An established path of inner seeking
It was well down an established path of inner seeking that I discovered yoga. Having been confronted by the death of someone very close to me at a young age I had always been hungry for the deeper truths of life. Seeking meaning in a world that seemed harsh, fickle and unpredictable.
I was blessed with many teachers through my 20s and 30s who each shared with me their own perspective on this wonderous spectre we call life; nuns, Jungian therapists, gestaltists, seekers from many different perspectives. And, in the world of books I discovered channeled writings, peaceful and challenging perspectives on how to navigate life and stories from afar about communities founded on guidance from God.
Discovering yoga in my mid 40s offered me a system of understanding that resonated deeply with what I had already discovered and incorporated into my world view. Being naturally analytical it was a delight to find a back door to transformation, through the body, rather than trying to work it all out in my head! I knew I had found my path and I dove right in.
Now in my 50s, looking back, I see how even something that I knew resonated an undeniable truth can become contaminated by the dominant world views and constructions that define the times in which we live.
A misrepresentation of what the system of yoga offers
The popular understanding of yoga in our culture is largely a misrepresentation of what the system of yoga offers. Our evolution and history has taken us to this time where the dominant mode of consciousness is an ongoing pursuit to establish a fixed identity. This is usually defined in opposition to some external other. We define ourselves by notbeing something else and this gives us a sense of belonging and security. We are social creatures and we want to belong. We need markers and symbols to define this belonging and to identify with it. Sadly, the broad, wholistic system of yoga has become the casualty of this mode of thinking, reducing it to certain symbols and ideals that distort what it has to offer.
At its most superficial yoga promotes young, thin, flexible bodies performing exotic postures which of course reflect the values and the ideal model of a human being that our culture upholds. And, it’s not that young, thin, flexible, bodies or exotic postures are wrong in any way. It’s just that they’re not for every body, they’re not the source of peace, and they’ve kind of become the selection criteria for being a ‘yogi’, making it less accessible to anyone not fitting the criteria. The process of ‘othering’ which dominates our culture becomes a part of yoga too.
The inevitable competition and comparison creeps in as we strive towards these ideals to achieve some desired state in the future. A linear path to fulfillment or achievement. I certainly fell into this. I was very concerned about my ‘performance’ in yoga, measuring how ‘good’ I was at yoga by the postures I could achieve. I was identified with my body and running on that hamster wheel of striving towards some future state.
One of the great gifts of being in the second half of life
One of the great gifts of being in the second half of life is that everything is no longer stretching out in front of you. This encouraged me to seek closer to home, to the moment, to find my peace. As my meditation practice grew, and Awareness shone its light, I began to see how these drivers from my external environment had crept into my inner world. As Awareness grew my values started to realign. Striving for a future state of happiness – perfecting that posture, finding that perfect body shape, I realised, was taking me away.
A system to reduce suffering
All any of us want is to be happy. Yoga offers a system to reduce suffering, in other words to be happy. And, we have to be very careful that it doesn’t become just another way for us to get caught up in the dominant drivers of our culture that are all about striving towards some future state. A mode of consciousness that robs us of the joy of the present moment.
The present moment is the point of power
The present moment is the point of power – always. Coming home to now breaks the stream of habitual patterns running in our lives. It’s where we have the opportunity to gain perspective and empower our natural draw to what is peaceful and harmonious and recognise what isn’t serving us well.
And, it’s a practice – time and time again, returning, coming back to the here and now. This moment, our breath, sensations in our bodies, the sounds of the birds in the trees. These are all pathways that support our intention to return to peace, to the present.
The mind as a function
All most of us know is the mind – it’s categories and classifications. That’s its nature – to define and contract and help us understand the world around us. It’s a fabulous tool, a really useful function. But even when it’s at peak performance it is not all there is to us.
It will always be a limitation, as helpful as it is. For most of us it completely drowns out the quiet background from which it emerges. It can easily be seen how the mind gets used in the service of ‘othering’ that defines so much of our existence.
Join our consciousness with Universal consciousness
And yet, yoga means ‘to yoke’, to join our consciousness with Universal consciousness, to link in to the eternal, the undefined, that which is beyond the limited self that we are. We need both! Mind and beyond mind, limited and limitless, form and formless. If we know ourselves as both we can develop a light touch, never landing on or holding anything too tightly.
As we invite in the formless we come to know that there isn’t a right way that needs to be defined and pinned down. And equally that there is no wrong way. There is just a stepping into the flow of what is constantly unfolding in the ever-present moment.
Yoga is essentially about self-realisation.
Yoga is essentially about self-realisation. Coming to know the truth of who we are. Not that there is ever a point of arrival. Aligning with the flow of the unlimited without a distinct definition of self and with an ‘unknowing’ mind is to step into the flow of freedom. Freedom from suffering, freedom from resistance. Living in the ever present now without resistance to what is – living as if you’ve chosen what you have. In that sense it is arrival, but it is not a fixed address. Each moment requiring a refreshed acceptance and surrendering to what is. When we suffer, we know we’ve lost the flow and work is required to become aware of what has taken us away. I love this quote from Jean Klein:
To be identified with your mind is to be trapped in time: the compulsion to live almost exclusively through memory and anticipation. This creates an endless preoccupation with past and future and an unwillingness to honor and acknowledge the present moment and allow it to be. The compulsion arises because the past gives you an identity and the future holds the promise of salvation, of fulfillment in whatever form. Both are illusions.
The challenge of our times
Our challenge, should we choose to accept it, is to embrace not knowing and to hold lightly whatever appears to be so, without the need for certainty. This can be a challenge as certainty falls away and we let go of the project to define and fix ourselves. What we are indeed letting go of is the need to know ourselves as separate. We are inviting in peace and connection without the need for a clear boundary between ourselves and the rest of life. It is an end to war! When we connect to something much greater than our small minds, we are just ready, in not knowing, to meet each moment as it arises. We have come home to peace and this is what the system of Yoga offers.
Eileen Caddy and the Findhorn Community in Scotland