I’m just going to go “full yoga” here. I’m tired of being in the closet. For a while now, I’ve felt “bad” about pursuing a spiritual path. And by bad, I mean I’ve felt that it’s a baloney thing to do, an excuse for not “doing” something real, meaningful, and ideally, that makes money or someone else like or respect me more. I’ve felt like this a long time, but I never really named it until lately. Like the last week or so.
First, by way of introduction, here’s a sampling of my reading list over the last decade: Most recently, The Power of Now by Ekhart Tolle, a few versions/commentaries on Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, and almost finished a wonderful book called Tantra Illuminated by Christopher D. Wallis. Before this: Zen Mind, Beginners Mind; Living Your Yoga by Judith Lasater; A Path with Heart by Jack Kornfield; You Are Here by Thich Nhat Hanh; The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz; Krishnamurti’s Think on These Things; The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey; The Life-Changing Magic of NOT GIVING A F*CK by Sarah Knight; and Writing Down the Bones, Thunder and Lightning, Wild Mind, and The Great Spring all by Natalie Goldberg. Oh, and Natalie introduced me to two more wonderful books: A Place to Stand by Jimmy Santiago Baca, and Bones of the Master: Journey to Secret Mongolia by George Crane. Add to this list some others, like re-reading again Donna Tarrt’s The Secret History, Palm-of-the-Hand Stories by Yasunari Kawabata, Departures, a memoir, The Dance of Anger by Harriet Lerner, Ph.D, Toxic Parents by Susan Forward and Craig Buck, and Not My Father’s Son, a memoir by Alan Cumming.
For the past decade, every time I brought home a new book from the library, or ordered one from Amazon, or downloaded one on my Kindle—it seemed to fit this mold. This mold was what my husband called “self-help.” Even the memoirs could be viewed this way; maybe, by reading the life stories of other people, I would learn something that could change my life. Well, isn’t that why we read them? Anyway, he would point this out to me as a kind of reminder (I like to think, a loving one) that perhaps reading about all this stuff wasn’t quite the same as doing the things these books suggest. And with that remark—which at the time made me want to rip his throat out—my husband unwittingly (or did he?) launched me toward a more dedicated path of spiritual practice.
Who knew? You never know when you’ll meet your guru.
Oh, and don’t get caught up in that word—guru. It just means teacher. Really.
So, I started on the path feeling pretty yucky about it. And about myself. This, I’m coming to recognize, seems to be a common experience. I won’t call it universal, but then again, I’ve been studying the non-dual Saiva Tantra and could very well assert that this is precisely the case. If we humans did not have a limited experience of our selves (small S), we could never hope to have the unbounded, freeing experience of our whole Selves (big S). I would argue that most humans feel yucky about themselves, and not in a depressed kind of way, just a “why does it have to be this way?” kind of way. Which I’ll get to later.
I didn’t study my way into becoming a “spiritual person.” And I’m not just a super fast reader and can read more and therefore am way smarter than you (which is what my 7-year old would say). The books (and yoga asana practice—the postures—I’d been loosely following since my late teens) were merely pointers, sign posts. In and of themselves, they meant nothing. But without them, I would never have had the will to know or seek my own experience of what each author and person was trying to point to.
This year, I started the process of getting a certification from Yoga Alliance to be a yoga asana teacher. It began with a series of immersions in yoga philosophy in general, and the Anusara yoga school’s philosophy specifically. It felt right. It felt natural. It felt like I was doing the thing that flowed naturally from my ever-growing will to know and experience my true Self. Not transcend it, but know it.
Clarity is a funny thing. The moment you open your eyes and recognize reality as it is, everything falls away. It’s the moment you recognize that all the stories you tell yourself about who you are—depressed, anxious, fat, lazy, a bad mother, lacking discipline, alone, mean, never going to amount to anything, a bad dancer, always screwing up, unable to sit still, etc.—are just that, stories.
Wait. What about people who are clinically depressed, with chemical imbalances in the brain? What about schizophrenics? Are you saying it’s all in their head??
Yes. Isn’t it? Aren’t all those diseases originating in the mind and its ability to discriminate between consciousness of this moment (as in, what is happening right now) and some other mode of consciousness, like when we dream during sleep, fantasize about the future, or remember the past? And lacking that ability, the person can’t choose appropriate responses?
Okay, I really have no idea about this, but I threw it out there because it is something I’ve been contemplating a lot lately. Because I have battled depression and anxiety, and suffered deeply from it, over many years. Because I have contemplated suicide. Because I have been looking back into my past for answers and working with therapists too. So yes, I would like to know. But here’s the thing. I am the last person to throw out modern psychology, neurobiology, etc. and have always embraced the idea of mental illness as a disease. I was a fucking Psych major in college, for goodness sake. Also, my brother killed himself after suffering his entire life with mental illness. So I am by no means calling the extreme suffering caused by mental illness a “figment of the imagination”; that suffering is terribly, horribly real.
Yet, I walked into my most recent therapy session, sat down on the little wicker sofa, and told my sweet therapist that “I had no problems.” She gave me a beatific smile and nodded her head, making her tight grey curls bounce. It was a non-verbal thumbs up. This isn’t some kind of Jedi mind-trick, power-of-positive-thinking bullshit. This wasn’t the result of brainwashing by a charismatic (but highly flawed) self-appointed “guru,” or of standing in front of the mirror and repeating positive daily affirmations. Oh, and it wasn’t because I lost that last 5 pounds either.
It was because I simply woke up. I woke up to the fact that at this moment, now, I can honestly say I have no problems (this taken from Tolle’s book, where he asks readers to contemplate this very question). It might be true that my left hip is hurting again, or I don’t agree with my mom about something, or that I got a speeding ticket, or have an assignment due in 1 hour when I really need three hours, or owe the bank money I don’t have: but unless, and until, my mind creates a story around that situation—and labels it “good” or “bad”—there is no problem. There is only the situation, as it is now, and my response to it.
Needless to say, along with this freeing insight has come some interesting things I call “side effects” of conscious awareness.
So stay tuned for Part 2, in which I realize that I am Universal Consciousness manifest, my marriage is wonderful, my children are angels of the highest divinity, and I am bored out of my freaking skull…