Harmony is natural to us
Harmony is the original state of humanity, where our way of relating and interacting with one another and with all forms of life is naturally harmonious. Deep inside we know this – it is as if we remember it – and this is why we long for harmony and work so hard to find or create it. If there were no conscious or unconscious memory of that experience, there would be no sense of something missing, something awry, in our world at this time. If harmony is our natural way of being, then we need to consider why it is not currently the norm.
Today’s world is an increasingly divided one. There is division and fragmentation within families and communities, between genders and generations, and between ideologies, faiths and nations. A sense of ‘them and us’ inevitably leads to comparison, competition and, often, conflict and undermines our deeper feelings of belonging, love and compassion. At the same time, we are seeing, a soaring rise in health problems – mental and physical – across the globe, at all levels of society, which would seem to indicate some form of disharmony within us as individuals.
Within every human tradition there is the concept of paradise, utopia or a golden age – a world of peace, love and happiness, a time when human beings lived their lives in harmony with each other and with nature. What has happened that we’ve come so far from where we were? And, more importantly, how can we help ourselves to return to our natural state of being?
The tendency has been to try and find external solutions – by changing systems, changing policies, injecting more money, more technology and more information. Yet, despite all of this, we appear to be going in reverse rather than moving forward. Perhaps it is time to look at a different perspective entirely: to look at what’s going on inside ourselves and to see how it’s connected to the world outside – both on a personal level and a global level. Spirituality tells me that, when I sort things out within myself and come to a state of harmony inside, I am more likely to contribute to harmony outside on all levels – with people and with our physical environment. ‘Charity begins at home’ – with the self.
The experience of harmony
Harmony is, first and foremost, about being at peace with one’s own self. It is that inner state in which our thoughts, our conscience and our expression – our words and actions – are all in alignment. This brings feelings of deep comfort and security and, at the same time, flexibility and flow. When we experience peace and harmony within ourselves, our decisions and actions are motivated by contentment and love. We have the strength and clarity to be able to behave in a way that is according to our deepest values – which brings the greatest happiness. Inner harmony enables us to bring meaning and truth to even the smallest matters. We give our full attention and bring the best of ourselves to whatever we are engaged in at the present moment. Like someone playing in an orchestra or playing a team sport, we are alert and focused on what we have to do as well as what is happening around us.
If we ourselves are able to maintain inner peace and harmony inside, our personal and professional relationships will automatically be more likely to be conducive to harmony. This will then naturally lead to harmony in our communities, in our countries and could ultimately be a small contribution to peace and harmony in the world. Inner harmony is thus the seed of harmony between us and around us and is what enables us to create structures and practices that sustain harmony.
A question of awareness
Everything starts with our awareness: our sense of who we are and who we belong to. In most cases, our self-image and sense of belonging are bound up with our physical identity and the material world: what we look like, what we do, where we live, the family and community we were born into, and many other aspects of conditioning that we’ve picked up along the way. What if we could see beyond our physical self and everything associated with that – even beyond our personality – to our inner core: the eternal, spiritual self?
When we are in the awareness of ‘I’ being the physical form, there will inevitably be some feeling of insecurity. Our body is temporary and so relationships, roles, possessions and circumstances associated with my physical identity are all prone to change and, ultimately, loss. This uncertainty drives us to look for comfort and support in external things. The pull of the physical senses can lead to dependencies and desires that can never be satisfied and undermine our self-respect.
If, however, ‘I’ is experienced as a being of spiritual energy that expresses itself through our physical body, then that uncertainty and vulnerability is no longer there. Knowing that the ‘I’ that thinks, feels, remembers, and generally experiences and contributes to life is ultimately distinct from the material world brings a deep feeling of inner peace. This understanding of the deeper aspects of the self has largely been forgotten. We have become disconnected from our higher, spiritual selves and this is the fundamental cause of our overly materialistic outlook today.
As spiritual beings, we do not exist in isolation. We are connected with each other through an eternal connection with the Divine, the Parent of us all and the Source of all that is highest in human nature. As we connect with this perfect reference point, we increase our own power of truth and we also experience a deep connection with each other. The more we experience the highest within ourselves, the more easily we feel connected and in harmony with people around us. This is because we are free from needing others to give us a sense of self; we experience a higher sense of self-worth.
