The yogic theory of saṃskāras, or subliminal impressions of past painful or pleasurable experiences, is one of India's most fascinating contributions to our understanding of human psychology. Briefly, when we experience aversion to a painful experience, or attachment to a pleasurable one, then an impression of that experience is laid down in our psyche, which is said to be a 'seed' of experience which will sprout again.
For the artist, there is nothing like aligning one’s devotion to the discipline of one’s craft. Falling in love, being destroyed by it too are common themes of the artist. Bono said it best: “All kill their inspiration and then sing about their grief.” The siren song of one’s attendant spirit, the daemon, is an enthralling call, a desired lover calling you into his bed; one that when softly heard can gently stir your heart into action - into an act of creation.
It's time to get dirty; not between the sheets, but in the ledgers of the spiritual gains one can achieve when ardently practicing brahmacharya. Techniques for self-restraint, preservation and control of one's own potent powers (ojas) are documented in memoriam across virtually all religious systems. We find it as well in the practice of the science of yoga. Yes, this science recommends going for the gusto; brahmacharya means going after Brahman, or highest spirit. Often treated like the pariah of the eight limbs, the bane of Western feel good yogic culture, the dreaded yama of brahmacharya is less about saying "no", and more about saying "yes".
Our relationship with the Earth, specifically in the West, is an adversarial relationship; one that springs from a fear of nature giving rise to the need to control, exploit and profit from it. Because of this feeling of separateness from and superiority over nature, we are taking more than we are giving back.
The commons was once considered to be the public space where water, earth and air were available and accessible to everyone equally. Laws about the commons were passed in the spirit of protecting this accessibility.
A long time ago, I was working with a therapist who used hypnosis to try to cull information from my subconscious. I was very focused at that time on answering the big question: will I ever become a wife and mother? In one particular session, while under hypnosis, my therapist suggested that I try to “see” what that might look like.
And these basic ideas I call myth, not using the word 'myth' to mean simply something untrue, but to use the word 'myth' in a more powerful sense. A myth is an image in terms of which we try to make sense of the world. Now, for example, a myth in a way is a metaphor. If you want to explain electricity to someone who doesn't know anything about electricity, you say, well, you talk about an electric current. Now, the word 'current' is borrowed from rivers. It's borrowed from hydrolics, and so you explain electricity in terms of water. Now, electricity is not water, it behaves actually in a different way, but there are some ways in which the behavior of water is like the behavior of electricty, and so you explain it in terms of water. Or if you're an astronomer, and you want to explain to people what you mean by an expanding universe and curved space, you say, 'well, it's as if you have a black balloon, and there are white dots on the black balloon, and those dots represent galaxies, and as you blow the balloon up, uniformly all of them grow farther and farther apart. But you're using an analogy--the universe is not actually a black balloon with white dots on it.
When I began teaching yoga in an alternative high school, I imagined myself somewhat like this tree, moving with the same grounded aura through the halls toward my sanctuary-esque classroom. In this dream, I provided shelter despite artificial lighting, warmth in spite of cold, gray tile floors, and I cultivated in my students the ability to examine their deepest, most personal places by sharing simple breathing techniques and yoga asana. And all this I wanted within the first week of work.
In her latest book, The Goddess Pose: The Audacious Life of Indra Devi, the Woman Who Helped Bring Yoga to the West, Michelle Goldberg, author and journalist, draws a complex picture of Indra Devi, a bold figure on the yoga landscape. Devi was woman who reinvented herself numerous times over the course of her life, who was present at many of history’s most important moments and who studied with some of the spiritual world’s most important teachers. Yet until now, no book has told her full story objectively. Five years in the making, including an FBI file and a field trip to Panama, this book has it all – yoga, history and intrigue.
Metta is a mindfulness-based practice rooted in the Buddhist tradition that is now used in contexts as diverse as mental health clinics, corporate wellness programs, and VA hospitals, where it's helping veterans recover from PTSD. It's been shown to spike neurochemicals associated with feelings of wellbeing, connection to others, and confidence; and it's been linked to a whole host of physiological health benefits. Not only that, it's been shown to have lasting effects on the brains of meditators after just six weeks of consistent practice. It's simple, and one of the best things about it is that it's a thought-friendly meditation. So, bring your busy monkey mind aboard; you'll be steering the ship.
Satya is the second in the list of yamas, the five ethical practices that form the first branch of Patanjali’s eight limbs of yoga. In researching satya, I find my usual sutra guide, Sri Swami Satchidananda’s The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, impractical. Satchidananda translates Patanjali’s words on satya as “to one established in truthfulness, actions and their results become subservient.” The very datedness of Satchidananda’s commentary on this sutra (he uses examples like how to become comfortable smoking a cigarette and growing to like eating candy) makes me reflect on the impermanence and plurality of what we call truth. It may be an unpopular opinion in some yoga circles, but even in reading ancient texts – perhaps especially in reading ancient texts – I come to the conclusion that change is the only truth that we can rely on.
I have a good friend who was afraid of horses; he was so afraid of horses that he panicked anytime he saw one, even from a distance. He didn’t know why he had this extreme reaction to horses. Instead of turning away from the source of his anxiety, he turned towards it, determined to uncover the reason for his suffering. As he investigated, he began to recall a very early memory. One of his earliest memories was of a young boy, his age, getting kicked in the head by a horse and dying. He remembered being at the funeral and remembered the tiny child-sized coffin.
