Creating a Cooperative Spiritual Community By Ac Vishvamitra
Recently I received an invitation to Caracas Venezuela to offer some consultation to the whole time workers of Ananda Marga there and to give a workshop to the general members of Ananda Marga. Since the issues for both the workers and members of the organization dealt with closer cooperation among all, we chose the theme of Creating a Cooperative Spiritual Community for the weekend workshop. The workshop held at the Prout Research Institute of Venezuela involved a power point presentation on the Bio-psychology of Cooperation and a number of experiential exercises which ended in an open space format to maximize the expression of individual and collective passions in moving towards coordinated cooperative action plans.
The first activities of the workshop, which began on Friday night, were devoted to creative collective movement and music involving milling exercises, mirroring movements in pairs, taking turns leading movements in the larger circle and partner asanas. We then sang the song “To Love is to Give” followed by a “heart circle” in which we took turns, facing one another in concentric circles with the outer circle singing the universal devotional chant (kiirtan) Baba Nam Kevalam (Love is All There Is) to the inner circle. We ended the evening with meditation.
On Saturday morning we began with a reading from one of P.R. Sarkar’s talks, “The Spirit of Society” which likened our human society to “a group of people going on a pilgrimage”, moving together and not leaving anyone in need behind. This reading was followed by a walking meditation beginning in silence and ending with meeting and greeting everyone as they walked together. Participants were then asked to do a “focused free write” (journaling) on the following questions of “How do I locate myself in the world in relation to others?” and “How is it that I find myself at this place with these people at this time.” They then shared their journaling in pairs and the larger group owning there relatedness to one another.
Bio-Psychology of Cooperation
This sharing was followed by a thirty-minute Biopsychology of Cooperation power point presentaton which initially reviewed P.R. Sarkar’s concepts of Bio-psychology that connects mind, body and spirit. This integral science of Bio-psychology revitalizes the ancient yogic understanding of how the cakras are related to our mental and emotional states and how we can use yogic practices to create individual and social balance. Following an overview of how the cakra and neuro-endocrinal systems function as one system to promote individual and social transformation the presentation focused on the innate human capacities of the “relational brain” and “cooperative spirit”.
Louis Cozolino, in his lyrical neuroscience book, “The Healthy Aging Brain: Sustaining Attachment, Attaining Wisdom”, shares with us through personal stories and science how we are born with a “relational brain” and hormones that drive affiliation, affection and cooperation. “The brain is a social organ linked to other brains” he maintains, one brain communicating with another brain, an organ of adaptation to change and only understood in relationship to other brains. He goes on to posit that “relationships are our primary environment” whereas other animals’ environments are more related to an external niche in the larger environment of flora and fauna.
Cozolino likens the brains relating to other brains as the “social synapse”, transporting sight, sound, and, perhaps on a more subtle level, telepathic thoughts, images and feelings.
This concept of the relational brain mirrors the meaning of “union” in yoga and the ultimate relational context of union with Supreme Consciousness defined as bhagavat dharma, our true human nature. We are by nature relational, being involved with those we love and who love us and ultimately the personal relationship with our inner most self that lead us to final merger with the infinite, known as ‘moksa” or salvation in yoga.
The path to salvation in yoga is not a solitary personal journey of kundalini piercing the layers of the mind and cakras to the realms of higher consciousness. Spiritual progress is aided by serving others, sharing good company and surrendering to a source greater than our ego. To come to know our innermost self often requires a dialogue and seeing/experiencing this higher self reflected in others. Yoga helps us achieve a balance between love of self and others through the eight limbed Tantric practices of Astaunga Yoga that includes yoga postures (asanas), good company (satsaunga), service (seva) and meditation.
In this power point presentation we explored these practices and their impact on the subtle bio-psychology of the cakra/hormonal system. The first practice that we looked at was the story telling and oral tradition that gave birth to the Tantric yogic system and helps us remember who we truly are. The positive self narrative of this story and the practices it evolved is optimistic and supports physical, mental, social and spiritual health. The practices of satsaunga, service and asanas, stimulate positive social interactions and the release of hormones that promote healthy interpersonal relationships. These hormones, that include oxytocin and endorphins, represent part of the key bio-psychological foundation for cooperation.
