“Cold changes water into ice or snow.
Discernment shows the three different states are not really different.
When the sun of the consciousness shines,
the plurality dissolved into oneness.
The universe appeared throughout permeated with Shiva”
-Mystical Verses of Lalla, A Journey of Self Realization
A little over a month ago the first day of spring arrived, but I was still filled with winter. My back was hurt from over work all winter and my practice was slow and uncomfortable for weeks, and I was impatient and frustrated. Then I got sick. Really sick, with strep throat and a fever that put me in bed for over a week. There was no progress to be made in my asana practice. No pranayama to be performed through swollen glands a raw, red throat. Only reading, writing and self-contemplation could be practiced, and I wasn’t in the mood for either. I didn’t want to look too close, afraid of what I might see.
I was angry at my body. I felt as though it were betraying me. Angry that is showed the cracks in my armor and allowed anyone and everyone to see how vulnerable I really am. Coming back to practice the first week or so after I was sick I was weak and sore. My hands shook, my head swam and tears kept escaping my eyes, falling without my permission; without any control. My body was telling on me, telling anyone and everyone who cared enough to look just how much pain I was in, emotionally and physically. I felt… naked.
There is something about working with your body that is powerful and transformative. It allows me to challenge myself, to go to the places I fear to go, in the safest way possible. I allows me to push myself and to nurture myself. Unfortunately, somewhere along the way in my fervor to be competent and practically perfect, I had gotten myself turned around and lost in a maze of chitta vrittis (mind fluctuations.)
The Yoga Sutras list the five kleshas, or root causes of pain, as being avidya (the absence of awareness of the Self), asmita (a sense of “I am”), raga (attachment to pleasure), dveda (holding onto pain), and abhinivesha (clinging to life or survival at all costs). In my eagerness to follow the rules I created for myself, I became lost and almost immobilized by my self-doubt. (As David said at the most recent AYS Sunday talk, “the mind loves rules, it loves to put itself into a prison.”) I had become attached to what my body was able to do previously, to what I thought my body should be able to do as part of a pre-determined progression, and to the value I thought that ability gave me. I had lost the wonder of feeling the movement of my breath and of the incredible journey within myself that was possible with each Surya Namaskar, each standing posture. I had forgotten why I practice in the first place.
The body is an amazing thing. It is an amazing experience to feel the perfection of physics and creation at play through your bones, muscles and skin. Your practice is a wonderful place to play with, learn about and experience your consciousness. It is the safest place for me to engage in the things that scare the hell out of me and to learn from them. Ashtanga is a practice of carefully constructed sequences and each series is set as it is for very good reasons. One thing follow the other and there is a progression, but it is not always as linear as we think. The practice is not about mindlessly following the rules, even if they are rules you’ve created for yourself. Practice is about remembering who you really are. It is about waking up to the truth of your Self, which can never be changed. It is about seeing “the plurality dissolved into oneness ” and setting yourself free. Even if you are the one who imprisoned yourself in the first place.