Monthly Archives: February 2018

Inner Experience

By Swami Nirmalananda

I stood at the counter in the bakery this morning, pouring some milk into my mug, as the man next to me did the same.  He carefully balanced a bakery box in his other hand, unwilling to let go of the four-layer carrot cake.  I smiled and said, “Looks good.”  He replied, quite sincerely, “Yep.  I’m excited about this.”

I sat down to my breakfast and heard snatches of nearby conversations.  “He said he would call me, but I’ve been waiting three days.”  “It was a really good interview; I hope I get the job.”  “I leave on vacation next week, I can’t wait.” Everyone is talking about the same thing — how to get happy.  The whole point of buying the carrot cake, or getting the job, or going on vacation is so you will feel something on the inside.  All of the outer stuff is for the purpose of creating your inner experience.  Everything you do is because you hope that it will create some kind of inner feeling.

Yoga does more for you than fixing your body or relaxing away your tensions.  Yoga gives you the power of creating an inner experience directly.  Even if you have only done yoga once, it is easy to understand this. You go to class and do some breathing, a few poses and a guided relaxation, so you feel better.  It works.  It always works.  It is more reliable than anything else you can ever do.  No matter how you feel when you begin, you are guaranteed to feel better after you do yoga.  This means you never have an excuse for feeling bad again.  You can feel bad if you want to, but you have no excuse because you can improve the way you feel by doing some yoga.

The most important thing about what I am describing is the emphasis on how you feel.  This is not about yoga; this is about quality of life.  The medical profession has a term for it, “bio–psycho–social.”  They are considering more than their patients’ physical condition; they now want to know how their patients feel.  “How do you feel, physically and psychologically?  How do you relate to other people?  How’s your life?”

They have to ask these questions because statistics show that if you are unhappy, you will have more health complaints, visit the doctor more often and cost your health insurance company more money.  If you are happy, then you don’t complain as much, regardless of your physical condition.  You actually don’t hurt as much!

The whole thing began with Hans Selye.  He researched a widespread human experience and gave it the name, “Stress Response.”  He documented and described a distinct physiological response, including changes in heart rate, blood pressure, respiratory rate, changes in your digestion and many more indicators.  This is now well accepted and well understood.  Later Candace Pert came along and began identifying brain chemicals related to different mental and emotional states.  Now the scientists have documented certain “bliss chemicals,” which your body produces when you are happy (and when you do yoga).

How you feel is important.  In fact, it is the only thing that really matters.  You will turn your life upside down in order to change the way you feel.  How you feel really does matter.

Consider when you are happy or when you feel full of love — how do you treat other people?  And when you are angry, anxious or sad — how do you behave?  The entire world is affected by your inner experience.  You spread it around, even when you don’t want to.  Thus, you actually do have the power to make a real change in the world, simply by manipulating your own state.  This is why I repeat so often, “Do more yoga.”  You are investing in the world when you take care of yourself.

Yet yoga can take you much further than this.  When you do more yoga, you feel so filled up inside that you don’t need or crave the things you wanted before.  Most desires actually arise from you feeling unhappy.  “If I go to the movies, then I’ll feel better.”  “If I buy a new car, then I’ll be happy.”  “If I move to the mountains / get a new job / find my soul–mate / have a dish of ice cream, then I’ll feel wonderful.”

Your desires arise from the feeling of inner unhappiness.  All the things you do are attempts to change that inner feeling to one of happiness or joy.  So, if you do yoga and feel better inside already, you may discover that you really didn’t need that dish of ice cream — because you feel wonderful already.

