Life has its own essential nature outside of your own preferences. Anand Mehrotra
I often look at people I know on social media, people I have met at various spiritual courses, who live these seemingly charmed lives flitting from one exotic locale to another, islands off Thailand and Indonesia, ashrams in India, mountain villages in Peru… And I wonder how I ended up with my life.
When I first started seriously meditating, committing to a daily practice, it was because I had read Buddhism for Mothers, by Sarah Napthali, and I wanted to be a more serene, mindful mum, with three young boys, *snort* yeah right.
My morning ‘silent’ meditation would begin with me seated peacefully on my beautiful meditation cushion, all quiet in the house and slowly, one by one, I would have a toddler climbing all over me, then a seven and eight year old giving each other shoulder punches and fighting over the TV remote.
The author of the book suggested making all this part of my mindfulness practice, letting the sounds (read noise and fighting) be part of my practice. Just keep breathing, keep still, which is possible up to a point, usually the point where the 14 month-old is trying to ride his trike head-first off the coffee table.
Flash forward fifteen years and I am still working, parenting, juggling commitments and responsibilities, and still trying to make a place in my life for my yoga and meditation practice. In the last few years, I have been blessed with two lots of three week stints in Bali and India, where I have been able to live that exotic life I see on social media, if only temporarily.
In the tantric system they feel, they believe, the mind is not something against which you should start a war. It is in this context that tantra developed a system by which you didn’t have to worry much about the fluctuating tendencies of the mind. You just went on with your tantric or yogic practices and found that, through certain techniques, the mind became quieter and exhausted all its potentialities. This set of methods is known as kriya yoga, the basis of which is tantra. Swami Satyananda Saraswati
Part of me has always thought that my ‘real’ yogic life would start once I was free of these responsibilities, free to run off to an ashram in India and immerse myself 24/7. So I have been really interested to discover that the yogic Tantra path, was originally called ‘The Householder’s Path.’ The whole point of it being that you didn’t need to renounce the world and meditate 12 hours a day to be a yogi. You could have a life and a spiritual practice. In fact, for most people, given the relative importance of the continuation of the species, mixing work, family and yoga was a valid option.
And it occurred to me that while my life is not as glamorous as the jet setting yogis I see, it may be more helpful as a power of example. I mean most people are not in a position to live a gypsy existence, they have jobs and families and by the time they wake up to the feeling that some crucial part of themselves has been neglected, and they start looking for way to enliven their spirit again, well it is just not feasible to run off to India for a year, much as they might wish to.
So as I come to the end of another year, a time of reflection and planning for the year to come, as I embark on more yogic studies, I find myself asking, to what end? I know I have a burning desire for the kind of self-mastery and freedom from the bondage of the monkey-mind that these practices bring me, but do I have anything to offer others?
It is not our natural state to be constantly focused on our own thought-stream, and obsessed with our own story, and our achievements. Rather our natural state is to be open, expanded and aware of the full beauty of life unfolding moment by moment. Where your own personal biography is just a thread in an incredible tapestry of awareness. To open up to the whole of our experience and to sense the sacredness that is present all the time, everywhere just waiting to be sensed. Christopher Hareesh Wallis
And I realise that yes, what I have is my experience. Which is how to incorporate these hugely effective spiritual practices into our lives, while still living in the real world. Jobs, families, financial responsibilities, these are things that most of us must live with. But that doesn’t exclude us from a spiritual life.
A spiritual life is an ‘inside job,’ it doesn’t require a certain locale. Just a commitment. There are ways to develop self-mastery while changing nappies, paying a mortgage, and meeting deadlines at work. So I got to thinking, this is what I can do, offer these amazing techniques to people so they can fit them into their lives, not have disrupt their lives or wait until they get a decent stretch of ‘me-time.’
