In the garbage, I see a rose.
In the rose, I see the garbage.
Everything is in transformation.
Even permanence is impermanent.

Thich Nhat Hanh

What the Real Balance is Made Of (Through the Prism of 3 Gunas)

I find delight in observing people and things. It sometimes amazes me how some people can appear so perfect, so accomplished, so positive through and through. I wonder - how can this state of perfect balance be attained in this messy, imperfect world?

The truth is - it can't. What we see with our eyes can be deceiving. The real balance is a constant balancing act as we move through the process of life. One moment you have it, the next moment it's gone...It can be elusive and usually doesn't stay for long in the same shape or form in real life, and yet it is totally worth striving for.

The stunning instagram feeds, the gorgeous representations of someone's beautiful lifestyle, the bodies and faces of humans that have been "enhanced" might look like they are real, but even if they are which is rarely the case, this is just a part of the story. And the other side of the beautiful is dark. The other side of outer balance is a mess.


And yet, even within dark, I do see the beautiful. Within the beast I see the beauty, and within the beauty I see the beast. Within the mess I see the potential for balance, and within balance I see the potential for a mess.


We are conditioned to look away from something we don't find pleasing to the eye, to focus on the positive, to see the best in everything. While it is a great approach to life, we have to remember to dare to see the whole picture including the shadow. Only that way can we learn about the full spectrum of darkness and light, about the constant transformation of every human being, of every type of matter in nature.


In yoga tradition one way of understanding it is through the concept of 3 gunas: 3 fundamental forces of nature. These apply just as much to all the processes in nature as they do to our human lives.

The 3 gunas form what we understand as the cycle of creation (and destruction). These 3 gunas are tamas, rajas and sattva, and they are in a state of constant "dance". You can think about them as a cycle of inertia or inaction, a cycle of activity and a point of balance.


Bhagavad Gita, one of the main ancient texts on yoga, says (Chapter 18, verses 23-25):

Action that is virtuous, deliberate, free from attachment, and without craving for results, is considered Sattvic. Action that is driven purely by craving for pleasure, selfishness, and with much effort is Rajasic. Action that is undertaken because of delusion, disregarding consequences, without considering loss or injury to others or self, is called Tamasic.


For example, human life itself is subject to the laws of creation and destruction. Every project has all three gunas represented as phases. And if you aim to attain true balance, it helps to understand both its components and what can challenge it. Here is a little summary.


Rajas: Activity


Bhagavad Gita (14.7), says: “Rajas is marked by passion born of craving and attachment; it binds the embodied Self to never-ending activity.”As positive energy, Rajas presents such qualities as excitement, drive, ambition, passion, enthusiasm, ability to get things done.

In excess or when out of control, Rajas fosters aggression, obsession, anger, agitation, anxiety and hyperactivity.


What this means in the context of attaining balance


Rajas is a state that is sometimes necessary for balance to be possible. Sometimes we need vigorous activity to be able to experience strength and deeper rest. We may need ambition and drive to attain our goals, even if the goal is spiritual. And we may also need to sometimes do our inner work if we have been pushing things too much and ambition and drive have transformed into agitation and hyperactivity which are tilting the balance off centre.

Tamas: Inertia

Bhagavad Gita (14.8) describes: “Tamas, ignorance-born, deludes all embodied beings; it binds them by means of dullness, indolence and sleep.”

As positive energy, Tamas offers qualities such as stability, groundedness, perseverance, patience, ease, loyalty. It's the energy of rest.

In excess Tamas leads to inactivity, apathy, grief, sluggishness, loneliness, laziness, a feeling of helplessness and depression.


What this means in the context of attaining balance


Similarly to Rajas, Tamas is an important stepping stone for true balance to be possible. Tamas can have a restful quality which is necessary in a certain amount for balance, however in excess it brings about sluggishness and laziness.

Sattva: Luminosity

Bhagavad Gita (14.6) offers this reference: “Of these three, sattva, untainted, luminous, free from sorrow, binds by means of attachment to knowledge and joy.”As positive energy, Sattva presents qualities such as clarity, peace, wisdom, pure consciousness, light, goodness, illumination and being in the present.


What this means in the context of attaining balance


In excess Sattva can actually have its pitfalls, and for me this was one of the most interesting things to write about as I usually don't think about luminosity that can exist in excess! One pitfall of sattva is the delusion of the ego, which can lead to arrogance, smugness, complacency and self-satisfaction.

Another pitfall is attachment. The ancient yogic texts warn against settling into worldly happiness and urge you to stay away from the material and experience the spiritual nature of the universe. This however can also be experienced in excess if we end up losing our connection to humanness and groundedness in our attempt to move fully into Sattva and spirituality!



3 Gunas Applied to Foods and Lifestyle Choices



So if all of the above sounds interesting but too abstract, let's apply this yoga philosophy to your real everyday life.

Sattva foods are yogic foods. They are pure, light and nourishing for the body.

According to yoga and Ayurveda, sattvic foods include fruits, vegetables, ghee, grains, sprouts, and generally whole foods that are freshly prepared and consumed within 6 hours of being prepared etc. Eating slowly and mindfully without distractions without combining eating with other activities helps promote sattva.

Sattva can also be cultivated through meditation, yoga, having nurturing routines, getting enough sleep and rest, and doing work that is meaningful for you and good for the world.

Rajastic foods are rather unbalanced, aggravating or excessive, such as too salty, too sugary, too hot, too bitter, etc. They are items such as hot spices, chocolate, ccoffee, stimulating foods.

Rajastic activities include working too much, rushing too much, being excessively competitive.

Tamastic foods do not benefit our mind or our body.

The examples of tamasic foods are meat, leftovers, fast food, microwaved food, and generally foods that are heavy and old.

Tamastic activities (or should I say "inactivities"?) are overindulging in food, passivity, over sleeping, drinking alcohol, being entertained.



How can I use this knowledge to cultivate more real balance in my life?



With this model of the gunas in mind, you can simply ask yourself: which am I in at the moment? How do my gunas change over the course of a day or a week? Or perhaps you can slowly start to look at your normal food and drink.

As a conscious human being, you can consciously change from one guna to another. Think about which guna your activities, mental states or foods you consume might represent and whether or not that is the guna you would like to cultivate.

If you like most humans, are striving for a balanced life filled with well-being, meaning and balance and that is represented by Sattva, see if you can can choose more sattva foods and activities for at least a couple of weeks, and then reevaluate how you feel.

Remember that all matter has gunas, and we can apply that principle to how and what we eat and what activities or attitude we opt for.

I know it is unrealistic for most of us in this world to attain a completely sattva lifestyle. It is often not completely up to us anyway as external circumstances keep on changing all the time, regardless of what our intentions are. Still, we have the ability to make choices to help us move toward a more calm and peaceful existence despite what the external events may suggest.



Having said all that, in the end of the day I vote for the real-ness. I subscribe to staying human and to living on this planet that we are born on rather than existing solely in the higher realms that meditation can offer, and daring to experience the full spectrum of darkness and light. I choose to feel everything and still move towards the light. I choose to remember that even within the brightest of luminosity there will always be a fraction of darkness, and that it is ok.

How about practicing mindfulness in everything - whether you are currently in a tamas, rajas or sattva place in life - and aim for more Sattva without beating ourselves up if we slip sometimes and indulge in a meal or decision that is not 100% aligned with our higher goals?

For me this is living yoga, this is the real-life balance which is sometimes imperfect, messy and less beautiful than a stunning instagram feed portraying someone's lifestyle as a photoshopped image. And I would always choose real-ness over perfection on my way to becoming more free of bondage and delusion, which is ultimately what yoga is all about.