Yoga calls this “independent happiness.”  All the things you chase after in the world create “dependent happiness,” because your feeling of happiness depends on certain external things (or people).  Dependent happiness brings three inherent problems with it:

  • It is temporary. Every desire that you are able to fulfill will make you feel good for only a time — unfortunately, for only a short time.  Nothing that you have ever done has given you permanent happiness.  You have proved this to yourself, over a period of many years.  Yet you still keep trying to create happiness by fulfilling your desires.  How many more years will it take before you conclude that it really doesn’t work effectively?
  • It is incomplete. No matter how fulfilling a particular thing may be, it is incomplete.  There are many reasons for this.  It could be that you hold yourself back from whatever it is a little bit — you are not sure you can rely on it.  Maybe it is because you keep the Internal Worry Department going 24/7.
  • It may have side effects that are not good for you. It used to be just alcohol and drugs that were known for their damaging effects, but now many other things have been identified as harmful addictions. You can overdo so many things, even work, exercise and relationship.  There are a million creative ways you can indulge in self-sabotage — all in the name of seeking happiness.

Once you discover the power of yoga, you can create an independently arising inner experience of peace, contentment and joy.  You have the ability to create this, anytime you make the choice.  It is a simple choice.  Just do some yoga practice, and your inner experience shifts.  You feel this independent happiness arising inside, and you are able to go into the activities of your life with an entirely different attitude.  This may give a whole new meaning to “Happy Hour.”

Yet, yoga offers more.  As you continue your practice of yoga, your inner experiences become more profound and more exquisitely satisfying.  The physical release of the hidden layers of tension begin to create a new comfort level in your body, and as you keep practicing, even more develops — you experience physical bliss, which prompts profound healings on all three levels:  body, mind and emotions.  In Svaroopa® yoga, it takes only a few weeks or a few months before many students begin seeing inner lights and colors.  Along with the lights you can see inside, there are 12 different inner sounds that you may hear, as well as many other amazing inner experiences unfold.

You can understand this subtle reality in this way.  In Svaroopa® yoga, we are always working with your spine and spinal cord.  Your spinal cord is the primary conduit of electrical energy in your body, the energy that runs through your nervous system. It is a specific type of electrical energy called piezo-electricity, which flows more directly once your spine is decompressed. Your brain is an extension of your spinal cord; both are made of the same gray cells.  As you decompress your spine, both your spinal cord and brain are “tuned up,” much like a musical instrument. They begin to function in a whole new way.

These newly opened currents of piezo-electricity may now flow through areas of your brain related to sensory perception.  As this energy flows through the visual areas of your brain, you see lights or colors on the inside.  As it flows through the auditory sections, you hear inner sounds.  As these currents flow though your spine, they branch out through the nerves in your whole body and create a tangible physical sensation of bliss.  These are genuine experiences, and serve as landmarks along the yoga path, to show you that you are headed in the right direction — inward.

Still, the lights and other inner phenomena are not the goal.  I have seen many yogis get stuck in the trap of internal sensory phenomena, because these inner experiences can be so sublime.  As you continue your practice, you dive deeper within, and these sensory pleasures fade away — like leaving behind the scenery on a car trip as you draw closer to your destination.

The culmination of your inner exploration is to discover the essence of beingness that is your own true being.  It is there in every human being.  It is already there inside you.  It is the essence that has become everything that exists — there is only One, who is being many.  You find That One inside yourself.  Then you can open your eyes and look outward, and you recognize everyone and everything as another form of that inner essence.  Each and every person and thing is another form of your Self — and you live your life in the inner experience of constant joy and love.

You can manipulate your own inner experience, from the simplest level to the most profound.  How do you want to feel?  What do you want to be dependent on?  Do more yoga.

OM svaroopa svasvabhava.h namo nama.h

Originally published July 2003

Choice

By Swami Nirmalananda

You cannot do it all.  It is a fallacy that, if you just go faster and just try harder, you can do it all.  No, you have to choose.  There is not enough time in the day and not enough days in your life for you to do everything that your mind can conceive of.  Your body simply cannot keep up with your mind.  You must choose which things are most important to you.

