Finding OurSelves – losing ourselves
We’ve spoken in these posts about yoga in terms of “yoking” or joining with, our higher self, God (dess), love or truth. We’re always going to join with something. Most of us are joined, intimately, with our personalities and the conditioning from our past experiences. The yoga practices are designed to liberate us from the confinement of those identities, opening up fields of possibilities which are obscured by those limited perspectives. The practices open us up to the vastness of our sacredness, our divinity and to an experience of life which is larger than ourselves. But we live in a field of influences. As we open up it’s important to be clear in our elevated personal intention. i.e. “I wish to yoke to the greater creative force of the universe”. Otherwise it is all too easy to find ourselves swept away by a tidal wave of charisma, affection, or illusion. I believe this is the source of many controversial events in spiritual history. Participants got involved to find themselves and lost themselves instead. It can be a very easy thing to do, getting lost. In order to navigate the fields of liberated consciousness it’s wise to learned to stay centered as you practice (tapah), to develop your self-awareness of your own inner feeling states of consciousness (svadyaya), and to clear that you are surrendering your own restricted consciousness states to a higher consciousness state appropriate for you.
There are numerous techniques to stay centered in your practice. Two widely used and simple techniques are the focus on the breath and the focus on the third eye center which is between the brows and slightly back. Both techniques can be used in asana practice, in meditation practice, in bed, standing in line or on the bus. It can be helpful to learn with eyes closed, but both techniques can be practiced with eyes open. To focus on the breath, direct your inner gaze to the tip of the nose and watch each breath as you beath in and out through the nostrils. To focus on the third eye center, direct the inner gaze to a space between the brows and slightly back, and allow it to rest there. For both practices, the gaze can be directed either by moving the physical eyes or just directing the attention. When you discover your attention has wandered, just bring it back again. Try starting with 5 minutes and build from there.
Self-reflection is a perpetual on going process. It may begin with noting your emotional states, and then deepen into subtler states of consciousness. Just practice checking in with how you are feeling, and then what you are feeling underneath the feeling with a receptive and gentle awareness.
In the practices of bhakti yoga, practitioners nurture a relationship with what is called their Ishta devata. The Ishta Devata is their preferred form of God (dess), or guru. Many western practitioners begin by working with Hindu deities they feel an affinity, a guru or or even Jesus. Mahatma Ghandhi worked with truth. You can take a quality that you aspire to embody in your practice and work with that. Then the practice is to allow oneself to surrender into that. For example, say I aspire to beauty and graceful femininity. I find a symbol of that…a flower, a book, an image of Venus, and I focus on that, or in my asana practice, I dedicate my practice to aligning with that. My experience is that it works well if you don’t use other people for this, or you can develop their flavor of the qualities instead of your own.
These practices work best when we hold them gently, training ourselves to rest in our own sacred centers and intentions rather than creating rigid boundary lines which we then defend by pushing the outside away. Nurtured carefully, gentle centering practices allow us to stay clearly on our own path while opening up, connecting with others and accessing higher states of consciousness. As the inner doors fly open, we find ourselves within ourselves, rather than losing ourselves in others.