Emotional Intensity, Depression, and Caring for Others

August 2, 2023

Shambhavi and the Jaya Kula community gather for satsang and get real about all the questions we humans want answered. Intimate, courageous, heartfelt spiritual talk about pretty much everything. So happy you are here! A podcast from Satsang with Shambhavi

I think in most of my life, I associated how much I care about something with how intense my emotional response was about it. And I'm noticing that now I'm feeling less upset and I don't know if it means that I care less or I'm just less conditioned and there is more space.

Door number two. [laughter]

So the question of intensity is a really important one because we have all sorts of stories that we imbibe over the course of our lives as people who are interested in spiritual stuff that kind of groom us to think that very intense experiences are the most important spiritual experiences. Or that if things are very intense, that means we're on the right track. Right?

That's absolutely not true. The intensity with which we're experiencing our emotions or reactions to circumstances and situations are, in general, entirely driven by karmic conditioning, by emotional habit pattern, by cultural conditioning.

Because a lot of the conditioning that causes us to respond in certain ways to events is conditioning we receive from not just our families, but from our culture at large, including our spiritual tradition culture.

When we're actually relaxing our body, energy, and mind by doing sadhana, things become less intense in that specific emotional way of reacting to things. It might be that colors become more vibrant, or we hear more, or we notice more, and we might feel overwhelmed at times.

So when we start noticing more about how other people are doing—you know, we lift our head up out of our 'iPod' and start looking around, and we start to feel more about other people—that can be overwhelming, too.

But that's a little bit of a different thing than that sheer intensity of reaction that kind of carries us away with these gross emotions. All of that starts to ratchet down and calm down. But we're used to a certain level of intensity, and we also have concepts wrapped around that experience of intensity. It's like a little hot dog with some dough wrapped around it.

It's like we have these experiences and then we tell ourselves that they're important and profound or really serious or something like that. So it takes a lot to unwind all that.

But when it starts to unwind, we will go through periods where things seem bland, where the intensity of life has just decreased and it's not what we're used to. And we have to reacclimatize so that we can hear and feel the more subtle things happening in that relative quiet.

This has happened to me so many times over the course of my 45 years of practicing that I can't imagine that it doesn't happen to everybody at some point who's practicing sincerely.

I always like to talk about the first time I ever went to the desert. And I grew up in an inner city and lived in cities most of my life where there's a lot of noise. So I went to Southern California with a friend from college and went to this desert down there. And you know, it was like that silence that feels like a roar. It's almost a sound, but it's not.

They all went off to do their thing and I just sat on a sand dune because I was just transfixed by this experience of this quiet. And then after a long time, my sensorium kind of calmed down enough that I started to be able to hear the smaller sounds of the desert, like a little rustle here or a little squeak or a peep there.

So this is what happens when the intensity ratchets down. At first, it's kind of weird and destabilizing, and people come to me and say, oh, everything just feels so bland, you know? [laughs] But then after a while, you recalibrate and you start to notice more subtle things, and that process just continues.

So this is a good thing. In my experience, it sometimes also is destabilizing for people around us who are used to us responding in a certain way, and now we're not.

If we were in California and we were meeting a friend on the street, and they would come up to us and say, 'Hi! So great to see you!' We go, 'Hi, hi.' You know... [laughs]

We wouldn't be matching their energy anymore in that hyperbolic way. So it might take some friends some time to get used to it, too. But you should not perform your old way of reacting just to please other people. That will delay your acclimatization.

How does that delay your acclimatization?

If you're making a lot of noise, you're not getting used to the more subtle things happening. You're pushing your energy out and you're making a lot of noise, so you can't hear or feel anything more subtle. And you're also exhausting yourself, making yourself more tired.

I feel like what I've heard in what you were saying is that if you perform an old self, you're not letting the practice change you.

That's right.

And you're, like, holding on to something from before.

And there also is a natural, kind of, propensity to perform that old self at times. It's almost like it's still chugging along a bit. It hasn't quite 100% run out of gas. And then kind of you go, wait, what am I doing? This doesn't even feel right anymore.

But we do have to be able to accept a certain amount of our own discomfort and other people's discomfort as we are changing how we're using our energy.

Can you talk about the difference between that natural ratcheting-down blandness and depression?