If you watch a movie for the evening, you won’t go to yoga class.  If you plan to do both by going to yoga and then watching the movie, you will miss out on sleep.  You simply cannot shoehorn it all in there.  There are a few of you who don’t want to hear this, so you decide to do yoga at home while you watch the movie.   But you won’t get the full benefit from the yoga and you won’t fully enjoy the movie.  You will get more quantity in your evening, but significantly less quality.  There’s the choice — do you want more “things” or more value?  You are making this choice all the time, in your home furnishings, in your relationships, in your job, etc.

Because I train yoga teachers, I have the great fortune of knowing many people who are making a career choice.  Many embarking upon this career path are successful professionals in other arenas, but have decided that they cannot settle for the “big bucks” any more.  They are willing to make an investment of both time and money in order to change their profession, and even to take a risk that their new profession won’t provide as much income.  If our economy actually valued the things that benefit people the most, yoga teachers would be among the most respected and the best-paid people in the country, along with child care workers.  Instead, in the real world you have to make a choice — love or money.  Meaning or rewards.  Quality or quantity.

To return to our starting point, you want to ask, “Can’t you have it all?”  The answer is a definite and resounding, “No!”  Yoga probably comes the closest to making everything possible — actually, you can do very well financially as a yoga teacher.  But you will give up watching some of those movies.  Your whole lifestyle will change if you become a yoga teacher; it isn’t just a job.  It comes back to choice.

The hardest choices to make are the ones that have a lot “riding on them.”  For example, choosing between Job “A” or Job “B” can be a hard choice, simply because you want to pick the one that combines many key factors:  you will like the work, you will be successful, you will get recognition, make a lot of money, have a lot of time off, and actually like the people you work with.  Of course, it is impossible to get all of these things, but you still can spend a lot of time trying to figure out which job will come the closest.  It is hard to choose, because your choice determines what your life will be like for many years.  More than that, this job has an effect on whatever job you might have next, so your choice may be a once-in-a-lifetime event that creates and shapes everything that comes next.  Plus, we haven’t even begun to talk about making choices in your relationships!

All of this becomes problematic because of persona and personality, which need certain external “security blankets” in order to feel complete.  To practice “the yoga of choice,” pause and look inside to see who is choosing.  When your choice is coming from persona or personality, it will always have an agenda attached.  It will always have the purpose of propping up the persona or personality, often at the expense of another person.  From the inner vantage point, the view from the Self, every job is worthwhile, every person is worth knowing, and whether you make a lot of money or not does not affect your inner sense of deep fullness and vast knowing-and-being.  How can you live from this deeper inner dimension and make choices in a tangible and practical way?

http://pastoralmeanderings.blogspot.com/2018/01/freedom-of-choice.htmlThe problem arises because you are looking at how your life creates your happiness or your unhappiness.  The reality is that there is no perfect job, no perfect relationship, no perfect family, no perfect home, etc.  No matter what you choose, there will be something about it that bothers you — because you have the “seeds of bother-ment” within you.  Just under the surface of your mind is an irritation waiting to be triggered.  For some people, leaf blowers will set it off.  For others it is the ringing of a cell phone in a yoga class.  Maybe you fume about the other drivers on the road.  Maybe everything I listed bothers you!  This inner irritation is not in your deepest Core of Being — it is hidden within your mind.

This inner irritation, always waiting for something to set it off, arises from a feeling of need.  You are irritated because that (usually unrecognized) need is not being met.  Your persona and personality have the need that your surroundings be perfect before they can feel good.  You base your happiness on your state of mind, which fluctuates with the conditions around you.  If the stock market is up today, you’re happy.  If not, then everyone around you better watch out.  You work hard to manipulate the world into looking how you want it to look.  You even ignore the things that don’t match, by ignoring world events and avoiding certain members of your family.

