When Korina suggested that I should participate in the Yoga Step by Step course, I was reluctant to do so, because I felt that I didn’t need to acquire more theoretical knowledge about spiritual awakening. I needed to strengthen my ability to transcend thinking and analysing and connect with the space of presence, more often. For the past decade or so, the experiences, difficult circumstances and people that I had encountered, had brought about a shift in me, an opening into a new dimension of life that I became aware of after reading Eckhart Tolle.
I believe that what made me change my mind and attend the course was not the undoubted power of persuasion of our yoga teacher, but a voice inside me. The reason I had decided to start yoga practice with her, in the first place, was the physical problems that I had developed after doing radiotherapy, so I had the intuition that she hadn’t come into my life by chance and the same applied to my illness too. I now believe that it was a necessary next step to take at this point in my life.
Firstly, being in a group of people who shared the same need for spiritual awareness, was very helpful, comforting and inspiring. It also complied with my Dharma path i.e. the need to work closely with people. Secondly, a new, more analytical dimension of spirituality was disclosed to me that enabled me to see it from another viewpoint and equip myself with the means to maintain access to it.
It was very useful to learn about prana and the five bodies and how important it is to save, charge and direct prana. How to keep the energy channels in our body free through pranayama techniques and yoga practice, allowing prana to flow evenly and freely, aligning the first three bodies so that we may move messages to the two higher bodies. A knowledge very important for our spiritual development, since misalignment of the physical body, the pranic body and the mental body, will prevent us from connecting with our superconscious mind and our blissful, spiritual state.
I found the practice of Pratipaksha Bavana very useful and I recommend it to assist people I care about. When my mind (emotional body) is suffering with anxiety, stress or fear, doing a physical activity like a walk in the quiet and serenity of a park full of trees, looking at the vast space of the sky, the colours of the sun, or dancing to music, really helps remove harmful emotions and bring me back to a balanced state.
We have learned that Regularity, Repetition and Rhythm are the key characteristics for our pranayama practice to be effective. The discipline to do so must arise out of the conscious awareness that we need the practice, to keep us in a healthy physical balance, to prevent the kleshas, the Ego and past conditioning to gain power and prevail, obscuring awareness. The same applies for practicing the Yama and Niyama.
Religions have attempted to control man’s lower animal instincts and drives, by enforcing sets of rules similar to Yama and Niyama : non-violence, non-stealing, truthfulness, control of sexual urge, and non-greed, reinforced through austerities, discipline, self-study and submission to Cosmic Will or obedience to Cosmic Law. I believe that suppression has the opposite result and causes extreme behaviours, psychological issues and suffering through feelings of guilt, or remorse. Whatever is suppressed by physical or emotional force, will inevitably become stronger, or cause more harm than good.
When we are aware, though, that we carry programmings and habits that go back to millions of years of evolution and that we are creatures torn between our bestial urges and our divine nature, struggling towards the light but chained to the past by these instincts and drives, then we may be kinder and more understanding to ourselves and others. We may observe these obstacles (the kleshas) described by Patanjali as they arise in our daily life, accept them as inevitable and work on transcending them in order to evolve and achieve connection with our Conscience (Buddhi) and the higher consciousness (Chit), by practicing the Yama and Niyama. No guilt, no fear, no suppression, but through awareness of our six-fold existence. An awareness that our true identity is not limited to our senses, our cell memory, impulses and instincts, the sense that we exist, being able to use the thinking mind, the Ego, as a tool, a servant of the soul.
If we feel, for example, extremely upset because someone has parked in our space, we may be able to realise in us the deep-seated instinct of a false sense of individuality, mine-ness wanting to protect our territory just like animals do. If we are extremely competitive, it is again due to the same error of ignorance of the real nature of things, being in the grip of the Ego. Engaging in gluttony or in uninhibited extreme behaviours and excessive sexual acts which result in blocking the flow of prana and wasting it, harming our physical body and other human beings, will be seen as the result of being submerged in the animal drive to pursue pleasure. Our fear of illness and pain, the survival instinct, clinging to life, may result in extreme and obsessive behaviours which throw us off balance, wasting our prana and having the opposite result on our physical well-being.
Awareness of the above animal instincts in us and the need of the soul to experience difficult situations in order to burn karma, allows us to step back and observe the situation at hand from a different angle, not being dragged like a dog on the leash by each situation, but consciously choosing the appropriate response to it. Through detachment and taking responsibility for our actions and our difficult experiences, we burn karma without creating more, freeing ourselves from the endless chain of births and deaths. The key word in our lives must be love, the sense of oneness. Everything that happens in our lives is then of relative importance, not absolute. We must allow love to filter all our actions and reactions and show us the way.
The way to awareness may vary with each person. Theory and analysing, or praying in front of icons, may be useful but are not a prerequisite for spiritual awareness and connection with the Divine. For some people the portal to the Divine may open through religious practices, for others through meditation, or as a result of extreme suffering, or by just sitting still in the forest, listening to the sound of the water flowing and the leaves rustling by the soft touch of the breeze. The following story was told by E. Tolle in one of his talks: A Zen master was walking with one of his disciples in the forest when the disciple asked “Master, how do I enter Zen?” The master stopped and said “Be quiet for a while. Can you hear the sound of the stream?” The disciple stopped walking and tried very hard to hear the stream flowing. “I can hear it master!” he said after a while. “Enter Zen from there!” the master said and continued walking. After a while the disciple asked again “Master, what would you have said, if I couldn’t hear the stream?” The master replied “Enter Zen from there!”
I would like to end my essay by quoting the final paragraph of the text on Evolutionary Quirks, Yama-Niyama & the Human Brain by Smt Meenakshi Devi Bhavanani: “The long evolutionary meandering through the flesh of 8.400.000 incarnations can thus be shortened. One may rise out of the blind bestial passions in the darkness of unconscious ignorance, to the radiant Divine Consciousness of a truly Enlightened Being. The long journey is shortened and the goal, so long distant, becomes a living reality. The dewdrop slips into the shining sea! The “devil” is vanquished by the Divine. The beast becomes the beauty. The old, old story has a happy ending.
Maro Papamichael - 09/01/2020