Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Pardon Me While I Slimp into Something More . . . Conscious

What if what we are fundamentally is what the poet Mary Oliver says we are in her poem conveniently also titled Poem, “pure light that shines where no one is”? She describes our essence as an “Airy and shapeless thing,/ it needs/ the metaphor and the body. . . to be understood/ to be more than pure light /that burns/ where no one is”. If that’s true, than this essence of being, this pure light, is shrouded with not only our fallible body, perfect in its imperfections, but also layers and layers of emotions, thoughts, memories, etc. like gossamer wrappings around a mummy. Yoga philosophy suggests that all these layers aren’t the real self, but merely the costume we wear to cover what is really real. And how does one substantiate that? Who knows. Come to know yourself and see for yourself, I suppose. Practice and listen and learn. And that our practice is to bit by bit learn to uncover the real version of Self. I suppose that all these other parts of us—body, emotions, thoughts, etc., — are all real enough ‘cuz they take form, right? I can see it and feel it, right? But when we really get down to it, anything that is changeable doesn’t qualify for the truest part of being that by definition can’t change. It always is. And here’s the tricky part, because even though these lesser parts of self, like body and emotions and what not, don’t equate Self with the capital “S” (read: pure light), they are the most easily accessible parts to see and experience, to pay attention to. And here’s the beautiful part, from these lesser “not real”, or at least not absolute parts, like body, and breath, and emotions, we experience a tangible realm in which to practice experiencing the Real part, the part aggrandized with all the capital letters. All these mummy wrappings, while not the whole deal, suggest at least at what’s underneath. So that’s good. For me, yoga is the dance between that pure light Self and the mummy wrapping outer self. It’s finding where those two realms meet and converse and then periodically looking under the wrappings to hint at what is real while still enjoying the wrappings. We unravel the mummy bandages, just enough to see clues of Self. With practice we might become so adept at this peeking that we begin to piece together a working knowledge of the underlying form our true radiance. So, first we mistake the wrappings to be the Self. Then we notice the Self under the wrappings and may even begin to loathe the dirty wrappings. Eventually we stop seeing the dirty wrappings when we start seeing the wrappings form as the expression of what’s underneath. Then something really magical happens and that’s when we look at someone else and see or sense the same brightness beneath their wrappings of pain, ego, cynicism, whatever, and understand that person with complete compassion, even if they neither see us or themselves in that same way. When we’ve seen ourselves and others from this deeper vantage point, we won’t/can’t go back to not seeing or knowing. Plus, we may suddenly start to notice other, once subtle, things that perhaps have been around us all the time. Only now we truly see them because we’ve learned how to pay attention. We may feel the breeze on our skin, smell the garden, or truly hear/feel the music because we sense this same aliveness in all of this as we did inside of ourselves. This is because or basic make up is the same basic make up of everything else. One of the oldest mantras is the world is The Gayatri mantra which states, “Everything in the heavens and in the earth and in between is arising from one effulgent source. If my thoughts, words and deeds reflected a complete understanding of this unity, I would be the peace I am seeking in this moment.” It’s just sometimes we forget. We forget our true nature. We forget our source. It’s nice to know that forgetting who we are is also very natural. Don’t beat yourself up about it because we all do it. The question is how do you set those practices up in your life to help yourself continuously remember? Yoga and meditation provides the practice to always work on remembering literally to re-member to come back together until we realize we are all part of the same big source of vital aliveness. We come to realize that this work is never ending that we will always have to work and continue to refine our ability to see. When we see a lifetime sentence of work sometimes that can be a bit daunting, but here’s the kicker: IT FEELS GOOD! It feels good to practice. It feels good to see. It feels good to experience the world with this kind of clarity, especially when balanced with the two tempering qualities of steadiness and ease. Why wouldn’t we want to undress this radiant being from its foreign and clunky costume? Oh, just cuz I’m ranting on about the subject, don’t be fooled into thinking that I’ve got this figured out. I don’t. I, like all of you, have some time or other just had a momentary glimpse at the light while in practice, meditation or during a trail-run. In her other poem, Bone, Mary Oliver says this: and what the soul is, also I believe I will never quite know. Though I play at the edges of knowing, truly I know our part is not knowing, but looking, and touching, and loving, which is the way I walked on, softly, through the pale-pink morning light. She says that we will never know. Not truly. But the degree to which we do know is the ability to simply practice of awareness which can happen while looking, touching, loving. This is the essence of our practice, the practice of every-day living. The conscious crooner Leonard Cohen so eloquently addresses this topic in only the best Leonard Cohen fashion possible. Quirky factoid: from a young age Leonard Cohen has always felt most comfortable wearing a suit. I’m talkin’ full-on jacket and tie 365 days a year. I think his dad was a tailor. In his song Going Home, recorded on his most recent album Old Ideas (at 78 years old?!), you get the sense that he understands his own imminent mortality as he drops these poetically poignant lines: I’d like to speak to Leonard he’s a sportsman and a shepherd. He’s a lazy bastard living in a suit. . . . He will speak these words of wisdom Like a sage, a man of vision Though he knows he's really nothing But the brief elaboration of a tube Going home Without my sorrow Going home Sometime tomorrow To where it's better Than before Going home Without my burden Going home Behind the curtain Going home Without the costume That I wore Leonard Cohen is talking about finally taking off that damned 3-piece suit but of course is simultaneously talking about shedding the small self, the old rags if you will—body, ego and all that—to see the radiant Self beneath. This shedding of the costume could be the enlightenment after a lifetime of lyrical contemplation (in this case set to iambic pentameter none the less!) or perhaps the radical change that happens when we die. After all, like he notes of himself, aren’t we all (physically, anyway) simply the brief elaboration of a tube? Check out this song. Leave it to L.C. to speak to the most sublime holy and eternal part in all of us directly and bluntly while his raspy voice poetically paints the perfect picture with his concise lyrics. Such clarity in vision can only be express with equally clear words, after all language is a philosophy, an art, and a practice in itself. So join me this week as we practice dancing between the realm of self and Self. Perhaps this will help us see ourselves and our world more clearly.

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