Insights into the teachings of yoga’s ancient wisdom texts and their relevance to life in the modern world.
I’m not doing anything
Well, that was intense… and scary and strange and tragic and wonderful – so long, 2019!
It’s natural to look back at the end of the year and reflect on what we’ve done before we look ahead to what we hope to do.
Personally, my tendency is to think more about what remains to be done rather than about what I’ve accomplished. I find it easy to forget that each step before the final step is what makes the final step possible.
But when I looked back at my 2019 calendar it showed me how many steps I’d taken: how many classes I’d taught, things I’d learned, milestones I’d reached, people I had a positive influence on, and people who positively influenced me.
Have you looked back through your 2019 calendar yet? If not, check it out – you might be amazed at what you accomplished, what you survived, whom you helped, and who helped you.
So now that I feel a little better about how last year went I’m ready to look ahead to 2020. And whatever intention I set or goals I have, if I can remember three things throughout the year then there’s a good chance I’ll be able to feel good about how things go.
The first thing I want to remember is that I am very small and my time is very short so I should use the time that I have to cultivate a sense of humility in recognition of my actual position as an infinitesimal part of an infinite reality.
The second thing I want to remember is that commitment to the process without attachment to the results is the real key to success. In yoga, the endeavor is the perfection.
The third thing I want to remember is that I’m not doing anything.
The Sanskrit word ‘ahaṅkāra,’ usually translated as ‘ego’, is more accurately understood to mean a ‘false ego’ in juxtaposition to one’s ‘true ego.’
Ahaṅkāra is the element of material nature that binds us to a conception of identity that’s based on what kind of body we have or what our karmic circumstances are. You could say that my ahaṅkāra is my conception of myself as a white, middle-aged American man. This, of course, is a temporary material condition and therefore ‘false’ in the sense that it’s not my eternal spiritual condition.
The word ahaṅkāra is actually a compound word that we can gain an even deeper appreciation of when we look at the two words that form it: aham, meaning ‘I,’ and kāra, meaning ‘doing.’ Together, they form a word that’s most accurately translated as ‘I am doing’ or ‘I, the doer.’
The false ego is the condition of thinking ‘I am the one who is making things happen.’ And this certainly appears to be the case; it looks to me as if I’m the one who’s thinking these thoughts, typing these words, scheduling this email; that I’m the doer who hits ‘send.’
And yet, however it may appear to us, yoga philosophy tells us otherwise:
prakṛteḥ kriyamāṇāni – guṇaiḥ karmāṇi sarvaśaḥ /
ahaṅkāra-vimūḍhātmā – kartāham iti manyate //
“One who is bewildered by the influence of false ego thinks, ‘I am the doer of activities.’ In actuality, all activities are carried out by the three qualities of material nature.” – Bhagavad-gita 3.27
If all of my efforts to move the universe into alignment with my desires are illusory then I have to say that it’s a pretty convincing illusion. I’d certainly like to believe that I’m making things happen, that I’m the doer, that I have some control over my destiny.
The Sanskrit word for ‘controller’ is Īśvara, which is also defined as ‘Lord, master, or ruler; one having the potency to perform actions.’ The compound word yogeśvarā means ‘the masterful performer of yoga.’
We would like to think that we have the potency to perform actions that will move the universe into alignment with our desires. It looks like that’s what we’re doing. But we’re very small and the universe is very big and what we’re really doing is responding to the universe as best we can within the limitations of the qualities of material nature that bind us to a conception of identity that’s based on what kind of body we have or what our karmic circumstances are.
In other words, our true identity is that of one who is controlled, not the one who controls.
This can be a little disconcerting at first.
So if we’re not the controllers of material nature then who is?
ajo ’pi sann avyayātmā – bhūtānām īśvaro ’pi san /
prakṛtiṁ svām adhiṣṭhāya – sambhavāmy ātma-māyayā //
“Although I am, by my very nature, unborn, imperishable, and the Lord of all living entities, I appear in every millennium by my own inner power, standing within and yet presiding over my material energy.” – Bhagavad-gita 4.6
Krishna, the speaker of the Bhagavad-gita (who is also known as Yogeśvarā) seems to be claiming dibs on being the controller of the material energy that’s controlling us.
