The Three Qualities of Nature
Why does studying one piece of matter render insight into the whole of matter? Nature repeats herself. Or as my Yoga Sutras teacher says, “we are part of the same primordial stew.” Everything in creation is made up of the same stew, or component parts. We gain insight into the stew by breaking down the pieces of our experience.
When we look at the component parts that make up everything in the world, we perceive the five elements. The elements can also be described as five separate states- solid, liquid, fire, gaseous, or empty. The five elements are: earth, water, fire, air and space. These elements are combinations of the three primordial qualities of nature- sattva, rajas and tamas, respectively consciousness, movement and inertia.
Sattva is the most ethereal and subtle essence of existence. It is the manifestation of the life force energy or spirit which drives all things. It is the quality of awareness itself, the quality of light. It is also the bliss that is experienced through connection to one’s deepest Self.
Rajas is the essence of movement. It underlies all change and transformation in the universe. It is responsible for both the processes of growth and decay. It is the shifting of one state into another. When rajas dominates over sattva and tamas, it can be expressed as passion and the strength of the ego. Rajas is necessary for all advancement. However when it is taken too far without sattva supporting it, we get wrapped up in movement for movements' own sake. We lack a deeper connection to purpose.
Tamas is the quality of inertia, slowing down, restoration, and solidity. It is the predecessor of the earth element. It allows the vibration of a given object to slow down enough to take on solid form. Tamas is essential for the materialization of the universe. However, when tamas is taken too far without the proper support of sattva and rajas, it results in laziness, depression, stagnancy and emotional paralysis.
These three qualities combine in different amounts to generate the five elements which then generate all of the natural world. Sattva, rajas and tamas are the predecessors to both the world we see around as well as the rich inner world of thoughts and emotions.
Since all of creation is composed of the same primordial stew, peeling back the initial differentiating layers ultimately leads to the perception of sameness amongst people, animals, plants, gasses, liquids, solids, etc. It doesn’t denigrate the uniqueness of each individual thing but it does highlight that even our unique traits draw from a common pool.
So what’s the point of knowing that we are similar in the midst of a differentiated universe?
Sometimes it’s easy to feel like our life experiences are un-relatable to those of other people. Especially when we mess up, we may feel like we are the worst person in the world or we will never be able to fundamentally change or improve ourselves in the way we desire. Thoughts of negativity can become so overwhelming that they in fact become the backdrop of our lives. In fact, one could easily go through the majority of their life without even realizing that they carry a heavy rain cloud everywhere they go. This heavy cloud obstructs their ability to enjoy the simple pleasures in life.
Oftentimes, one can walk around with a weight and be so used to it that they don’t even know it’s there. It’s so easy in the process of living life day in and day out to become completely disconnected from life’s miracles and mysteries. Unconscious negative thoughts are usually the first things disconnecting us.
So how do we connect with the reality of life and the core of who we are on a day to day basis?
Can we systematize wonder, if that is possible? Can a routine of self-care that keeps the channels of creativity open in the mind, body and heart support us in the process? Self-care looks different for each person. But the basic formula includes time for exercise, daily planning, reflection, meaningful activity, time with loved ones, ample rest and high quality nutrition.
But formulaically trying to fit all these things in every day can devitalize their power. For example, if I have on my to-do list to spend quality time with my husband and I allocate fifteen minutes to do it, was I actually able to show up in a way that supports both of us? It depends.
It doesn’t mean I don’t consider or write down all the things that will make my life more meaningful for fear of trivializing it. It does mean that when I am doing something, I can’t just do it, I have to bring intention, energy and vigor into the action. So how do I infuse my daily repeat actions with energy and vigor?
I think I accidentally stumbled upon the answer I was looking for as I was writing this blog. I was trying to better understand the theory of the holographic universe as I sat on my front porch and intermittently watched my husband blow leaves from our yard onto the curb. The combination of writing about something new, being in nature, observing the changing color of the leaves and watching the dog play in the yard awoke an internal reverence.
The internal reverence included:
Appreciation for the simple things in life.
Unwinding my nervous system.
Transcendence of the compulsion to worry about the next thing.
Slowing down into the present, which then allowed me to simply enjoy writing.
That day, when I decided to come onto the porch and write, I was also making the decision to go out into nature, to walk away from the television and kitchen, to slow down and enjoy the process of preparing for my class that evening.
Our potential is already contained within the seed of our DNA and spirit. It isn’t guaranteed though that we will reach our potential just because it is inherent. That is the result of a vigilant commitment to do our best each day. Doing our best each day does require systems but it also requires the sixth element- wonder.
My suggestion for connecting with the unknown is to connect deeply with anything in a day. Take the time to get beyond the surface of life. Examine both the uniqueness and the sameness of the object at hand. It doesn’t matter what it is. It doesn’t matter because we live in a holographic universe in which the piece contains the essence of the whole. If you look deeply enough into one thing, you will penetrate beneath the surface into the same primordial stew driving all of us. And in the process you may find yourself in a state of appreciation, relaxation and presence.