The Mad Scientist Experiment

Yoga philosophy begins with the proposition that we are not the material bodies we inhabit; we’re eternal spiritual beings inhabiting temporary material bodies.

In his Yoga-sūtra, Patanjali describes the true nature of the self as being eternal, pure, and joyful. He’s obviously not referring to the physical body, since we all know that physical bodies aren’t eternal. Patanjali is referring to the ātmā: the infinitesimal spark of individual consciousness within the physical body that's categorically different from the body it's in.

This idea is so fundamental that Krishna begins his teachings in the Bhagavad-gītā by telling us that material bodies come and go but the spiritual person within the material body is eternal; we never come into being and we will never cease to be. This teaching - that we are not our material bodies - is the philosophical baseline, the 1+1=2, of spiritual knowledge in the yoga wisdom tradition.

Okay, so, that sounds like a nice idea, but is it true? If it's so basic then it should be easy to make it experiential. How do we test the theory in order to turn book knowledge into a lived experience?

There's something I call "The Mad Scientist Experiment", a meditation that's particularly suitable for Halloween, that I think will help you to have a direct and profound experience of the distinction between all that you are conscious of and yourself, the person who is conscious. Here's how it works: The next time you’re walking down the street, say to yourself, “There’s a skeleton inside my body.”

Think about it: there’s a skeleton inside your body. Take a moment right now and bring your awareness to the skeleton inside your body. Then keep that awareness while you move your hands or turn your head.

It’s really weird, right? Maybe a little . . . spooky?

But check it out: if you remember that you have a skeleton in your body when you’re walking down the street and you become aware of your skeleton and feel how your skeleton is carrying the rest of your body as you place one foot in front of the other, it will totally change your experience of walking.

It may freak you out a bit, but I can practically guarantee that the idea that you are not your body will be transformed into the realization that you're not your body.

We are not skeletons. Or pancreases. Or the neurons bouncing around our cerebral cortices. We are eternal spiritual beings experiencing the world through the medium of a temporary material body.

Remember this meditation when you’re out trick-or-treating.