Well, there's different kinds of depressions. There's vata, pitta, and kapha depressions and combinations thereof. Depression is always accompanied with some feeling of hopelessness or overwhelm or fear or anger. There's the anger that accompanies a more pitta depression, a sort of a smoldering resentment that just never really dies down completely. [laughs]

And a vata depression will be accompanied by a really difficult feeling of hopelessness and overwhelm. And a kapha depression is just going to feel extremely physically heavy, like you can't even lift your leg, something like that. Just, like, your senses get very dulled down, and it's like you're wrapped in dough or something like that.

So none of those are the experience of that kind of blandness that I'm talking about where things just feel too even. [laughs] There's not a lot of emotional content to that experience of that blandness.

I mean, you'll have your usual up and down of emotions during the course of your life, but it's more just like everything's just too the same or too even or there's not the highs and the lows that I used to go through.

Whereas depression is always kind of a low. It's like a very recognizable low. And it's often not really bland. For instance, a pitta depression is just not going to be bland. It may be relentless and bland in that sense because there is a sort of relentlessness to pitta dosha anyway.

It has a lot of energy and there's a sense it can be a runaway train at times, but it's always going to have that hot, smolder-y, 'I hate everyone, I hate this, I hate that, I hate the other', and despair. There's going to be despair, which is a little different than the hopelessness of vata depression.

Anything that happens with depression is going to be flavored by those doshas. And it's interesting how differently flavored they are, and they can overlap, too.

It sounds like there are two tracks in the process of relaxing and allowing practice to work on us. It sounds like there is this more vividness of noticing the surrounding world and other people versus more of a calming down of the inside state. Am I understanding that right?

There's no versus. They come together.

Right. But these two things, these two different tracks are happening at the same time.

Sure. The other analogy I often use is sex. One thing that makes sex bad sex is when it's too fast. What happens when sex is too harsh and pound-y and fast is there's a dampening of sensation. There's a kind of intensity that's exciting for some people, but the actual nuance of the sensation becomes radically lower.

So when we slow down and calm down, then we feel more. They go hand in hand. This is why, you know, any sexual practice that's been associated with this kind of tradition is almost slow motion.

I know a little bit about the doshas. So when you said there's a slight difference between the depression that is hopeless versus the depression that is despair, I was curious if you could elaborate on that.

Well, vata is related to wind and space element. And when there's a more vata-inflected kind of depression, there's really a cut back in one's experience of spaciousness or space itself or the space of one's life. So it's that inability to think there's a future or something's going to change.

Wind is related to all movement. So if wind element is impaired, causing a wind element, space element kind of depression, then you feel like movement is not going to happen. You feel stuck, you feel it's hard to envision the future. It's hard to envision something changing. So this is the hopelessness.

Despair is more like a feeling of being tortured. [student laughs] And I'm just saying these things because I don't have, like, a precise, exact definition, but I'm just throwing out these words because I think people understand this intuitively or in an embodied sense. You can just feel in your body what I'm saying.

So despair is more related to fire element, which is pitta. And that feeling that you're being tortured, it's just a special kind of pain where you just want to cry out. And that is different than hopelessness. Hopelessness is actually cooler in temperature and despair is hotter.

Could you please talk a little bit more about performativity? That's something sometimes where I'll go into a situation intending not to be performative, and I feel I'll slip into it anyway.

So 'I intend something and then something else happens'. That's the key. Performativity and performance aren't quite exactly the same thing. All of our habit patterns are a performance. They're a performance that we don't have control over or not as much control over. We can't just stop doing them.

So you go into a situation thinking you're going to do one thing, you resolve, I'm not going to do that thing I always do that I don't want to do anymore, and then uh! You're in it and you get swept away and there you are doing it again.

That is because our habit patterns, those performances of self, have momentum in time. They are actually made out of energy. They have force and they actually pull us along.

And that's why we need to do practice really, really regularly (aka every day) because we want to pull energy away from those habitual habit patterns and kind of repurpose that energy for things that we can actually choose or not choose. And and have more of a sense of freedom.

I think performativity is more like the freedom side of performance. If we are engaging in performativity, that seems like something more intentional and game-like and playful and even ironic or rebellious in some way, in some circumstances.

So whatever you're doing that you couldn't help do or not do, that's an aspect of habit pattern. And that's exactly what the practice that we're doing is addressing. It's trying to relieve us of that unfreedom of habit pattern and give us more freedom to be spontaneously creative and not bound to a particular way of showing up.

And that experience that you have is the norm, especially when we're trying to change something. If we're not trying to change anything, we're just like, 'well, I'm doing this'. [laughs] We don't even notice that we're doing it.

