Coming out of the lean months, I notice how easily my mind slides into a poverty mentality: I define my reality by my current low income. (Having been off studying yoga instead of working for the last few months hasn't helped.) Maybe this has happened to you - feeling like you just don't have enough, and obsessing on that not-enough-ness. Or maybe you have enough money, but not enough attention, love, friends, or fun. There are so many ways to feel impoverished.
Fortunately, we have a yogic practice called pratipaksa bhavanam - Sanskrit for "cultivating the opposite." One way to do this is by adopting positive thoughts to replace negative ones. The springtime makes this practice easier, when all is fresh and new. After months of bare branches, we have bitty green leaves bravely making their presence known. Flowers are growing!
Instead of feeling jealous of others who have more, or worrying about my finances, I engage in pratipaksa bhavanam by repeating: Abundance Is Everywhere. On a walk through the woods, I come across young ostrich ferns, whose fiddleheads taste similar to asparagus and are filled with nutrients and minerals. Even when foraging mindfully by only cutting two fiddleheads off from each bunch, there are more than plenty:
These fiddleheads didn't just hop off their ferns and onto my plate, pre-dressed in a balsamic vinaigrette, however. They had to be harvested, which involves knowing when to go - the slim band of time between their dormancy and their full expression as ferns - searching the woods to get them, being observant enough to see them amongst the leaf litter, and summoning the willingness to slop through the swamp to get them. Just like the symbolic lotus flower, the fiddlehead's richness and nutrients come up from the muck.
Let's not forget the important step of cultivating the patience to peel off all the reddish "paper" that covers the fiddleheads. The paper is useful in that it helps you identify the ostrich fern (don't eat other types of ferns!) but with the consistency and texture of crepe paper, getting all of it off the fiddleheads is itself a meditation. My foraging buddy insisted to blanch the fiddleheads first, and then the "paper comes right off." Not so.
For those of you who feel scarcity in love or attention, considering the history of your food is a great way to cultivate the opposite. Consider how much work went into my "simple" fiddleheads - think of how much work goes into all of the food you consume. Someone had to buy the land to grow it, someone else had to plant it, and weed it, water it, fertilize it, and then someone had to harvest it, process and package it, and someone else had to transport it to the store, where lots of other someones were involved with getting it to you. Everything you put into your body has been cared for by dozens of pairs of hands.
The same goes for the clothes you wear, the books you read, the movies and television you enjoy. Fellow humans put blood, sweat, and tears into creating things to entertain you. Thousands of other souls make your day possible. As one guru said, "How can I feel alone when everyone in the universe is my friend?"
Now as someone with a long history of negative thinking, I know it's a tough habit to break. And it is hard to believe in abundance when one's experience is of poverty. But the yogic teachings explain that our reality begins in our mind. Of course this is true: did an airplane or a fantastic tiramisu recipe just pop into being? Obviously not - some one had to envision it first. Everything in your life began in somebody's mind.
So get in the game! Let your mind create your reality. In the Abraham Hicks teachings, they talk about attuning yourself to the vibrational quality of what you want, even before you have it, in order for the universe to bring it to you. That sounds complicated and maybe even fanciful, so let me put it in simpler terms: imagine what you want and feel its presence in your body. Pratipaksa bhavanam doesn't have to be some esoteric art - whatever you are missing, simply create for yourself.
Exercise #1: Become Popular, Rich, and Sated With Chocolate
All abundance begins with a feeling of expansion. Sit in a quiet place and gradually deepen the breath so the inhale comes all the way down to the belly and inflates the back and the spaces between the ribs. Enjoy the abundance of your breath and the fact that air is free. (For now!) Time to put your mind to work. Your vivid imagination that loves to dream up worst-case scenarios (such as having to pay for air) will now cultivate the opposite. Drop your sad stories and replace them with the feeling of perfect love warming you like a toasty fire. Feel the heat grow in your heart. Then imagine having plenty of money. Focus less on what you will buy, and more on the physical sensation of the ease that comes with having enough - your shoulders are relaxed, your face is relaxed. Your jaw is soft. Go ahead and laugh!
And what if this doesn't work? What if it doesn't bring you a new car and lots of friends? Then you'll just have to live with a warm, happy heart, relaxed shoulders, and the sound of your laughter. Which may just be abundance enough. You'll forget that I even mentioned chocolate to bribe you into doing this one.
If you feel abundant already and just want to get mystical....
Exercise #2: You are Not Your Thoughts
This sitting meditation involves watching your thoughts and thinking the opposite. Again, start with the breath and remember to re-focus on it throughout the exercise. Soon you will have a thought. An example: "I am sitting." Then, allow yourself to think its opposite: "I am not sitting." The dissonance of the opposing thoughts flicks your mind into a space without thought. This is good! Hang out as long as you can. However, you will likely have another thought, such as, "this is stupid." Then think, "this is not stupid." Remember to reject both dualities and keep returning to the breath. Enjoy not believing your thoughts! Continue in this way for at least three minutes. People pay a lot of money for the stress relief that comes from this feeling. You can have it for free.
(Inspired by Kundalini Yoga Sadhana Guidelines, 2nd edition, p. 129)