the house in which I live

Once you open the door to theories of the mind, there is any number of vastly lit corridors, rooms, cubby holes, nooks and crannies that seem to serve no other purpose other than to lead on to yet more intricate and unending turns and roundabouts.

Many have tried to pin down this playground of ideas with definitions and penultimate truths, and for this I am grateful, but only insofar as having a concept to wrestle with. I’m not necessarily looking for answers – dare I say, ‘the meaning’ – to Life, I am much more excited by exploring the possibilities. Surely if I had the answers or crafted a definitive statement for myself about How Things Are, I would become bored and uninspired by the world. And then what? Without wanting to sound melodramatic, what I want to say now is ‘what would be the point?’

So true to form, as I opened the door to Freud’s id-ego-superego gauntlet searching for an all-too-cleverly constructed title for this post, the breakfast philosophy hour with my housemate poked its head through the window, looking something like this…

image

 Image Source

…that was originally spawned out of a quest down the corridor to the right where this statement:

There are thousands of people across the world that care for others so much, and yet don’t give themselves the same attention.

…sat waiting after some raw food guru who I recently turned an eye to, watched this:

Remarkably, what began as a sweet reflection about a highly predictable, possibly cliched ideas around self-love, using overly-exaggerated – but no doubt hilarious – insights into my own stories about nicotine addiction, quickly turned into something unexpected. A walk through the shifting movements of the mind. A process rather than an outcome. And rather than putting up the curtains and placing the decorative furnishings about the place, I’m simply going to let leave you here at the door.

Because the truth is, this is the house in which I live.

Advertisements

The Sounds of Prana

As I race towards the final week of yoga teacher training, I have been madly writing essays, reflecting on my practice and prepping for the final practical elements of the course. This weekend I am scheduled to host a meditation session – something I have never done for a group of people before. Sure, I feel very cosy in my little yoga family bubble, however, this only inspired me to want to make the experience extra special. There’s been a variety of relaxation and visualisation practices in my fellow trainees sessions, but I decided I want to opt for something a little different. Step outside my comfort zone. I can hear my mentors’, Ari and Elina’s, voices in my head saying ‘You can’t control your students’ experience, Erin…!’ Yeah, yeah… I know! But it did make me reflect on when my experience was a little bit different – when I allowed myself to try something new. And loved it.

Back when I first discovered yoga, one late Sunday afternoon, I sheepishly walked through the door of my local studio  to what was entitled a ‘Sea of Om’s’ group meditation class. I felt like a total hippy – but not the calm, cool and collected ones you just want to while away the afternoons with, I’m talking the far-out-dude-I’m-totally-wacked-out-on-love-juice-bro(-wanna-toke?) ones. Yep. I went there. Judgement 101.

What I experienced though, was something really special.

I spent a lot of my childhood with music – either listening to it, singing it, bashing it out on a piano or tootling it on a clarinet – it was and always has been a huge part of my life.

I lose time with music. And I find my self.

So I have decided to take on The Sea of Om’s with my meditation session. I have been on an investigation to get to the bottom of why we chant in yoga and what it actually means to integrate this love of music and sound into my teaching and my practice.

What follows here are extracts from the Prana and Mantra chapter in Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati’s Prana and Pranayama. I believe it goes some way to explaining why chanting and music has such a profound affect on me.

An intrinsic relationship between sound and prana underlies all creation. At the beginning of creation, when the first movement arose within the field of dormant consciousness and mahaprana manifested, sound also came into being. With the first movement of cosmic energy the first sound manifested, which was Om. This transcendental sound is also called nada, the highest level of sound vibration. From nada came kalaa, the manifest universe of time, space and object. In scientific terms, this may be related to the event of the Big Bang.

In the Bible also it has been said, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God.” In order to become manifest, the unmanifest and indivisible has to take on form. The first form was sound, and it came into existence through the medium of energy or prana.

Aren’t we all just looking at the same world through our own lens and making meaning out of the song that resonates deep inside our ‘self’?