How does this information help me? It’s totally liberating! It takes a huge burden off of my shoulders because I can stop trying to move the universe into alignment with my desires!
And you can, too!
yadṛcchā-lābha-santuṣṭo – dvandvātīto vimatsaraḥ /
samaḥ siddhāv asiddhau ca – kṛtvāpi na nibadhyate //
“Content with gain that comes of its own accord, unperturbed by duality or envy, accepting both success and failure with a steady mind – such a person is never entangled by reactions to the actions they perform.” – Bhagavad-gita 4.22
So the pressure’s off: I can go about my business fully invested in the process without attachment to the results. And since fine-tuning and focusing on my process is one of my New Year’s resolutions, this looks like a total win-win for me.
How about you? What are the principles that will guide you in 2020? It’s not a rhetorical question: please leave a comment and let me know.
Happy New Year,
Being Present Through Transitions
The ‘official’ summer season, as opposed to the calendric summer that still has a few weeks to go, has come to an end. Back to school, back to work, back to whatever we get back to when September arrives.
September is a month of transitions.
The Sanskrit word ‘sandhya’ describes a juncture between one time and another, such as the time in between night and day when the sun begins to lighten the sky from beneath the horizon. The three daily sandhyas – dawn, noon, and dusk – are times when traditional yogis stop for a moment of mantra meditation to reconnect with the overarching spiritual intention of their daily activities.
A sandhya can also be thought of as the time of transition when we are neither here nor there, the in-between stage of moving from where we’ve been to where we’re going.
This can be a very challenging period in our lives because we have let go of the familiar and don’t always know where precisely we’ll end up. It’s a little like circling around the dark side of the moon: there’s bound to be some uncertainty about what lies ahead, about whether your trajectory will really take you to where you planned to go.
In our physical yoga practice, especially in vinyasa yoga, the transitions are a part of the practice. The movements from one pose to another act as a metaphor for transitions in our life off the mat. When we develop the habit of being conscious not only in each pose but in the transition from each posse to the next pose, we develop our ability to be fully present during whatever transitions we may go through in our lives.
Like dawn, noon, and dusk, the movements between poses can act as opportunities to reconnect to the overarching spiritual intention of our practice. And staying fully present in our practice for the whole duration of our practice is the real key to developing an advanced yoga practice.
As often as not, we may experience a moment of disconnection when we begin to move from one pose to another. We think about the pose we’re currently in or the pose we’re moving into but the movement through space-time that takes us from one state of being to the next state of being can easily slip away from our conscious awareness.
So this month I’m going to focus on sandhyas: the time of transition from one state of being to another, the connection point between where we’ve been and where we’re going, and the opportunity sandhyas give us to deepen our connection to our spiritual intention.
Photo by Arnaud Richard on Unsplash
Let The Sun Shine
Well, at least for the moment, the clouds have parted over the DC area, the rain has ceased, and sunlight is ricocheting through the trees, creating a million shades of green. The early sunrise and late sunset are one of the reasons I love the month of June.
Grammar police? Not so fast: the sunrise and sunset are two things that are part of one thing.
Yoga wisdom texts say that our pure and original state of consciousness is called Brahman. Brahman is understood to be pure spiritual energy. And the radiance of that pure spiritual energy, called Brahmajyoti, is said to be as bright as the light of 10,000 suns.
That’s right: inside your body, you are glowing with the radiance of 10,000 suns. When we realize our true spiritual nature we realize that we are all Brahman.
Does this mean we loose our individuality when we realize our true spiritual nature?
Nope. Here’s why:
The light of the sun comes in two forms: rays of light and particles of light. Whether you see light as a ray or as a particle depends on how you look at it. Both are equally valid expressions of light; the status of light as a ray doesn’t negate the status of light as a particle.
As I look out my window, innumerable particles of light are bouncing off the leaves of the trees, which register in my consciousness as green. Just as the each of the leaves on the trees is unique, each particle of sunlight is also unique.
