As much as I might fantasize, I know I’ll never attain the lofty state of Samadhi or enlightenment that purportedly comes with a lifetime of dedicated practice to yoga. For one thing, my life presently revolves around raising my 2 children – meals, homework, sports practices, camps, yoga lessons etc. – leaving just a small amount of time to write and practice yoga. This is, of course, far from the ideal ascetic life of a yogi on a mountaintop – even though the thought of all that peace and quiet seems, itself, rather divine.
Alas, I’m all too aware that to attain the “great inward awareness”, one must withdraw from the typical everyday routine and sequester to a place of solitude. Mircea Eliade remarks in his book, Yoga: Immortality and Freedom (p.45):
The resistance that the subconscious opposes to every act of renunciation and asceticism, to every act that could result in the emancipation of the Self, is, as it were, the token of the fear that the subconscious feels at the mere idea that the mass of as yet unmanifested latentcies could fail of their destiny, could be destroyed before having time to manifest and actualize themselves.
To me, this very dilemma – to step out of, or to renounce the world vs. to live and partake in it – is one that seems at the core of any aspiring yogi’s spiritual journey. Eliade continues:
This thirst for actualization on the part of the vasanas is nevertheless interpenetrated by the thirst for extinction, for “repose”, that occurs at all levels of the cosmos.
Its a deep personal conflict for all of us. The desire to focus oneself and seek simplicity and perfection vs. the desire to embrace the diverse workaday world with family, friends and always lots of fun stuff to do. The conflict may even bubble up into discussions of national identity where some political leaders advocate a quiet, withdrawn, simple life (ie. Mohandas Gandhi) while others advocate an embrace of modernity and internationalism (ie. Jawaharlal Nehru). Indeed, almost every country copes with some type of internal conflicts of religion vs. secularism – perhaps just a macroscopic side-effect of this deep personal conflict.
Of course, I’m not qualified to offer advice on these BIG questions, but much enjoyed a blog post by Mark Eckhardt’s Zen Bite column over at This Emotional Life. He makes the case that attainment of “enlightenment” might not be THE final endpoint and that ascending the mountain is only HALF the journey.
Integrating your enlightenment is where the work really begins — this is “Descending the Mountain.” Doing so is humbling, often turbulent and requires that you face some tough realities. By this I mean that you accept the impact of your thoughts and actions on yourself and others.
Through regular practice, greater awareness, understanding and acceptance of ourselves develops. As this happens, the ability to detect a wider spectrum of emotional and psychological states makes it possible to take advantage of the small gap between thought and action. In fact, neuroscience researchers have discovered that this is approximately 2/10 of a second — more than enough time to take or prevent action that otherwise would be unheard of. In Zen we refer to this as pausing and growing thoughtful, and it is the gateway to improved relationships, courage, inspiration and satisfaction.
So, it seems that I should try and climb the spiritual mountain (like Gandhi), and then come back into the world (like Nehru) and use the benefits – to live – rather than withdraw. Perhaps just a little bit each day.
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