Sound is a form of energy that has frequency, pitch, volume, and tone, as well as subtle qualities. Scientifically, sound is a vibration at a particular frequency, and it is able to produce physical changes in an organism. Some vibrations can be harmful while others are beneficial. Sound can be concentrated to such degrees of intensity that it can shatter and destroy objects. Holes can be driven into solid metal by using sound alone. It is thought that the great stones of Stonehenge, Easter Island and the Mayan monuments were moved into place using the principles of sound.

The principle behind the use of mantra in pranic practices relates to this intrinsic relationship between sound and energy. Every movement of energy manifests sound, and every sound carries energy. The pranas are activated with the chanting of mantras, and the orientation of existing pranic flows are altered or emphasised, so that the mind and perception changes.

Ever wondered why music makes us feel so good?

In scientific terms, mantra repetition regulates and balances the autonomic nervous system. It facilitates synchronous breathing, directly resulting  in cardio-pulmonary resonance, which is indicative of autonomic balance. The powerful and coherent electromagnetic heart field of one person can affect the heart fields of others, leading them to coherent synchrony. There is a greater concentration and the mind can be utilised for higher flights. Therefore, when pranayama is performed with mantra, the practice is more effective.

The best mantra is Gayatri, as it corresponds to the ideal breathing pattern of pranayama. It is comprised of twenty-four syllables which contain the entire form of prana. As it appears in the Rig Veda (3:62:11) is:

Om tatsaviturvarenyam

Bhargo devasya dheemahi dhiyo yo nah prachodayaat.

Om. We meditate on the divine light of that adorable Sun of spiritual consciousness. May it stimulate our power of spiritual perception.

Gayatri is created from Om. In the order of creation, this sound is further developed, and the developed state of the mantra Om is known was Gayatri.

According to Vedic philosophy, prana has three forms. So Gayatri, as the presiding deity of prana, is seen as a little girl, innocent and childish, in the early morning; as a charming young woman in full bloom at noon, and as an old woman, embodying wisdom or jnana, in the evening. The colour of Gayatri in the morning is red like the rising sun; at noon she is golden, and in the evening smoky grey. These are the characteristics of prana, represented by the different forms of Gayatri, and this is how Gayatri worshippers may visualise her during their thrice-daily worship.

Some believe that the Gayatri mantra is directed  towards the external sun, but ultimately it is directed towards the brilliance of the internal sun. The internal sun must shine so that the consciousness becomes enlightened. In the external firmament, first there is darkness, broken only by the flickering light of stars. Then a dim light shoots forth from the horizon, indicating the break of dawn, and finally the brilliant sun rises, lighting up everything. As it happens in the external horizon, so it is in the inner horizon. That breaking of light is called Gayatri. It represents the sun which illuminates the whole world and also the inner self which illuminates all the planes of existence and consciousness. The external sun only illumines the gross world, but when inner enlightenment takes place all the planes of existence become perceptible.

Gayatri is referred to as the Mother of the Vedas and the Gayatri mantra appears in the Rig Veda, the oldest written literature  int he library of humankind. Thus, human beings have been chanting the Gayatri mantra for a long time.

The Upanishads say that Om (or Aum) is the primordial sound. Everything has come from Om and, at the time of dissolution, everything will revert back to Om. The word Om is the universe. Everything that exists in the past, present and future is Om, and that which exists beyond the threefold division of time is Om.

And so there you have it. Our course it set. Come Saturday, I shall endeavour to set sail with my yogi crew as we take on the Sea of Om’s. Who knows where – or when – we will end up.

Love Life

Stuck on the wall, just inside our toilet door, there is a man staring me in the face, challenging me. Every morning he says to me,

Follow your bliss. If you do follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while waiting for you, and the life you ought to be living is the one you are living. When you can see that, you begin to meet people who are in the field of your bliss, and they open the doors to you. I say, follow your bliss and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be. If you follow your bliss, doors will open for you that wouldn’t have opened for anyone else.

Joseph Campbell*

20140414-085549.jpg
Most mornings I think to myself, Come on, Joseph, it’s 6am! I’ve barely finished my first coffee! But he doesn’t crack a smile, he doesn’t even flinch. He just sits there, staring at me over the mirror. And before I know it, he’s under my skin. And someone’s knocking on the door and calling ‘Is everything alright in there?‘ Bloody hell, I don’t know – ask Joseph.