And yet, each particle of sunlight has the same quality as all the others; the quality of being sunlight. Similarly, each of us are unique as individual beings – particles of spiritual energy – and yet we are one insofar as we are a spiritual singularity – Brahman – in the same way that particles of light share the quality of simultaneously being a singular ray of light.
Just as the sun’s rays emanate from the sun, the Brahmajyoti, the effulgence of Brahman also have a source. In the Bhagavad-gita, Krishna describes himself in this way:
brahmaṇo hi pratiṣṭhāham – amṛtasyāvyayasya ca
śāśvatasya ca dharmasya – sukhasyaikāntikasya ca
“I am the foundation of the immortal and ever present Brahman, of ever-lasting righteousness, and of absolute joy.” – Bg 14.27
Thus we find that the radiance of Brahman is the glow emanating from the personal feature beyond it. This proposition isn’t unique to the Bhagavad-gita: in mantra 15 of the Sri Isopanishad, the Upanishad that describes Isvara, the Supreme Person referred to in the Yoga-sutras, the author requests the Supreme Person to remove the dazzling effulgence that obscures his personal features, for the beauty of the source of all spiritual light is even more beautiful than the radiant light itself.
The seasonal beauty of June is the beauty of light. For me, that light inspires a deeper sense of connection to nature, a deeper appreciation for the spiritual quality of all beings, and a deeper sense of connection to every individual spark of spiritual energy.
When we all let the sun shine in, we can all feel that same sense of simultaneous unity in spiritual diversity.
I hope the sun is shining on you.
– Featured image: ‘Sunshine Land’ by TapWaterTaffy
6 Steps To Developing Resolute Determination
I used to tell people that I don’t make New Years resolutions. I told myself that, too, but the truth is every year I made a few without telling anyone. Being secretive about them was a way to give myself an out if I didn’t follow through on them.
Over the past few years I’ve gotten a lot better at keeping my resolutions. And sharing the fact that I’ve made them is one reason why. As I thought about what resolutions I would make for this year, the first one that came to mind was strengthening my determination to keep whatever resolutions I made. And for me, basing my resolutions on spiritual intentions is the essential element to maintaining my determination to see my resolutions through.
Most people make New Year’s resolutions based on material concerns, by which I mean physical, mental/emotional, or social interests. Perhaps the most common goals are those associated with our bodies, such as exercising more, eating a healthier diet, or making life-changes aimed at reducing stress. These are all good resolutions. And they become great resolutions when we connect them to an underlying spiritual intention.
Setting a spiritual intention
The first lesson of yoga is that our eternal spiritual identity is not dependent on the temporary material body we inhabit. If that’s the case then you might think I’d dismiss bodily concerns like physical fitness or emotional well-being as mundane objectives.
But if we understand that our minds and bodies are given to us as sacred vehicles for both our own self-realization and to be of service to others, then taking good care of these gifts becomes a spiritual activity. And that’s the magic of a spiritual intention: it transforms an otherwise mundane activity into an integral part of your spiritual life.
Yoga places a higher value on the intention behind an action than on the action itself. And yoga is ultimately a spiritual practice with a spiritual goal. So if we want to make our resolutions part of our yoga practice, we need to base our resolutions on spiritual intentions.
In order to ensure that our intentions are spiritual we need to have a clear understanding of what ‘spiritual’ means and how ‘spiritual’ differs from ‘material’. Yoga wisdom texts make this distinction in terms of three spiritual qualities: permanence, cognizance, and joy.
If the intention of your resolution moves you in the direction of deeper understanding and sustainable happiness, you’re starting with a spiritual intention.
Keeping a resolution requires resolute determination
A resolution is like a seed: the intensity of our determination to follow through after planting the seed will determine whether or not the seed of our resolution takes root. As time wears on, our determination may wear down. So here are six practical steps you can take to support and solidify your resolute determination to see your resolution through:
1. Be specific
Write out your resolution and then think, ‘how can I make this more specific?’ Write in additional details. Then look for the essence of those details and see if you can compress your idea into a simple phrase. Repeat this process until you have a very clear and concise statement that describes precisely what your objective is and why you want to achieve it.
