As always, words can be interpreted many ways, so this title is just a short distillation of a huge theme that I use as a very important mind-shifting yoga reminder (Yogaminder) in the on going mental rehabilitation that the practice of true Yoga facilitates...
..."Mental rehabilitation? But I'm totally normal!"...
Yes, I know... so am I. I too have normal insanity. Good news is, this dis-ease is the kind that can be cured with the right Antidote... Awareness... and the will to suffer no more! This amazing cure-all is totally free... And the point of this blog, to give this 'Yogaminder' some Juice for your use!
My body buzzes with the overwhelming excitement of Liberating Yoga from its exercise based associations and into its incredible Life Changing power-potential! Where do I even start?!... Well, since I'm just some guy who seems to have the audacity to claim such lofty intentions, I should just deflect the attention off of me and onto the guy who is often considered the father of Yoga, Patanjali.
Though I should note that he is not the only, or the first, author of Yoga. But the Sutras he so brilliantly wove for us a couple thousand years ago were made possible by the countless pioneers before him whose shoulders he could then stand upon. And now, we are standing on his, and the many Yogis that followed shoulders to take Classical Yoga into our modern age and understanding. One translation of Patanjali's first Sutra, which I had read before but then, one day, absolutely floored me, is this...
"Yoga is the mastery of the activities of the mind field. Then the seer rests in its true nature."
He didn't say the booyah part... I added that. And need I point out the fact that stretching isn't mentioned in there? Today, we say "yoga" we think "stretching... on a mat..." Or we think of postures. Or we think of yoga studios filled with people breathing loud and body odor flying all over the place. Or we think of more pleasant things, like our ever deepening love affair with an amazing physical practice that has changed our lives in many ways. For I've become painfully clear that I had better be... painfully clear. It could seem like I'm putting down doing yoga on the mat. Let it be known that the guy writing this blog (me) teaches yoga on a mat for a living and I Love it! That being said (and hopefully feathers unruffled), please understand that my desire to liberate the meaning and purpose of yoga is NOT in any way belittling yoga on the mat! If anything, it empowers yoga on the mat.
For example, I use the phrase 'The Yoga of yoga' to try and capture that there is a deeper essence to yoga than just stretching precisely because it is usually assumed that that's what yoga is. Try asking about 5 people throughout the day "what is yoga?" and you'll see what I mean. Yet, an acquaintance approached me a few days ago to very sweetly guide me to be 'careful' with this phrase (Yoga of yoga) as it seems as though I'm claiming that Saith Yoga (my particular brand) is better than or superior to other yogas, and was therefore alienating. Well, I guess I can see what she means. And I understand how at first glance, without a second thought whatsoever, you could conclude this. But I certainly have no desire to sugar coat what needs to be said. And, well, I've discovered many times upon putting myself out there and saying what needs to be said, that pleasing everybody, let alone phrasing things in some magically homogeneous way, immune to misinterpretation, is just not realistic! I've even said it in a previous blog... that I'm in no way claiming my yoga is better than another yoga... Because I'm not referring to MY yoga! I'm referring to Classical Yoga, as authored by the same pioneers we revere as the bringers of this amazing science, which has been all but completely eclipsed by yoga, the exercise, in our culture. I refer to this as 'pop yoga'. And any form of yoga without knowledge and implementation of its true meaning is devoid of substance and limited in its lasting benefit. So as aspiring yogi's (myself included) I consider it of utmost importance to attain this literacy and simply put first what is first!
What Patanjali pointed out for us right off the starting block is amazing! When he refers to the 'mind field' he is referring to the activities of the mind, or thoughts and thought processes, conscious and unconscious, which create our experience of reality itself. In other words, the whole enchilada... Mind you... that the mind as I refer to it here is not separate from our feelings, our hearts, our emotions... a belief disseminated through and by some of our new age pioneers who were attempting to show that our feelings are important too. Bravo! We didn't need that stuffy mental bathwater anyway! Let's just get the 'baby' back, eh? Without a mastery, let alone a simple awareness of these activities of the mind, we are as a feather in the wind, subject to whatever thoughts (and their accompanying emotions) they may bring. This is not freedom! This is total enslavement. Which is why Marley sang decades ago...
'Emancipate yourself from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds.'
A marvelous Yoga quote right there! He sang... we moved on. But for how many people did the magnitude of this statement really hit home? You can even be in a 'free' country, but its true worth remains untapped until we are truly free in our minds. Which, as I see it, has one first and most important step...
