We’ve been studying the inner obstacles that keep us stuck (things like doubt, apathy, groundlessness…) and a toolbox of practices that can help calm and clear the mind—so that we can move forward with intention.

Today we’ve come to a teaching that’s been at the heart of my personal practice for over a decade. If you’ve studied alongside me for any amount of time, this week’s sermon and the beautiful practice I have planned for the Gathering will be familiar. If you’re new to our community, I look forward to sharing it with you!

This practice has been a healing balm for my heart. It’s been my refuge. And my source of transformation.

The Radiant Light Within
(yoga sutra 1.36)

REFLECTION QUESTIONS

  • This sermon begins with a visualization. We imagine the mind as a clear blue sky and the sun as the radiant light within.
    • Using the metaphor of this visualization, what’s the state of your mind in this moment?
    • Is there ease? With clouds and birds moving tracklessly through the space of your awareness, allowing sunlight to shine brightly?
    • Or is the light of the sun obscured by sticky chem trails of anxiety, attachment, and fear?
      • If so, are you willing to put forth the effort of practice to calm and clear the mind?
      • Will you turn your attention inward, toward the radiant Light within?

SERMON TRANSCRIPT

Let’s begin with a visualization. Bring to mind the image of a bright blue, completely clear sky—the light of the sun radiating everywhere. … As you hold this image, begin to see a cloud appearing, floating about for awhile, and then dissolving so that once again, all you see is the bright blue, completely clear sky and the full light of the sun. Once the cloud is gone, there’s no trace of it. … Now, begin to imagine a jet plane moving through the sky, leaving a chem trail in its wake. After the plane moves out of sight, the trail remains, blocking the light of the sun for a long time. 

This visualization is, of course, a metaphor. The sky represents our inner intelligence, the instrument of our perception. The sun represents the radiance of consciousness itself—the Light of Pure Awareness. When the sky is clear, the light of the sun shines free and bright. When the sky is filled with clouds, the light of the sun is obscured. It’s still there, of course, shining free and bright, but we can’t see it. It’s blocked from our view.

Think about an average day… How many sensory perceptions and thoughts and feelings do you experience? Hundreds, thousands, millions? Most of them come and go, arising and dissolving like the trackless clouds. But others are more like the jet plane, leaving sticky tracks of attachment, identification, unfulfilled desire, and fear in their wake. 

Now think about the whole course of your life. How many sticky tracks have built up over time? And how does this accumulation obscure the inner radiance of your being?

In this current sermon series we’ve been exploring obstacles that stand in the way of inner freedom and the practices that help us move through them. Before we continue this study, I’d like to pause a moment to dig a little deeper into what we mean when we talk about inner freedom. Life is a series of experiences. Some are pleasant. Some are painful. Some are neutral. The practice of yoga asks us to examine how we react to this variety of experience. Do we cling to the pleasant, do anything we can to avoid the painful, and ignore the neutral? If our answer is yes (and if we’re being honest most of us have to answer with a yes on some level here) then we’re spending most of our energy trying to avoid the unavoidable reality of change. In the course of our life we will experience both pain and pleasure—many times over. 

Inner freedom is the ability to maintain an inner sense of equanimity no matter what kind of experience we find ourselves in. 

Remember, this teaching isn’t about blindly accepting some painful reality. It isn’t saying: “don’t respond to suffering!” This teaching is about your inner life. It’s about the state of mind with which you respond to the many experiences of life. It’s about transforming your automatic, well-conditioned patterns of reaction. Do you react to experiences of joy with attachment? Do you react to experiences of suffering with aversion? What if you could pause in any given situation—painful or pleasurable—to notice what’s real and easefully respond with intention? 

What if clouds—aka your perceptions, thoughts, and feelings—could come and go through the sky of your mind without leaving any sticky residue behind? This is what it means to live in inner freedom. 

Of course, inner freedom is the fruit of practice. And practice takes effort and commitment. In the first chapter of the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali, we’re given a list of nine obstacles that often get in the way of our practice: sickness, apathy, doubt, carelessness, laziness, indulgence, confusion, groundlessness, and instability. When one or more of these obstacles are present, our mind is cloudy and discouraged. Our body is restless. Our breath is disturbed.

The antidote to these obstacles and their symptoms is focus. Let me be clear that I know how hard this work can be. It’s one thing to talk about the importance of focus, it’s another thing entirely to bring it to reality. Trust me, I know. But if you’re serious about wanting to move in the direction of inner freedom, then you must be willing to put forth the effort of practice. In this series of teachings we’re being invited to focus our mind on one single reality—on something that will help calm and clear the mind—and we’re given a list of possibilities. Today we’ve come to Yoga Sutra 1.36, which my teacher translates as:

Or, by focusing on the inherently illuminating Light (of consciousness itself) which is (eternally) free from sorrow (the mind becomes calm and clear).

I’m excited to share this potent sutra with you because it’s been the heart of my personal practice for a long, long time. This practice has transformed my state of mind. It’s transformed my understanding of Self and Divine Mystery. It’s transformed the ways I navigate the ever changing nature of life. 

While it isn’t named in the sutra, the tradition teaches that the Light being described here—the inherently illuminating Light of consciousness itself—shines in the space of the heart. The Upanishads describe this space of the heart as being infinitesimal, minuscule, but says that from this innermost point we can experience the infinite.

It’s important to remember that we’re in the realm of symbolism here. We’re not talking about the organ that pumps blood through the body. Or even what we might call the emotional heart. We’re talking about the center point of our being. The lotus of the heart. The cave of the heart. The space of consciousness. The dwelling place of our soul and the Divine. 

As we meditate on this innermost point we can attune to the Light within. And again, we’re not talking about the kind of light taken to the brain through the optic nerve. We’re talking about the self luminous Light of consciousness itself. The Light of pure awareness. The Light of Divine Mystery. It feels important to note that while we might gain some understanding of these symbols with our thinking mind, they will only come alive for us through practice and experience.

This teaching invites us to turn our attention inward—to open our inner eyes to the radiant Light within, illuminating the bright, clear, spacious sky of our mind. Yoga Sutra 1.36 tells us that this Light is eternally free from sorrow. Free from attachment and misidentification. As we connect with the living symbol of this Light, we feel deeper and deeper into the radiant nature of our Being. We feel deeper and deeper into the unbounded nature of our consciousness. As we become more acquainted with this inherently illuminating Light, we begin to realize that our true identity is here, deep within. We begin to root ourselves in the inner freedom of our True Nature. And we become better equipped to let the myriad of experiences—positive, negative, neutral—that we encounter everyday move through the space of the mind as trackless clouds. As we rest our focus in the inherently illuminating Light of consciousness itself, our sense of perception clears. The inner obstacles fall away and we’re able to see more clearly. 

It all sounds lovely doesn’t it? But of course, the transformation of this teaching, like so many teachings, doesn’t come through academic knowledge. It comes through experience. This teaching is an invitation to deep practice. Will you accept the invitation?

viśokā vā jyotiṣmatī

Or, by focusing on the inherently illuminating Light (of consciousness itself) which is (eternally) free from sorrow (the mind becomes calm and clear).