2. Make a plan
Draw yourself a map of how you’ll get from where you are to where you want to be. Break your journey down into as many measurable and achievable steps as possible by working backward from your goal: think of what you need to do before you reach your goal, then what you need to do before you reach that stage, and so on until you get to the first step.
3. Visualize each step
Once you have a plan, think about what the first step looks like, feels like, and sounds like, etc. Engage all of your inner senses in a complete mental and emotional experience of taking that first step toward the fulfillment of your resolution. You can visualize the fulfillment of your resolution, too, but to turn that internal vision into an external reality it’s just as important to visualize the progressive stages of your plan. This isn’t an exercise in magical thinking; it’s an affirmation that progressively molds your mind into a shape that’s conducive for the fulfillment of your resolution. We go where our minds take us so fixing your mind on where you want to go is an essential step in getting there.
4. Re-set your resolution every day
This is the most important step: create a simple daily ritual that re-connects you to your resolution. You can write your resolution out and then read it out loud to yourself every morning. You can make your resolution an offering to the higher purpose you’re serving through your resolution. You can pray for the voice of inner wisdom to guide you along the path of your resolution. By developing your own simple, daily ritual through which you re-commit to your resolution your resolute determination to reach your goal will keep gaining momentum.
5. Allocate time
Decide when you will take the necessary actions and put them on your calendar. When the time comes, obey your calendar. As soon as you start re-scheduling your resolution, it’s as good as gone so don’t give in to the temptation to rationalize a delay. Honor the time you set aside to follow through on your resolution.
6. Make yourself accountable
Share your resolution with friends. Going public with your resolution is a proven psychological tactic to fuel your resolute determination to follow through with your commitment. For spiritual commitments, being part of a spiritual posse – a satsang – is a great way to find strength and support for your commitments to make progress in your spiritual life.
Using the mind to overcome the mind
Going it alone, not giving your resolution time on your schedule, letting your resolution wither from neglect, failing to make a plan, or starting out with vague and unrealistic ideas are some of the reasons why our resolutions can fade into the oblivion in short order. Perhaps the biggest reason is that, however much we think we want to change or do something differently, deep down we think that we can’t succeed, that our resolution is really just wishful thinking. And, sure enough, we go where our minds take us.
Beyond the physical practice, yoga is a kind of mental judo: the art of using the mind to overcome the mind. If we make a daily re-commitment to the pursuit of our worthy goals by remembering why we’re pursuing our goals and meditating on what the next step of our plan looks, sounds, and feels like, we can re-direct the mind so that it takes us to where we want to go rather than to where it wants us to go. As Krishna tells us in the Bhagavad-gita:
“For one who controls the mind, the mind is the best of friends; for one who fails to do so, the mind shall remain the foremost of enemies.” – Bg 6.6
Recruiting the mind to befriend us on our quest to follow through on our resolutions will ensure our resolute determination to succeed. And we can succeed in our recruitment mission by engaging the mind in these six action items. By pursuing a resolution based on a spiritual intention you can make a positive impact on your own life and the lives of others. So try taking these six steps and see if they help you to sustain your resolute determination to reach the goals you’ve set for yourself this year.
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What do you think?
What spiritual resolutions have you made for this year? Please tell me what you hope to achieve, how you think these six steps might work for you, and share any other ideas you may have about how to turn a resolution from wishful thinking to a realized dream.
Understanding the Fluctuations of the Mind
In his Yoga-sutras, Patanjali defines yoga as the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind. Curiously, yoga philosophy thinks of the mind as a form of matter. It’s subtler than what we normally think of as ‘matter’ in that it’s a metaphysical aspect of the physical world.
One way to understand the mind is to visualize it as if it were made of invisible clay. Just as you can mold the shape of clay, we can mold the shape of the mind. By purposeful action, such as spiritually oriented rituals and practices, we can create impressions on the mind that are conducive for the elevation of consciousness and, ultimately, to stilling the movements of the mind.
