Yoga is a living art. Like language, it stays relevant because humans use it, and adapt it to their current needs. Though many texts, ancient and modern, teach the principles of yoga, there is no yoga orthodoxy. Yoga was conceived and developed to answer the age-old question: how best to live? Its many practices are all intended to allow a practitioner to experience his or her true, divine nature.
The Yoga Sutras say that when we slow the incessant patterning of consciousness, we realize we are in essence pure awareness, and not apart from anything.
What does it mean to still the patterning of consciousness? Our minds filter and organize incoming information so that we can survive and thrive. As we get older, these patterns become deeply carved in our minds, and the connections we make happen more automatically. This is good and bad. It is both wisdom and prejudice, quickness and rigidity. But the patterning is necessary; to lack it is insanity. Without patterns, boundaries, the naming of “other” things, all the world’s sensory data would pour in at once, continually, without a means to process it. Our brains would be like a hoarder’s house with the roof blown off, in an endless storm, magazines and cats and plastic bags swirling and blowing around and around. We could not function. So why would we want to still the patterning of consciousness? Stilling it must be different from removing it.
Lately I imagine consciousness as a massive transparent blob that floats all around us. Every living being takes from it and contributes to it. If yoga means union with source, then perhaps when we seek to “still” consciousness we are trying to get to a point where the ego, or our most basic boundary of Self, temporarily disappears. This brief reprieve from separation is like a waking lucid dream. We are here, but “we” are gone. There is the realization of one common energy, one common source. That our universe isn’t made up of inert matter, but of living, ordered, presence.
And I wonder if what we think of as individual consciousness is not at all discrete, but shared, and that the idea that there is continuity to the Jenny that is here right now is an illusion. Ultimately there is communion, and no alienation, from anyone or anything.
Maybe during my lifespan here as Jenny, I have the opportunity to improve my contribution to the collective consciousness, this blob I am imagining hovering all around us, helping to tune it by better tuning into it. So in cultivating this connection we not only enjoy some personal feeling of transcendence or union, but also give back to the community at large by lessening the overall discord. Know what I mean?
It is my understanding that central to most religions is the experience of oneness. Not a “belief” but an understanding, a knowing, that the boundaries we create are only tools, that the divisions we experience (that’s me, that’s not me) are something like a great compromise: ways to move in and think about our world, but also the way we separate ourselves from that original knowledge of belonging.
What does that have to do with breath exercises, making shapes with our bodies, and sitting in stillness? I think these are methods a person can use, to experience that connection without drugs or outside sources magic-making. Yoga and the like are ways humans have developed to re-access or recreate this connection anywhere, anytime. Because that feeling fuels our spirits, and the necessity of that fuel is in evidence in all the ways we try to dissolve the boundaries we make, because we want to see more, feel more, understand more, love more.
To move through this world, to enjoy agency, to perceive and discern and make sense of, requires separation. But to learn how to fluidly move between the created world and the boundless world is to learn how to, to some extent, co-create or coexist between the two, like a little kid does. I think getting better at that is the work of life. I think it is the key to living a bigger, less fearful, more loving, less harmful life. Without separation there is no threat, no misunderstanding, no jealousy, no hurt. And even if we can experience that only in tiny moments of illumination, that knowing lives in us and can be like a north star, guiding us in our normal lives.