This is important because you can refine how you use your free will.  You can choose more freely.  Instead of making choices about how to construct your world for maximum enjoyment, you can choose to enjoy what is happening.  If it is snowing, you can choose to enjoy the snow.  If it is hot, you can dress differently and relax into the sauna being provided for you by the Mother Nature.  If your job is challenging, you can enjoy rising to the challenge — or even enjoy being pushed beyond your limits and learning something new.  If your world is in limbo, you can learn to be happy without the usual hallmarks of security and stability.  If yoga doesn’t give you the ability to work with your mind, then what is the point?

Originally published May & June 2003

Kurma Avatar & Neelakantha

By Nirooshitha Sethuram

Indra, the King of Heaven was riding on His white elephant.  As He returned to Heaven, He was greeted by Durvasa, a great sage, who offered him a very special garland of flowers vibrating with the energy and presence of the Divine Goddess Parashakti herself.

Indra, being a king, was arrogant, so while He accepted the garland, He gave it to the elephant.  The elephant was irritated by the smell of the garland, threw it to the ground and trampled it.  Durvasa, known to be a hot-headed sage, was predictably enraged, as the garland held all beauty and auspiciousness in it.  It was to be treated as sacred prasad, a Divine Gift.  Sage Durvasa cursed Indra, “Your pride has made you egoistic about your position and wealth.  Goddess Lakshmi will now forsake you.”  Because of the sage’s curse, without Goddess Lakshmi’s blessings, Indra and all the gods lost their strength, energy and wealth.

With all His powers diminished, Indra with the other Devas ran to Lord Vishnu seeking His advice.  Lord Vishnu said the only way to get back what was lost was to churn the ocean, then made of milk, to bring forth “amrit” (the nectar of immortality).  Thus Indra and the Devas could drink the amrit, which would make them immortal again and help them regain their lost powers.  Because of their depleted powers, Vishnu explained they would need help from their half-brothers the Asuras (demons), even though they had always been in conflict with them, in order to achieve this.

Indra led the Devas in approaching the Asuras for help.  After deliberations, they all agreed to churn the ocean together and share the proceeds.  The churning of the ocean of milk was not going to be an easy task, though they were working together.  They needed a huge churning rod and a very strong rope.

They sought the help of Mount Mandara to be their churning rod and the great snake Vasuki, the snake god, to be their rope, which they wrapped 3½ times around the mountain.  The churning of the ocean began with the Devas holding Vasuki’s tail (as advised by Lord Vishnu) and the Asuras holding the head.  The Devas and Asuras pulled back and forth alternately, rotating the mountain and churning the ocean.

As they were churning, Mount Mandara started sinking in the ocean of milk.  To prevent this, Lord Vishnu assumed the form of a tortoise and held Mount Mandara up from underneath.  This is known to be “Kurma Avatar” (kurma=tortoise, avatar=incarnation), one of Lord Vishnu’s ten Avatars.

The first thing to manifest from the churning ocean was a deadly poison, known as “hala hala,” which threatened the very existence of all the worlds.  As instructed by Lord Vishnu, the Devas and Asuras prayed to Lord Shiva, who is healer of sickness and remover of all poisons.  Lord Shiva came to their aid, while the Devas and Asuras watched in amazement, by swallowing the hala hala poison in one gulp.

Goddess Parvati, standing by His side, was terrified at the thought that it might poison Shiva, so She squeezed His neck to prevent the poison from going into His stomach.  The poison remained stuck forever in His throat, staining it a dark blue.  This gave Lord Shiva the name “Neelakantha,” which means Blue Throated (neela=blue, kantha=throat).

Not knowing what would happen to Shiva, they all stood vigil with Him through the night.  This was the first Shivaratri or Night of Shiva, which is still celebrated on the dark of the moon in February.

Once the danger had passed, the Devas and Asuras began churning the ocean again.  As they continued to churn, several objects came out:

Kamadhenu — the wish-fulfilling cow

Ucchaisrava — the white horse

Airavata — the white elephant

Kaustubhamani — a rare diamond

Kalpavriksha — the wish-fulfilling tree

Sura or Varuni — the goddess of wine

And Lakshmi — the goddess of wealth

The Devas and Asuras divided the objects among themselves.  Lakshmi was gifted to Vishnu who had been supporting them all along as the tortoise.