The books by the mystics say that what we are is love. Love is being the other. Love is wanting for the other what they want for themselves – the division of connection is no longer present and we become an extension or expression of the other. In teaching, when we feel separate from our students we feel fearful, but when we are in it together this feeling dissipates. What we want for them, we want for ourselves. Then our self concern for ‘doing a good job’ falls away because whatever they get, I get too.

Ok sure. But how do we actually make these ideas of bliss and love come into actuality rather than a fantasy we are grasping for? How do we marry our ‘conceptual life’ – the one we want for ourselves – and our blueprint – the story we have laid down as our truth up to this point – so that we can start living in bliss, in love?

One or the other has to change – either our ideal life or our blueprint. You choose.

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about intuition and ego. How do we tell which one is speaking? My gut tells me that intuition and ego are like two opposing political parties. One keeps the other (more) honest. Intuitively, we seem to know when something sits well with us, we know when we are not being honest. Intuition comes easily, but our ego is so quick and so in tune with their dance that we don’t get enough time to really sit with the easy part. The part that feels right. Before the rest of the ego’s rugby team jump in on the scrub and wrestle it to the ground. Swift little fuckers. With big muscles. Unfortunately our intuition doesn’t put up a fight, either. Or if it does, it’s no match for their stealth moves.

So when we are faced with a situation that makes us feel vulnerable, how do we know which one is talking? According to Brene Brown, vulnerability is the key to connection. But we are so preoccupied with protecting ourselves, rugged up in our suit of armour, that no one has a chance of getting through. So when we do make genuine connections, will we even see them for what they are?

I would argue that we don’t have a choice. When they are real, when they are truthful, our intuition knows it. Like attracts like. The tragedy is when our ego chooses to ignore these connections for fear of rejection or heartache. Not only do we risk hurting ourselves, but we risk hurting others in the process. But it is worth it, if at the end of the day we – and they – end up living more honestly and closer to their bliss?

However, my quest this week is to find places in my life where I can be more vulnerable and being honest and open with it.

My ego is terrified. But my intuition is already off and running. Oh boy, can’t we all just get along?

*Joseph Campbell was an American mythologist, writer and lecturer, best known for his work in comparative mythology and comparative religion. His work is vast, covering many aspects of the human experience. His philosophy is often summarised by his phrase: “Follow your bliss.”

Rather than telling him to be quiet, I’m asking Joseph to speak a little louder this week. So, with this in mind, I have invited a few extra quotes from his talks and published works to help me along the way:

We must be willing to let go of the life we planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.

The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.

If you can see your path laid out in front of you step by step, you know it’s not your path. Your own path you make with every step you take. That’s why it’s your path.

People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances with our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive.

The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.

If you are falling….dive.

Regrets are illuminations come too late.

You enter the forest at the darkest point, where there is no path. Where there is a way or path, it is someone else’s path. You are not on your own path. If you follow someone else’s way, you are not going to realize your potential.

A bit of advice Given to a young Native American At the time of his initiation: As you go the way of life, You will see a great chasm. Jump. It is not as wide as you think.

The goal of life is to make your heartbeat match the beat of the universe to match your nature with Nature.

We’re so engaged in doing things to achieve purposes of outer value that we forget the inner value, the rapture that is associated with being alive, is what it is all about.

Not all who hesitate are lost. The psyche has many secrets in reserve. And these are not disclosed unless required.

The big question is whether you are going to be able to say a hearty yes to your adventure

The black moment is the moment when the real message of transformation is going to come. At the darkest moment comes the light.

We’re in a freefall into future. We don’t know where we’re going. Things are changing so fast, and always when you’re going through a long tunnel, anxiety comes along. And all you have to do to transform your hell into a paradise is to turn your fall into a voluntary act. It’s a very interesting shift of perspective and that’s all it is… joyful participation in the sorrows and everything changes.

We have only to follow the thread of the hero path. And where we had thought to find an abomonation, we shall find a God. And where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves. And where we had thought to travel outward, we shall come to the center of our own existence. And where we had thought to be alone, we shall be with all the world.

