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The Food of Life, Energy in Consciousness, and The Gift of the Gunas

Updated: Apr 7

When I was introduced to the three gunas I felt relief. I was moving through spiritual emergency following spontaneous energetic awakening and learning to feel into myself and my experience according to the gunas and the elemental nature of my intense sensational experience was an incredibly welcome relief.

There was a great deal of heat and activity being experienced in the bodymind and I was also feeling incredibly dense, heavy, and frozen. States were changing constantly and dramatically. I was getting lost in the woods as I tried to grapple with over analysing, fighting the sense of incoherence I was experiencing. I was also finding it really difficult to express my experience through the ‘normal’ language of thought, feeling, and 'individual shadow or soul language of traditional depth psychology, which just didn't resonate with me anymore.

The thought storms that I was experiencing were brutally judgemental in nature, largely relating to how I wasn’t moving through my process quickly enough, how lazy I was because I was experiencing periods of physical freeze that sometimes lasted almost a week at a time, and how I couldn’t sit to meditate or feel my feelings like a good little spiritual practitioner.  I just felt pain and numbness when I did.

The more ‘nondual’ teachings had crystallised in this psyche as concepts that felt punishing in nature. I couldn’t feel the beauty, clarity, and spaciousness, that I had previously - I just felt like I was in trouble, failing, and being ejected from ‘God’.

Having the frame of the three Gunas allowed me to drop a great deal of analysis and provided an anchor point through which I could begin to experience myself and my feeling body with a deeper sense of belonging, as well as learning to follow my inherent wisdom over and above any particular 'outside' system or process. It also allowed me to love the movement of mind and imagination again, rather than pushing it away, which allowed for a deeper sense of being able to resource qualities for integration through a natural ‘shamanic style’ movement of mind that had been happening for some time, but that I was judging as not being ‘true’.

During a time in my life that was fraught with fear, freeze, darkness, and confusion, exploring through the Gunas and the nondual qualities allowed for me to experience a world of magic and exploration that included all experience, whilst still staying grounded in nondual seeing. Duality was more than included, and herein lay the magic and belonging that I so profoundly needed as I learned to embrace my human experience and ‘dark night of the soul’, observing the natural alchemy of the moment. 

Being ‘stuck’ physically in bed didn’t mean the same anymore, and I think I learned more about the reality of simultaneous disintegration and integration in that time than I ever have on my path. The Gunas and nondual qualities frame also supported me to find movement when I was frozen (I started to stare at running water and kept a little electric fountain by my bed), to find the most beautiful purity, light and life when the clouds of thought and feeling were thick, dense, and dull, and to engage with myself more deeply as the natural world - the revealing of the path to True nature and deep peace that was aligned for me. I started to see and perceive through the Gunas, and it became clear again that this dance of energy and sensation was not limited to the human experience of 'mind'. I could see it everywhere in nature and where the judging thoughts pointed towards the human experience of 'laziness' and 'inertia' as inherently bad, when I saw the expressions of Tamas and Rajas in the wider living world, I sensed beauty, gratitude, awe, and life.

"In nature nothing is at standstill, everything pulsates, appears and disappears. Heart, breath, digestion, sleep and waking – birth and death – everything comes and goes in waves. Rhythm, periodicity, harmonious alternation of extremes is the rule. No use rebelling against the very pattern of life"


The Three Gunas

Purusha, according to Advaita and ayurvedic traditions, is The Self, the knower of all experience, but in itself is not experience, and the source of limitless potential from which all that is known (experience) arises. Prakriti, is that which is known, is the primal energy that underlies all existence. Encompassing the physical, mental, and spiritual aspects of life, Prakriti exists as the dynamic interplay of the three Gunas – the fundamental qualities or energies that shape all phenomena in the universe.
Sattva, the first of the Gunas, embodies purity, harmony, and luminosity. It is characterized by clarity, tranquility, and balance. When Sattva predominates, the mind is serene, and perception is clear. It is the state of being in alignment with one's true nature, where the Self shines forth effortlessly and radiantly. (see blog article: Presence as the Radiant Parent: Nature and Need)

Rajas, the second Guna, represents activity, passion, and restlessness. It is the force of movement and dynamism, driving action and change. When Rajas is predominant, the mind is agitated, and desires exert their influence, leading to attachment and striving. However, when harnessed wisely, Rajas can propel individuals towards growth and transformation.
Tamas, the third Guna, embodies inertia, darkness, and ignorance. It is the force of stagnation and inertia, binding consciousness around delusion and lethargy. When Tamas predominates, the mind is clouded, and consciousness is veiled. Yet, Tamas also serves a purpose in providing stability and grounding when balanced with Sattva and Rajas.
The exploration of the Gunas is not merely intellectual but experiential. Through direct experience in the natural world, one can observe the manifestations of Sattva, Rajas, and Tamas in all aspects of creation.

In nature, Sattva is reflected in the serene stillness of a tranquil lake, the harmonious symphony of bird songs at dawn, and the radiant beauty of a blooming flower. Rajas manifests in the swirling dance of autumn leaves carried by the wind, the bustling activity of a beehive, and the fiery brilliance of the setting sun. Tamas is evident in the silent depths of a dense forest shrouded in darkness, the dormant seeds awaiting spring's awakening, the quiet slumber of a hibernating bear, and the rich density of the Earth's soil.

By attuning oneself to the rhythms of nature and observing the interplay of the Gunas, individuals can cultivate greater awareness and presence in their lives. This awareness serves as a gateway to self-realization, allowing one to transcend the limitations of egoic identification and recognize the underlying unity of existence. Through the practice of mindfulness and meditation, we can witness the fluctuations of the Gunas within ourselves, gaining insight into the nature of our own consciousness and the natural dynamism and flow of love and change.

Moreover, the exploration of the Gunas offers practical benefits for regulating the nervous system and neuronal repatterning. By consciously cultivating Sattva through practices such as meditation, and being in the natural world, we can reduce stress, promote emotional balance, and enhance cognitive function. Similarly, by recognizing and mitigating the influences of Rajas and Tamas in our lives, we can cultivate greater inner harmony and resilience, as well as developing a greater awareness of the fight, flight, freeze, and fawn responses that is so characteristic of our current culture and collective consciousness. Through direct experience in the natural world and inner reflection, we can cultivate a deeper understanding of the Self as presence, nonduality, and the eternal essence of life itself.

I have personally found that my deepening into direct experience has been supported through my 'Guna journey' and developing my ability to pick up on the subtleties of interpretation, the nature in which reality moves and flows in engagement with itself, and to be able to sense the layers of qualities in their simultaneous distortions and unconditioned states - opening me to the fullness of experiencing, without needing to go through a process, or fix or change my experience. They are, for me, a beautiful reflection of the wholeness and perfection in every sensation and experiencing of the moment.

Further reading: for a more thorough explanation and exploration of the Gunas and Ayurvedic psychology see article from Nic Higham, The Wholeness of Experience:

POINTER: When we are feeling our feelings, from a space of belonging and home (for example), energetically, we are adding (or more accurately, noticing) sattva, to rajastic or tamastic experiences of sensation. This is a natural alchemy as the seeing of all experience (the radiant parent). The more we do so, the more this natural alchemy is supported instead of pushed against, leading to feeling the sense, and expressing, the natural radiance of our being.

I did play a little with the nomenclature /traditional language of the Guna system, to support myself compassionately because some of the language describing Tamas and Rajas was sometimes frightening to me, as I was getting caught up in my already very ‘judgy’ experience of thought.

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