Returning to Who We Are

This article is graciously provided for republication by the author, Swami Nityamuktananda Saraswati (Dr. Christa-Maria Herrmann), German by birth, naturalized British, originally studying Theology, her university studies soon expanded to Education, Psychology, Philosophy and Art and Design (Ceramics). Different teaching jobs (in colleges and universities) in various countries followed. At the center of her studies (as well as her teaching) was always the subject of 'Self-awareness'.

Returning to Who We Are'Returning to who we are' means, we need to know who we are. That is the biggest question? In fact it is the biggest issue a human faces! There are all sorts of glib answers... from Philosophers from all ages and cultures, from religions of all shades, from wise men and women of all ages.

The problem is we assume we know! Of course I am my mother's daughter; I am the husband of Mayling; I am the teacher in the kindergarden; I am the inventor of this or that machine; I am the Yoga teacher, I am the one who owns a Mercedes etc. etc. We identify with all sorts of roles and possessions and totally belief that that is who we are.

And then there is another level: I am the one that has dark/blond hair; the one that can bend the body like this, the one that can run fast, that has this shape etc. ; I am the one who's body is healthy, the one that has cancer etc. We identify with the body that we occupy! Note the words: the body we occupy... And that body has a gender, a nationality, a shape.. .and we identify with all of that! We identify with a social group.

And then there is another level: I am the one that is sad, ill, clever; the one that is educated, sophisticated; talented; strong; weak; bright; happy; etc. we identify with the mental characteristics and emotions we have, -

And all of this is learned, it is not who you are. Only once we start seeing this, the question Ramana Maharshi and many other Sages have voiced makes sense: Who am I? Just having shared in a pilgrimage, arranged by Sylvia, from our ashram, to visit Ramana Maharshi's ashram, this question is strongly in my awareness. Why did he ask; we all know the above answers! Yes, if you know the answer, the question makes no sense? It's not a REAL QUESTION! If we do take his question serious, we need seriously to turn to self-inquiry?

The importance of this? Swami Rama says: Without knowing yourself, how can you know others? You pretend to know yourself and then project onto others...with this attitude you can never have a true, a real relationship with others, nor can you ever find out your Real nature!

So how do we practice this self-inquiry? That all sages have advocated?

Find out who you are: observe....

Observe your behavior and habits and most of all your mental patterns, because it is these that determine your behavior! And blind you to see who you are without these. The problem is, that we observe and we look at ourselves with the spectacles that we have ourselves created, we have learned....so we do not see what is there- but what we project that is there! That's the problem. Hence Swami Rama suggests we take to writing a journal... Meaning: we reflect, and we have an inner dialogue with ourselves, so as to question everything... we see and observe...the journal is a great help to do that.
What will we find? We will find that most that we thought was "me", is actually learned, learned from what other people told me. We carry around with us a whole "rucksack"... full of other people's opinion... Other people say something like:

Mother told you: You are Mary, you are artistic! So you believe it, and become an artist. You might actually not be very good at it, get frustrated and take your frustration out on other people, but you know you are artistic, because mother told you so. It's a silly example... recognize in it though your own example; just see the mechanism.

And all our emotions are more or less reactions - to such input from others. We are "trained" like a Pavlovian dog, to respond to other people's opinion of us, and that right from baby-times. We grow up under the influence, under the imprinting, the conditioning from parents, siblings, friends, teachers, mass-media , politician etc. etc...Most of what we deem our education is actually putting layer upon layer over that- which we originally are.

Much like having a light-bulb and putting layer and layer of lampshades over it, until we don't know, can't see ...who is underneath. So what we need to do is, we need to strip all these accumulated layers of projections an opinions and "stuff" away - in order to see clearly! Once we have become aware we can work on "returning to our original nature", as light, as real illuminated human beings! Beings that grow fully into their humanity, grow to be fully human, not just a replica of someone else's expectations, wishes, and projections! For this process, we can use big words:

  • practicing clear-seeing; (dristhi),
  • practicing discrimination; (viveka);
  • practicing vairagya (detaching from all the false imprints and projections).

