“If your head is confused, go with your heart. If your heart is confused, go with your head”
When I first came across this quote, I felt like I had stumbled across one of the most practical and important keys to psychological wellbeing. What could be simpler? If your mind is confused take a moment to tune into your emotions, check in with your ‘heart of hearts’ and make a decision based on your gut instinct. Similarly, when we find ourselves caught in the agony of emotional confusion, the surest way out is to elevate our perspective from our heart to our head. Consider the facts of the matter, think about it logically, and when you weigh up all the variables, make the ’sensible’ choice.
Whilst this simple advice can be a powerful tool for maintaining or regaining mental and emotional clarity throughout your life, it’s worth remembering that the moments in life that challenge us are the very same moments that reveal us.
When we are under pressure and being ‘pressed’ from all sides, what comes out of us is what is already inside of us. This can be in the form of anxiety, stress, depression, anger etc.. While this can be unsettling and difficult, it also represents an opportunity to understand yourself better. If recognised, these emotions can be the trigger that helps you realise that something in your life needs to change.
So how do we actually make real change in our lives, once we have recognised the need to?
An important key to successful change, is that we need to do it from a stable physical base. This means that we need to be physically balanced and strong in our bodies before we dive into the complex world of emotions and the mind. Cleaning up our diets, maintaining regular exercise, and reducing stimulants such as alcohol and caffeine are good places to start.
If you’re looking for a ready made list of exactly what to do – or not to do – to stay balanced in life, you’re in luck! The Eastern Masters have left the following instructions on how to live our lives in order to minimise our emotional ups and downs. They are known amongst yogi’s at the ‘Yamas’ or universal codes of conduct that if followed can lay the foundation for peaceful and balanced life. Like much of the ancient wisdom of India it is as simple (though not necessarily easy!) as it is profound:
- Non violence (ahimsa): this refers to both thought and deed! Yogic philosophy considers the harbouring of negative thoughts about ourselves or others a form of violence. By dissolving negative thoughts and they arise, and offering kindness to all living things, we take a step towards greater peace within ourselves and the world in which we live.
- Truthfulness (Satya): refers to the ability to speak the truth without exaggeration or ulterior motive. When the truth is used as a weapon with the intention to hurt another, it demonstrates both ulterior motive and a lack of ahimsa.
- Honesty (Asteya): this refers directly to stealing, but also includes the notion of giving recognition and credit to others where it is due. In addition, it asks us to consider the means or spirit through which we obtain our wealth
- Moderation (Brahmacharya): traditional this related to celibacy, but a more liberal interpretation is moderation. Moderation can be applied to virtually all aspects of our lives to promote a more balanced lifestyle and perspective.
- Non-possessiveness (Aparigraha): this principle counsels us to avoid greed and the hoarding of possessions. It can also refer to rigid beliefs and behaviours that keep us trapped. Just as holding on to our breath inhibits our ability to take another, Aparigraha teaches us to let go of what we no longer need in order to share with others and create more space for ourselves to receive.
Try choosing just one Yama and apply it to your life this month. When this becomes second nature, move on to the next!
This article was first published in the EQUILIBRIUM Magazine.