There is a continuum that works on the spiritual level and also manifests in the material world. It goes like this:
Our awareness defines our attitude.
Our attitude colours our vision.
Our vision dictates our actions.
Our actions shape our culture.
Our culture creates our world.
The words rhyme in Hindi: smruti – vritti – drishti – kritti – sanskriti – srishti. What we see and experience in the world – and what we wish to see and experience – depend ultimately on our awareness, our consciousness.
Until now, the current critical state of the world has generally been attributed to external factors. There is no doubt that political, economic, social, technological and environmental conditions all have an huge impact on our everyday experience and behaviour. However, it is my understanding that these are all the inevitable consequences of the individual and collective consciousness of human beings – the manifestations of an inner disharmony. Logic then tells me that the solutions to humanity’s current state of dis-ease also lie there.
Being in our truth
“Only a powerful soul can offer love. Only a powerful soul can afford to be humble. If we are weak, then we become selfish. If we are empty, we take, but if we are filled, we automatically give to all. That is our nature.”
Dadi Prakashmani, former Head of Brahma Kumaris
The inner being, the soul, itself has inherent goodness within. This goodness is based on five core innate qualities: peace, love, wisdom, joy and purity. We spend a lot of time and energy trying to find these in what we do, where we go, in the people around us and in the possessions we acquire. All the time these much sought-after ‘treasures’ are within us; they are who we really are inside. Because of the selfishness to which materialism gives rise, these qualities are mostly deeply suppressed. The level of violence that we see in society today can be traced back to this first violence that we do to ourselves: that of suppressing our inherent goodness.
When we reconnect with our inner core of goodness, we are less influenced by any negativity coming from outside of us. We are not so affected by the anger or arrogance of other people, or by distressing situations in front of us or in the news. It is not that we avoid or ignore them but they do not disturb us in a way that makes us react out of fear or dislike. Instead, we find that we have the self-respect and power to be able to respond calmly and constructively. With understanding and love, we see beyond the differences, the labels and the barriers – we see beyond the presenting behaviour – to the truth of the soul. We recognise the whole human family as our family and the physical world as our shared home, which naturally engenders relationships of caring and sharing and the desire to connect with and appreciate the other.
Meditation enables us to rediscover and re-energise our inner qualities. Becoming more aware of them and practising them in everyday situations can transform our thinking, our speaking and our doing and bring them back into alignment and harmony. It is then the inner being who is directing my interactions with the world, rather than the physical senses, influenced by weight of the world’s negativity, controlling the inner self. Although we may be living right now in an era of compassion deficit, social isolation and post-truth, re-connecting with the inner self empowers us as individuals to live lives based on our core values of compassion, love and truth.
Harmony is the fruit and also the seed of true self-respect. A self-respect which comes from knowing our true identity, our own innate goodness and value and our capacity to make a positive contribution. Quite independent of status, circumstances or skills, it is the ease and contentment, combined with a quiet authority that comes from living our lives with sincerity and integrity and relating to others and to nature with respect, benevolence and care.
Harmony in relationships
In spiritual awareness, when we enter into a relationship with another, we are always interested and able to see the goodness and the speciality of the other. The tendency at the moment is to see the differences and the defects and to talk about what we don’t like. Our ability to categorise and criticise has been sharpened with practice and comes more naturally and easily. Yet I think all would agree that accepting, appreciating and valuing others and their special qualities would be more conducive to harmony than criticism.
Being comfortable in our own self respect and appreciating the other allow us to enter any connection with a good solid foundation on which to be able to build a harmonious relationship. The work that we do will be constructive and productive, rather than destructive and unhelpful. We are more likely to work towards what will benefit others, rather than what will bring limited, temporary gain to ourselves. Inner harmony allows for right connectedness – within families, between the genders and ages, and between and within communities, faiths and nations. There is naturally a feeling of kinship with all other souls, and thus a sense of mutual respect and responsibility.
Former Ambassador Ragnar Ängeby, who was Head of the Conflict Prevention in Practice programme at the Folke Bernadotte Academy Sweden, once shared in an interview his experience as a mediator between people who were normally extremely hostile to each other. He would bring them together in a place in nature and ask them to start talking about what was human in each one. “I often use three values as a way of unifying: respect, honesty and compassion. Whatever your background, everyone understands these. They are the essence of the human being… “Listening enables both parties to see where they are different and where the same. You have to see yourself from the outside and see if you look the same from different perspectives.”
