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March 21, 2005

Pain, Awareness, Gunas and Creativity

When some people are angry or depressed or have pain, they have demonstrated creativity. There are great writers and artists who have struggled with depression, pain and suffering in their own lives, and channeled their emotions in a way to bring creativity in their work. Emotions, negative and positive, put a person in touch with one�s body and breathing, which helps the person to be aware of himself or herself. It is said in Vedanta that strong emotions are vibrations of prana and dealing with emotions is the most effective in Pranamaya kosha. The stronger the emotion, for some people, there is a heightened sense of awareness, which can lead to a �flow state� where the person demonstrates an effortless flow of creativity. Flow seems to happen when people are challenged sufficiently so that they don�t give up or bored to perform.

Legendary musicians like Bach have said that they do not compose a piece of music line by line. They say that they �hear� the whole music as if it is being played to them, and they merely become the conduit for the music to manifest as notations and sounds through them. It is as if, in a heightened state of awareness, one becomes able to tune oneself to receive creative ideas from the larger universe, and in the same flow create the right forms to express them.

It is important to recognize that what we are talking about is personal creativity and while it is the source of innovation, it is not the same as innovation. The National Innovation Initiative� (NII) defines innovation as the intersection of invention and insight, leading to the creation of social and economic value.

When there is pain, we can bring new awareness into a person so that the tacit knowledge one has becomes more explicit. By focusing attention on to the pain itself, we can allow new insights and intuition to emerge while having clear impact on the pain. We did one such minor awareness experiment and pain removal in the Vedanta session with Dinesh as the volunteer.

The point of this experiment is to help a person be a neutral observer of his pain. Observation means, staying with it and pay attention to it without attempting to alter it. When the mind just observes what the senses bring to its attention, the prana settles down and we begin to integrate pain into our consciousness in a different way. It does not mean pain will go away but we begin to find a way to manage pain through mindfulness. Whenever we have images of pain and associate particular images, memories with it, we become caught with those interpretations and pain persists. Then, we wish it goes away, we seek relief, we feel frustrated, we get angry� So, the challenge is to be able to fully observe the pain and yet not allow the mind to interfere. It is the essence of mindfulness, isn�t it?

One way to do this is to do what Dinesh did now. Give the mind the task of examining the pain in terms of our other senses (how does it look? how does it sound, what is its texture etc). These questions not only help us be with the pain but also stop the mind from wanting to �make it go away.� Being with the pain increases our awareness of our self at the body level which becomes a powerful practice to take it to the next level and become aware of the movement of our thoughts, desires etc.

Does being aware automatically results in creativity?

No, but it puts us in a state that is most suitable for creativity. In that state, being quite and peaceful, enjoying the moment, being creative are all choices�


I believe each one of us have a primary means of creativity: some people have more visual capacity, some have kinesthetic capacity, some have superior auditory capacity. If we know what is our primary capacity, then we can align our creativity with it and flow in that mode.

Shankar: I took up dancing sometime back. the more I danced the smarter I got in other activities. I found more rhythm in my life�. If I have chaotic emotions, I am able to change them to lyrical ones� I multi-task more gracefully. It would be great to find the switch (the kind of activity) that helps open up our chakras (or meridians).

Our cells have memories not only of physical movements, sense of balance and skills associated with various parts of the body but also of thoughts and emotions. A painful or joyful emotion gets stored as memories in the cells of some part of the body. A trauma in one�s childhood could get locked in the body as pain for a very long time. Therefore paying attention to one�s body can help us become aware of the nature of the thoughts and emotions we experience in our mind.

We tend to think of our body as a localized, isolated entity. But our entire body is connected to the entire universe through our breath. Every time we breathe in, we are breathing in the same atoms breathed out by Jesus, Buddha, Krishna and Moses. We are breathing in the oxygen breathed out by plants and trees�And our breath, in turn, is breathed in by all other living beings. This awareness of being connected with the universe helps us tap into the intelligence of the universe, and thereby, ignite the genius within each one of us.


Jay: While I was a therapist, some times I would feel like telling a story to my client. After I get their permission, I would start telling a story without actually having previously thought about it. End of it, I would ask them what did they think of it. They would say, �Jeez, it brought so much clarity to my thoughts about my situation.� I guess I must have been able to tune into their thoughts and feelings quite well such that I could create a coherent story that threw light on their situation. Being with the client is the key�


Creativity can also be looked at through the three gunas - Sattva, Rajas and Tamas that each person has in varying degrees.

The gunas are three fundamental attributes that represent the natural evolutionary process through which the subtle becomes gross. In turn, gross objects, by action and interaction among themselves, may again become subtle. Thus the three gunas are defined as :

Sattva : Light (subtle)
Rajas : Activity
Tamas : Body/security (gross)

People equally can be more or less dominated by one of the three gunas.

When the gunas are healthy, each one of them could help us be creative in a certain way.

When it is healthy, the good qualities of Tamas are: slow, stable, reliable and grounded. Creativity that results from linear, iterative and small improvements are the result of Tamasic qualities in a person. This is vital for the steady growth of the individual and an organization. When not healthy, Tamas becomes dull, stale, heavy and starts decaying. Without Tamas, safety, security, physical pleasure and wellbeing are not paid sufficient attention by the other two gunas. For quality, delivery, cost and customer satisfaction issues to be taken care of � in other words, for execution issues to be great � we need Tamas.

When it is healthy, the good qualities of Rajas are: intelligent, fast, sharp and powerful. Creativity that results from a sudden burst of intelligence, pushing limits, passion etc are the result of Rajasic creativity. This is vital for creating changes that have immediate and strong impact. When not healthy, Rajas become hyperactive, a person with Rajas has difficulty letting go, can difficulty to prioritize and finally might get caught up with emotions too easily.

When it is healthy, the good qualities of Sattva are: Wise, subtle, clear and peaceful and brings balance to the person. Creativity that results from full awareness and full choice, balance and in the context of a larger good are Sattvic creativity. This is vital for the sustainability of the planet. When not healthy, Sattva becomes too abstract and the person gets attached to intellectual pursuits and global ideals without practicality to the immediate context.

We need all three kinds of creativity in their healthy forms. Think of it as a recipe for creativity and healthy life.


We should have an identity to serve a larger purpose without ego. For example, a flute allows air to pass through it that results in music. Neither the air nor the music belongs to the flute but flows through it. Creativity flows through an egoless vehicle just like music flows through a flute.

In general, cultivating Sattvic qualities is good as they bring balance to the other qualities too. In addition, it requires attention and conscious cultivation to develop Sattvic characteristics.

Here are some ways these three gunas show up in us. If you read 18th chapter of Gita, you find more detail. Prof. V. Krishnamurthy who has been to this group a couple of times, pointed me to look at them. We will chat more, if you want to, later about them.

1.Jnanam - the right perspective
2.Role Clarity � Knowing the responsibilities and limits of one�s role
3.Choosing the right action
4.Buddhi - Decision making � clarity of consequences (positive and negative)
5.Dhruti � Persistence
6.Sukham � being able to come out of an action with peace � whether the outcome is success or failure

Some questions:

What makes you creative? Can you relate that with what we have discussed here? How do you translate your creativity into innovation at work or home?

Posted by pkaipa at March 21, 2005 01:05 PM

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