Humankind has evolved looking at itself and wondering, "who am I?" What does it mean to Be?
We explore every avenue to help answer and express this question of being, including art, science, politics, religion, etc. Surely something can help me solve this mystery, right?
Consider: what you are is more of an idea than a thing. Stay with me . . .
If you were to look out your window and see a mountain, it looks pretty solid and real, right? But try to define it. Find the place where the mountain definitively starts and stops. Try to find how the matter of the mountain is different than the matter of the valley. Isn’t it all just dirt, rocks, weeds, trees, and rivers? Go on a hike and find a pinecone. Is that part of the mountain? If yes, then if you were to take it home with you back into the valley, would it still be the mountain? What about the rains that fall on the mountain? Moments before the rain fell, it was cloud. But from afar the rain looks like part of the mountain. My point is that there's nothing that could be definitively and categorically called "mountain." Mountain is more of an idea.
And so are you. We all are. That's because anything we tend to identify as "us" is in constant flux. Just like the pinecone that is part of the mountain one moment and decorating our mantle at home the next, these volatile elements can't identify us and can’t answer the question “who am I?”
We tend to identify ourselves with things that feel relatively concrete like our bodies, our thoughts, our beliefs, etc. But these things, just like the rain or pinecone, are invariably changeable. In yoga, these false identifiers are called Maya or illusions because while they hint at defining us, truly they can't point to the real us, our Being.
Speaking to the ever-changing illusion of our bodies, there's a really cool Radiolab podcast that explore carbon dating in the cells in our bodies. On the show, experts say that the oldest cells in us are about 23 years old. Since our cells are constantly dying and new ones are being born, we are in a process of constant metamorphosis. Essentially if you're 23 years or older, every cell in your body has been born after you were born. You are literally not the same person you were when you were born. What a trip! Take your fingernails. They feel like us, right? But as soon as we cut them, suddenly they aren’t part of us anymore?
So how can we possibly "be" something that is one moment and isn't the next?
A better question is what is that thing that is "us" which never changes? Is there anything?
Yes, there is. I’ve experienced it and so have you. There are several ways to experience this part of us that never changes but I’ve experienced it most often and profoundly by practicing Yoga Nidra, this relaxing, medative practice of self-inquiry that I’m so passionate about and can’t stop talking about. Yoga Nidra has completely blown my mind because of how it as enabled me to experience my True Self. And the best way to describe this True Self is Awareness.
Yep, I'm Awareness. And so are you. That might seem pretty abstract, but when you boil it all down, the one thing that doesn’t change is your Awareness. When I experience myself as Awareness, and I proffer that we all have at some time or other, it feels like the most natural thing in the Universe. I feel as if I’m bigger and smaller than my body. I can see my thoughts and emotions as an interesting part of me but not anything that can define me. As Awareness, I feel both large and small. I feel limitless and compact at the same time. I feel like I can do anything.
As I experience myself as Awareness regularly through practicing Yoga Nidra, I gain a perspective of my life that ordinary living can't give me. As Awareness, there's nothing I can't do, nothing I need, and no such thing as time. It's an experience of happiness beyond bliss.
This shit is real! And all I have to do is lie down, close my eyes, and listen to the teacher guide me into Awareness. Really, it’s just about learning to pay keen attention, though a teacher is nice.
It’s not hard. The channel that propels me into this Awareness comes through that liminal state of mind between waking and dreaming consciousness, similar to a daydream. That state is called the Nidra state. In fact, even if I fall asleep, the Awareness part of me is still paying attention. I might therefore wake up from a 30-minute Yoga Nidra-induced nap feeling lucid and relaxed. I may not even remember the session.
After practicing Yoga Nidra and experiencing myself as Awareness, I go back into my world, full of its illusions, and see clearly how everything but this Awareness is simply part of the illusion. With this immense perspective, my problems make sense, I’m not freaked out by stress, I feel closer to my family, and I feel an enormous sense of purpose in the world and energy to go out and share my gifts. And when problems come around, I’m grounded knowing what I truly am is Awareness and that anything I’m experiencing in this moment is just another opportunity to practice Awareness. I then have the wherewithal to then respond to the situation rather than react.
So, there’s the True Self which is Awareness, and there’s Maya, the illusion. And here’s the interesting thing about the relationship between Maya and Awareness, Maya isn’t something to transcend on our way to the True Self, this happiness beyond bliss. Maya is a vital tool which is inextricably married to experiencing myself as Awareness. I am Awareness manifesting itself by way of body, emotions, breath, sensation, beliefs, etc. Without these changeable parts of me, without the Maya, I would never come to know myself as Awareness. Thus the marriage between Being and Illusion.
If you’d like to hear me recount an ancient myth that illustrates this marriage between the illusion of form and the Beingness which underlies all things, please click the button.
Then, please read this marvelous poem written by Meister Eckhart (translated by Daniel Ladinski) in the 1200s. It sounds like it could have been written by Shakti from the myth.
Consider joining me for my Virtual Yoga Nidra series starting THIS Sunday, October 8th, 2017. 12 pm Eastern. For six weeks, and in the comfort of your own home, we will be exploring this theme The Magic of Maya: Working Through Illusion. Each session will have a brief discussion, a gentle asana and breathing practice, followed by me leading your through a 30-minute Yoga Nidra practice so you too can feel yourself as Awareness, experience yourself as larger than body, emotions, and thoughts. Experience a happiness beyond bliss. Allow your entire Universe to be opened up. It will be relaxing and profound.
Join me as we explore the Magic of Maya and how to use the illusions of what you might think of as you to uncover your True Self.