When the yoga Tantra tradition was emerging, it came from a backlash to traditional Brahmanism, where only a certain caste of holy men, Brahmins, could engage in spiritual practices. Other people could worship but to access the tools of meditation and deeper practices, one had to be a renunciate. Tantra brought practices to the people, so that anyone with a desire for self-mastery and enough intelligence and self-discipline to apply themselves to the teachings could participate.
Another difference between Tantra and classical yoga is Tantra’s body-positive view. Since the body exists in the material world, the classical viewpoint was that it is inferior to the transcendental Self or spirit. Tantra views the body as a manifestation of spirit. By purifying and strengthening the body through asana and by balancing and uniting the universe of opposites within our body, it becomes our vehicle for ending suffering and attaining liberation.
This means we can practise anywhere that our body is present. Like the author of Buddhism for Mothers was trying to tell me all those years ago, our spiritual practice begins where we are. The only equpiment we need is our own body, our breath, our awareness.
The most important practice us the one you do in your aloneness. As you go into your own sadhana, the world starts to fade, and what starts to happen in you is the celestial glow of self starts to get established. And it is of paramount importance that we really cultivate this self-practice. Anand Mehrotra
Why did Tantra come about in the first place?
Yoga scholars believe it was a response to a period of spiritual decline, also known as Kali Yuga, or the Dark Age, a period governed by greed, dishonesty, physical and emotional illness, attachment to worldly things, and complacency.
Tantra’s comprehensive array of practices, which include asana (poses) and pranayama (controlled breathing) as well as mantra (chanting), pujas (deity worship), kriyas (cleansing practices), mudras (seals), and mandalas and yantras (circular or geometric patterns used to develop concentration), provides the powerful measures needed to counteract the many obstacles to spiritual liberation in the modern age.
Yoga is powerful. Realise yoga is not a path for the weak. It is for you to overcome your self-imposed limitations. Anand Mehrotra
I want spiritual liberation. Who wouldn’t? I have had profound mystical experiences but they have not been lasting. What I have wanted is not an experience but a total transformation, an inner rearrangement that weaves through my life. So there is no boundary between the me that is meditating and doing yoga and the me that is driving, working, parenting.
For me I want to be free of the tyranny of my thinking. Obsessive thoughts about my love. Where is he? Who is he with? Does he think of me? Obsessive fears for my son. Worrying about his future, worrying I havent parented him well. Obsessive negativity about myself, my body, my life, aging, what am I meant to be doing? It just goes on and on, round and around like a broken record. It wears me out and gets me nowhere.
This is karma. Being trapped in a loop of self-obsessive, fearful thinking. Thinking based on the past. Thinking that can only produce more of the same. All that can ever arise from this state is more of the same conditions. As Einstein said, we can’t solve the problem with the thinking that created it. We can’t think ourself into right thinking, action has to proceed thought, that’s what yoga, true yoga not just the bendy poses, is for.
Enlightenment is not a static, utopic state. It is a consistent journey with greater and greater degrees of awareness. With really no end. For why are we interested in an end? Only when we are in suffering in life, when we are in conflict with ourself, with life, are we looking for an end where ‘this’ doesn’t exist. You are still using life as a waiting room. So the very thing you are looking for is keeping you from that which you are looking for. Anand Mehrotra
In my recent yogic studies with Anand Mehrotra, I was reintroduced to the concept of karma, I say re-introduced because it was apparent that I had previously misunderstood the term.
The concept of karma has long been misunderstood in the West as a kind of universal law of returns, the golden rule in reverse. What you do, comes back to you. I really like how my teacher Anand Mehrotra frames karma and dharma.
Karma is both a state of will from which we act, the actions we take from this state of ego, and the results of those actions. So when we are stuck in our ego mind, our so-called rational mind, we must draw upon memory, upon past experiences to make choices on how to act or react to life.
Karma is an identity based on conditioned memory, the cause of our state of consciousness is based on the actions of the past and the effect is how we perceive ourself now. Karma is a state of consciousness from which any action is karmic in nature, that is producing actions that are more of the same. Giving birth to further karma. In this limited awareness we experience life as a conflict, trapped in a mental narrative of separation and suffering.