The demon that you can swallow gives you it’s power, and the greater life’s pain, the greater life’s reply.

As you proceed through life, following your own path, birds will shit on you. Don’t bother to brush it off. Getting a comedic view of your situation gives you spiritual distance. Having a sense of humor saves you.

When you realize that eternity is right here now, that it is within your possibility to experience the eternity of your own truth and being, then you grasp the following: That which you are was never born and will never die..

Shakespeare said that art is a mirror held up to nature. And that’s what it is. The nature is your nature, and all of these wonderful poetic images of mythology are referring to something in you. When your mind is trapped by the image out there so that you never make the reference to yourself, you have misread the image.

The inner world is the world of your requirements and your energies and your structure and your possibilities that meets the outer world. And the outer world is the field of your incarnation. That’s where you are. You’ve got to keep both going. As Novalis said, ‘The seat of the soul is there where the inner and outer worlds meet.

If you follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track which has been there all the while waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one that you ARE living.

Love is a friendship set to music.

The notion of this universe, its heavens, hells, and everything within it, as a great dream dreamed by a single being in which all the dream characters are dreaming too, has in India enchanted and shaped the entire civilization.

The ultimate dreamer is Vishnu floating on the cosmic Milky Ocean, couched upon the coils of the abyssal serpent Ananta, the meaning of whose name is Unending. In the foreground stand the five Pandava brothers, heroes of the epic Mahabharata, with Draupadi, their wife: allegorically, she is the mind and they are the five senses.

They are those whom the dream is dreaming. Eyes open, ready and willing to fight, the youths address themselves to this world of light in which we stand regarding them, where objects appear to be distinct from each other, and an Aristotelian logic prevails, and A is not not-A. Behind them a dream-door has opened, however, to an inward, backward dimension where a vision emerges against darkness…

Well, one of the problems about being psychoanalyzed is, as Nietzsche said, Be careful lest in casting out your devils that you cast out the best thing that’s in you. So many people who are really in deep analysis look as though and act as though they have been filleted. There’s no bone there, there’s no stuff! How to get rid of ego as dictator and turn it into messenger and servant and scout, to be in your service, is the trick.

Anyone who has had an experience of mystery knows that there is a dimension of the universe that is not that which is available to his senses. There is a pertinent saying in one of the Upanishads: When before the beauty of a sunset or of a mountain you pause and exclaim, ‘Ah,’ you are participating in divinity. Such a moment of participation involves a realization of the wonder and sheer beauty of existence. People living in the world of nature experience such moments every day. They live in the recognition of something there that is much greater than the human dimension.

Perhaps some of us have to go through dark and devious ways before we can find the river of peace or highroad to the soul’s destination.

Iyengar and the Intelligent Identity

Patanjali’s Sutra 1.2 yogah cittavrtti nirodhah

Yoga is the cessation of movements in the consciousness.

The word citta has often been translated as ‘mind’. In the West, it is considered that mind not only has the power of conation or volition, cognition and motion, but also that of discrimination.

But citta really means ‘consciousness’. Indian philosophers analysed citta and divided it into three facets: mind (manas), intelligence (buddhi) and ego, or the sense of self (ahamkara). They divided the mental body into two parts: the mental sheath and the intellectual sheath. People have thus come to think of consciousness and mind as the same. In [Light on the Yoga Sutra’s of Patanjali], consciousness refers both to the mental sheath (manomaua kosa) as mind, and to the intellectual sheath (vijnanamaya kosa) as wisdom. Mind acquires knowledge objectively, whereas intelligence learns through subjective experience, which becomes wisdom. As cosmic intelligence is the first principle of nature, so consciousness is the first principle of man.

– B. K. S. Iyengar Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, 1993:47

Consciously noticing the ‘self’.

What do you notice when you first wake up? Try to notice your natural ‘self’ before the identity has had time to establish itself for the day.

As an alternative: try going to sleep with gratitude for the day you have just experienced. What do you notice about your patterns of thought? Your ‘self’?

