Speaking of Time
by Gary Gran, CYT, DAy.
“You there, wake up!” the teacher exclaimed. “It’s about time!”
I suppose I had been daydreaming. My mind had drifted away from the present moment to other times, other places. Now I was fully awake. Or was I?
What does it mean to “wake up?”
How much time do we spend “dreaming?”
How often do we “lose” ourselves?
We tend to go about our daily activities in a dull mechanical way, perhaps never fully aware of the incredible mystery and majesty of life all around.
Now it is true that some of us are “thrill-seekers”. In ayurveda, the ancient science of life, this quality falls into the fire or “pitta” group. There is a marked tendency to push to the edge, to explore new territory, to feel the intensity of life, even to the point of being reckless.
In yoga practice, for example, this attitude can at times feel liberating, but can also lead to injury. One injury should be enough to help us listen to the advice “cool down, moderate your actions, look before you leap...” You see, fire can burn out of control. Many fire types blow right past their internal cues, push way too hard, and risk injury, all for the sake of that intensity, that feeling of being alive.
But most of us go with the crowd. We get lulled to sleep by the monotony of our everyday routines. We are creatures of habit. We don’t examine our attitudes until we are out of balance (if then!). In fact, sometimes it takes an illness, or a crisis, or a teacher saying “you there, wake up!” to break us from our slumber.
But there is a paradox here! Perhaps you’ve read about the importance of cultivating good daily habits. Brush your teeth, maintain cleanliness, eat regular meals, exercise regularly, and don’t burn the candle at both ends, etc, etc.
Ayurveda tells us that most illnesses are caused by a disturbance of the life-force, our prana. A disturbed life-force throws all the elements of the body/mind out of balance, that is, out of rhythm, or out of harmony. A disturbed life force disturbs the mind, the senses, the breathing patterns, and the nerves. Our digestion and assimilation are disrupted, and we feel ill-at-ease, “off”, disturbed, sick.
The key advice for correcting disturbances in our life-force is to practice routine, to create regular activites. Set times especially for sleeping, eating, exercising, and relaxing. How boring! Isn’t this the type of thing which lulls us to sleep! How dull! Maybe I’d rather be a dare-devil fire type living on the edge.
So what is the way out of this mess?
The word for “routine” in Sanskrit, the language of the Vedas, is “ritam”. Another translation of “ritam” is “rhythm”. Most people think of “routine” as dull and boring. But “rhythm”! Rhythm means music. Rhythm has a tempo, a beat, a pulse. Rhythm is alive.
When our life has no rhythm it becomes noisy, chaotic, discordant, out of step. But when our life has rhythm we are making music. Add some harmony and a melody and we have beautiful music.
So how do we make music out of our everyday routines? First we must wake ourselves up a little. Pay attention. Practice listening. Be mindful of even the most mundane tasks. Try to make little variations in your habits to avoid falling asleep. Watch your breath. Sing! Try to see through the ordinary and reflect on the extraordinary.
This is called spiritual practice. It requires constant effort. It never becomes habitual, for anything that becomes automatic lacks awareness. In yoga, this constant effort is known as “abhyanga”, or “practice.” Thus we are encouraged to “practice, practice, practice”.
At the same time we must remain impartial, non-judgemental. We try to be fully present to each moment however mundane, painful or pleasurable it may be. In yoga this impartiality is known as “vairagya”, meaning “uncolored”. When we are uncolored or non-biased in our actions we are seeing clearly, we are awake to the situation at hand, and we are acting lovingly and skillfully. There is no sense of “good” or “bad”, or of “likes” or “dislikes”. It is when we love our duties unconditionally and infuse all our actions with mindfulness and spirit that our routines become “ritam”.
The practice of awakening then is to lift our consciousness just a little, to rouse ourselves awake, to unite (yoga) our bodily presence, our breath, and our mental awareness with the world around us. Instead of simply seeing the surface of the world in a dull, “routine”, manner, we begin to see, feel and hear the amazing “rhythm” of life which pulses deep behind the surface.