*Exercise your ability to start Noticing...Witnessing... Observing...*
Observing what? Observing your own thoughts and thought patterns. Observe without judgement. Just... notice. We have a lovely built in mechanism in our bodies that tell us when something feels right and good, and when something feels off or wrong. And we respond to this all day long to varying degrees in every little action and interaction with life. The problem is this... We respond to the feelings and from the feelings yet, so very often we missed the most important link in the chain which is revealed upon self inquiry...for instance, 'what was I thinking just then that made me feel this way?' Upon asking this simple question we gain the extremely important skill to see how our thoughts make us feel. And to be clear what is actually intuition vs. what feelings are reacting to our thought process. Now, it's not that the feelings are responding to the outside stimulus connected to what you're thinking about. But rather, how aligned your thought process is with your true nature regardless of whether or not the thought is accurate about your situation. For example, lets say you are afraid of a tornado hitting your house (Replace 'tornado hitting house' with any fear). You feel the fear of it in your body, even if there is no actual tornado. You could take all kinds of actions in response to the FEAR of a tornado coming, therefore creating a the reality of panic and preparation when there is no actual danger outside of you.
You create a world around you that is based on the fear and driven by the visceral experience of that fear and you are, in essence, at the mercy of a thought that has nothing to do with reality, yet, feels very real. Now if you have others with you, you then pull them into your imagined drama whether or not they share your feelings and thoughts about what is happening. And this is nothing short of a violation of other people's personal space. All because you assume that if you think something or feel something, then it is the reality. How irresponsible is that!? And this happens ALL the time. All that to say, noticing how your thoughts make you feel... or... using your feelings as an 'alarm' or reminder as to the nature of your thoughts is the first HUGE step. And can save you from serious drains on your energy and unnecessary dramas. Right beyond this milestone, the ability to choose which thoughts you entertain and which ones you abandon from the vantage point of pure presence. Follow the formula...
*Choose what you think=change how you feel=change your experience of reality=shift your life*
There are many who would simply argue that you can't choose what you think. There are many who think you can but then don't practice it. Either way, you are a victim. Strong word I know, but relative to the freedom you gain upon exercising your mastery of the mind field... Yes, you are definitely enslaved to whatever may occur to you, good and bad. Therefore, to exercise the ability to consciously choose your thoughts is to exercise your most essential freedom.
We so often take our feelings at face value without ever examining the accompanying narration in our minds and challenge their validity. And all too often take action from there even if, upon examination, we would have discovered that the founding belief that seeded the said action is indeed unfounded relative to our truest values. Taking action could be simply to speak... or to actually do something physically forceful (like a yoga pose you think is going to get you yogi status when you master it even though its imposition on the body is not serving you in enhancing your yogic awareness) Let me give you an everyday example first...
You're driving in your car and the person in front of you is driving so slow you feel like it is almost a personal assault on you. You may think something like... 'this always happens to me when I'm in a hurry to get somewhere.' or... 'How can this person be so out of it?!' You get frustrated... aggravated (the emotion or feeling which is your body's natural response to thoughts of this nature). Your breath becomes shallow but you don't notice this. The feeling of frustration becomes your reality in this moment. And it takes hold only once you have, in essence, latched on to this particular narrative which happens to be no more valid than any other potential narrative to the current circumstances (for example, 'wow, guess I'm not meant to speed to my destination right now...what a beautiful day it is outside..."). You aggressively swerve around the car in front of you as if to give the driver a message and that's when you see the cute elderly lady with the silver curly hair and the bright red lipstick in the driver seat barely able to peak over the steering wheel to see the street.
Your heart sinks as you feel for this brave being who is taking one of her last remaining freedoms in the last years of her life (instantly, a new emotion from a new narrative). You start to grow mortified that you could have perhaps caused her strain or even contributed to discouraging her from venturing out into the world in her car due to rude and impatient drivers like yourself (compounded emotion seeded from the previous thought and developed over seconds with your knee jerk mental tendency to punish yourself) you imagine that you could have seriously hurt her and are overcome with resolve to make sure it's at least cocky teenage boy who needs a proper humbling before you ever take such actions again (haha) and the emotion changes again. All easily avoided if you took that same initial situation where she pulled out in front of you as an opportunity to take a deep breath and look at the world around you in appreciation of life... just to throw out an example. The thoughts we latch onto are the 'tracks' that we engage with, which then become our life's experience. It's like a choose your own adventure book but you have to be on your toes enough to not miss the crucial moment of choice, otherwise you will default to autopilot... then something else chooses... I know not what. (Take a moment with that one)
Let me give you another example. As this instance is a real life event that just happened now while I was writing. I'm not sharing this to toot my horn, but rather to show that practice of exactly what I am sharing (self observation) leads to real-life, liberating and gratifying growth as well as an ever-growing sense of personal freedom.
