YOGA = UNION. By applying the ancient practices and teachings of yoga, we can find stillness in our minds and remember our connection to the Divine: ubiquitous, unchanging and eternal.
What is healing? In my definition, it is a process of becoming whole again. Ironically, this often requires that we release the parts of ourselves that are dead. Allowing ourselves to feel joy, sorrow, anger, and every other feeling that is our birthright to feel as humans. Yet at the same time not becoming attached to the story of that feeling to the point where it becomes lodged within our bodies. Yoga practice is about digging into the depths of who we are to reveal who we can be - who we feel and see clearly, sometimes like an apparition; who we know to be real; and who is already present within us.
This called atman in Sanskrit. Wikipedia defines atman as "the first principle; the true self of an individual beyond identification with phenomena; the essence of an individual."
What does day to day life look like when we connect to our inner selves? It might look exactly the same outwardly. But inside, feelings of anxiety, doubt, and fear greatly diminish. They are largely or completely replaced with feelings of trust, equanimity and an abiding sense of calm. This doesn’t mean that you’ll never feel difficult emotions again. Those emotions are important when they are viewed as temporary signals - like a lighthouse guiding the ship of your seemingly separate, individual life toward the safety of homeland. What is important is that we don’t get so wrapped up in the emotions that they perpetuate or create stories of victimhood, blame and resentment towards ourselves or others.
I woke up on “Cyber Monday” thinking 10 things at once. I was still processing all the magic that had happened over Thanksgiving weekend at Ananda Ashram, plus a completely unexpected and fortuitous invitation to participate in Satsang (gathering of good company for spiritual purposes) at Sharon Gannon and David Life's home in Woodstock, New York. At the same time as I delighted in these memories, I was thinking about the “deals” I wanted to take advantage of, paradoxically reflected in equal measure by judgment of myself and society for Cyber Monday’s mere existence. I was thinking about writing this newsletter and again wondering if I should have jumped on the Cyber Monday/Small Business Saturday bandwagon. (I think you and I are both glad that I didn’t, am I wrong?) I was thinking about the dishes that needed to be done, the bag that needed unpacking, the trainings I’m eager to take, and my next steps career-wise. I was thinking about the friends who did and did not text me back, and how sweet my boyfriend is for waking me up with tender caresses and coffee.
This whirling, waving, ever-in-motion quality is the nature of mind, or manas, in Sanskrit. Curiously it sounds like “man”! Indeed humans are the thinking species. The Yoga Sutras teach us early on that the mind is characterized by chitta vritti, the ever-fluctuating thoughts. Chitta vritti can be pictured as the waves and whirlpools of the ocean, always in movement. As you can see from the above paragraph, I am not above the experience of chitta vrtti!
What I can be in control of is how I react to this quality of my mind. So, to quell my nerves, I started chanting mantras, sacred Sanskrit prayers or affirmations, as I did the dishes, unpacked, and made myself a smoothie for breakfast. I took a deep breath and began to write this newsletter despite my anxieties. Actually not despite them, WITH them. Sometimes fear, anxiety and self-doubt just has to come along for the ride with us, like our left foot goes along with our right. Even despite the temporary presence of difficult emotions and thoughts, we are still taking steps forward.
Healing does not mean eradicating pain permanently. It means adopting new tools to coexist with pain. While in the West many people think of yoga as the poses one does on the mat, in reality it is a beautifully complete set of practices, rich with possibilities for true healing on every level. Yoga has given us mantras to focus our mind, and pranayama to learn about the power of our breath. It has given us scriptural studies, countless books and commentaries on how we can live a more balanced life while remaining rooted in a deep connection to the inner divinity that lives within and all around us in the form of all beings. And yes, yoga has also given us the asanas, or physical poses, to practice so that our bodies can be strong, healthy and resilient.
So rather than hit you with a series of sales this week, in just a few more days I will be sending you a few concrete steps you can take to balance your mind and body. Difficult feelings and troubling thoughts may often accompany us on the spiritual path, but this shouldn’t drain us and keep us from moving forward.