Of course, we get tired, we fall asleep, we fall into our old routine habits, the old grooves of the mind known as “samskaras”, and we feel absent, dull, empty. This too is only natural. Remember it requires constant effort (practice, practice, practice) to remain alert and loving. There are bound to be gaps in our awareness. Sometimes we must sleep.
So the practice is to meditate on our daily activities. In meditation practice we try to maintain a one-pointed mind, knowing that the mind will jump or fall from the chosen object of meditation. When we notice that our awareness has jumped or that we have fallen asleep the instruction is “no judgement, no big deal, simply go back to the chosen object of meditation and continue.” When we apply these instructions to our daily routines we call it meditation in action or mindfulness practice.
Practice mindfulness while eating, doing the dishes, walking and talking. “When you walk, dance. When you talk, sing...” Maybe life becomes like an MGM musical!
So we can regulate our daily habits, set up some healthy routines, and practice mindfulness. We can keep our bodies regular by keeping the lungs moving, the bowels moving, and the feet moving. We can create rhythm directly with the breath by making it slow, smooth, and even. And we can harmonize the mind with regular use of a rhythmic affirmation, mantra, or prayer. This steadies the mind and enlivens the spirit.
But the real secret of yoga practice is to be mindful of the transition points between activities. For example, learn to watch your transition from sleeping to waking, when taking your first bite of food, when arriving at work, and when returning home. Mark these transitions with special practices or prayers, and observe the effects of each change. In yoga practice, tune in to the effects of each posture as you release and relax the pose before beginning the next pose. Especially mark the transition from the end of your yoga session back to your daily activities. Be mindful as you fall asleep at night.
In breath work we can watch the inhalations and the exhalations, but the key is to watch the transitions between the inhalations and exhalations. The most important practice is to eliminate any pause or holding of the breath during these transitions to make the breath as smooth and continuous as possible. “No bumps, no breaks, no pauses.” “Slow, smooth, flowing, continuous breath.”
With mantra, the effort is to merge each sound into the next in order to close the gap between sounds. This continuous sound creates a steady harmonizing rhythm deep in the mind-field.
Even when the entire world becomes stressful and chaotic, we can keep our inner rhythm strong, thus living in the world yet remaining undisturbed. Our song, our rhythm, becomes stronger than the crazy noise of the world. The world may even begin to hear our song and join in, harmonizing. This is yoga practice. This is healing.
So “you there, wake up!”. Wake up and begin singing.
The Inner World
by Gary Gran, CYT, D.Ay
Imagine for a moment that you have been caught breaking the rules at work. The incident is sure to be reported upstairs. The next day you and your accomplice see the boss walking slowly towards you. You don’t quite know what to expect - perhaps a good scolding, or worse. Or, maybe, just maybe, you hope beyond reason, he isn’t coming to speak to you at all!
In any case, you brace yourself and keep working, albeit a bit nervously. As the boss nears, you work a little harder. When the boss does arrive, he sits down, and looks directly at you. There is a long, long pause. You keep working, wondering what comes next. Finally, the boss shakes his head and says “you are perfect.” He gets up and is on his way! That was it.
I am perfect? What did he mean? What part of me is perfect? My action breaking the rules wasn’t perfect. If I am perfect, then who am I?
Sound far-fetched? This scenario actually happened to me while working at one of Swami Rama’s ashrams. The transgression? Being up after hours. The boss? Swami Rama himself. The punishment? As above.
The age old question of philosophy is “who am I?”. In the traditions of yoga and ayurveda we are taught that we live in two worlds, the outer world and the inner world. To truly answer the question “who am I?” requires an exploration of the inner world. Luckily for us, a map is provided!
The map looks like a series of concentric circles. Each circle is called a layer, or a sheath. In three dimensions, this would appear like an onion, layer upon layer. The inward journey is a process of peeling off layer by layer to see what lies at the center.
The outermost layer is called the annamayakosha. The word is composed of three parts: anna-maya-kosha. Anna means food. Perhaps you have heard the name Annapurna, which means perfect food or complete nourishment.
Maya has many meanings. In eastern philosophy it is sometimes defined as illusion. To call something an illusion is to say it has no permanent existence. It is said that the outer world represents maya. It may seem very real right now, but it is temporary, which means subject to time. At some point everything in the world will pass away.