This assumes that we’re taking a pro-active position in order to influence the movements of our minds. However, this is not always the case. In fact, most of the time we are reactive rather than pro-active: the mind’s propositions are our marching orders.
It turns out that the mind has a mind of its own. Left to its own devices, the mind will re-shape itself by thrusting thoughts, feelings, and desires into the forefront of our consciousness and then withdrawing them back to the subconscious in favor of different thoughts, feelings, and desires.
This on-going sequence of processions into the conscious mind and recessions into the subconscious mind are the fluctuations of the mind that Patanjali speaks of. Since this perpetual rotation of assorted thoughts to and fro happens of its own accord, without our active participation, we should ask why we have these thoughts and inquire as to where they come from.
How attachments and aversions are born
The explanation of yoga philosophy is that the shape of the mind’s fluctuations is determined by impressions on the mind. Here’s what happens:
1. We have a sensory experience: we see, hear, taste, smell, and/or feel something.
2. That experience sinks instantly down beneath the plane of our physical senses into the metaphysical depths of our subconscious mind, where it creates an impression, just as pressing your thumb into a lump of clay would create the shape of your thumb in the clay.
3. Each unique experience leaves its own unique impression. Each unique impression stores the memory of that unique experience. Each unique memory stores the thoughts, feelings, and desires that are associated with the experience.
4. When the mind moves a memory of something we like from our subconscious mind to our conscious mind, our senses pick up on it and communicate an urge to repeat the pleasurable experience.
5. Motivated by the urging of our senses, we seek out whatever our senses desire in the hope of re-creating the pleasurable experience.
6. We try to fill the impression that provoked our desire with the same experience that created the impression in the first place. While the desire may feel fulfilled for some time, the long-term result is that we deepen the impression rather than satisfy the desire that the impression provoked. Thus, sooner or later, the desire returns with an even greater urgency than before.
7. When we continually strive to satisfy such desires, the impression increases to the point where we develop an attachment to the sense object that formed the impression. Hence, attachments are born, which, when unchecked, can develop into habits or even addictions.
8. When the impression is a negative one, in which the senses seek to avoid the repetition of an unpleasant experience, the same process results in aversions. Hence, aversions are born of negative impressions.
The Mission of the Mind
One of the most remarkable aspects of yoga psychology is something I mentioned earlier: the idea that the mind has a mind of its own. Take a moment to try to control your mind. You’ll see right away that it’s easier to control the wind. Although it can be done with sufficient practice, the easiest way to experience how the mind has its own agenda is to try to impose your agenda on it and then watch how much resistance it puts up.
We become yogis; our minds don’t.
So what’s the mind’s agenda? Its first priority is to protect the ego or, more accurately, our false ego: the illusory misidentification of the self with the attachments and aversions that reside in the mind. Yoga and meditation is, for intents and purposes, an assault on our illusory misidentification with our attachments and aversions. Your mind’s rejection of your meditation practice is a survival mechanism because when your false ego goes, your mind goes with it.
Hence, we find this verse in the Bhagavad-gita:
For one who has conquered the mind, the mind is the best of friends. But for one whose consciousness remains estranged from their true self, the mind, out of enmity, will be a tenacious enemy.
Sometimes the subconscious mind will send memories to the conscious mind on its own. Sometimes the senses will summon a memory to the fore. And sometimes something in our environment will stir an impression in the mind. Events from past lives leave impressions that carry over into our present lives, as evidenced by the predispositions of a child. Similarly, events in our childhood leave impressions that we carry forward with us into adulthood.
There is one such impression that almost everyone of my generation still carries.
Reflections on a dark impression
In the mid-1980’s I embarked on, or perhaps fell into, a career in what was then a new and esoteric field: computer graphics systems. Successive opportunities quickly led to a position with a manufacturers representative, a firm than managed the sale of various manufacturer’s products through a distribution channel. My job was to demonstrate how the technology worked and train paying customers how to use it.
The computer graphics industry, like most others, has periodic trade shows and doing product demos at them was part of my job. The first one to come up for me that year was in Dallas, Texas.
