An experiment of the Theosophical Society in Israel in offering some Theosophical principles to the public in simplified and practical form
This paper deals with some of the problems which are encountered by the Sections and Lodges of the Theosophical Society:
1. How can we draw the interest of the philosophically inclined to Theosophy?
2. How can we offer the practical teachings of Theosophy on meditation, awareness, and dealing with harmful thoughts and emotions as a service to the communities within which we live, and thus gain their trust/confidence in the relevance of Theosophy and prepare them gradually for its deeper teachings?
3. How can we give more of our members a chance to gain experience in teaching, beginning with the simpler aspects of Theosophy?
At the Israeli TS we deal with these problems by offering the public a five-day workshop named “Learning to Help Ourselves”, in addition to our introductory course on Theosophy. The objective of this program is to teach ways of coping with the distress and hardships of life using mindfulness and attentiveness as tools. The subjects studied in this program are as follows:
Calming and releasing negative thoughts
Ways of coping with and releasing anger and fear
Understanding how we create the difficulties in our lives through wrong thinking and beliefs
Exercising attentiveness, concentration and mindful listening – toward ourselves and others
Believing in ourselves – finding our self value and inner strength
In this workshop we emphasize that all harmful emotions have their roots in ignorance and a sense of separateness. Ignorance of the power of our thoughts and desires creates harmful feelings and emotions. Since 2008 we have given about 20 workshops almost free of charge to about 200 participants, most of whom encountered Theosophy for the first time.
As a result, the participation in our introductory courses on Theosophy has increased and in the last two years we have had 8 courses with 98 participants, with quite a few of them willing to continue with their study of Theosophy and to train themselves to become volunteer facilitators at these workshops.
We believe that the Masters expect us to be more innovative in promoting Theosophy and showing its relevance to every field of life. For example, how can a study of Theosophy help us to deal with our anger, fear, hatred or addiction; how the Theosophical teachings on the nature of emotion and thought, and meditation and the nature of consciousness can help us to deal more effectively with our harmful emotions and thoughts.
Here is an excerpt from the Maha Chohan letter about popularizing Theosophy:
For our doctrines to practically react on the so-called moral code, or the ideas of truthfulness, purity, self-denial, charity, etc., we have to preach and popularize a knowledge of Theosophy. It is not the individual and determined purpose of attaining Nirvana – the culmination of all knowledge and absolute wisdom, which is, after all, only an exalted and glorious selfishness – but the self-sacrificing pursuit of the best means to lead on the right path our neighbor, to cause to benefit by it as many of our fellow-creatures as we possibly can, which constitutes the true Theosophist.
Are we in “…the self-sacrificing pursuit of the best means to lead on the right path our neighbor, to cause to benefit by it as many of our fellow-creatures as we possibly can…”? We, the branches of the TS in the world, have to try to make Theosophy more understandable and practical for the average man and woman.
Some of the Leading Principles of the Workshop
The following are some of the principles which we teach and which I feel are in harmony with the principles of Theosophy:
1. Harmful emotions are outer expressions of hidden patterns of thoughts and beliefs. They are messengers from within, symptoms of the separative and disharmonious tendencies we hold within us. In other words, when you feel bad or when you do not have peace of mind following an action or event, then you need to look inside and see the attitudes underlying these feelings.
2. All harmful emotions are created through our ignorance of the creative power of our consciousness. By believing that a thought is true and by repeating it, we strengthen it and create a correspondingly strong emotion that becomes an automatic reaction to thoughts or events that trigger these thoughts.
3. Our character is the result of hidden patterns of thoughts and beliefs. By discovering these hidden patterns and the suffering they cause us we can start changing them.
4. We cannot change if we are not willing to see and experience our emotional states, even when these are painful. Usually we run away from unpleasant feelings, and that is why we are stuck with the emotions that produce this feeling. I feel that this is what Krishnamurti meant when he spoke about running away from “what is”.
5. We have to learn to differentiate between the consciousness, the witness/spectator, and the emotions. This can be done only when we learn to look within without judgment. If we can do this, then we can observe our emotional states without being emotional, and feel our emotions without hating them or ourselves. This is the beginning of real self-knowledge.
6. This kind of observation, in which we make space for our emotions and make peace with them, is also the best way to transform their destructive energy. If in addition we can bring to our observation some warmth and empathy for this part of ourselves which is stuck in anger or in fear, then in my experience the transformation can be really rapid.
7. Whenever we observe our emotions from a separative attitude we strengthen their destructive energy. If we do not hate our anger or fear, and we accept that we are still human, it helps us to investigate into the deeper causes of these feelings and learn how to transform them.