It is interesting to note that the root of the word maya is ma, which means mother. In this context, mother is that which brings things into existence (birth), sustains those things in existence (nourishment) , and passes things out of existence (death).
Kosha is the part that means layer or sheath. It is related to the English word cushion as in a protective covering. A kosha is a protective cushion that can help protect us by absorbing blows from the outer world, like a shock absorber.
All together, annamayakosha means a temporary cushion or layer of protection composed of food, that is to say, the physical body. We have a body, but we are not the body. The body is impermanent, subject to time.
Whenever the body is hurting we can say “thank you for absorbing that shock and protecting me.” But who is this me? Let’s continue our journey.
The second layer is called pranamayakosha. Prana means vital energy.
Thus the second kosha is the temporary cushion or covering composed of vital energy. If a shock to the body is strong enough, the energy layer also absorbs part of the blow. Sometimes, after the physical body is healed, the so-called energy body remains weakened. Conversely, if we can heal or rebalance the energy field first, physical healing occurs more quickly.
Our primary access to the energy level is through breathwork or pranayama. Pranayama can be divided into prana- yama which means control or restraint of the vital force, or it can be divided into pran-ayama which means expansion or freeing of the vital force. The alternate conditions of contraction and expansion of the vital force provide an enormous range of energetic potential which we can learn to master.
So we temporarily have the capacity to breathe, but we are not the breath. Ultimately the breath is something we share with all beings.
The next layer is called manomayakosha. Mano means mind. Our mind is also a temporary or changeable form of protection. Certainly the condition of our mind can change most rapidly. And our mind can also be influenced by external events. Oftentimes we can shrug things off mentally and emotionally, but sometimes the mind absorbs and holds on to the event. The mind is constantly receiving input through the five senses and also from the storehouse of memory. We can learn to strengthen the mind by examining and then releasing our thoughts.
It is important to note in this context that the mind is considered to be different from the contents of the mind. The mind is like pure water and thoughts are the particles of matter suspended in the water. In this way the mind, like the physical body and the energy body, can be seen as a cushion which absorbs and holds thoughts and emotions.
We can thank the mind for absorbing and processing all of our sensory input. And we can say that we have senses and a mind, but we are not the senses or the mind or the contents of the mind.
The next level is vijnanamayakosha. Vijnana is divided into vi- and -jnana.
Vi- means inner. Jnana means knowledge. In fact, jnana is directly related to the English words knowledge, knowing, and gnosis. A gnostic is defined as one who knows. An agnostic is one who doesn’t know or isn’t sure. The prefix a- negates the meaning of the root word. So vijnanamayakosha is the temporary cushion composed of inner knowing.
It is a great blessing to wake up and strengthen this inner knowing which is variously referred to as discrimination, wisdom, intellect, conscience, and intuition.
The vijnanamayakosha is said to be like a sword or a mirror with two sides. One side faces the outer world and learns to discriminate and make judgements. Like a sword, it is able to cut through all the sensory inputs of the mindfield and make decisions.
The other side faces inward. The outer side represents the intellect, but the inner side represents intuition, knowledge that is received from within. The advice is to continously polish the mirror to avoid distortions. The intellect and the intuition should always be tested. Developing our intuition is sometimes called turning the mind around or looking within. This means to continue our inner journey.
Next comes anandamayakosha. Ananda is a most interesting word. We know that the prefix a- negates the root word, in this case -nanda. However, nanda means bliss, and ananda also means bliss. This is the joy or bliss which has no opposite. We are leaving the field of duality, the field of time, to find our inner happiness, the flood of bliss which is constantly flowing. We are near the inner source. The source is called sat-chit-ananda: pure existence, pure consciousness, pure bliss. We are that source of life, light and love which is ever-pure, ever-knowing, and ever-free.
Now it is time to retrace our steps back to the external world. On our way we begin to realize that the koshas are not just protective layers, but also means of expression. We begin to see that the inner world and the outer world exist together like a vast continuum. We begin to see the inner perfection of all beings. Our thoughts, our speech, and our actions become the instruments to express our inner knowing. Then when we speak to others we can look past the surface and say “you are perfect.”