Sometimes people who have very, very strong habit patterns—which is most of us at some point or another—say, 'yeah, yesterday I said to myself I was going to change something, and then today I completely forgot about it and just, like, did the thing'.

So sometimes patterns can be so strong that we don't even know what we're doing. Right? There's very little sense of awareness. That's what we call compulsion. And then other times when we are becoming more aware and we're trying to change something, that's when we experience what you experience.

And also when we experience resistance, we tell ourselves we're going to change something and then there's the force of that habit pattern. It's like, 'hey, I'm not ready to die yet. I'm going to come and I'm going to try to interrupt this change that you're trying to make'.

So we really only feel resistance when we're trying to make a change. People think resistance is terrible and they browbeat themselves with feeling resistance, but that's actually a harbinger of change.

We're living in a really unprecedented situation with so many things impinging on our body, energy, and mind from— externally. And not all of us are going to be able to handle that. And I think some of us who think we are handling it aren't actually handling it. We're sort of shoving down that sense of panic about what's happening to our planet, about what's happening politically.

I was telling people before satsang started that yesterday I taught beginning mantra teaching, and I gave people a few different mantras. And one of them is a longer mantra prayer called the Swasti Prayer. It's a prayer for good governance and for justice. And I thought that was a really great prayer for this time.

And I started to read the translation, I just started balling and I had to, like, stop and say sorry. [laughs] But it just— like, it's so right there, that feeling.

People want to be taken care of. We don't just want to be taken care of by our families. We want to be taken care of by our communities and by our government. And the lack of care is something that is harming us all the time.

And this is really the source of anything that could be called trauma, what could be talked about as a lack of care, a lack of care for the wellbeing of others. So what can we do?

Care for others.

Care for others. Yes. We have to discover that we have the ability, the capacity to care for others, and then we will be empowered.

Our culture tells us, 'No. If you're feeling uncared for and overwhelmed, first of all, you have been damaged and you should be focusing on your problem and your damage'. This is what our culture tells us. This very Western psychologized kind of culture.

'And you should pull up and get treatment for your problem of whatever harm you've experienced of not feeling cared for. And this has created in you a lack of ability to care properly for yourself or other people'.

This is the narrative that many of us have embodied, and it is completely false. It is absolutely working against us. It is causing us to feel worse. It is causing our health to deteriorate more because we all partake in the abundance of the heart and anyone in any condition can give. And when we give, we feel empowered and stronger and healthier.

And I don't mean killing ourselves. I mean just in small ways, being outward looking, looking toward others instead of always focusing on ourselves and our problems and what's wrong and how we're damaged and what happened when we were kids and all the things that are going wrong everywhere. It's hard not to focus on that, but it's not doing us any good. It's not helping us in any way.

So we need to be looking more outward toward those little moments when we can give. And that is going to be nourishment for us.

This is the basis of tonglen meditation. The basis of tonglen meditation is you get to discover that that heart of generosity in you is inexhaustible. It doesn't matter how sick you are. Everybody has the same heart of generosity. This is part of our essence nature, generosity being one of the primordial wisdom virtues.

Instead of sitting around moaning about what we're not getting and what horrible things have been done to us— You know, we have to recognize what's happening and respond to it. I'm not saying we should stick our heads in the sand, but our primary focus should be on giving what we have come to give. And let that be the palliative, let that be the medicine.

About being chronically ill since childhood, Ma said, what I've repeated many times before is, if we have illness, get the best doctors we possibly can and try to get better and spend whatever money we have to try to get better. But then when we really feel like we've reached the end of that, we should basically just surrender to the illness and let it happen. And what can we do?

In some sense, that battle against illness becomes, in and of itself, something that can be damaging at some point. That feeling like we have to do something all the time about whatever condition we're in.

Having surrendered to a certain degree to something that is causing pain in our lives, we can also still then focus, put our energy toward giving and just have that be our life.

Course, whenever you teach something like mantra, there's some people who want to know if they're going to get special powers or whatever. [laughs] And at the end of the teaching, I said what I normally say to people, 'lots of love to everybody'. I always feel like I'm signing a letter. [Shambhavi and students laugh]

But in any case, I paused and I was like, that is the fruit of the practice. The fruit of the practice is when you can look at a random bunch of people and say lots of love to everybody and actually feel it in every cell of your body and have it be totally real. That's the fruit.



Satsang with Shambhavi is a weekly podcast about spirituality, love, death, devotion and waking up while living in a messy world.