In light of the previous conversation about discerning what comes as a response to the moment rather than from the ego space and my challenge to you, I can see from the e-mails I got and the conversations I’ve had with some of you in person that you may need extra help on the subject….
I turn to yoga philosophy and offer you what has been helpful to me along the way. Briefly. As the subject matter can and has filled up countless books indeed.
First we need to understand 2 basic concepts. What is dukha and sukha. Dukha is the state of unease and discomfort – mentally, emotionally, energetically and physically. I’ve seen it translated as “unhappiness” as “bad space” or “restricted space” or “obstructed space.” The word comes from a reference to the space of a wheel on a carriage that’s been jammed and thus makes movement of the carriage at the least bumpy and at the most it halts it completely. Sukha is its exact opposite. A space that is “open,” “good” and movement can continue smoothly. So, it is also referred to as “happiness” and “ease.”
Everything about yoga and meditation (and let me state here that meditation IS yoga, the highest form and practice of yoga), everything about the practices of yoga is about reducing dukha and by doing so, increasing sukha. From suffering to ease and happiness in a state of what the yogi’s call jivan mukti. Jivan mukti literally means “the human soul liberated” but since Jivan is a term for the human self/soul that refers to the self while the human is living, we get “liberated while still living.”
Notice that one has to be “liberated” in order to be unconditionally “happy.” Right there is the answer to all questions of why we are unhappy, some of the time or all of the time. Unhappy with who we are, how our life is, our relationships, accomplishments, gifts and experiences. Unhappy can be anything from a low grade of discontent to major depression and anxiety, just like the wheel of the carriage can be only slightly obstructed to fully jammed and immobile. From complaining and grunting through life to being critical and aggressive to being suicidal – these are all behaviors that are connected to the same thing – being in an “obstructed space” mentally and emotionally.
Liberating ones’ self from the obstruction should then be helping the wheel roll down the road of life smoothly even if there are bumps on the road itself.
And…of course…the liberation process gets to be a little complicated. Complicated not by itself but by the way we go about it. But this is a totally different blog discussion.
To be liberated, the Yoga Sutras prescribe several simple things: The Yamas – those are restrains one needs to be committed to or else more suffering is created as you go along and therefore, instead of freeing your wheel from the jam you are adding to it and getting more stuck by the minute.
The first and foremost of the yamas (and in other spiritual traditions of other cultures and heritages, it also ranks of the highest importance) is Ahimsa which is non-harming. Non-harming is a practice of being considerate toward other beings and toward yourself. Honoring boundaries of others and of your own body. Considering the consequences or your actions to others and for yourself. This includes anything from what you eat, to what you wear to where you live and how you do your yoga practice. We can be violent in so many ways without even realizing that we are. So, the practice of ahimsa is the practice we undertake to learn about our violent ways and consciously attempt to minimize them.
We do this by becoming truthful (the second yamas, or satya) in every moment. Satya is truth and the truth will set you free as we all know. One must be completely honest within themselves as to what they are doing and saying. Exaggerating? Why? Telling a story? Why? Manipulating a situation? Withholding the truth? A white lie? Yes, there are many ways we attempt to control reality and reshape it in our terms instead of accepting it. This mainly means, we are not accepting of the "who we are" and trying to create an illusion for others about us that we think we like better, or that they will like better than the real thing.
Either way, by not being truthful, by not practicing satya, we rob others and we rob our selves of the opportunity to experience reality as it is and grow from there in the mysterious way we are suppose to, or as the Bhagavad Gita puts it – to fulfill our dharma, our duty to ourselves, to all the beings and to the divine dance of life. So, classical yoga recommends that we practice asteya: non-stealing. Stealing time by wasting time is still stealing. Channeling your energy in unworthy pursuits is stealing from yourself. Hording things, taking things that are not yours no matter how you rationalize it, not giving others what they’ve worked for or is rightfully theirs, not giving your kids or pets attention they need….all those are forms of stealing. It weighs on your consciousness and therefore it jams the wheel of your carriage more than you imagine.
