by JivanaBy Maria Sibylla MerianThe monarch butterfly spends two weeks as a caterpillar before metamorphosing into a butterfly. Then it lives as little as two more short, yet magical, weeks in an ethereal dance before it dies. Amazingly, the monarch’s annual migration across all of North America is achieved over the lifespan of four generations. One monarch can only make a portion of the journey and it’s up to the next generations to complete it.Are our lives much different? In the U.S., women can expect to live to the age of 81 and men to 76. In the grand scheme of things, those eight decades are the blink of an eye and are as fleeting as the life of the monarch. These few precious decades hardly seem adequate to figure out what we’re here to do. Is reincarnation, a foundational concept of yoga philosophy, our version of the monarch’s migration journey? Will future me’s complete my soul’s work? Personally, I feel like putting all my chips on reincarnation is a risky gamble. Seems like I need to make the most of the time I have here rather than bargaining on future lives which I know nothing about. So, I should do my best to figure out what I’m here to do. As a long-time yoga practitioner it seems like enlightenment (samadhi) is supposed to be my goal, but that seems like such an impossible feat. In his Yoga Sutra, Patanjali describes how to achieve the state of samadhi, which he simply refers to as the state of yoga. He goes on to describe at least six distinct levels of samadhi. Reading through them recently I began to feel disheartened, and to doubt myself and my ability. I know I’ve learned so much about myself through yoga, but without working towards samadhi am I just fooling myself?As I practice longer I am noticing a few important things. I’m more aware of a split within my own mind: the part of me that’s thinking and the Witness or inner consciousness observing it all. Patanjali would describe this separation as the dance of purusha (spirit) and prakriti (nature). I often think of prakriti as the natural world around us, but it’s not so simple. Every part of our human birth, including our mind and emotions, is prakriti. The only thing that is purusha is atman, the soul. Most of the time I’m talking to myself, aren’t you? But who is talking and who is listening? The mind, part of prakriti, is talking to purusha, the Witness, as Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra explains. If so, then my stream of consciousness is some kind of endless prayer—a continual flow of sensory experiences, self-criticism, and internal fights with everyone who bothers me. It’s embarrassing to think of all this mind-stuff as prayer, and I sure hope God isn’t listening when someone makes me mad!I usually think of yoga as union–bringing something together. But, really, it’s more about separation. Using my discriminating discernment to tease out purusha, my Essence, from the complexity of nature. So much of my time is spent in the rituals of daily life: eating, sleeping, etc. But, as I go through all these activities, part of me is separate, simply watching the outer activity. This witness seems unaffected by these outward experiences. It’s always there, listening and watching. In my meditation practice I try to create an opportunity for that inner witness, the eternal Listener, to move into the foreground for a brief moment.This shift, allowing the Witness to move from background to foreground, is unnervingly powerful, and yet I’ve noticed that sometimes I avoid it on purpose. Some days it feels easier to focus on what I’m going to eat for lunch or to allow my mind to be lost in the endless blur of other people’s lives in my Facebook feed. But in the end, I know for sure that I’m supposed to find a way to bring that Witness into the foreground more and more. Perhaps that is the experience of samadhi?When I allow that shift to happen the experience is beyond words. It feels like my sense of self steps forward in a bold way that quiets the noise in my head. My normal experience of the world changes. The feeling that I’m seeing through my eyes shifts to an experience of my eyes. It’s not always so peaceful or some spiritual cliché. In fact, it forces me to feel whatever emotions I’m having, which I don’t always want to do. But it always feels honest.And I’m being honest with myself, then I also have to admit that my inner life isn’t really so private. The connection between prakriti in my mind and prakriti around me is very strong. For example, the idea that I can just think whatever mean thing I want about someone else or even myself is a lie I tell myself. It’s not that other people can hear my thoughts—at least I hope not—but my intuition tells me that my internal struggle is bound up with everyone else’s. At least if I act as if my inner experience is public, then I will clean up my mind. Ultimately, I know that we are all looking for happiness of some kind and maybe samadhi is simply happiness. According to the yoga teachings, happiness actually comes from peace of mind and not from any external thing or other person. Peace of mind occurs when I allow the Witness to come into the foreground. In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna says:“There is neither wisdom nor meditation in an always-changing mind. Without a meditative, one-pointed mind, there is no peace. And without peace of mind, how can anyone be happy.” (2.66 Translation by Swami Satchidananda)What a great question. Without peace of mind, how can anyone be happy? Ironically, I think that’s the exact opposite of what we’re taught in the West. We’re taught that external validation and material possessions will make us happy, and, sadly, my mind is still invested in those pursuits. I have to wonder why my mind allows itself to suffer when I know in my heart that samadhi is the answer. For now, I’m like a hungry caterpillar eating all the leaves. Hopefully someday the yoga chrysalis will transform me completely and allow me to spread my wings. Subscribe to Yoga for Healthy Aging by Email ° Follow Yoga for Healthy Aging on Facebook and Twitter ° To order Yoga for Healthy Aging: A Guide to Lifelong Well-Being, go to Amazon, Shambhala, Indie Bound or your local bookstore.Follow Jivana Heyman on Facebook and Instagram and see Jivana’s Workshops and Trainings for upcoming workshops and trainings. For information on Accessible Yoga, see accessibleyoga.org and follow Accessible Yoga on Facebook and Instagram.
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