The owner of the company, a man 30 years my senior, was a generous employer running a successful business who believed that business trips were opportunities to live large. So, we all flew first class, checked into a swanky downtown hotel, and gathered in the lobby to go out to a fancy dinner on the company’s dime.
An eerie familiarity
The restaurant was up in the Reunion Tower, a Dallas landmark that looks like a giant golf ball sitting on a very tall tee. It featured a revolving floor that facilitated a view of the entire city and beyond. I sat right next to the spacious window with my back facing the direction the floor was moving in, the city slowly revealing itself to me from behind my right shoulder.
Fine dining meant slim pickings for vegetarians so it didn’t take long for me to figure out what I could order. I put the menu down and stared out the window. Off in the distance, the Texas sky reclined on a vast horizon. Right below us, the cluttered downtown slowly gave way to a clearing; a park cut into onion-shaped puzzle pieces by a convergence of curving roads.
An uncomfortable feeling crept under my skin. I’d never been to Dallas before but as I looked out onto the plaza below there was something eerily familiar about it. Something about the place made me… uncomfortable.
As the plaza scrolled from right to left, an imposing cube of brick, conspicuous in its isolation, entered the stage from the corner of my eye. I turned my head to focus on the building that seemed to look menacingly down on the plaza, a monolithic sentinel casting an invisible shadow.
It’s squat symmetry, distinctive arches, and angle to the plaza sparked instant recognition: the Book Depository Building. My ears pulled back, my eyes widened, my breath froze, my belly tightened, the corners of my mouth clenched, and I felt the hairs on the back of my neck being to rise.
A grim realization
“Creepy, isn’t it?” My employer, sitting across from me, had apparently witnessed the evolution of my grim realization. “Yeah.” That was really all I could say about it.
I watched a lot of TV when I was seven years old. There were only three networks, three local channels, and a public television station to choose from. For a few days in late November of my seventh year there was only one thing on: coverage of John F. Kennedy’s assassination. School was cancelled. I watched it all; from the downcast newscasters struggling to retain their composure to the solemn procession down Constitution Avenue.
To this day, the most surreal thing I’ve ever seen on TV was watching Lee Harvey Oswald being escorted out of a Dallas police station: murder on live television.
Places hold on to the impression of the things that happen there just as our minds retain impressions of experience. In Sanskrit those impressions are called samskaras. The size and shape of the samskaras we accumulate determine the shape of our minds. The character of the impressions from our past form the natural impulses we feel in the present and the impressions we accumulate today will determine the impulses we feel tomorrow.
On a summer evening in 1986, the invisible shadow over Dealey Plaza leapt 500 hundred feet into the air and threw an icy chill onto a slumbering impression that a dark day 23 years past had imprinted on my young mind.
It was creepy.
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What do you think?
What events in your life have made the deepest impression on your mind? Are there things about the character of your consciousness that can only be explained as having come from an impression from a previous life? Share your thoughts on how you think impressions on our minds shape our thoughts and feelings.
Awakening Our Spiritual Senses
I routinely speak about ‘awakening our spiritual senses’ in my classes.
As often as not, a student or two will linger after class to ask what I mean by ‘spiritual’ senses. The idea that we have a dormant set of spiritual senses waiting to be stirred is a curious notion. We assume that senses, by definition, are made of matter and are designed to interact with material things.
That we would have another set of senses of which we are completely unaware seems highly unlikely simply by virtue of what it means to have senses in the first place.
Traditional yoga philosophy categorizes our material senses as five instruments of perception – eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and skin – and five sensory actions – speech, touch, locomotion, reproduction, and elimination. The instruments of perception and the objects of action are, obviously, all composed of matter.
In yoga philosophy there is an eleventh sense: the mind. The mind acts as the reservoir of the other senses. Curiously, yoga philosophy categorizes the mind as a form of matter, too, albeit a much more subtle kind of matter than our physical senses.
As all of these eleven senses are made of matter, either physical or subtle, they are also temporary: dust-to-dust and all that. And like matter, they are unconscious unto themselves, ignorant of their own existence in the same way that a bookshelf or lamp has no conscious self-awareness.