So, the yogis recommend a “godly conduct” known as brahmacharya. Often this is translated and understood as restraint in the sexual energy and expression. Therefore, there are yogis who take the path of celibacy. For householders the recommendations is to be faithful to your partner and use sex for reproduction mainly. There’s a lot said in the yogic literature about sexuality and how the energy that is channeled into sexual activities is a vital energy you can use for creative endeavors, getting closer to God or varieties of practices that would make you a better human being. The literal meaning is under the tutelage of Brahma, or God. Godly conduct goes beyond sexuality into every aspect of our lives. Sexuality is a primordial instinct we have for the reason of perpetuating our species, just like hunger is for survival of the organism. Eating is always a good thing, unless one is indulging in it for other reasons and excessively. Same with sex, or any other human behavior. Whatever you do, if you are excessive and doing it and coming from the wrong place into it, there are going to be consequences which amount to creating more “obstructed space.”
Wanting too much of anything, or for that matter, wanting a specific outcome and going into things with a predetermined idea of what you should get out of it, borders on the need to practice the final restraint – apargraha: greedlessness. Acting for the actions alone and from an authentic place within you not yearning for specific fruits of your labor, says the Bhagavad Gita is the way to live without creating more karma, or consequences that cause suffering for yourself. Greedlessness is the ability to say – I had enough. I am good for now. I have what I need. I feel secure with what I have. I am confident in my abilities. More is not always better. Sometimes more is just more stuff you have to worry about, take care of and pay attention to that tie you down a little too much for no particularly good reason. Generosity is a way of acknowledging that you are full, good way to lighten yourself up and to contribute to someone else’s needs.
For these restrains to be valid and have an effect on your mind and life, they have to be done in speech, in thought and in deed. You can’t smile on the outside and plan revenge on the inside…. The yamas are practices that we undertake at first because we need to, and as we become more educated and grow, we practice because it becomes how we really are.
These restrains prep and maintain the ground for the practices of the Niyamas (Observances) to naturally grow out of. While the yamas address your conduct in the world around you, these practices address the world within you.
The first one – shauca: purity, includes the purity of body and mind. From a place of purity, non-violence and non-harming as well as the other yamas, naturally arise. This has implications not only to what you put in your body but what you choose to put in your mind and what you include in your life. Your friends, relationships, the books you read and the movies you watch – are they contaminating you? Is your attitude toxic? Are your intentions pure?
If there’s purity, then there’s contentment. Samtosha: contentment is being in peace with whatever comes, with oneself, and with one’s life exactly as things are….so it requires acceptance, which requires honesty. There’s also gratitude in contentment. It is a place from which, with gratitude for the way things are, you guild the future. It is not a couch on which you complacently snooze. Contentment recognizes life, so far and how it has brought you to where you are, and says: “Great! Let’s see what comes next!” You contently put one foot in front of the other to get to where you are going, and every step of the way the contentment says: “Great! “ It’s a positively charged productive place of discovery of every moment.
The last 3 of the niyamas are the 3 legs that create the utmost balance in the human psyche and are the absolute definition of yoga itself. Those are: Tapas, Svadyaya and Ishvara Prhanidhana.
Tapas is translated as austerities. But it also means fire. Either way, it means a method which transforms one thing into another things. Your yoga practice on the mat is tapas; a willful practice to cook out the impurities. It is just like making ghee - starting with regular butter and cooking out the solids, one gets a golden gleaming substance that has been transformed from a not so healthy butter to a healing substance known as ghee. The postures cook out the kinks and the energetic blockages through the body. By doing so, they free the flow of vital energy and free our movements, giving us a more lively ability to enjoy life as an embodied soul. One of the obstacles to practice is said to be ill health. The mind becomes preoccupied with survival and tends to the parts that are broken in this body. A healthy body is no longer an obstacle. It is a well oiled vehicle for transformation. But your yoga practice on the mat is only tapas if you practice with all of the above in place! Otherwise it is just an exercise and some exercises can lead to injury :)
Furthermore, as we diligently work with the body, we make self discoveries. This is the practice of svadyaya: self – study. What was mental has become physical. What is emotional has a physical expression. What is energetic has a physical imprint. So, this body is a map to what is within us and a solution to many of the bumps on the road itself. As we work with it we observe how we are with it. Are we practicing the practices mentioned above? What is happening mentally and emotionally? What is our attitude? What moves us? What inspires us? What drags us down? We see it by being willing to practice mindful self-study. Self study is also learning through books and teachers. It is also observing and learning through experiences in life – pleasant, unpleasant or neutral, exciting or ordinary. Every moment is an opportunity for self-study.
