Brooklyn Bridge to Enlightenment

For all my talk about sitting still, sometimes the thing to do is move. Years ago, I learned this Hindu concept of the three basic states of being: Tomas, Rajas and Satwa. Tomas is the state of lethargy and depression. It’s the feeling you get after sitting in front of a TV all day; it’s the mind that says it’s okay to do nothing even when you know doing nothing will just make you more depressed. Napping, watching TV, cold weather, negativity—these things are all Tomastic.
I’ve been in pretty Tomas place lately. I’ve thankfully been going through the motions of my life. I show up when needed, I answer and return phone calls, I’ve even managed to work out a few times, but it’s been a real effort. Nothing feels fun. Everything feels burdensome (this is not my normal state by the way).
I could, with some degree of plausibility, blame the weather for my Tomastic temperament. Despite my fervent belief in the reality of global warming, it’s been cold as balls in New York City for a while now. Most days don’t crest the thirties and more often it’s colder than that. Consequently, my resolve to commune with the world in general has been weak. I just want to sit around wrapped in a blanket and watch the Godfather’s I and II for the umpteenth time (which I have this week).
The trouble is, while I have this hibernation inclination, it does not satisfy me. I feel sluggish and uninspired and strangely uncomforted by these activities. I’m tiring of Michael Coreleone and all his stupid problems.
The next state, Rajas, is the state of busyness and movement. Rajas weather is windy or stormy. A person under the influence of Rajas is always moving, always consumed by movement, both necessary and extraneous. It’s a state where you’re actually too busy to feel uncomfortable.
I’m a slow-moving Taurus by temperament and Rajas has never been a go-to for me. I’ve seldom sought out movement for movement’s sake. I err toward deliberate movements, going out of my way to avoid the extraneous.
This non-busy philosophy pervades my life: aesthetically, I dress in dark, muted colors without patterns; socially, I do my utmost to not lie or create any drama that will create more busyness in my life; administratively, I make all my bills online and hassle free; nutritionally, I avoid processed foods that might create busyness for my digestion. Non-Rajasitic behavior is a way of life for me.
The reason I don’t get caught up with Rajas so often is Satwa. Satwa is, loosely translated from Sanskrit, means simply “being.” It’s the state that doesn’t resist or try to do anything. It’s what is often called the flow state. With Satwa—the most enlightened of these three states—things just manifest themselves. Nothing needs improvement and you don’t need to be coerced into doing the right thing for yourself and others, it just happens. It is like, in the pseudo-scientific terminology I’ve been espousing, riding the wave or tuning into the wavelength frequency of reality. You feel aligned.
I’m fortunate that I’m pretty familiar with Satwa. I’ve known long stretches of my life where I feel completely enveloped by Satwa. My needs feel completely satisfied; I’m not want for anything.
But Satwa, while not fussy per se, seems to require our continual submission. What that means is that we need to continually keep ourselves in a position of non-resistance. We must continually accept all that comes along. This is often construed as being indifferent to everything that comes along. This is far from the truth. When we accept things, we deal with them. Martin Luther King and Gandhi accepted that oppression was occurring and dealt with that oppression. Unlike these men, most of us see objectionable things, reject that it’s going on, because if we did accept that they were happening, we’d be compelled to do something. It’s easier to reject.
Anyway, being in Satwa is sweet. But when you’re in a place of Tomas, like I’ve been in, Satwa seems miles away. Moreover, my Tomasitic mind wants to be Satwic without doing anything. I want to be enlightened by refreshing my Facebook newsfeed or pressing “Send and Receive” for my email. I’m looking for that one message that’ll take me out of my funk and put me back on track.
But I believe that becoming enlightened is not a passive process. I don’t think it has to be a violent process—we don’t need to fight evolving. But it does take effort, even if that effort is to submit and accept what is happening in our lives. And what has been happening in my life is too much time alone, too little human contact, too much dairy and not enough movement.
And here is where it all comes together: in order to get from Tomas to Satwa, we must go through Rajas. It’s not an optional stage. We cannot will ourselves from Tomas to Satwa, we must move ourselves. I’d forgotten that lately. The prospects for going out lately have been few and largely unattractive, but I wasn’t seeing the big picture: it’s not that important what I do as long as I do.
This busyness for busyness’s sake runs contrary to my life philosophy. I like things—bodies, food, sentences—lean. To add busyness is anathema to some unwritten personal code.
But there I was last night, knowing that if I spent one more night alone reading or watching a movie, I was going to stay in Tomas one more day, and I really didn’t want that.
I had nothing planned. No invites, no parties, no nothing—so I went for a walk in the breezy, freezing night air. I dressed in several layers of wool and embarked from my Brooklyn Heights abode. I walked through the Heights, to DUMBO, then over the Brooklyn Bridge, to lower Manhattan, to the Lower East Side, to the East Village. I walked swiftly, but not hurriedly. I didn’t listen to my iPod, testing my theory that in order to witness one’s life, he must be free from “noise” (the scientific term for uncontrolled parts of an experiment, not the sonic quality of my iPod).
By the time I got to the East Village, my buddy Jeremy had called me. He was going to check out some live music with another friend in the West Village and asked me if I’d like to join. I had some initial resistance, thinking that I had about an hour of the Godfather II left to watch and some aged cheddar to eat at home. But I realized that resistance only reflected my Tomastic mind trying to maintain its inertia. I said yes.
We went to the venue, watched the music, drank tea and talked. An old fling called me up and I invited her because it seemed like the thing to do (she came over, but nothing, thankfully, came of that). It was a really nice time and left me feeling just a bit more Satwic, like there was nothing wrong in the world, like feeling connected is primarily a matter of choice and movement, not circumstance.
The problem lately hasn’t been the cold or a lull in the New York social scene, it’s been my refusal to accept that I’ve been down. I’m unhappy because things appear to be other than they way I want them. But things are exactly the way they are, whether I want them to be that way or not. The weather doesn’t care if I don’t like its frigidity.
And sometimes, in the words of Emerson, “if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.” I didn’t know where I was going last night, so I just set out, faithful that undirected movement (Rajas) was better than directed inertia (Tomas). Good things to remember for a weekend bereft of plans and with more frigid temperatures.

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