It is said that humans have around 80,000 thoughts a day, and most of those thoughts are the same ones we had yesterday and will have again tomorrow. So it’s a very limited field of intelligence we are working with here. Yes, we can read books and learn, but we are always seeing life through this filter of the small ‘me’ with our various experiences and prejudices.
Reality validates the nervous system from which it is observing this reality. Reality will manifest only as consciousness, as our nervous system, as our sensory awareness will allow. Because reality is infinite it can show up in the perception of the experiencer. Anand Mehrotra
The role of yoga, and in particular kriyas – powerful cleansing practices – is to break out of this limitations of the small self and to begin to access the infinite intelligence of the creative life force that flows through all life. When we think, feel and act from this intelligence we can live in dharma, the path of our highest self, the path that the ever-intelligent nature of life intends for us.
This is our natural state of being, not to be trapped in a limited sense of self separated from the nature of reality, but to be aware of our self as an integral part of nature, of the totality of existence.
To move from karma to dharma, our higher purpose, we must use a technique to break through karma. This is the purpose of yoga. Yoga practice allows us to move towards a more unified consciousness, an expanded sense of self. Where our experience of life profoundly shifts, as we become more aligned to the state of nature.
Anand Mehrotra describes kriya as “an action that is helping you evolve and transcend. Focusing your attention on certain centres along your spine and moving your energy to help you get to a meditative state.”
Dharma is really not about what to do, what is the ‘right’ action, what will make me feel good, or what is my ‘purpose.’
When we seek that out from a desire for security and self-esteem, we are still in karma, no matter how good our intentions may be.
Through yoga and meditation practice, our nervous system and our mind settle into a less excited state. We settle into the field of eternal silence, which is wordless and concept-less. Here we transcend our false identity, into a state of consciousness not dominated by ego or victim consciousness, to a state where life is happening for us and though us, this is dharma. Actions arising out of dharma will be effortlessly aligned with the greater evolutionary flow of life.
When you are in karma, your identity is isolated, locked in, separate from the whole. Dominated by ego, still experiencing life as happening to you, experiencing a sense of victimhood, limited by every experience you have. Or even the desire for experiences you want to have, they all function in limiting your sense of self and creating a sense of isolation. That is why when you look at humans beings, whatever it is they get, somehow they find a way to suffer with it. Anand Mehrotra
For much of my life I have been a chameleon of sorts. Searching desperately for the ‘real’ me, I tried on continuous parade of personas.
In my teenage years I was a hippie 60s fanatic, then a goth, a punk, and a weird hybrid of them all. As a young mother, I softened my look to blend with the other mothers. I never felt truly comfortable in any of these guises.
In my mid-late twenties my search went within, experimenting with wicca, and New Age Spirituality. I became a fairly regular meditator. After my divorce I discovered yoga, druidry, shamanism and Chakradance.
While all of these practices have revealed aspects of me to me, there always came a point where I felt like an imposter or a failure. I wasn’t serene enough, or bendy enough, or New Agey enough.
Each time I found a new practice I thought I had found the key to unlocking this neverending sense of longing and searching. At some point I would be confronted with the reality that I was still me. Still flawed, essentially unchanged.
Attachment and detachment, nervous welfare, nervous imbalance, nervous breakdown, everything is subject to the state of human consciousness. The moment you change your consciousness, everything is gone. All of these things are experiences, they are not permanent realities. Swami Satyananda Saraswati
All these years, each time I thought I had found my dharma, my true path, I had just found a new guise for my karma chameleon. Not because of any flaw in those practices, on the contrary they have all brought me to this point, but rather because of my expectations of them. Of what they would do for me. Because I was still trying to find myself, find some self-image, something about myself I could love.
