This post came from a question from a good friend, as we were talking about all things life, love and the universe. You said you were curious how my knowledge of yoga and how it meshes with modern psychology… I can tell you more, and it is years of study for me, but it is a paradigm shift.
The current paradigm is, “I am broken and I need fixing,” which is closely aligned with what I feel from Christianity, “I am a sinner and I need to be saved.”
Yoga as a spiritual philosophy does none of that.
And it is important to recognize the difference between a spiritual philosophy and a religion. Yoga is the foundation of many religions (Hinduism and its many varieties, Jainism, Buddhism) but yoga is not a religion itself.
So when the word “Divine” is used, it does not necessarily mean “God” in the sense that Christianity, Judaism or Islam use it. “Divine” to me evokes something greater than me, or the whole of the universe being made up of everything in it. And that whole or greater thing is not a personality. It just is.
In yoga, I am, you are, they are, whole beings that are already perfect, divine, and a part of all (not “I am god” but “god is me” - there is a subtle difference, because there is no claiming… and god is not only me, but also you and him and her and them).
One of my teachers said, “we are here because god loves stories.”
Our purpose (Dharma) is to act out the stories, to learn and to grow through them.
Another part of this philosophy that ties into having many lives is that we “contract into” this life to learn. That means, all the people we encounter along the way have a role to play in our growth as spiritual beings. And that means after this life, we go back to that universal all, and contract into another life. Then another. Then another.
So, as spiritual beings, we come into this existence. Then, life happens, and it is hard to remain that pure essence. So, layers of protection get piled on. These layers, while supporting us for a time, if we are unaware of them and how they block our own growth, they begin to build a wall that shuts out true connection, and hides our authentic self.
So then our work here (in this existence) becomes one of developing awareness of the layers, and that some of them may not be serving anymore, more so, they might be preventing us from becoming. (Becoming what? No, just becoming… what we are, or what we are meant to be, it doesn’t matter, we are just becoming… because we are that spiritual essence, not this personality or ego that we believe ourselves to be.) We are learning to break through those layers, and eventually to be in such a way that those layers are not even needed. (This is why I find the concept of “boundaries” limited.) But the catch is, some people never do. They can’t. Layers get piled on and on, until they have lost a connection to self - to that spiritual essence they truly are.
And that is suffering. Disconnect from self. (Some would say from god, because it is the same, when you get to the core of it all.)
And when we do this, we begin to be more authentic in the world. We begin to make choices more aligned with ourselves (and not what we were told to do). And those choices begin to come from a place of “expansive awareness,” meaning an awareness of how all is impacted by what we do. (The opposite of expansive awareness is “contracted awareness,” which is doing things for myself alone, self-serving. This is where most people operate from.)
When we live from expansive awareness, we also have a more substantial relationship with our own self, true self, true nature. We know our place in all things. And this gives us the ability to be more present in the world. Not pretending, protecting or hiding. Because we realize there is no need to do so.
I don’t believe this is “enlightenment” as a goal. It is rather “being” as a way of being. Riding the waves, knowing they will carry in the direction needed to be able to ride the next wave. And the next one.
Joy and sorrow are just two sides of one. Can you BE with joy, as you BE with sorrow? Is there a difference? It is not indifference. It is awareness. “Oh, joy is here. I’ll be with it and feel it, and not attach to it in a way that says, ‘I like joy and I dislike it’s opposite.’” Then, “Oh, sorrow is here. I’ll be with it and feel it, and not attach to it or allow it to define me in such a way that says, ‘I dislike sorrow and I like it’s opposite’”
We learn to BE with what IS. With the AS IS, As we are, in each moment.
Full acceptance. Of each moment.
And it’s not easy, because so many moments are horrific. Some things are painful. And yet, they are. They exist. And while some may be prevented, until everyone operates from this place, those painful things will continue to exist.
Yoga … some concepts:
Purusha (changeless) and Prakriti (changing nature)
The Koshas, or illusory layers of our being (annamaya, pranamaya, manomaya, vijnanomaya, then anandamaya and finally Atman)
The Gunaa: Rajas, Sattva, Tamas… the fluctuations of the mind, which to me could represent what we now know as the nervous system.
The Yamas and Niyamas, the 10 practices. Abhyasa and Varagya… consistent effort without attachment to outcome.