Finally, Dhanvantari (the Divine Physician) appeared with the vessel of amrit in His skillful hands.

The Asuras overpowered the Devas in order to drink it all themselves.  Looking at the situation, Lord Vishnu turned into the loveliest of the nymphs of the Heaven, called Mohini.  Mohini distracted the Asuras, then stole the amrit and gave it to the Devas.

As Mohini was distributing the amrit to the Devas, one of the Asuras, called Svarbhanu, sneaked in to sit among the Devas and get some amrit.  The moment Chandra (Moon) and Surya (Sun), who were sitting beside him, saw that he was an Asura, they informed Mohini.  Lord Vishnu took on His real form and threw out the Sudarshan Chakra (a spinning disc-like energetic weapon).  The Asura’s neck was separated from his body, but he did not die as he had drunk one drop of the amrit.  His head was called “Rahu” and his torso “Ketu.”  Now, Rahu and Ketu periodically swallow the moon and sun to have their revenge, causing the eclipses to happen.  Rahu and Ketu are part of the nine planets of Vedic astrology.

After Indra and the Devas drank the amrit, they regained their strength.  The three worlds became filled with radiance and power.

OM svaroopa svasvabhava namo nama.h

Persona, Personality & Self

By Swami Nirmalananda

Persona is the face you present to the world.  Personality is the aggregate of characteristics that you carry with you through the different personas.  The deeper unchanging Reality within is called “Self” in yoga.  The challenge is to sort it all out on the inside.  You get too easily mixed up in the different levels of identity and lost in the superficial levels of life, running around in circles and never feeling really fully complete.  Let’s look at the three levels of identity.

Yoga recognizes the importance of the fulfilling the different roles and responsibilities of your life, called dharma in Sanskrit.  Persona is the external sense of self that you create by these roles.  It is your whole sense of self when you are at work, how you are when you are with your friends and who you are at home and with your extended family.  You actually have multiple personas, some of them amazingly dissimilar.   You might be very quiet at work, yet gregarious at home or vice versa.  You could be considerate and loving to those you live with and still be sorting out some old anger with your extended family.  You even switch from one persona to another very easily, sometimes several times a day.

You also have personal characteristics that you carry through your many personas.  You may have a good sense of humor or you may be quietly insightful.  You might be a take-charge person, or you could be a person who prefers to wait and see about things.  Maybe you carry a sense of helpfulness everywhere you go, or you are an astute commentator on life and on the people around you.  These characteristics comprise your personality.

Your personality provides you with a distinct sense of self, different from other people.  It provides a more consistent sense of self than persona does, being made up of enduring qualities that yoga calls vasanas, your mental and emotional proclivities.  You can change them if you want to, but it takes genuine work.  You can decide to become more compassionate or to improve your ability to handle the practical things in life.  It will truly be worth it.  These unique and individual characteristics (or idiosyncratic quirks) comprise the way in which consciousness contracts to become an individual — you!

Beyond persona and personality, there is a deeper dimension which is called “Self,” atman or svaroopa in Sanskrit.  This innermost essence provides you with the internal sense of continuity while the surface revolves through many selves and an ever-changing external reality.  Inside, you are still the person you were when you were a child.  That inner essence has always been you and will always be.  Yoga is the process of finding your own Self.  Your Self is Consciousness-Itself being you.

So far, we have looked at three levels of self: persona, personality and Self.  You will always have all three.  The trick is how you handle them on the inside.  Consider this:  which one of the many selves are you coming from right now?  Whatever answer you give is a good answer — there is no wrong answer.  Problems arise only when you get stuck in the superficial levels of self, persona or personality.  Yoga helps you dive deeper to find svaroopa, the Self, which is your inner essence, from which happiness, joy and love arise.

