By Sarah Stollery, kundalini yoga and meditation teacher
Although I have forgotten many of the things I learned in primary school, one that has always stuck with me are the mechanisms that drive evolution. For the most part, species evolve very slowly – until, that is, some cataclysmic change in the environment triggers a rapid shift.
Right now, we are on the cusp of one of those cataclysmic movements – and I am not only referring to our physical world as a result of climate change. Our cultural environment is also undergoing a major overhaul.
Human beings have become hyperpolarised. Some of us are angry – we feel cheated, unfairly treated and as though we have no agency to affect our lived experience. For people who feel this way, tolerance and compassion are at an all-time low.
Some of us feel heartsick – we see the earth drowning in plastic and pollution, and fear that the planet’s sixth mass extinction event is well underway. As part of this situation, we feel the exhaustion and sorrow of collective suffering.
Our tolerance is also low as our energy to affect change is zapped by the need to care for ourselves in these tumultuous times. Some of us may not be aware of the collective mood (although we are still affected by it) because we are dealing with the same challenging themes in our personal lives. This situation likewise leaves us with few resources for action and empathy.
But what is at the root of this deep discomfort? Fear. Fear of change as old systems die and new ones arise. Fear of the unknown. Fear of being displaced and, ultimately, annihilated. And it is this deep fear, sometimes masquerading as anger, despair or stress that will provide the necessary trigger for humans to rapidly evolve.
Within the broad spectrum of yogic philosophy, there are several theories regarding the anatomy of fear and anxiety. Some schools of thought believe these emotions are connected to the psoas muscle, sometimes also known as ‘the muscle of the soul’. Others believe that fear and anxiety can be affected by strengthening the vagus nerve, which plays an important part in the gut-brain connection.
Within the technology of kundalini yoga as taught by Yogi Bhajan, the role of the physical body, particularly the nervous and glandular system, is fully acknowledged. But the fear and anxiety within the systems of the subtle, energetic and mental bodies are also recognised as well.
Moving beyond fear
According to kundalini yoga technology, each individual has 10 bodies, only one of which is the physical body. The most important ones for the sake of this discussion are bodies two and three, that is, the negative and positive mind respectively, which roughly correspond to the ‘gut’ part of the brain-gut connection mentioned above.
The role of the negative mind is simple: its objective is to keep you safe. The negative mind says “no” and is risk averse.
The role of the positive mind is to say “yes.” When strong, it sees all of the possibilities available – it is the mental force that drives you forward in life. But when the positive mind is weak, it is fuelled by fears buried in the subconscious.
Together, negative and positive mind send the message to the conscious ego mind that all is not well. A feedback loop is established between the brain and the gut reinforcing a perpetual sense of dread and foreboding.
Of course, some anxiety comes from our own real-time lived experience or from past trauma. But many of us are also affected by the collective mood, which is further exacerbated by the overabundance of terrifying information we are exposed to daily via social media and the news. So how do we break the cycle?
The way forward is to move beyond our fear-based nature and grow beyond the feedback loop between gut and brain by bringing our heart into the mix.
The fourth body is the neutral mind and the fourth chakra is our heart centre. The neutral mind is the objective witness of thought and action. It is entirely free of emotion and can always see fear for the illusion it is.
The heart is another form of mind, or brain, but one that most of us have forgotten how to use. When we begin to drop into our heart space, the feedback loop is interrupted. So we touch into universal love by shining a light into our dark place of fear.
By developing a neutral mind, we cultivate the awareness required to notice when the fear-based loop is active, which enables us to make an active choice to break the cycle with our practice. There are many established ways to drop into the heart space but this is my current favourite:
Posture: Sit comfortably with your spine straight. Place your left hand over your heart and your right hand over your left hand.
Eyes: Closed or partially open staring at the tip of the nose.
Breath: Inhale through the nose. Exhale through the mouth, making a deep sighing sound as you drop your awareness down into your heart. As you continue with this practice, sigh the sound ahhhhhhhhhh. Hold the breath out for as long as is comfortable before taking the next in-breath.
Simply witness and feel any emotions or thoughts that arise.
In her best-selling book, A Return to Love (page 43), Marianne Williamson said: “Our fear-ridden ways are threatening our survival. A thoroughly loving person is like an evolutionary mutation, manifesting a being that puts love first and thus creates the context in which miracles occur. Ultimately, that is the only smart thing to do. It is the only orientation in life which will support our survival.”
By making it a regular practice to enter the heart space – in other words, connecting to the love within us – we have the capacity to heal the separation, or polarisation, that is at the root of our individual and collective fear. And being sufficiently motivated to heal our own fear and anxiety could just be the thing to trigger the mass evolution that would see us morph into a more loving, compassionate, empathetic and peaceful species.
Sarah Stollery is a kundalini yoga and meditation teacher and co-founder of The Cabin, a self-directed learning community for home-educated children. She is passionate about empowering people of all ages and stages of life with the tools to thrive in these challenging times by creating space to learn, explore and integrate a wide range of wellbeing practices.
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