Two quotes I have lived by for many years:
“If you practice yoga from the perspective that you are not good enough as you are, that something is wrong, or something needs fixing, then your yoga cannot fulfill its ultimate purpose because it is founded in wrong understanding. It can only go so far as fulfilling the limited purpose that has been conceived by your ego-mind.
However, if you undertake the practice of yoga with the right View of Self, that you are already a perfect and whole expression of the Divine, and that you are doing yoga to realize and then fully express what is already true, then you have empowered your practice to take you all the way.” - Abhinava Gupta
* remember, if this is a spiritual philosophy and not a religion, “Divine” is open-ended, how you conceptualize of it.
“Forget the past. The banished lives of all men are dark with many shames. Human conduct is ever unreliable until anchored in the Divine. Everything in future will improve if you are making a spiritual effort now.” - Swami Sri Yukteshwar
Note: a SPIRITUAL effort, not a religious one. Yukeschwar definitely meant that effort according to HIS system of yoga, and he was the teacher of Yogananda, who formed the Self-Realization Fellowship in Encinitas, but I believe in all my studies that he would not limit it to that, because I do not believe that yoga is a reductionist practice.
And a mantra:
“I know who I am in Truth. I know what I am in Truth. I know how I serve in Truth. I am here. I am here. I am here.”
Sometimes “I am here” is replaced with “I am free. I am free. I am free.” Depending.
And it is important to realize that “who” and “what” and “how” do not require specific answers.
It will take a while to unpack all of this.
Yoga says to believe in something. Who cares what. If you believe in yourself, then you are doing it.
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (from ca. 200 CE, a “how to” guide summing up 4000 years of writings)… the first three sum it all up:
1.1 Atha Yogunasanum… NOW we practice yoga. (And NOW. And Now. And now.)
1.2 Yogesh chitta vrtti nirodhah… Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind-stuff (the gunas... rajas, sattva, tamas)
1.3 Tada drashtuh svarupevasthanam… then the seer abides in itself, resting in its true nature. (Self-realization)
Yoga is about self-realization. What does that mean? Nothing, until you have direct experience of self. All the teachings and techniques might guide you there, but it is yours to experience. Does it matter? No. And Yes.
Because what is is. And there is no ahead or behind or right or wrong. That is duality. Yoga means union or yoking together. There is no duality. But our world is duality. And to get beyond that takes a lot of work. It’s a paradigm shift. Recognizing that “right” and “wrong” do not exist in isolation of each other, and more than that, they are one thing. That takes a TON of work. Lifetimes, actually.
And in that realization that there is no right and wrong, there just is, suddenly feelings of shame and guilt and anger and frustration and fear get to fall away.
But that too is a lot of work.
Forgiveness plays a huge role. Forgiveness of self, first and foremost, for all the things you’ve done. And in forgiving self, forgiveness of other goes hand-in-hand. (Forget the past… the banished lives of all men are dark with many shames…) Forgiveness of others (for your own freedom).
And no, that doesn’t absolve the murderer, the rapist, of the crime. What it does, is give a window of breath for the victim to no longer have to be a victim. For the victim to once again realize they are a whole being. For the victim to eventually also recognize the perpetrator is also a whole being, with layers upon layers, hiding their own self. Forgiveness of other for your own freedom.
But that takes a lot of work. Lifetimes, actually.
It is a paradigm shift. One that shifts towards full trust. But just look at my facebook post on June 26, 2019, and how many people do not trust, or trust conditionally, or trust is earned and not given. These are those layers of protection. They get to be there, and in many cases they need to be there. For me, “the universe conspires.” Conspires for what? I don’t need an answer. It is a shift towards knowing beyond knowing that all is as it is, and as it should be. A shift towards becoming LOVE. Not in the “blissed out” sense that we see on social media. Love is actually quite steady, and clear. It is strong, immensely strong. And it emanates from deep within, to embrace all that is.
Because I know who I am in Truth. I know what I am in Truth. I know how I serve in Truth. I am here. And I am free.
And I feel this. Sometimes feeling it is fleeting. And when I don’t feel it, I know something is off, something needs to be explored deeper. That I am not there yet.
Kristen is a certified Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapist and Life Mentor. She offers online and in-person healing sessions. She lives and teaches in Denver, Colorado