You create your persona and personality through your memories.  Patanjali explains this in the Yoga Sutras:

Chittaantara-drshye buddhi-buddher ati-prasangah smrti-samkarash cha.   — Sutra # 4.21

…if mind were see-able by another mind, there would be an infinite regression

from one mind to another, as well as a confusion of memories.

This speaks to why yoga warns against developing and using psychic powers.  If you try to know what is in another’s mind, the memories of both get tangled together within you, making you go crazy because you lose your sense of individuality.  This shows how important your memories are, because you construct your sense of identity by your memories.

This is true of the memories that you keep reviewing like reruns inside your head, as well as the ones buried too deep for you to access consciously.  The more deeply they are buried, the more powerfully they shape your sense of self.  Yoga begins to unearth the hidden levels and clear a path to svaroopa, the Self.  It can even help you change your past because, fortunately, memories are changeable.  What you remember is not what really happened.  You have a highly selective memory, which edits out certain things and remembers others.  Worse, what you remember is actually a distorted report of what really happened.  This should not be a surprise to you —just check out your childhood memories with someone else who was actually present at the time!

Recent scientific studies have proven that your memory is unreliable.  A recent study reported work with a group of people over several years.  The scientists had each person do a series of simple puzzles, the “round-peg-in-the-round-hole” type of thing.  Every year they returned to do the same puzzles again.  Each time, the researchers told the people what their elapsed time was.  They kept getting better, because they were getting practice (and you always get better when you practice).  Every year, the scientists asked them what their time had been in the prior years.  What was really being measured was what their memory. Their memory of their elapsed times changed as their ability to do the puzzles improved.  As they got better at the puzzles, they shortened their past times — to show that they were better in the past.  In other words, when you feel better about yourself, your memories improve.  You really can change your past.

Yoga helps you with this.  You already know that when you do yoga, the way you respond to everyday situations improves.  More importantly, you can actually change your past and, when your memories change, your whole sense of self changes.  This is a profound healing of both persona and personality.  These two together are called ahamkara in Sanskrit, your externally-based sense of self, also often translated as “ego.”  You construct ahamkara through your memories, actions and thoughts.  When your thoughts and actions change, your ahamkara changes.  This is called healing.  It is called transformation.

While yoga reliably gives you these changes, they are not the goal of yoga.  The real goal of yoga is to find the Self and to let it shine through all the superficial layers.  This is because you will always have all three levels of identity.  You do not become free from ego (ahamkara) by destroying it, because it is the means by which consciousness becomes you as an individual.  If it goes, you go.

What happens instead is that you clear out all the gunk that blocks or distorts the way consciousness shines through you.  You make your ego as transparent as a sliding glass patio door, one that is so clean you cannot tell if it is open or closed.  Then svaroopa can shine through without distortion.

This gives you an internal feeling of vertical integrity, all your selves lined up inside.  Your personality and persona(s) become means by which Self (Consciousness-Itself) expresses itself into the world.  You live from the deepest level of your own being and even your emotions and memories are completely transformed.

Getting there is a process is of clearing out the old stuff; letting go.  Whether you let go gracefully or you kick and scream all the way, you will still have to let go.  The best part of this is that you are already on the way.  Doing yoga is a way to embark upon the inner journey quite consciously, but even if you aren’t doing yoga, you are on the path.  Life itself moves you — haven’t you noticed?

Be conscious about what you are doing, because you can use yoga to support any level of self that you hold dear.  Yoga can protect your persona, by doing yoga to recover from the strains of “holding it together” in a time of difficulties.  You can use yoga to protect your personality, doing yoga to just “get through the hard times.”  Or you can use yoga to dive deeper and deeper inside and base your whole inner being, and your whole life on the Self.  It’s your choice.  I always recommend, “Do more yoga!”

OM svaroopa svasvabhava namo nama.h

Click for online version (April 2003)