Epistle 6: Party Gunas

The wonderful thing about parties and social intercourse is that it can be see from so many viewpoints. Truly an elephant that is worth taking a stroll around.

Some of the more unexpected perspectives is seeing a party as a flight, complete with turbulence, difficult landing and even terrorists.

Today’s view is also less than usual. We will take a look at parties from the vantage point of the theory of Gunas in yoga philosophy. I am no expert in Yoga but will write from my current understanding.

There are three Gunas, so the model goes. Sattva stands for clarity, light, being. Rajas is action, energy, activity. Tamas is passivity and heaviness.

In a way this is the classic trinity Be, Do, Have. Thinking in these terms can help us to throw, as we say, a good, better and even great party.

Let us start from the bottom, with Tamas. This is the heaviest and slowest mode. Where do we find Tamas in parties?

Some examples: after a heavy meal with much food and drink we usually go into Tamas mode (all energy goes into digesting). Alcohol can initially raise our Rajas level (we get very “social”, as we drink more we move into Tamas, and finally we lie motionless on the floor.

Tamas can also occur without food and drink, typically in the slow, shy, dull party, with long, embarrassing silences.

Rajas is energy and wild, noisy parties are full of Rajas. It is sometimes a case of activity for activity’s sake, which can be dull.

For some people, lots of booze, music, guests and lots noise equals “good party”, even though is is only a “much” — a quantity rather than quality party.

Of course Rajas is needed to shake the dull party out of slumber and remove its spider web. A sub-optimal occurrence is when an over-active, ants in the pants-host tries to “activate” guests that are already active (thank you) with contrived games and the wrong kind of party silliness.

Not really necessary. Not that there is anything wrong with games. On the contrary. But plan intelligently; don’t contrive.

So far, this is nothing strange: we are talking about activity and passivity. Where does Sattva enter then?

Sattva obviously is not Tamas; what is light cannot be heavy. Sattva is awake, alive, vibrant. But – is doesn’t feel a need to do, to act, to jump about and tell jokes. It CAN do all that, if it feels right, but really there is no duty or compulsion in Sattva. As Annie sang, Sattva is about Doin’ What Comes Natur’lly.

Sattva means to accept what is, and of course at a party a party is what is. We are not sitting on a mountaintop, meditating in silence. We are interested in the other guests, conversation flows without hindrances, we are laughing, but there is none of the almost addictive nature or Rajas (”We must DO something!!”) .

At a Sattvic party people will do things anyway, not because they MUST or because they have ants in their pants and think that Action equals Fun. Things are done because there is a spontaneous, positive inclination.

At my own parties I try to steer away from both too much Tamas and Rajas towards balanced Sattva. For example, I never have a lot of food, which leads to “paltkoma”, heaviness which makes us unable other aspects of a party. (I wrote about this in an earlier epistle.)

Another kind of Tamas to avoid is the boring kind and, yes, silence can kill. At my Swedish parties I always start with a punch, to loosen the spirits and tongues. We want to move away from the graveyard atmosphere of Tamas as soon as possible.

Rajas can be a very good in the right place and proportion. Conversation, interesting people and preferably some kind of program that stimulates makes our evening memorable. But activity should be inspired and stimulating, not forced.

I love party games and am prepared to push my guests a bit to come out of their shy shells, to release their inner Homo ludens. But this is a sensitive thing, and should be done at the right moment in the right way.

I dislike “quantity parties”, as mentioned above, with lots of people, food, drinks and music. All this dulls the senses and Sattva is just the opposite of this.

Thus, the number of guest in relation to the size of the locale is very important. Too few guests and their will be hollow echoes, too many and nobody can hear what that interesting guest is saying. No numbers can be given, but think about the question of proportion. Aim at harmony between size and number of guests.

Also remember where energy goes. After food it goes to the belly which needs to digest the food. Of course good food means sensual enjoyment, which is festive. The drawback is that it can make people Tamasic, sleepy and passive for a while. If you are partying for ten hours, fine. If you are not you might have a real dip in the party, which I do not like. Rest, relaxed atmosphere, yes, but dips are not necessary. As I have written before, if you put your interesting program (Rajas) after a big meal, it risks falling into the “food-shadow” of Tamas.

So meditate on the drawback of both Tamas (quite obvious) and Rajas (much less obvious and for that reason more important) so that you can break free from both, and move into the light of Sattva and have that rare kind of party that people will remember and talk about for a long time .-)

End of epistle six.