How does this approach actually work in real life? With friendliness at the forefront of our interactions with all beings, there is no place for envy in our minds and happiness arises. When we empathize with others, compassion arises and kindness overwhelms. Our benevolence lessens the suffering of others and the desire to inflict harm goes away. Being joyful leaves no space for jealousy of others’ talents, merits and good character. If we are not jealous, then how could we begrudge others for their successes?
In Cosmos and Psyche, Richard Tarnas makes essentially this same argument, pointing out that the reduction of our cosmic understanding at a certain historical juncture (the dawn of Enlightenment science) to the tenets of Newtonian mechanics - which posits the universe as an impersonal, clock-like machine - is largely responsible for our blindness to the “personality” of the universe. In such a Newtonian understanding, there is no room for visions of the cosmos as “psychological” - with moods, emotions, and all the other unpredictable qualities that constitute human beings.
For Carly and Hillary, both are bashed for their looks while the white guys around them chuckle and high five like a fraternity debate club. The glass ceiling of ego and opportunity seems almost impossible to chip, let alone crack, even with saber and skull in hand. It was almost silly to countenance someone like Sarah Palin as a serious VP candidate, and Elizabeth Dole seemed way past her prime and two decades too soon. The Geraldine Ferrero’s of the world and their second-in-line assembly has been documented, hypothesized and tucked neatly away like a cocktail napkin in a coat pocket. This is now a woman’s race - or stands to be anyway - unlike any of the second place VP-candidates of the past. Both have ten arms in intellect and articulation; both broads are tough enough to heave that gilded hammer so stoutly swung they stand to shatter all glass ceilings from this point on. Taking a page from the Frau Angela Merkel playbook, it would appear that perhaps, perchance, times, they are a changing. But are we ready?
Aparigraha, or non-hoarding, is a yogic Yama, an observance for a higher standard of living. This concept simply defies everything we are conventionally taught today in America. We are conditioned to feed our needs and desires, entitled to do so excessively by our own means. Wall Street, capitalism, free markets are all about growth through excessive consumption. If there is not constant-consumerism, whether it be material items, entertainment, or information, it would be hard to see how our country would stay afloat. It is impossible to stave off our own hunger to have and to hold: property, possessions, not people.
“Is there therapy in the Vedas?” I was a bit taken aback by this inquiry from a young and dedicated yoga practitioner. He had been struggling for years with psychological problems. Although he had embraced a traditional path of yogic transformation, he found the help he needed in a more modern self-help process based on contemporary psychology. As I thought about his inquiry, however, the answer seemed obvious. Rich in a tradition of intact family and community support, those born in traditional India did not need to rely on specialists to sort out mental afflictions caused mostly by social dysfunction. Classical Indian philosophy, especially its traditions of yoga, does, however, have detailed information on the nature of the mind.
The society is what we have made of it, what each individual throughout the million or fifty thousand years have according to their desires, ambitions, conditioning to their personal tendencies, to their aggression and so on, all this has actually contributed to the society in which we live. So the society is not different from us. That is a fact we seem to forget when we talk about society. Society is something that gradually has come into being, to which we have given all our endeavour, all our struggles, all our imprints and tendencies. This is the society, and society is us. It is not two separate entities.
The experiences resulting from the use of psychedelic drugs are often described in religious terms. They are therefore of interest to those like myself who, in the tradition of William James,1 are concerned with the psychology of religion. For more than thirty years I have been studying the causes, the consequences, and the conditions of those peculiar states of consciousness in which the individual discovers himself to be one continuous process with God, with the Universe, with the Ground of Being, or whatever name he may use by cultural conditioning or personal preference for the ultimate and eternal reality. We have no satisfactory and definitive name for experiences of this kind. The terms "religious experience," "mystical experience," and "cosmic consciousness" are all too vague and comprehensive to denote that specific mode of consciousness which, to those who have known it, is as real and overwhelming as falling in love. This article describes such states of consciousness induced by psychedelic drugs, although they are virtually indistinguishable from genuine mystical experience. The article then discusses objections to the use of psychedelic drugs that arise mainly from the opposition between mystical values and the traditional religious and secular values of Western society.
Contrary to popular interpretations, the path toward seeing the true Self does not involve destroying the egoic self. The egoic self is not the problem. It is a tool that everyone needs to function in the world. The problem arises when we attach ourselves to that narrower self, when we confuse our identifications with it. When we stop identifying with it, the ego will change, surely, but it will never leave completely. We wouldn't be able to navigate the world if it departed without remainder.
In the Guru Gita, it says “the first syllable ‘gu’ represents the principles such as maya, and the second syllable ‘ru’ the supreme knowledge that destroys the illusion of maya.” Part of that illusion is the idea of a separate self. Therefore, the guru is the name for that which reflects back the Truth of Brahman or Siva, the ground of consciousness from which all emanates and proceeds, and which is our true identity.
The guru as a person is simply a signpost for the experience of that reflection. Confusing the guru for a god, as has so often happened in our history, would be like sucking on the finger of someone pointing to the stars, mistaking the outstretched hand for the vast cosmos it is directing us toward.
It’s possible to use illusion to create a different reality for oneself, and sometimes even for entire groups of people. It’s possible, sometimes through sheer force of will, to manufacture positive change from negative experiences...On the individual level or on a larger social scale. It may take years, it will take work, and certainly much collaboration with others – no abracadabra here – but the alternative is to remain mired in the muck of illusion, waiting on someone else’s magic to make a change.