There are a few questions that we ask ourselves regularly in the Yoga Church community. In fact, we ask them so often that I’ve started calling them our ongoing questions. And one that we’ve been working with a lot this year is: What do you want to remember?
Take a moment to really think about this question. As you move through the ever changing reality of your daily life, what do you want to remember?
A while back, my friend and co-teacher, Marci Becker answered this question. She said:
I always want to remember who I am. I want to remember that I’m not this body, in sickness or in health. I’m not my circumstances, in good times or bad. I’m not the bad mood I was in the other day, nor the good mood I started this day with. I’m not my bank account. I’m not my house. I’m not my productivity. I’m not my successes or my failures. I want to remember that I am the embodiment of divinity.
In this answer, Marci is speaking to her sense of identity. She wants to remember that her true identity is rooted in Divine Mystery.
This is a fundamental teaching of yoga. But it’s a teaching that we forget. In fact, forgetting this teaching—forgetting that our true identity is rooted in Divine Mystery—is something we’ve apparently been doing for thousands of years. I say this because it’s in the ancient scriptures. In the Yoga Sutra we’re told that the True Self gets lost in the ever changing states of the mind. We can’t remember our true identity because we spend our days lost in the swirl of our habitual thought patterns. Instead of remembering that our true identity is rooted in Divine Mystery, we root our identity in our work, or our hobbies, or our moods, or the pain we’re experiencing in our body, or our family history, or our anxiety, or our sense of success, or any number of the things we experience in daily life.
Now, let’s be clear. All the things that you and I experience everyday are real. They’re absolutely part of who we are. My teacher’s teacher, the late TKV Desikachar, in his book The Heart of Yoga wrote:
If we subscribe to yogic concepts, then everything that we see, experience, and feel is not illusion; it is true and real. Everything is real, including dreams, ideas, and fantasies.
But, he goes on to say that:
Although in yoga everything we see and experience is true and real, all form and all content are in a constant state of flux.
In other words, it’s all real. But it’s all changing. Except, the tradition teaches, for one thing. Let me read another section of Desikachar’s writing:
Yoga subscribes to the notion that deep within us there is something that is also very real but, unlike everything else, is not subject to change. We call this wellspring purusa or drastr, meaning ‘that which sees’ or ‘that which can see correctly.’ When we are swimming in a river and cannot see the bank, it is difficult to see the current. We are moving so much with the river that we may scarcely see its flow. But if we go to the bank where we have firm ground it is much easier to see how the river is flowing. Purusa denotes the position from which we can see; it is the power in us that enables us to perceive with accuracy.
The teachings of yoga invite us to make a distinction between the Seer and the seen—between our True Nature and the ever changing reality of the world.
Have you ever experienced a moment of deep inner stillness? Maybe it happened in the practice of meditation. Maybe it happened when you were sitting and gazing at something beautiful—art or nature or your child. Maybe it happened on a normal Tuesday morning when you were sitting alone with a cup of tea. Have you ever experienced a moment of deep clarity—a moment free of confusion. A moment filled with ease where you felt grounded and connected to the deepest part of yourself?
When I ask the question: What do you want to remember?, these are the moments I’m pointing toward.
Think about something hard in your life. I imagine you’d prefer to face it rooted in clarity and inner stillness, not anxiety and the fear of failure. But sadly, because we’re lost in the ever changing movements of the mind, this is often what happens.
We become what we practice becoming. And all too often, people unintentionally practice thoughts and feelings like anxiety or attachment. Which is why our yoga practice needs to be consistent. If you’ve practiced anxiety for over a decade, one 5 minute session of meditation isn’t going to suddenly transform your mind. But it might give you a spark of faith that transformation is possible! As Desikachar shared, when we’re swimming in the river, we can’t see the current. But when we climb onto the bank, it becomes visible.
When you come to the practice of yoga—the practice of letting your mind land in the present moment—you open yourself to the reality of spaciousness. You climb up onto the river bank and give yourself a wider view. Suddenly you can see the movements of your mind for what they are, ever changing thought patterns.
Through consistent practice, you can build a relationship with this way of seeing. You can build a new mental pattern—one that takes a wider view. This doesn’t mean that anxiety, or other difficult thoughts, will never show up again. But it does mean that you’ll be able to see the presence of anxiety without getting lost in it. Instead of rooting your identity in anxiety, you can acknowledge the experience of it. Instead of saying: I AM anxious, you can say: anxiety is moving through me. This simple shift in language is transformative. It allows you to separate the river from its flow. It allows you to make a distinction between the Seer and the seen—between the truth of your being and the ever changing movements of your mind.
Let me read one last bit of wisdom from my teacher’s teacher:
The practice of yoga encourages this unhampered seeing to simply happen. As long as our mind is covered by [misidentifications], our perceptions are clouded. It is when we feel quietness deep within us that we know we truly understand, and it is this kind of understanding that can have a strong, positive effect on our lives by leading us to right action. This true understanding, which results from decreasing [misidentifications], does not usually occur spontaneously. The body and mind are used to certain patterns of perception, and these tend to change gradually through yoga practice. It is said in the Yoga Sūtra that people alternately experience waves of clarity and cloudiness when first beginning a yoga practice. That is, we go through periods of clarity followed by times in which our mind and perception are quite lacking in clarity. Over time there will be less cloudiness and more clarity. Recognizing this shift is a way to measure our progress.
Desikachar’s words bring to mind another of our ongoing questions: What direction are you moving in? Are you moving in the direction of clarity and inner freedom? Or do you continue toward the feelings of constriction and cloudiness?
The practice of yoga invites us to remember the truth of our being.
As you move through the very real, but always changing activities of daily life, can you remember that your true identity is rooted in Divine Mystery? It won’t happen overnight, but through the ongoing practice of remembering—the ongoing practice of reconnecting with the spaciousness always and already present within you, you’ll be able to hold everything just a touch lighter. Through the ongoing practice of reconnecting with the sacred silence within you, you’ll be better able to respond to what’s real from a grounded sense of intention.
With this in mind:
- I invite you to bring your hands to your chest or your belly and to feel the flow of breath moving in and out of your body.
- Feel the point of connection between your body and the body of the earth. Here you are, in this particular moment, held by Mother Earth.
- Does it feel possible to relax into the support of earth? Is there any unnecessary tension in your body that you can release through movement or intentional breath?
- Let your attention come to the heart. You might be able to feel the beating of your heart.
- Let your attention drop even deeper, into the spiritual heart.
- From this perspective, let us return to our initial question: What do you want to remember?
- As you move through the ever changing reality of your daily life, what do you want to remember?