According to yogic philosophy, the world outside is a construct that we must learn to work within. These constructs come in different forms but often reveal themselves through ideas such as cultural differences. However, they are all constructed by the human mind. From the moment we wake up, this mechanism we call ‘the mind’ creates an illusion that screams and shouts at us. However, through yoga and the eight meditational limbs*, we can reach beyond language and mind-made stuff. The only reason the illusion continues is because it feeds off our energy and we continue to feed it with our life source.

Our personal identity doesn’t form until around two years of age. This is when we first notice the conscious thought ‘I am me.’ A sense of separation occurs at the same time as a sense of oneness.

We humans have a deep sense of lack at the core of our ‘me’. This keeps us in a cyclical state where we the following opposing ‘wants’ arise:

I want separation I want oneness
I want safety I want to die
I want approval I want disapproval
I want control I want to be controlled

The mind is wonderful at solving problems. However it is also amazing at convincing us that we are a problem. This tendency is so strong that when there is no opposition, the mind creates one in order to have something to solve. It creates trouble so that it has something to fix. We are then left living the reality of what our mind has created meaning for or opposition to.

As a teacher, and as in all aspects of life, we must ask ourselves how and when these ‘wants’ arise in our own internal dialogue. As we become stuck in the meaning we have attached to them, the core of our ‘me’ conscious generates our emotions. In doing so, we create and recreate the story that ‘I’m not ok’, just in wanting something other, something more. The ‘me’ consciousness is based on nothing but a thought which builds momentum.

Human beings are arguably one of the most violent species on the planet. It makes sense, then, that in recent years practices such as yoga have surged in popularity across the Western world. Yoga is not just about the body but about releasing us from the tyranny of the human mind. Thankfully, these ancient traditions remind us that rather than being or having a problem but we are, in fact, inherently perfect.

I believe that life brought me to yoga – and to its teachings – which is why I choose to explore these ideas through that particular lens. Something about it speaks to me in a way that means I am willing to accept that it was inevitable that I would take this path. The unknown in that equation was simply the ‘when’. We tend to resist what life wants to have happen to us – that being, our own experience of ourselves. Yoga helps me to come back to the natural expression of who I am.

Deep, huh? But so what? ‘Where are you going with all of this?’ I hear you ask. Unless you tuned out after you read the title – not a good time, am I right?

But when is there ever a right time? If not now, when?

So, I ask you…

What is your attention on?

What is your mind (not you) focusing on?

What are you giving your energy to?

Try this: Observe the ‘ME’ going about itself.

  1. Think of a situation where fear was present and you experienced physical reactions
  2. Think of an argument you have had. How did you defend yourself and then justify it afterwards.
  3. Think of a situation where you were dominating or avoiding being dominated.
    • How does your ‘me’ show up?
    • Did it lead to more distance or more closeness?
    • What is the cost to you and your relationships at being right?

When I reflected upon these scenarios, time and time again, I noticed that the cost to my relationships was that they often – if not always – became more distant and more separated. Being ‘right’ is an addictive ‘want’ because often the ‘wrong’ person is diminished, which by being ‘right’ we are ultimately ‘wanting’ to avoid.

Practice Instant Forgiveness. This is possibly one of the most powerful tools I have learnt so far in my yoga teacher training. Feeling guilty about things is just punishment in advance for the belief that you will do the same again. You create the story whereby you recreate the same action again and again – simply because you assume you will. Because you assume you are broken, that you are ‘not ok’.

This does not need to be the case. Forgive yourself for who you are – at the time that the event or action occurs. Not five minutes later, not the next day or the next week. Let it go in the moment. Stop telling the old stories of your ‘self’ and start creating those that you wish to see.

 

Only you can create your own happiness.

Or in the words of Zorba the Greek:

Life is trouble. All you can do is take your belt off and go for it!

*Sutra 11.29 yama niyama asana pranayama pratyahara dharana dhyana samadhayah astau angani

Moral injunctions, fixed observances, posture, regulation of breath, internalization of the senses towards their source, concentration, meditation and absorption of consciousness in the self are the eight constituents of yoga.

This sutra sets out the eightfold path of yoga (astanga yoga). The first five aspects of yoga are individual efforts for the evolution of the consciousness, while the final three are the universal manifestation or the natural states of yoga.

– B. K. S. Iyengar, Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, 1993:142