Harmony with nature
We are only beginning to understand the effect of our consciousness on the environment. Lack of inner harmony also expresses itself in the upheaval in nature – the unprecedented natural disasters and abnormal weather conditions – that we are seeing across the planet. When, 10 years ago, we started to talk about the link between climate and consciousness at UN Climate Change conferences, it was largely dismissed. But now we are seeing how there is growing acknowledgement that, in order for us to tackle the huge challenges that climate change is posing human beings, what is needed most of all is a fundamental change of mindset at all levels. It is not insignificant that UNESCO’s Strategy for Action on Climate Change 2018-2021 bears the title: Changing Minds, Not The Climate. How will this necessary shift of mindset come about? Not by force or by law. Mindsets will start to shift when individuals have the understanding and the tools to be able to make constructive changes in their own lives, which then impact positively on the community and the planet.
When there is harmony within, our relationship with the environment – with matter – is one of respect and compassion. We take care not to contribute to the destruction of other forms of life; we support their existence and the diversity and beauty of the world around us. There is no need for us to exploit nature for our own selfishness and greed. Rather, we work in harmony with nature – whether that is the environment or even our own bodies, the physical environment of the inner being.
Inner harmony also brings physical wellbeing. There is a healthy, comfortable relationship between mind and body and that creates a sense of security and a feeling of warmth and ease around us. When we are not feeling peaceful inside, our bodies are also restless and we then automatically create peacelessness and restlessness around us and we are affected by the negativity of people and situations around us. The correlation between physical health and mental wellbeing is also well documented. It has been said that 70% of doctor visits and 80% of serious illnesses may be exacerbated or linked to stress. Conversely, it has been shown that, when people dealing with sickness or injury are able to keep their attitude and their thoughts and feelings peaceful and positive, they have a greater chance of recovery.
Recreating harmony: some essentials
In the same way that Ragnar Ängeby identified the three values of respect, honesty and compassion as being especially conducive to conflict resolution, I would single out love, truth and humility as the essential ingredients for harmony.
No man can draw a free breath who does not share with other men a common and disinterested ideal. Life has taught us that love does not consist in gazing at each other but in looking outward together in the same direction.
Antoine de Saint-Exupery: Wind, Sand and Stars.
Love is an essential energy for creating harmony. It is also a vital healing energy. Love has the capacity to bring seemingly opposing energies together. Love includes and accepts. Love sees with humility and compassion and looks for what connects and not what divides. Love empowers and inspires. Love makes the heart feel constantly full. The original state of the inner being is love. When we allow love to inform our thoughts, our words and our behaviour, we stand in our power. There is the feeling that the inner being is being expressed in all that we do.
There is a saying, ‘When there is truth, the heart dances’. We would all genuinely say that honesty is a very important guiding principle for harmony – within ourselves, in relationships and in our work. Yet, when it actually comes to our behaviour, we are not always able to express what we recognise to be true through our words and our actions. Perhaps because it is not convenient, or there isn’t time, we don’t express the truth of what we really believe. This can be in terms of how we communicate or how we go about our lives – how we spend our money and our time, how we react, the priorities that inform our choices. It may be easier to conform to the current paradigm in which truth isn’t the most important factor. It may feel more comfortable to go along with what is going on around us, rather than hold on to our principles and explain what we really think and believe. When we let go of that truth ourselves and move with the tide, our behaviour follows suit. All of this creates a situation in which everything becomes increasingly artificial, confusing and uncomfortable. As we become more and more distant from the truth that we carry, things get more and more chaotic internally and externally. As we experience the truth of our own goodness and beauty, we then find the courage and self-compassion to be honest with ourselves, to see the discrepancies in our own lives and our own thinking and to clean out the negative emotions, memories and habits that are the cause of our unhappiness and discomfort.