In some way, I was still that young girl trying to abandon and escape from myself. Yoga and meditation, dance and energy work have always brought me home to myself through my body. Yet, there was the split between the ‘spiritual me’ practicing yoga or Chakradance, and the ‘real me’ out in the world, getting pent up and frustrated, trying to control everything.
I have been a karma chameleon, I have tried on many skins in an attempt to transform myself. But lasting change has to be more than skin deep.
Much of my karmic patterns seem to revolve around looking externally for validation, especially from other people. What I keep being brought back to, through Chakradance and through yoga, is how essential it is to be self-sufficient. To be able to get everything we need from our own vital energy and connection to the greater flow of energy, the divine source. Anand says those who cannot generate their vital energy are weak. My weakness has always been this tendency to look without instead of within for my source of strength, power and love.
Yoga has always been a great training for my mind, but the yoga Anand teaches transcends all thought and goes straight to the innate inner intelligence that is bound to all intelligence, to all life. The practices are instantly revolutionary, they bring immediate effect on the energy body and over time, transform consciousness in a way that would not be achievable in a lifetime by many other means.
The spine and the brain are the altars of God. That’s where the electricity of God flows down into the nervous system into the world. The searchlights of your senses are turned outward. But when you will reverse the searchlights through kriya yoga and be concentrated in the spine you will… charge the body with the life current from universe. Paramahansa Yogananda
Anand’s practice, called Sattva yoga seems to be helping me see the difference between my unhealthy desires, my attempts to control and manipulate people, places and things to suit my needs. While I have seen this before, I never had a solution that seemed to work at this level of my inner programming.
I find these practices really exciting because they utilise the chakras. This means Sattva yoga is an complimentary extension of my Chakradance practice, and my other subtle energy work. I am also seeing very profound before and after effects of doing the kriyas. From feeling anxious depressed and lethargic to a total flush-out of energy – being filled up with fresh prana, or life-force, feeling switched on, optimistic, calm and energised.
Pranayama, life-force control via our breathing, essentially brings us back to the emptiness from which all beingness arises. When we hold our breath, we play with that nexus between being alive in a body, and alive in spirit. Holding our breath pushes our ego self to it’s limits, what could be more challenging to the ego than the hint of non-survival that cessation of breath suggests?
The Kriya technique emphasizes the relationship between breath and mind. Breath influences the mind and vice versa. This reciprocal relationship reveals the secret of controlling the mind. Breath control is self control. Breath mastery is self-mastery. Sally Kempton
The renunciates, and the spiritual gypsies, who take these practices across the world have an important dharma. But so do those of us trudging the householder path. It doesn’t matter what our dharma is, only that we find a way to live it.
Acting from karma produces a Groundhog Day existence, where every day is more of the same. Where our actions, based on our limited awareness and obsession with our own desires, bring unhappiness to ourselves and those in relationship to us.
Disciplined action is required to break through karma, through a commitment to awaken our vital life force, to be free of attachment to selfish desires, we can move into a life where we live in alignment with the source of life, where we live from our true heart’s desires, in union with life and manifesting our dharma into the world.
I have been trying so hard to get somewhere, to be someone, to have someone, to find my purpose. To look a certain way, to feel a certain way. This year my intention is to let that shit go. It’s exhausting!
Instead to just be disciplined in my practice, but to then let life unfold. To just live. To enjoy the ride. See what happens. How free would that be?
Action sets us on the right trajectory but then we have to be open to what life is bringing us, open to pure receiving. Yoga literally means to “yoke” ourselves to what is, the is-ness of is-ness as the gurus say. This requires an enormous surrender and allowing everything to be just as it is. Letting go of our agendas, our attachments and softening our edges. No longer wasting our precious life force trying to bend life to our petty plans and designs.
All action that arises from a divine state of consciousness is dharma… You have no purpose. Just be quiet for a while. Anand Mehrotra
Blessings of the New Year to you all!
Hari Om Tat Sat. Namaste. Blessings.
Art by karmym.deviantart.com/art/
Sattva Yoga www.sattvayoga.com