1. self-study and study of sacred scripture
2. a fun, laid-back book club through Eden Yoga in which participants discuss yoga philosophy and life
Meeting dates for August 2020
Concord meeting: Sunday, August 23rd, 6:30-8 p.m.
Exeter meeting: Saturday, August 29th, 11-12:30 p.m.
Conversations with God, by Neale Donald Walsch. Pages 1 – 93.
Light on the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, translation and commentary by B.K.S. Iyengar. Pages 3-6, & 11-18 of the introductory chapters. Also sutras 1.2 – 1.11 (pp. 49 – 61).
This month I chose the book Conversations with God because, like the Sutras, it is about Self-Realization. However, CWG is written in simple language and a conversational format. I also chose this book because it presents an idea that has transformed the way I make choices in life. We will get back to this idea and how it relates to the Sutras (and our asana practice). First, let’s talk about Self-Realization.
What is Self-Realization?
If we blend the definitions from Western psychology and Indian spirituality, Self-realization is simply realizing the truth about one’s purpose and potential. Sounds good! Who doesn’t want a greater sense of purpose? Wouldn’t it be super to manifest our greatest potential? Let’s see what these two texts tell us about how to do that.
In his introduction to the Sutras, Iyengar equates Self-Realization with samadhi, which is both the goal and the final stage of the eightfold path of yoga. It is an experience of coming to know one’s own soul and allowing it to unite with the physical self. He writes:
“Samadhi is seeing the soul face to face, an absolute, indivisible state of existence, in which all differences between body, mind and soul are dissolved…Samadhi is the tracing of the source of consciousness—the seer—and then diffusing its essence, impartially and evenly, throughout every particle of the intelligence, mind, senses, and body. Through the discipline of yoga…the seer comes to experience his own soul with crystal clarity” (Iyengar, pp. 4-5).
In CWG, Walsh describes Self-Realization in a similar fashion, as a union of the body and mind with the soul, however he frames it from the soul’s perspective:
“(Upon Self-Realization) You would live as you fantasize Adam and Eve lived—not as disembodied spirits in the realm of the absolute, but as embodied spirits in the realm of the relative. Yet you would have all the freedom, all the joy, all the peace, and all the wisdom, understanding and power of the Spirit you are. You would be a fully realized being.
This is the goal of your soul. This is its purpose—to fully realize itself while in the body; to become the embodiment of all that really is” (Walsh, p. 43).
If you are skeptical about the concept of a soul, stay with me…this post has some hot tips for you that require no such belief. The Sutras and CWG both offer techniques for Self-Realization that are effective regardless of your place on the atheist-believer spectrum.
How does one achieve Self-Realization?
I hope you weren’t expecting a full answer to that here. You’re just going to have to read the books. However, I do want to mention that a significant amount of purpose and potential can be achieved without taking a leap of faith about unseen forces in the universe. Yoga is grounded in the context of spiritual system that acknowledges universal and individual divine energies, however the Yoga Sutras’ eightfold path offers a means to lasting inner peace and is fully available to everyone.
CWG offers a theory of how the universe came to be and what humanity’s role and purpose is within that framework. It states that Self-Realization results from following the natural laws of the universe. The natural laws as described in pages 42-58 are:
- You can be, do, and have whatever you imagine
- You attract what you fear
- Love is all there is
I think it is a bit trickier to separate these concepts from the creation story presented in this book, however there is a gem of wisdom on page 15 which is related to the above laws. It is a concept that does not rely on any cosmological framework and can be validated by your own personal experience if you choose to try it out…
CWG’s life-changing gem of wisdom
So what is this transformational idea I mentioned at the beginning of this post?
It is that “All human actions are motivated at their deepest level by one of two emotions—fear or love” (Walsh, p. 15). You might protest that emotions and thoughts are complex–they could never be reduced to two basic concepts. And how can we reduce a detailed, thoughtful decision to having stemmed from exclusively fear or love? The key is to trace your thoughts back to the “sponsoring thought”. The sponsoring thought is combined with an initial gut reaction which is essentially positive (love) or negative (fear). If you start to pay attention to your subtle physical reactions to any given input, there will either be a quality of expansion or a quality of contraction.
“Fear is the energy which contracts, closes down, draws in, runs, hides, hoards, harms.
Love is the energy which expands, opens up, sends out, stays, reveals, shares, heals” (Walsh, p.19).
We are so accustomed to relying on our mental faculties to gather and sort information, that most of us aren’t in the habit of noticing the valuable feedback our bodies provide. We all know how charismatic speakers can craft castles in the air, persuading us to make that purchase, donation, or vote…despite their words being devoid of truth. We sometimes convince ourselves of things that we later realize were not true (and maybe knew deep down all along). The mind can mislead…how can we know for sure when to trust it?
Enter Sutra 1.7… “Correct knowledge is direct, inferred or proven as factual”
Sutras (1.2 – 1.11) identify the value of stilling the consciousness. They explain what causes the consciousness to fluctuate, and how the five states of consciousness can either distract and mislead the practitioner or help him or her “develop maturity of intelligence and attain emancipation” (Iyengar, p. 56). These sutras guide us in discerning fact from fiction, inner wisdom from fanciful imagination.
In his commentary on sutra 1.7, Iyengar also points to asana as a way to develop intelligence in the body. It is true—as we learn to tune into our bodies and perceive the subtleties of the poses, we naturally become more aware of physical feedback to our thoughts and circumstances. In other words, we can sense if the thought/situation/action aligns with love (we feel an energetic lightness, expansion) or aligns with fear (we energetically contract).
“The practice of asana brings intelligence to the surface of the cellular body through stretching and to the physiological body by maintaining the pose. Once awakened, intelligence can reveal its dynamic aspect, its ability to discriminate” (Iyengar, p. 57).
Love abides, fear projects.
Every time I have chosen a response, words, or course of action from a place of love, I feel aligned with my purpose. When I “play it small” and let fear, insecurity, pettiness, anger, etc. guide my actions, I soon realize I fell short of my potential in that moment.
A good example is this book club. I had been wanting to share my love for yoga philosophy for years but fear kept getting in the way. (Fear of not having enough money if I divert my time away from things that pay the bills, fear that no one would care or be interested, etc). When I took the leap and put it out there, the response was so positive! Yes, the prep is time consuming but it is also incredibly nourishing for me.
On the flip side, I recently let my insecurities override my “correct perception” in a personal relationship. In the end, no lasting harm was done but those moments could have been ones of peace and joy rather than friction. It was a learning moment! I am grateful to have the time-honored wisdom of the Sutras (among other inspiring texts) and the support of this community for guidance.
How about you?
~Have you noticed that when things feel good and right, there is a lightness in the body and mind?
~Have you noticed that the body instinctively shrinks with fear? That it closes in to protect itself—even from our own negative thoughts?
~What is your process for making tough decisions?
~Where do you find a sense of meaning and purpose in your life?
I can’t wait to hear your thoughts!