By Swami Sahajananda
Walking to the window after meditation, I looked out at the life size Nataraja (dancing Shiva) in the garden. So peaceful and more than peaceful — still.
The total stillness of inner absorption shone from his face, captivating me. All around him the universe dances in ceaseless movement. Flames ring his body. One hand plays a drum. One knee is bent and lifted in the whirl. Shiva’s other foot pins a small being, who embodies ignorance, to the ground. Shiva’s dreadlocks fling wildly in all directions. A snake encircles one arm; another arm holds fire. Within all this frenzy, Shiva’s face radiates inner calm.
As I stood there, the stillness of Shiva’s face evoked pure inner peace within me. I thought, “This is what I need, this is what the world needs right now.” Can we stay calm, centered and fully alive in inner stillness while the world whirls? For a year, the world has been whirling around us on many levels. Sustained by yoga practices, you can settle within. You can experience inner calm even with an uncertain, chaotic world outside.
Nataraja — dancing Shiva — embodies the state of being fully grounded and centered in inner stillness. An ancient yogic text describes this divine inner state, which is called Turiya:
Madhye’vara prasava.h. — Shiva Sutras 3.23
Turiya should fill all three states, not just the beginning and ending of each. — Translation by Swami Nirmalananda
The three states of mind, which you cycle through daily, are waking, dreaming and deep sleep. Turiya, the fourth state, is a state of being. Turiya exists within and underlies all three states of mind. Turiya is your entryway to the deeper, divine stillness shining through Nataraja’s face.
You can understand turiya by thinking of the ocean. Each wave on the surface appears to be an individual wave. Yet what is each wave made of? It is made of ocean water. Even though each wave appears to be separate, when you look deeper, you see all waves are part of the vast ocean. In the same way, you live in the three states of waking, dreaming and deep sleep. Turiya is the ocean, your own deeper state of being. The other three states are superficial. Turiya is a much deeper state, hidden under the other three.
To see the waves as part of the ocean, you must dive deep into the ocean. In the same way, you find turiya by diving deeper within. Yoga’s meditative practices make this possible. You can access this divine state of inner bliss and calm. All yoga practices are for the purpose to turn you from outward focus to inward focus. Looking inward, you are carried to experiencing and knowing your own Self. Ultimately, you can abide in this bliss.
Once you realize you’re caught up in worldly bustle again, you can use a yoga practice to settle you back inside. Simply take a slow breath or two. Or, if you are standing, shifting your weight evenly into both feet. If you are sitting, settle your weight into both sitbones evenly.
The most powerful — yet still simple — of all yogic practices is mantra repetition (japa). You can do it silently anywhere. The sacred words of the mantra take you within, opening the doorway to the deeper dimension of your own being. You find your own Self, who you truly are. Amidst the whirling activity around you, you can settle into your own Self and abide there.