Go out to the sufferer and relieve his pain, but relieving his pain, let it wring your own heart, and let it remain there as a constant suffering until the cause of that pain has been removed. That is the first stage of non-separateness. Identify yourself with the sorrows and the joys of the world; let the sorrow of every one be your sorrow, the pain of every one your pain, the joy of every one your joy.
Following are some of the detailed teachings of the five workshops:
Opening Words and Defining Lesson Objectives
You came to this meeting to learn how to relax and to release negative thoughts. Most of us have relatively short moments of peace and frequent moments of tension and stress. We all experience periods of edginess, negative thinking, unrest and fear. These reflect the anxieties and lack of tranquility of living in our time. Frequently it is difficult for us to even sit peacefully and we often find that our contracted muscles hold the tension. Sound familiar?! These things are not said to make life heavier, but rather to become cognizant of the situation and, most important, to learn how to get out of this situation and experience tranquility. Although there is no magic wand that liberates us from negative thinking and stress, there are ways and tools to help us return to balance and a sense of peacefulness.
The main idea is to create the quiet within us. When there is no quiet, the mind becomes agitated, bringing out anxiety and negative thoughts. The creation of quiet or stillness within quiets and clears the lake of our emotions. That doesn't mean that there is no "mud" in it. It's there, but it settles on the lakebed, waiting to be cleaned out at a later date. When the waters are tranquil and the "emotional mud" has settled we can experience moments of inner clarity.
* It is very important to guide these exercises in a clear loud voice.
1. Exercises to release tension from the body by lengthening muscles (standing or sitting for those who find standing difficult)
Note: All exercises should not exceed each person's level of comfort and not cause pain.
2. Breathing Exercises (seated):
Begin by placing your hands on your abdomen and exhale three light exhales through your mouth. As you exhale through your mouth, imagine that you are blowing a feather away from your face. Your abdomen empties and is drawn in.
Inhale air through your nose, filling your abdomen, your chest (you can count 1, 2, 3) and imagine that you smell an exquisite flower.
Israeli General Secretary Abraham Oron (second from the left-second row) and workers of the Israeli Section who contributed to this wonderful experiment
Calming and Releasing Negative Thoughts
Take a short break. Repeat each breathing cycle 4-5 times. Finish with a sense of free and natural breathing.
Close your eyes (allow open eyes for those who are more comfortable). Breath normally...observe your breathing without influencing it... be alert to the feeling in the area of the nostrils – feel the cool air enter the nostrils on their way to your lungs and the warmer air go out from the lungs to your nostrils.
If thoughts arise, let them pass and gently, softly return to breathing. Place your attention only on your breathing... Begin to feel the breathing as your chest rises and falls... feel your abdomen rise and fall.
Our breath becomes quieter and quieter...the quiet penetrates inwards throughout your whole body... to all the cells, tissues and organs.
The quiet penetrates into your mind – to your thoughts and emotions. As breathing becomes increasingly soft, relaxing and still – we experience the grace and loveliness of peace in our minds and bodies... Enable yourselves to lock this sensation of peace and stillness into your memories to be available in times of distress... Remember this sensation and become calm.
Slowly we begin to return to awareness...We feel our body and our breathing, the environment in the room... Slowly we exit the state of meditation.
1. Why do we experience stress, tension, lack of calm, disquiet and negative thoughts?
There are three reasons:
(a) Attachments – We hold on – we are attached to outcomes. We come in with life experience of expectations, desires and yearnings that we have difficulty releasing; we form attachments and dependencies on outcomes, things, places and people. In short we chain ourselves and others.
(b) We are not living mindfully. We live our life in an unfocused, scattered manner without a sense of presence.
(c) We relate to others, to events and to ourselves in a negative manner.
2. What we need to learn in order to reach tranquility, quiet, peace? Where is the answer?
a. Letting go / Detachment. When our attitude is that of grasping then we experience contraction. When we release we create expansion.
Contraction = tension, being closed-up, suffering, pain. (There is also positive tension in our lives that stimulates us.)
Expansion = pleasure, joy, freedom. The mind and body influence each other. When the mind contracts the body also contracts and we become stressed, uncomfortable and feel bad. When our body is tense and our muscles are tight, there is a constriction in the body's flow of blood and energy which then radiates negatively on the mind.
The body and mind remember – each time we are drawn into negative emotions (jealousy, hate, anger, etc.) our inner stress deepens causing more muscles to remain contracted.
