Monday, October 21, 2013

The Secret to Getting Nowhere

This autumn in the Hudson Valley has been mild, luscious and luminous. The apple harvest this year was extra plentiful, the foliage colors seem more vivid and the slightly warmer temps and ample sunshine have allowed for more time outdoors. When I walk my dog in the mornings I use that time to practice mindfulness, anchoring to the present moment and connecting to the Source of All. 

Last week I had a few flashes of bliss on those sunny autumn mornings that brought a particular sutra to my mind, from The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Sutra 2.27 is Tasya Saptadha Prantabhumih Prajna-- the translation given in my version of the text is, "One's wisdom in the final stage is sevenfold," and then seven qualities are listed. My teacher Liz Schulman who trained me to teach yoga gave us her interpretation of sutra 2.27: "When we are without ignorance, we realize there is nothing more to know, nothing to avoid, nothing new to gain, nothing more to do, there is no sorrow, no fear and no misunderstanding because we understand the true nature of ourselves and God. In other words, we have all we really need within us. We are already whole." 

Experiencing the knowledge that we are truly whole, that we don't have to chase anything, run from anything or acquire anything more, is a rarity. Some of us may believe this notion to be false. Others may intellectually grasp the truth of this idea, yet never have experienced it. Still others may believe it is true, though they have only experienced it in brief flashes, aided by external stimuli such as holding a sleeping baby, sailing on a clear day or seeing vibrant red leaves reflected through the morning sunlight and stopping in stillness to breathe the autumn air. We reach for the truth of our wholeness in those feel-good moments. But if we believe that we are already completely whole and lack nothing, then shouldn't we be able to experience this bliss and freedom without any external help? This is where compassion enters the picture: we are only human and we are often at the mercy of our prevailing culture, not to mention our own bodies and minds. 

Think about our culture and the conditioning that has trained us away from blissful realization of our wholeness. We base our lives on seeking, avoiding, acquiring and holding onto things, people and ideas.
We are oriented towards next steps, precautions, goals, planning weddings, vacations, parties, wardrobes and home renovations. This outward seeking isn't wrong in and of itself. It can just get excessive. The balance can tip towards neurosis, fatal attraction, obsession, greed, hatred and prejudice, instead of contentment, detachment, equanimity, lovingkindness and peace.

Sutra 2.27 hits on some of the deepest principles of yogaIt guides us to the concept of transcendence and being in the world, but not of it. When we can experience glimpses of this in our practice, we are experiencing a new kind of conditioning, one that is mostly absent from our popular culture. The knowledge of our inviolable wholeness is like a precious little seed planted in the soil of our minds and bodies; with time, if we keep watering the seed through more practice and attentiveness to this free and contented state of mind, the seed will sprout into all aspects of our lives: our work, our relationships, our habits of consuming food and other material things. We will become more peaceful and balanced and less prone to blindly run
after the next thing or person or idea we think we desperately need.

In our yoga practice today we can simply begin with the thought, and possibly even the feeling, of this blissful wholeness.  We can bring to mind one person or experience that makes us smile from the inside, that opens our heart, that softens our exterior and centers us. We can use this mental picture of a loved one's smile, or a blissful memory, to guide us toward the seat of bliss within us. First we can tap into that bliss. It is our true nature. Then we can orient today's practice to embrace our wholeness. We have no need to be anywhere else or seek anything more than the present embodiment of each posture and each breath. Sitting on our mat: just this. Standing in Warrior II: just that. Opening into Triangle: nowhere else to go. Just be here now, and know that you are whole.

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