Saturday, May 20, 2017

Yoga and the I AM Consciousness

Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” -John 8:58

And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you. -Exodus 3:14 

These words from both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible reveal the transcendent, universal nature of the Jewish and Christian Divine Personas. 

SO HUM is a Buddhist and Hindu mantra and philosophical aphorism which means, "I am That." It dates back to the Isha Upanishads in the first millennium BCE. Reciting the So Hum mantra is a time-honored practice to connect us to our inner divine nature. Affirming “I am that” is, according to Dr. John Campbell (yoga teacher and professor of Religious Studies at UVA), the antecedent to otherness. “Creation is unfolding in the world and we are like the unfolding world. We are not a single static unity, but rather, we are always changing, and we are constantly learning how to direct the acknowledgment of divinity inward,” says Campbell.

Throughout the world, all religious traditions are guiding humans towards an identity which surpasses our finite individual consciousness, the identity of the true Self. We are so much more than we may think we are. There is so much more truth, power and peace at our disposal. 

Often in my yoga classes, I tell people to go within and connect to the witness consciousness, an infinitely compassionate place within where we may anchor ourselves in moments of upheaval. The witness consciousness is related to the great I AM consciousness. As we draw nearer to the I AM Presence, our small self, with all its judgments, begins to fall away. 

Recently I've been playing with my individual small self identity by researching my ancestry. Delving into paternal and maternal lines of DNA and genealogy records is making me keenly aware of the importance we assign to culture, history, religion, nationality and ethnicity. Each of these elements help us construct our personal identity, along with many other labels we attach to ourselves. We do get quite attached to the identities and stories we construct. When those stories and identities are challenged, we get nervous. We feel the ground of our personal identity shifting and we become afraid. Someone who has always identified as German may find out they're actually Polish. A family story based on cherished Cherokee ancestry may find no basis in DNA or credible recorded history. When something like that occurs, what is the reaction? Can we be open to a new or different story? Does our ego resist? 

There are three words in Yoga philosophy which I call the Triple A's of Identity: Atman, Ahamkara and Asmita. All three of these words come up when we're posing the eternal question, "Who am I?" 

Atman: This is the Sanskrit word for the true self, the inner self, or what some people call the soul. Yogis believe it to be the most real and enduring part of us. 

Ahamkara: The literal translation is the "I maker," that which gives the sense of a separate existence. It is your own distinct entity, appearing, thinking and acting in the world. It is somewhat close to the Western concept of "ego," and to live in this world, we need to have some sense of our self that is part of a healthy ego. 

Asmita: This word has a more negative connotation than ahamkara, and it literally means "the false self," or "the thing other than the real I." Asmita is listed as one of the five obstacles preventing enlightenment and leading to suffering. Asmita is mistaking your ego, your stories, your thoughts, your body, your senses, and all other impermanent aspects of yourself for the real you. 

When we can detach, even for very brief moments, from our entrenched ego-based identities, we get a glimpse into the Eternal. We experience true freedom. The question "Who Am I?" is definitively answered. Our small self does not endure. Our ego-based identities are wonderfully compelling, yet impermanent. 

Many of us believe that we are from God and to God we shall return, however we may choose to call God. Before any of us came into this world, I AM. So Hum. Aum shanti. 


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