The more we know about who we are, the more in awe we are of the magical mystery of being. Or at least the more opportunity there is to practice reverence, gratitude and love of being. (You can also be learning and bitching that you are not that which you are reading about and how it is really someone else' fault because they did something to you in the past!....it's your choice which way you want to be learning.) This practice is called Ishvara Pranidhana. It is often translated as love, or reverence for the Lord. But knowing that Patanjali (the author of the Yoga Sutras, from where all these categorization comes from) subscribed to a philosophical system that was dualistic in its nature, I have to say, he wasn’t talking about God in the conventional sense. Ishvara here is more like your full potential, your connection to the wholeness of things making up this Universe. Still for those who feel a connection with a deity – then this is your Ishvara, your Jesus, your Krishna, and your devotion is right here. Offering your practice to the good of all beings – this can also be Ishvara Pranadina. It is also translated as surrendering. But surrender to what? Does it mean giving up? Does it mean sit around and do nothing?
Surrender means trusting that you can do what needs doing, and that whatever needs doing, you do it because it needs doing, not because you are seeking a particular outcome. It is really surrendering attachment to our ideas and expectations. It means surrendering the notion that you have ALL control of events and circumstances. It means acknowledging that the only control you have is over your attitude and your focus.
There are always obstacles on the road. Some obstacles are more like potholes. Some are more like rivers. Some are more like the Grand Canyon. This is just the topography of life. If you live by the ocean, learn to enjoy the surf and the smell of seaweed. If you live on a mountain, learn how to enjoy the storms, the snow and the clarity of the thin air. And know that sometime you can go down the mountain to the beach, or from the beach to the desert, or to a concert at Carnegie Hall. Whatever is happening on the outside is just scenery.
Surrender the egoic judgments and self judgments that are built around taking things personally. Surrender the notion that everything is happening to you. Everything is just happening. Pain is just pain. Pain is not suffering. Suffering is optional, teaches the Buddha.
This is the wisdom of yoga that one learns only by practicing. Practicing once will make a difference once. Just like taking a pill helps for a few hours but then the symptoms return and you need to take more pills, your yoga practice must be regular. Dedication to your yoga practice guarantees results. The level of commitment and sincerity will determine the results. So, results will vary! Unlike pills, your yoga practice helps you grow as a person and a soul, and the only side effects that exist are actually things you’d really like having as a part of you.
The only way to learn what comes from the ego, and what comes from the moment as it is…is to learn what is in your ego. These practices do the trick. Knowing this, you can move pass the habits of the ego and perhaps retrain it. The ego is only a tool for evaluating a situation and executing actions accordingly. So, you can use this tool to execute the actions that are inspired by being present in the moment and grounded in your deep, authentic self (or Ishvara). The ego knows how to drive a car, cook a meal, and keep this body from crossing the street in front of a truck. It has skills. It’s just a matter of employing these skills in the right direction and not just for the ego’s own self perpetuated illusion of realness. Think of the ego as a kid that’s been growing up unsupervised for a long time and now you have to retrain it a little and refine its manners. That’s all. Surrender the games, the stories, the attachment to them. Awaken to the present moment, free of the unnecessary load that these games, stories and attachments to them represent. Be a liberated soul, a jivan mukti.
PS…these practices are the long way there…. The short way to becoming a jivan mukti is to….just be it. Hehehe.
PPS: these practices are the short way there....The long way there is to take all of this and use it as rationalizations for acting the way you usually do, calling what you do what it is not. Remember, words are just labels. Slapping a "Gourmet Chocolate Truffles" label on a can of tomatoes, will not change the content of the can. Hehehe....