We can simply say, we need to let go of all that is "not me"...ultimately, in fact we have to let go even of the mechanism of "not-Me". How that? That which we have taken on board, as our conditioning, our personality, our mask- makes us different from others. It makes you stand out, be different; be unique.

And yes, you are unique in the sense of that which you have accumulated around you is unique and that may very well be the reason why you are in this world; to make your unique contribution; learn your unique lesson... but that is your task your purpose...not who you are!

Your purpose is the coloring of what you have to learn in this existence, i.e. why you are here... not who you are. It is not revealing your essential nature. Ultimately that "coloring has to be let go too, once you fulfilled your destiny, reached the "goal of the class". Only once you are stripped of everything that hides your light, will you finally shine unencumbered ...free ...glorious "as the light that you are!"

Hm? Then "who am I"

Very interesting Question? Now "I"...means what? The "I" in that question, does not exists in its own right! The small individual "I" has to be seen as an accumulation of all the stuff...whether in this life, or karmic" . Then who accumulated this "Stuff...."; who is the "I" that really finally can answer the question!

The accumulated stuff is separating us from others, it is limiting, it is putting boundaries fences up such as gender, nationality, experience, emotions - yes even understanding...mental concepts... everything, everything....! If I take all these fences down - then who is that "I" who is asking the question, who is there to be aware of any of this? Without fences... there is freedom, spaces, unlimited being....no separate "me/no Me!" Now to "taste" That is amazing!

When the separateness when the battle between "Me/No me" is gone, there is just belonging, there is just One, there is just love....! And that right down on the experiential level, no big esoteric(s), but here on earth.... One humanity, One being-ness, One.... That' is why I think, for me the two most important books of Swami Rama are: "Love Whispers "and "Call to Humanity". To me they speak the most direct the most clear...

The work towards that State of Being starts, when we neither withdraw into the caves, nor only work towards our own individual enlightenment, but work on ourselves knowing we are part of the One! It starts as Swami Rama says: right here within yourself, because that is where the teacher is. He says quiet clearly: "I am a messenger, delivering the wisdom of the Himalayan sages of my tradition. My job is to introduce you to the teacher within". That knowing that wisdom of being One, without a second- that is resident inside you! It is the universal "I", without limitations - the "I" that is the divine within you as you!

It is the ultimate love and Joy that is the source of all existence - and it exists in you as you; it is in fact your nature; it is who you are.

You are a Being of Love, light and Joy; live from knowing that! Become a Being of Light and Love; that is the transformation that yoga has to offer!  
You are a Being of Light and Love, live it!

There is no need to become it...you are it already! That is the insight Yoga has to offer. From here we can live joyfully!  
Still How? Where do we start, right here - from today?

How can we start to walk the path of living life joyfully, lovingly? Normally our world and life starts with our sense perception, we live out there, exterior... all Sages including the Masters of the Himalayas, advocate we have to turn from exterior orientation to internal.

For most people in the yoga world, that starts with asana practice. Asana practice is a very good tool. Without a healthy body, it is difficult to walk the spiritual path, for it is demanding. So despite the asana being useful to help with that most physical base, the real focus of asana practice is something beyond.

Swami Veda describes in his book "Philosophy of Hatha Yoga" (Usharbudh Arya) how asana practice leads to different levels of understanding one self.

There is at first the simple level... of "I can do this"; "this is how to do that." Hopefully we grow out of those baby-shoes very fast and start watching how we practice asana. And that goes much further than observing your physical doing; looking at another practioner and comparing yourself. If you notice you do just that, contemplate where this 'achievement -orientation", this competitiveness" this "being driven to success" comes from! Then maybe you reach another level.  
Are you aware of how your asana practice is restricted by your personal, constitutional limitations: (physically, mentally spiritually). It is not enough however to register the "block" and decide to "let go"! Yes that is very good and helpful, and practice makes perfect, and you might succeed indeed to stretch the posture that much more into the "ideal", BUT....

