In previous posts, we talked about the sattvic challenge and the rajasic challenge. Here we talk about the final type, the tamasic challenge. The Bhagavad Gita describes a tamasic challenge as being like the baby in the womb. No matter how hard you work at something, some things just take time. These challenges have their roots in many lifetimes, and they just won’t budge until it’s time for them to budge.
An everyday tamasic challenge
I gave a talk one Sunday about the unexpected death of our three young ducks, and how the profound power of spiritual tools can help us through even crippling challenges. I think that perhaps my horror at animals being in pain or being mistreated, the way that strikes so deeply into my core and completely unglues me, is a hallmark of a tamasic challenge. It doesn’t matter how hard I work at having it not bother me, no matter how often I turn away from that discomfort, that particular challenge just has to percolate through and become unraveled and clear and approachable. I won’t be able to understand it until it’s time for it to resolve itself.
A tamasic challenge grabs us by the ankles and stomps us to the ground. It doesn’t grab us by the throat, in peril for our lives. It stuns us and obliterates our good intentions, cancels our creative problem solving, blackens our optimistic tendencies. It’s like a stagnant swamp, and we can only slog around its depths. It is powerful.
But we have profound tools that we can use to bring us back to a brighter place. We can chant. We can meditate. We can immerse ourselves in yoga postures. We can connect with friends. We have a community of like-minded people amongst whom we can regain our balance. We can turn our attention toward helping someone else, to bring us out of ourselves into the knowledge of something bigger and more powerful than the muck sticking to our ankles. We can regain our strength and wisdom, so that we can once again absorb truth, once again grow toward understanding and joy.
Just last week, a friend commented on how animals move in and out of their bodies so easily. They don’t have the same angst and self-concern that humans have. A dog doesn’t ponder the fate of the homeless dogs of India, or whether her fur is too wavy, her snout too long. She just enjoys her food, and wags her tail when she’s happy, and loves her human, and that’s enough. My friend said that a new body and a new lifetime for an animal is like a ride in an amusement park. They know it’ll be scary, and this part is not fun, but this part is exhilarating, and ack! I hate this part! But now the ride is over, and they run to get in line for the next ride. Let’s do it again!
My friend’s imagery loosened the knot of my tamasic challenge. It’s given me a viewpoint outside of my habitual reality. I’ll have to ponder it and let it percolate, but I can actually feel that I’m getting close to the edge of my swamp. I’ve found some firm footing that will help me move forward.
A tamasic challenge
A tamasic challenge is infused with dullness, darkness, and inertia. It is heavy, veiling or obstructing. These deep, deep issues that we have, we need time to work through them, time to understand them. And it’s okay that it takes so long. It’s not that we’re not trying hard enough. It’s that we’re simply swamped in a tamasic challenge, and it takes time.
Vanquishing a tamasic challenge is a victory that will stay with you for the rest of your life, and will continue to enrich you through all future lifetimes. They are well worth the challenge, because the victory is powerful.