Originally oxytocin was found to stimulate milk ejection during lactation and uterine contraction during birth and to be released during sexual orgasm in men and women. Recent research has focused more on the rise in levels of oxytocin released by the pituitary gland in response to remembering positive relationships and decreases in remembering negative relationships. Oxytocin has been found to promote bonding in relationships between men and women, mother and child, as well as show increases in response to positive emotions for those in committed relationships.
Endorphins, the morphine-like substances produced by the pituitary gland and hypothalamus during exercise, excitement, pain, consumption of spicy food and orgasm has more recently been found to be related to “blissful” feelings, bonding and attachment. In her book “Everything You Need to Know to Feel Go(o)d” Candace Pert reviews the hormonal research relating endorphins to laughter, joy and playfulness. This research supports the hypothesis that endorphins play a key role in the innate human capacity for bonding, trust and cooperation.
This bio-psychology of the innate basis for cooperation helps balance the view of scientist and writers of the latter part of the twentieth century who pessimistically viewed human nature as destined to express innate socially aggressive and destructive drives. P. R. Sarkar stated in the early 80’s that “the future of humanity is bright… there is a new wave of thought in the human mind” which he related to the activation of our innate devotional love of the animate and inanimate that he called Neohumanism. Thus with the positive narrative of yoga’s human dharmaof ultimate union with the Supreme, an innate biology of cooperation, and the devotional sentiment of Neohumanism we all have cause for optimism that our planet will evolve towards a cooperative spiritual society.
The Yoga Narrative
In order to achieve this brighter planetary future, the yoga narrative suggest that we must engage in an all round internal and external struggle to achieve this positive personal and social transformation. The creation of a more cooperative society would be greatly aided if individuals developed a daily discipline of the eight limbed austaunga yoga practices. In this seminar we reviewed the bio-psychology of the first limb, the yoga postures, that stimulated oxcytocin and endorphins as well as other hormones associated with positive, cooperative and loving relationships.
These key hormones that support positive relationships and cooperation are located in the region of pituitary gland/sixth cakra (ajina cakra) the controlling point of the mind and the heart area/fourth cakra (anahata), the center of affectionate relationships and discrimination.
The asanas that stimulate the balancing of oxcytocin and endorphin hormones in the pituitary gland/sixth cakra are the inversion poses such as the shoulder stand (sarvaungasana) and hare (shashaungasana) poses. These inversions deactivate the lower cakras and activate the higher cakras. The hare pose activates melatonin which has a calming and balancing effect on the pituitary gland and all the glands and nervous system throughout the body. The cobra and Karmasana, action pose, balance the hormone thiamin, located in the thymus gland behind the breast bone (sternum) which regulates our immune system. Extensive research has shown a direct relationship among the factors of a strong immune system, positive relationships and longevity.
The pranendriyah, the yogic sixth sense, is related to psychic sensing and discrimination in our heart chakra of the degree of nurturing and kindness that is expressed in relationships. The pranendriyah is influenced by the practice of Padahastasana, the arm and leg posture and pranayama (control of vital energy of breath), the fourth limb of astaunga yoga.
Asansa such as Gomukhasana, cows head posture, Diirgha Pranama, long bowing posture, and Janushirasana, head to knee posture, which balance the hormones of the sexual glands also have a direct effect on positive relationships between the sexes and bonding between mother and child by balancing the hormones of testosterone and estrogen in males and females respectively as well as oxcytocin in both sexes.
Participants took asana sessions before breakfast on Saturday and Sunday with the focus on the benefits of these asanas on positive relationships and cooperation. This practice of asanas, the first limb of astaunga yoga, is the initial step in the Tantric system of yoga to develop physical and psychic balance in promoting a more subtle body/mind that is naturally socially cooperative.