So there I was... writing a blog... (hehe) My son comes in and sheepishly confesses that there was 'broken glass'. In a single instant several potential triggers flash before my eyes. They sound like 'He's breaking stuff all the time these days' .... 'he wasn't paying attention and needs to be reprimanded' ... 'this always happens when I sit down to work' ... And the like (Parents, I know you now EXACTLY what I'm talking about). I also in an instant observe (after years of practice) that each of these thoughts share a vibration of resistance to what is. Having observed myself in the past I have visceral knowledge of the results stemming from automatically reacting to situations like this from the frustration of being interrupted along with countless fears of my son developing bad habits that I as the father have to make sure don't get worse.
In this reaction I have witnessed my son's trepidation about 'angry daddy' which generated strong defensive reactions from him which compounded with further reactions from me that then led to remorse and guilt on my end as well as resentment and inherited self-deprecation on my child's end. Now if I was not aware of my true power to observe, grow, and change, this would be the end of the story. That is, of course, until he inevitably, and unconsciously, manifested another situation to face the approval/disapproval mechanism so common in child development, and I'd be faced with the choice again to react or try something new. It took me a while to see that my guilt at choosing the wrong course of action was not serving my growth. That the only resolution was a r-evolution...
This time, I asked him what happened. When he began beating around the bush (another trigger for me is that he is getting too good at weaving tall tales and I have to nip it in the bud by calling it out... leading to more drama) I simply said in a totally uncharged voice 'it's okay if you made a mistake, just tell me what happened'. And he did! I then discovered that he was retrieving what he thought was ranch dip for his carrots (commendable that he took initiative to feed himself... and healthfully too! :D) and instead dropped the horseradish I just bought all over the floor. I simply resolved to clean it up without any further discussion cause it was quite simply what needed to be done... and that's that! Upon Niko's realization of Daddy's calm acceptance, he began to giggle and forgive himself...which made me feel happy inside... which led to kisses and 'I Love you's' in the end. The situation that just played out because of my identifying as the observer instead of with the knee jerk reactionary thoughts, is the reality I wish I could have created countless times when it was already too late. And I have changed reality... by observing my thoughts, their accompanying feelings, and choosing to entertain the thoughts I know are based in trust that all is well. I know these may seem like personal examples, or even relatively unimportant examples. But it's not about the particular circumstances... it's about the formula!
What's the formula that is 100% transmutable from scenario to scenario? I'll tell you... The common denominator is Presence. The mind FIELD where all activities take place. It's an ability you always have to simply watch as the field of awareness and nothing else. To gain insight into your reality-generating thought/feeling mechanisms, good and bad, that would otherwise operate automatically. And this of course takes a kind of courage. A willingness to let go of the familiar pattern and rest in your true nature as the witness. There is a burn. There is a sense that if your are to truly let go of the familiar reaction, that things won't work out. And it's QUITE the opposite. :)
What's the big deal? Ultimate power... that's all. Once you have identified with the presence that witnesses your processes, wasting no time on judgments (which takes us back out of the witnessing) you then have the power to choose differently. In choosing differently you can consciously opt out of any thought processes that trigger the response in your body which creates stress (and over time dis-ease) and open up to new, creative possibilities with the same exact scenario. What's the big deal? Only that you change your experience of Reality and therefore Reality itself! Only that you exercise your God given right to freedom. Only that you are not enslaved to a robotic auto-response, knee jerk, predetermined chain reaction which is entirely at the mercy of your circumstances. Normal insanity consists of the programs we run on the daily that are based on a subconscious (and totally 'normal') agreement that reality somehow happens outside of you, and TO you, without any rhyme OR reason. It's us versus the world. Victorious or not, it's at the root of the victim mentality. And either you have good luck (which inevitably has it's invisible evil twin lurking in the outskirts) or you're the unlucky sort. Or anywhere in between. And we're supposed to feel free in that?!
Normal Insanity! Well, with everyone carrying on like we're separate atoms bouncing around in a cosmic soup of stuff, why would we stop and take a moment to question it? Well...How bout because it SUCKS!? Having all your life's experience predetermined by inherited, unexamined and therefore fixed mental programs (mind activities) is a definition of hell!
And my dear fellow aspiring yogis... We bring this same insanity into every area of our lives INCLUDING INTO OUR YOGA PRACTICE (I'm not yelling... just dealing with the limitations of written word to express importance without the variability of my vocal tone which I assure you is sweet, endearing, kind, and with just twinge of pleading ;) Yes! We bring this into our yoga practice! And into our relationships... and our relationship with money... our diets... our religions... our jobs... you name it! To be Presence itself (Observant) is to be Awake! To be Awake is to 'rest in your true nature' as Patanjali said. And when we are asleep to the reality making process, which is funded by our attention and energy, we are not WHO WE REALLY ARE. It's like playing a video game and believing you are the character on the screen... or the actor in the movie and the drama is taken on as your own. You forgot you are in the driver seat with the hand on the steering wheel and you are at the mercy of the virtual reality whose rules are predetermined by the collective consciousness... or whoever 'writes' the program... the media?... (shivers). Wouldn't you rather be the Author? Wouldn't you rather have the Authority? Well you do. But you have to choose it. Claim it. Exercise it. Practice being presence itself!
