The challenges of living in the modern world are many, but in particular it has become harder than ever to have faith in anything at all. Bereft of faith we are less healthy, less stable, less resilient as the complexity around us divides our attention and distracts our focus. When unfocused, prāna, our life force, is prone to becoming scattered, stuck, or abnormally circulated, and it is when our prāna is disturbed that we are most prone to falling ill.
One of the two most common Sanskrit words for “faith” is the word vishvāsa, which literally means a specialized (vi) form of breathing (shvāsa). Ordinary breathing replenishes our prāna several times a minute, and “specialized breathing” moves that replenished prāna in the direction of whatever we might have faith in. Prāna, breath and attention always move together, so wherever your attention goes, your prāna goes as well. When you have faith in something or someone, your prāna, breath and attention move in the direction of that person or thing with ease, which promotes ease in all your other movements, mental and physical.
The second word for faith is shradhā, which is derived from the Sanskrit root hrd, meaning “heart”. To have faith is thus to “put your heart” into something, and since the heart circulates prānathroughout the body via the blood, that faith will get distributed to every cell in your body. When you have faith in a remedy, at least part of the effect that that remedy will offer you is due to your faith in it; you may in fact never know if it was the remedy that did the job, or the faith. A patient who has faith in something is already halfway healed; this could be faith in the doctor’s skill, the nurse’s care, the medicine’s efficacy, or the body’s ability to recover. Faith in the guru, the personal deity, Providence, or the Supreme Reality will also do the job.
Focusing prāna helps us to develop faith, and faith helps us to focus prāna, in a “virtuous cycle” of mutual reinforcement. Health is a product of good flow of prāna in the body, and having some kind of daily practice dedicated to prāna circulation is a good way to stay well. Sādhana is a word used often interchangeably with the concept of daily practice, when in fact that word means an expedient, any means for accomplishing a desired result. Applied to health a sādhana is a form of self-cultivation of prāna, involving actions that require you to focus your prāna on that thing you are trying to achieve, generating thereby a concentration of prāna that facilitates change.
What applies to the microcosm applies as well to the macrocosm, and if for example we are in danger of losing faith in the political process, or in society as a whole, we can focus instead on circulating and cultivating prāna in our families and neighborhoods. No action is ever in vain, so even when a situation seems most dire, we should never surrender our faith. Not blind faith, but clear-eyed faith that knows that satyameva jāyate, “truth alone triumphs”, even if that triumph is difficult to perceive from where we are now.
It is always darkest before the dawn, and as we in the Northern Hemisphere move toward the winter solstice, the day that is the year’s darkest, let us conclude with the words of the Prince of Peace: “Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”
Happy Holidays to one and all!