Following some Q and A on the power point presentation the Saturday morning session ended with journaling and creating a drawing of our personal map/journey. The questions for journaling were “What special gift do I have to offer others?” “What obstacles do I have to overcome to offer my gift to others?”, “How have I participated in creating the obstacle?”, “How can I embrace the obstacle as my friend?”. The journaling was shared in pairs. The morning ended with drawing a map that represented your journey (transitions, fears, hopes, dreams) with others over the last ten years and your vision of the next 10 years which was shared in small groups of three to four. Participants journaled for three minutes on “What patterns emerged from your images?” and then shared these two exercises in small groups before the lunch break.
Social Expression of Cooperation
The transition of the workshop from the conceptual framework of the biopsychology of the cooperation to the application of social expression of cooperation on Saturday afternoon made use of a visualization to inspire sacred activism. This visualization, created by Andrew Harvey, writer/activist, requested that the participants see themselves seated in meditation early in the morning before sunrise focused on “what in this world breaks your heart” or creates a strong passion to do something to promote change in the world towards more cooperation and compassion. Then see this passion in your heart become like a torch that lights your way as you rise from meditation and walk into a dark hall, open a door and descend a set of stairs lit by the torch in your heart. These stairs descend into a cave that you enter and see an envelope on the floor of the cave addressed to you in your handwriting. You pick it up and read the contents which is a message from the passion in your heart.
Acting our of this passion in their hearts the workshop’s thirty participants began an Open Space session that requested that they write in a few words on a piece of paper that voiced the individual’s passion that they were willing to work towards in creating a more cooperative spiritual community. They were asked to present what they had written and then post it on a wall in the room labeled “Marketplace”. The other walls displayed the general rules for an open space session: 1. Whoever comes is the right people. 2. Whatever happens is the right thing that could have. 3. Whenever it starts is the right time. 4. When it’s over, it’s over. The one law is that if at any time during our time together you discover that you are neither learning nor contributing, use your two feet and move on.
From the nearly thirty individual postings on the Marketplace wall the participants, excitedly discussing and sharing differing opinions, merged similar posting into 4 groups in approximately 15 to 20 minutes. These four groups were defined as
The “Communication Group” to develop communication tools to help with dissemination of spiritual ideas and practices among the public sector.
The “Service Group” to develop a set of service projects based on the physical, social and spiritual needs of the people of Caracas.
The “Neohumanist Education Group” would support and expand the existing Neohumanist school in Caracas and offer a broad program of public education regarding Neohumanist Education.
The “Environmental Group” would use movement, dance and art to promote environmentalism in the general public.
In the first small group session these groups came up with their name, vision, and mission statements in simple terms. They reported back to the larger group and then met for a second session to discuss specific activities they might include to fulfill their mission statements. The day ended with an enthusiastic report of the details of some of their concrete plans- group one was to develop a manual of communication techniques and information that could support all the other groups in promoting their efforts; group two had planned to sponsor a feeding program for the homeless and yoga programs for group of people with little access and financial capacity for learning yoga; group three was going to help the existing school look for a larger building and grounds to support more outdoor playground and gardening for the children; group four planned an art festival of music and movement to support a more environmentally friendly community.
On Sunday morning the groups had their third and last session in which they developed their action plans which entailed a strategic plan outlining the details of their concrete objectives, who would see these different plans through and the target dates and locations for each activity. After each report the entire group gave a rousing applause for what each group had accomplished in this short period of time. One of the four wholetimers, including two monks and two nuns, had integrated themselves into each group and offered to be the liaison to handle the interaction of the overlapping activities of the four groups. When someone made the suggestion of combining the four groups strong resistance was expressed as the participants felt that they first needed to accomplish a better understanding of their own objectives before they integrated activities with other groups.
The workshop’s closing involved creating a sculpture that visually and with movement represented each group’s mission and activities. We ended the “Creating a Cooperative Spiritual Community” in a circle singing kiirtan.