This can be hard to fathom, especially when we take up a meditation practice. One of the first things we notice when we begin to meditate is that the mind has a mind of its own, that thoughts and feelings arise of their own accord. In fact, our initial attempts to control the mind present us with a formidable challenge.
Welcome to the machine.
And since the mind is presenting us with a reflection of our own thoughts and feelings, we naturally think that we are the mind, the reflecting instrument.
But if we are to believe yoga’s explanation for this phenomenon, the mind we think of as ‘us’ is actually an automaton: a machine that perpetually rummages through a vast collection of impressions stored in mental file folders and pulls out thought after thought after thought, based on those impressions, to present to the consciousness that’s associated with the mind.
But the machine of the mind has no independent existence from the consciousness that’s associated with it. The Wizard of Oz is actually the man behind the curtain, not the sound and light show of the machine he controls. Without the man behind the curtain, the machine would sit idle.
In our case, it’s as if we put the machine on autopilot and then became so enamored by its mechanical phantasmagoria that we forgot the difference between our true selves and the machine.
We regain control of the mind by controlling the senses that feed into and out of the mind. When the senses settle down then the mind settles down with them. Once the mind settles down then we can see our own true nature reflected back to our consciousness.
And once we see ourselves as we truly are, we experience ourselves as we truly are without the aid of the mirror of the mind. In the ultimate state of pure consciousness, we experience ourselves as pure consciousness.
If the material mind and senses have been jettisoned in favor of pure consciousness, how do we perceive anything?
The senses of perception that allow us to experience our true nature are not material. Perception of pure consciousness is made possible by pure or ‘spiritual’ senses.
But we don’t have to wait until we achieve a state of pure consciousness to get a glimpse of our spiritual senses. We can start to incrementally activate our spiritual senses from whatever state of consciousness we’re in right now.
The place to start is with a conceptual understanding. To understand the concept of spiritual senses, we first have to understand that consciousness itself is categorically different from the material mind and senses that we’re conscious of.
Don’t believe me? You can discover it for yourself. Just sit for a few moments and observe your mind. It should only take a few seconds for you to notice that your mind has a mind of its own, that it won’t wait for you to propose something to think about; that it will just run off on its own and, if left unsupervised, will pull you into who knows what kind of random thoughts, memories, or fantasies.
None of these thoughts, memories, or fantasies that you can observe is you; you are the observer. Nor are you the mind and senses that conjure up these thoughts, memories, or fantasies; you are the person who animates the machinery of your mind and senses.
As soon as we’re able to make this distinction between consciousness and the instruments of conscious experience, we’ve begun to activate our spiritual senses. And although the limits of language oblige me to speak of our spiritual senses in the possessive, the truth is that we ARE our spiritual senses.
Unlike the material senses that we’re different from, our spiritual senses are our very selves. Being the opposite of matter, they are absolute in that spiritual senses are not different from pure consciousness itself. Whereas material senses are relative to consciousness, spiritual senses are direct manifestations of consciousness.
Sound the alarm!
So how do we wake these spiritual senses up? With a spiritual alarm clock: transcendental sound. This is the true function of mantra meditation. When we expose our consciousness to transcendental sound the original quality of consciousness gradually awakens.
The same applies to our other senses: when we engage our eyes in seeing transcendental forms, such as images of divinity, hear about the qualities of divinity and spiritual relationships, and participate in social activities centered on the developing our spiritual consciousness, our senses become spiritualized.
The idea of a dormant set of ‘spiritual’ senses may seem counter-intuitive at first. But with just a little bit of practice we can experience the distinction between consciousness and our material senses. If we’re truly interested in having spiritual experiences, we can follow the breadcrumbs of yoga down the path that leads to the awakening of our spiritual senses.
What do you think?
Does the idea of a dormant set of ‘spiritual’ senses seem plausible to you? Can we go beyond the physical and measureable to experience the metaphysical and immeasurable? Share your thoughts on the idea of a difference between pure consciousness and embodied awareness.