Waiting Spirit

I, 21 – tīvra samvegānām āsannah

“For those who have

an intense urge for Spirit

and wisdom

it sits near them, waiting.”

When I first heard Dr. Dwyer read Mukunda Stiles’ translation of I, 21 from the Yoga Sutras aloud, it was as if a spark flared up in my brain and all the neurons fired a synchronous “Aha!”. In the past week, I have seen the idea that creative and spiritual growth (which are very closely related for me, as a writer and a musician) requires discipline and intense awareness reaffirmed in many other spheres of my life, including the “yogic sphere.” As a writer, I have spent most of my creative life buying into the stereotypes that creativity hinges on inspiration, and that prolific writers are lucky because they receive frequent strokes of insight. I have learned that if you wait for the right time, it will never come – and thus I write regularly to train my mind. And so this sutra struck me particularly because it not only made me realize the parallels between these “practices,” but also it drew my attention to the fact that sustained discipline and wholehearted commitment are a necessity, not a choice, in this journey to realize the Self. So yes, “Spirit and wisdom…sit near [us], waiting” – but we must reach out and embrace that Spirit and wisdom with focused mind and open heart. We cannot expect divine bliss to grace us at some undetermined, unsure-of-when-to-come moment.

I have also been reflecting much on the idea of “non-attachment” lately. When I first came across this concept in the Gita in high school, it seemed impractical. After all, how could I do my dharma as a student, daughter, sister, and friend without being attached to anything – was I supposed to stop wishing to get good grades, grades that would help me acquire scholarships to help further my education…and thus help me continue my dharma as a student? This confusion continued somewhat into college; even in my Neural Systems course last semester, when we investigated behavioral neuroscience experiments, we concluded that a baseline level of stress is necessary and even beneficial to arousal and motivation. So many college students thrive on stress!

But there is a difference, I think, between “non-attachment” and “un-attachment”- un-attachment being rooted in tamas and unwillingness to participate in worldly affairs – and which seems, then, to be ultimately adharmic to me. And then there is “non-attachment”— which seems to be a state of character in which the Seeker still fulfills her responsibilities in the world of prakrti without preference for the result, and amidst this attitude of “Do your best and leave the rest,” still maintains a constant awareness of purusha. I expressed some confusion in class as to how one can realize the True Self without attachment to the Self. It is hard to imagine striving for a goal without desire for the result after being so ingrained in this world of attachment, likes, and dislikes. After some reflection, I feel this idea is most easily exemplified by bhakti – that attitude of complete and utter devotion and surrender to the Divine. I think of bhakti as a sort of flame within the Seeker that generates profuse, joyful love. That unconditional love has the selfsame quality of the love of my family’s golden retriever, who, even if he gets walked a little later than usual some mornings, never bears a grudge.

Continuing with the topic of bhakti – last Saturday (2/7) I had the good fortune to attend a performance entitled “Song of the Jasmine” by Ragamala Dance Company, a group of Bharatanatyam performers. In this work, the artists aimed to “explore the interconnectedness of the spiritual, the sensual, and the natural that is the lifeblood of the Indian psyche.” The various sections of the dance were inspired by selections from 8th century Tamil poet and saint Andal, who was so renowned for her Bhakti that she refused to marry any mortal man and was said to have merged with the Vishnu idol at the temple in Srirangam at just 15 years old. This description of bhakti in terms of physical desire and emotional affection seems so counterintuitive, since Andal’s poems read just like intimate words to a lover – but perhaps it is a reflection of the fact that the worlds of purusha and prakrti run parallel and entangled.

Perhaps this immersion of sense organs in what is ultimately a journey for Truth is another form of dhyana, of single-pointed awareness, simply expressed in the form of intense emotion through the instruments of the body and the mind. The lines between the sacred and the personal become wholly erased. In Nachiar Tirumozhi, Andal has written exquisitely:

“…the state of bliss attained by the total surrender of body, mind and soul, or Atma, to the Paramatman, or the Divine Existence. He has invaded my heart; and while I pine and sigh for his love, He looks on indifferent as if it were all a play. I feel as if my bones had melted away and my long javelin eyes have not closed their lids for these many days. I am tossed on the waves of the sea of pain without finding the boat that is named the Lord of the highest realm…If the blazing lord finds kindling of virtue, then he will reveal what’s outside himself inside me.”

As a final thought, I want to acknowledge in words that my jobs and schoolwork have really impinged on my asana practice in the past few weeks, since school began again. In acknowledging this, I will not berate myself but rather will resolve to make an effort to recommit to my practice (with the attitude that “Abhyasa vairagabhyam tannirodhah) beginning tomorrow. I am interested to learn about the “evolution” of asana – do we practice specific asanas in a certain order simply because of practicality (easier poses first) or is there a deeper underlying spiritual meaning to poses such as balasana? I have noticed in many yoga classes that teachers will often begin with balasana, then move to shavasana – to mirror the journey of the physical body, but I would like to do more research into the significance of the poses with animal names.

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