Many years ago, Dadi Janki, one of the founding members of our organisation and, at the age of 102, still our active and enthusiastic Spiritual Head, was speaking at a dialogue in Mauritius on the theme of Hope, Happiness and Harmony. She talked about ‘harmony’ and ‘haar maani’ (in Hindi the words mean ‘to accept defeat’) and described this a very useful spiritual notion, as it allows for peace and unity. Sometimes, she said, when we hold strongly onto our own beliefs, we can become quite insistent that others accept them, creating tension and discord. In moments like this, we would do well to move to “haar maani” – to accept defeat in that moment and not to push our ideas on others. There was a bit of an uproar amongst the dialogue participants. “Why,” they asked, “would you ever step back, instead of sharing the truth with others?” Delighted that the subject stirred up so much interest, she raised the subject again the next morning. Again recommending “haar maani” as an important understanding in the creation of peace and unity, she then proceeded: “If it is the truth, it will eventually become clear to everyone. The truth is eternal and persistent. When the moment is right, you do not need to convince others of the truth. It will become completely clear to them that this right, that it is the truth, and then they will move towards that truth embracing it effortlessly.”
Some practical suggestions
What can we do practically to equip and empower ourselves to bring our own inner core values, our conscience and our behaviour back into a state of harmony? Here are a few suggestions:
• Make time for yourself on a regular basis to observe and start to understand and care for your inner world. When we sit in silence and nurture the soul by reminding ourselves of our true, spiritual identity and our inner qualities and strengths, we are able to connect with God in a relationship of deep love and trust. It is this divine energy that gives us the clarity to see what changes we need to make in our lives – and the power to do that. Our calendars are full of appointments with others and things to do; how much quality time do we spend with our deepest selves and with God?
• Experiment with bringing your inner qualities and strengths into your consciousness and using them in your lives in everything you do. We use the term ‘karma yoga’. Karma literally means ‘action’ and yoga means ‘union’ or being in harmony with myself and with the Divine. So karma yoga is when our values are expressed in the way we think, the attitude we have, the way we see things and also what we say and do.
• Choose to focus on the goodness and the specialities of other people, not on their shortcomings.
• Keep the company of those who share your values and priorities. Read and listen to things that uplift and inspire you. Stay alert to the effect of influence on your thinking and be careful not to be adversely influenced by company and situations that bring you down.
• Make it a priority to give quality attention and time to those you live and work with – especially those with whom relations are not always easy. Eat together, meditate or pray together, walk, cook, relax or play together. The more you keep sharing experiences, ideas, feelings and dreams, the more likely you are to discover – or rediscover – things you have in common and specialities in others that you can learn and benefit from yourself.
Inner harmony is the seed of harmony between us and around us and enables us to create structures that sustain rather than undermine harmony. It is not a passive state, but rather the constant harmonising of different elements or energies within the self, different parts of the whole being. It is the process of constantly keeping a close eye on the integrity of our emotions, conscience, thoughts, words and actions. When we achieve this inner harmony, our decisions and behaviour are motivated by feelings of security, contentment and love, rather than neediness and blame.
When we are able to restore our own house into a state of health, happiness and harmony, we are more likely to be able to contribute to harmony around us – in our personal relationships, at work, in our communities, in the world and on our planet. This is why it is so important in these delicate times to deepen our understanding of the nature and dynamics of harmony – in our chosen fields of work and study but also for each one of us as individuals.
Throughout history, real change has always happened as a result of a small minority of committed individuals coming together to create a critical mass that brings about a shift of consciousness. In the same way, we cannot leave change to governments or politicians. Harmony will be restored to the world when each one of us has the understanding, capacity and commitment to maintain harmony within the self. I believe that the key to this lies in the regular practice of silent reflection and meditation.
Sister Jayanti is the European Director of the Brahma Kumaris, with over 40 years of experience of Raja Yoga meditation and its practical application in daily life. Her gentle voice and profound insights on spiritual solutions to everyday problems have touched the hearts of thousands around the world.
Sister Jayanti has made her life into a tireless work for peace and women´s rights. She bridges Eastern wisdom and Western education. In her speeches Sister Jayanti tells about how to live a spiritual life in a complex world through meditation and God’s Healing Power of Love. For more than 30 years, Sister Jayanti has travelled widely as a speaker, broadcaster and emissary for peace. She has co-ordinated several projects in connection with Women, Development, the Environment and Youth.
Photograph: Richard Dunne