We form attachments when we want something very much or when we resist something undesired or uncomfortable.
We can begin with muscle relaxation. The physical relaxation provides a temporary pause, a space for a comfortable, pleasant feeling so that we can then do some deeper inner work.
Let's do some relaxation exercises using guided imagery:
Contraction, Release, Deep Breathing
Take a deep breath... tighten gently the muscles in your feet, your calves, and thighs. Feel the contraction... release and relax muscles gently... do the same for each of the following: the pelvic area, stomach, diaphragm, chest, back, hands and the length of the arms, and face. Observe your breathing as you allow your breath to return to normal... Let it flow without intervention... feel your breath...
Releasing tension and worry– (two versions)
We breathe a little more deeply than normal and focus on the sensation of the releasing of breath through our nostrils. We continue with it for some time, and gradually we will start feeling the sensation of release in our body and mind.
Visualizing spaciousness – After relaxing the body and doing deep breathing, visualize something very spacious... the sky, the sea, the desert, the view from a high mountain...
And as we continue to visualize this space, the sense of spaciousness will gradually appear within us, and stress and worry will dissolve.
b. Being Mindful and with Presence
The objective is to go from dispersion to concentration, to live from an attitude in which we are connected to our life experiences. Thus we can experience joy in situations that in the past were a burden and caused distress and disquiet.
How do we connect with what we are doing and live in peace? By being present, mindful, paying attention, being aware, alert and making conscious decisions.
When we do things, even routine things, with alertness and presence, we feel whole, connected and at peace. On the contrary, when our attention is divided and/or scattered (not alert) we experience superficiality, shallowness and feel disconnected from our activities, others and ourselves.
Actions from a place of wholeness, attention and alertness to what we are doing do not leave any space for worry or negative thoughts.
Let us not allow thoughts of doubt in ourselves or criticisms of ourselves and others to take roots in us.
Lack of awareness and attention enable these thoughts to overwhelm us (to rise up from memories) and cause a lack of peace and tranquility.
Let's try some exercises in mindfulness
Listening within – Listen to the noises outside (the street, the office), the noises of the room (the breathing of people, the ticking of the clock), the noises of our body (breathing, heart beats), to our thoughts and the emotions that accompany them...
Focused and attentive/mindful repetition of words that bring serenity: Silently say in your hearts "Peace...serenity... silence... tranquility... stillness"
Repeat this exercise a number of times.
c. Positive and appropriate attitude toward events, others and ourselves
The basis for an appropriate attitude is found in behavior that follows the two previous ideas and their recommended exercises.
Daily practice will bring strength and intention to the proper attitude. The third component is in-depth work to understand the reasons for our negative attitude.
The proper attitude is expressed by positive behavior standards: brotherhood, attentiveness to others and oneself, moral living standards, and avoidance of: gossip, bigotry, criticism, hatred, jealousy and envy.
Can we expect peace and tranquility if we are filled with pretension, greed, covetousness, anger and hatred?
Sit comfortably and take a deep breath into your shoulder area... Release any tension and contraction that may be there. Take another deep breath into your shoulders and release tension and stress. Take a deep breath into your back and release the tension that is there with the exhalation.
With each breath the body feels more open...Breath again into your back….
Take a deep breath while you concentrate on your chest area... Release the breath and with it all the worries and heaviness that you hold there... Breathe again to the heart area and feel relief...feel it lighten. Take a deep breath to your abdomen. Can you feel the tension and contraction there? Release it and breathe again into that area. Continue for the pelvic area, the legs and the arms...
Breathe normally... As your breath slowly relaxes, your body relaxes and opens... you feel wider within yourself. There is more space within you.
Visualize a spacious expanse as desired – the sea/ desert / a view looking out from a high place... visualize the experience of expansion: an open, accepting space that contains external noises.
External open spaces perceived outside us cause us to expand within. It enables us to receive, to be at peace with ourselves, to receive, to love ourselves just the way we are. When we expand inside, we can accept even those places that are shrunken and contracted within us; we can be at peace with our feelings. If worries arise, we can accept them without resistance, just observing them with empathy. If criticism or judgments arise – we can just look at them... From the quiet, still place look inside...into your selves... see what is possible to change... to improve your attitudes...to be honest and genuine... with a big, accepting heart that can contain rather than struggle... feel complete inside. With acceptance come peace, tranquility, calm and stillness.
Before we finish – we shall send light, love and healing... Give thanks for the help that we receive, for the light, for the knowledge, for the privilege given to us to serve...
Each, according to his or her rhythm will come out of the meditation...
End of Part One – To be continued