and decisions, such as self-examination and self-discipline. Another fairly well known limb or tentacle, and one which is often associated with Asana, is Pranayama. Pranayama is the myriad of breathing exercises of which there are multiple dozens. It doesn’t take much awareness to realize that our life, our personal existence, is more dependent upon breath than just about anything else. One can go many weeks without food, many days without water, but no more than minutes, and more often seconds, without breath. Breath is Life. Learning to breathe properly and well has extra-ordinary benefits for both physical health and mental well-being. Coupled with Asana, which is a tremendously positive influence on the nerves, muscles, joints, glands and skeletal system, these two limbs of Yoga go a long way towards physical health and mental well-being.

The fifth through eighth limbs are concerned primarily with spiritual regeneration and can be clumped together under the umbrella of Meditation. Meditation is the process of redirecting awareness from outward to inward and then transcendence of the subject-object duality. This transcendence is a ‘melting’ of individual, dualistic consciousness into non-dual, universal wholeness. It is referred to as Samadhi and considered the fruit of Yoga. There are as many forms and styles of meditation as there are postures and positions of Asana, or breathing exercises of Pranayama.

Pratyahara is the beginning of meditation. It is the embarking upon a journey inwards, with ever increasing focus and awareness leading to the transcendence of subjectivity, and its intimate partner, objectivity. The ever deepening experience over time is called Dharana, and then Dhyana, leading to Samadhi. The path of Pratyahara to Samadhi can be lengthy; but, it is not unheard of to be instantaneous. These eight limbs of Yoga, though often believed to develop in a linear fashion from ‘first’ to ‘eighth’ is not necessarily factual. Certainly, and traditionally, linear development beginning with the proper behaviors leading to postures and breath, then to and through meditation, arriving in Samadhi, is a route taken by many. But, like the tentacles of an octopus, which do not develop in a linear fashion, but rather holistically and systemically, so too a glimpse of Samadhi, that transcendental consciousness, described, in the language of Yoga, as Sat, Chit Ananda (Truth, Consciousness, Bliss), can be the initial igniting force behind a life-long love affair with Yoga. Such a person is then described as a Yogi, or Yogini (female). Because the nature of Samadhi is often described as nectar, it is not surprising that the path of Yoga is populated with hundreds of millions of people throughout the world.

These adherents to Yoga all tend to align with various emphasis on some limb or another. Hatha Yoga tends to emphasize the Asanas and Pranayama, but would certainly not discount Yama and Niyama, or Dhyana. Those who are called to service, practice Karma Yoga, of which there are millions in every walk of life, every corner of the world, every race and creed and of both genders, while those who travel the path of knowledge are Jnana Yogis. Many a scientist is Jnana Yogi. Bhakti Yoga is all about love, surrender and devotion. Many an artist is Bhakti Yogi. Tantric Yoga is for those who have a proclivity towards the mystical and is the one which can be, and often is, most misused. Because of the potential for misuse, and injury – physically, mentally, and spiritually, in any aspect of Yoga, the Guru is not only the instructor, guide, mentor and model, but also a protector. In today’s global world, there are many mentors, models, guides and instructors to access, most all available to some degree online. Protection comes about through the most subtle and effortless acceptance of Samahdi.

Yoga, as a comprehensive educational philosophy for health and well-being , accommodates a wide variety of personalities and nationalities. It is generic like aspirin. It is some of the very best information available in the world about physical health and mental well-being, which combined together is spiritual regeneration. The information, and the spark of animating energy that gives it breath, has been available for a very long time, and will remain so far beyond the foreseeable future. It is the life breath of generations.