So again I say, Not /What/... but ((Who)). When your attention is on the /what/... the thing that's playing out around you (not excluding the yoga you are 'doing')... you have lost your true power. When your attention is on the ((Who)) you step into REALITY where REAL choices are made. Including my all time favorite...the choice to do NOTHING. (Pause) The freedom to do nothing is one of the most POWERFUL choices one can make to unplug from 'the matrix'... to use that analog. And as much as I'd like to say you can take a blue pill (or was it red?) and just unplug...it's just not like that. We have to take the 'Presence pill' again and again and again in order to unplug from it.
When you are just attempting to make a different choice when you've been in the same pattern of thinking for a long time... Doing nothing...not reacting... IS the most proactive thing you could ever do! And this is equivalent to identifying as presence itself! To simply feel your breath instead of reacting... for example.
The patterns and programs that we are running automatically which we inherited from the ego based culture we live in can only survive with our continual choice to act on them. It's like YOU are the energy source and the programs can't function without your participation in them. When you participate in the program, it becomes animate and real. Conversely... when you simply opt out of participating in the thought processes which you have identified to cause suffering... they fade away. It's not a denial process. Rather, it's a relinquishing of your attention from autopilot, whose programs are predetermined and often dysfunctional, and then refocusing your attention towards the observer, the seer, the omnipresent witness itself, our true nature, where peace and centeredness preside.
THIS is the yoga practice I'm speaking of. And THIS is what Patanjali was pointing out in the Sutra above. Yoga is the Mastery (which involves repetition and practice to attain) of the activities of the mind field (which, unattended, potentially lead to disastrous choices, actions, and chain reactions... and meanwhile wreak havoc in your body through many variations of fight or flight distress/dis-ease.) And then the seer RESTS (Ease, peace, relaxation, yoga) in its true nature ((WHO YOU REALLY ARE)).
Now... how does this effect our practice on the mat?! This is what Saith Yoga ventures to teach. By putting first what is First... The essence of yoga... Identifying as the infinite presence, as the field of awareness where all you think, feel, and do takes place, the yoga on the mat can finally flourish, and you as the practitioner will know this beyond any shadow of a doubt! Let's look at ((How)). Imagine doing your yoga practice on the mat without any awareness of the ((who)), you're just doing postures, or doing what the teacher says, and you are enduring the practice in hopes it will get you 'there'. 'There' is the place where you are flexible enough, strong enough, whatever enough, to do the practice with ease. In the Yoga of yoga, we put awareness first thereby inverting the 'top heavy' approach to yoga where the physical techniques are priority and instead inviting a sense of ease, acceptance, sensual freedom, and enjoyment of the natural awakening of our dormant body and it's untapped capabilities. In fact this can be in any physical activity. Dancing, walking, eating, making love... making love... making love. When you have the freedom to be as you are, instead of trying to 'get there' all the time, then inspiration itself can breathe. And this is when our true yogic ability can emerge no matter how flexible or inflexible we are! What a relief!!
So instead of just focusing on the /what/. Ashatnaga yoga, Kundalini Yoga, Raw food, Ayurvedic food, Holistic medice, alopathic medicine, hot, cold, gay, straight.... go to the ((WHO)). Practice being the observer in ALL activities. Heck, even your 'awful' habits that, no matter how hard you try, you can't seem to kick. Dang! Eat that whole chocolate bar at 1 am with a full awareness of the ((WHO)). The WITNESS... The Observer! Watch all the little thought processes around it. The initiating thought, the sweet defiance of embarking on the forbidden pleasure, the ensuing guilt, the resolve to NEVER EVER again ________ ... watch the process... with nothing but total awareness. People try to 'quit' stuff all the time and either can't stay away from ______ or can't quit at all... And one of the great yogi's of recent times, Alert Einstein, said something amazingly pertinent to this blog...
"No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it."
I mean, c'mon! How awesome is it that he said that?! We try to quit our neurotic habits from a neurotic mindset. And it NEVER works. It's like fighting terror with terror. We have to transcend our actions and habits by using the simple practice of Yogic Observation, dislodge yourself from the 'video game' and empower yourself to make choices from a higher awareness. That's yoga.
Get to know yourself inside and out. Learn how you tick just by choosing to observe AGAIN AND AGAIN AND AGAIN! I promise, you'll get REALLY good at transcending the /what/ and Awakening to the ((WHO)). And this is what Yoga is ALL about! You can be a True Yogi even if you never roll out a mat in your life! shhh, it's a secret