1. What is the ideal? Do you know, for your body? 

2. Letting go of that tension for today... is good, for the next year is good - BUT  unless you ask further and observe: you will not be able to address the  root/the samskara/ the impression behind it which lead to the  block/distortion in the first place!

3. Where is the root of that tension, that pause in the breath, that holding of the breath, that block in the energy, where is the core of the  issue/block? If it itself is not addressed - or rather its root, it will remain, and pop up when you least expect it. (The weed has to be pulled out with the root, not just cut on the top.)

4. Use asana to understand yourself, to the deepest level!

You can have the most admirable (admirable by whom? To whom? ) asana practice, but where does it lead your awareness? Asana has to become a preparation to work on your mind, on your psyche, on your behavior on your entire personality and ultimately its only function will be: to strip all that away!

Practicing asana for most is movement; physical movement.

Now ask any physicist: movement, kinetics is dispersion of energy (whether in body or thought/speech). If you find that difficult to accept, think of the hub of a wheel. The wheel turns, the movement is greatest at its periphery, but in the center-where there is no movement is the power that drives the whole thing. When absolutely still, energy is held, is conserved is assembled.....ready to be used for higher purposes. In our body this "hub" is the navel, (the solar plexus) it is 'from this center that 72 000 shakti nadis, energy currents flow out to the rest of the circuitry that is man". Getting in touch with this powerful "still point" in our body, is not only relevant to the practice of the various asana but is the important center point of gravity for sitting meditation, the subtler level of yoga practice. To keep an absolute still posture, as Patanjali , the codifier of the yoga sutras says, is adamant...so as to gather and preserve the energies of the body, and let the energy rise up to the heart. Heart and navel area are intimately connected, in some cultures the whole area is called hara (same Sanskrit root as Hrdaya/heart) .

In the center of man (hara/heart) stillness becomes a focal point. Stillness within and without, gathers energy to work on the subtler levels of our beings; it collects energy in the heart-chakra...the "hub of Love". (Don't take too much of a fine anatomical point here- as it never was meant as referring to the physical heart). To establish stillness, the power of potential here - is reached by either the practice of Meditation, or indeed Yoga Nidra.

To experience our original nature we need to practice gathering that energy in the heart center , from there we become less "intellect/mind centered and more open, more loving, more embracing of ALL. But yes, starting in our modern cultures, we need to pacify the mind first, in order to drop into the heart center, into the stillness. The mind is intricately connected to the Ajna Chakra, so frequently in our tradition we start with stilling the mind at the eye-brow center. From a still mind, we can drop down to the heart; as many guided meditations you might encounter, do. So we have to cultivate many facets of stillness; be it in posture (in body), in meditation (in mind), in speech (silence) or even in thought...

You might well ask: how can cultivating stillness help me to live joyfully, to open my heart, to become more all-embracing, loving?

Here a bit of deep philosophy (Kashmir Shaivism). We have frequently heard: the universe is pulsing energy, it contracts and expands; the rhythm, the vibration of this is called Spanda. The heart is the center in man from where this expanding and contraction arises; it is the very essence/character of the heart. In fact the heart is both - it is that center in man where two forces are One (remember the me/not me); expansion and contraction (re: in-breath/outbreath). Seen in this context, the heart is not only an organ, or a symbol, but a bindu a concentrated representation of Oneness. Here we experience consciousness un-differentiated; we experience sound "un-differentiated"! And the amazing observation: consciousness chooses -what to bring forth, it chooses out of stillness to grow movement!

If you want, you can take it (as many scientists and mystics) have done - into Quantum physics. The base of which is, that something can be a particle or a wave; in between the two states of existence "disappear" in non-locality (Oneness, the land of undifferentiated possibilities) , from which consciousness (general, or the researchers) - bring it into manifestation; by what is called 'collapsing" the possibilities- limiting them into the specific.

From the still heart (Shiva) that holds all possibilities, all energy - we choose, consciousness chooses, to release only LOVE (purest Shakti)....! We associate joy and joyfulness with exterior humdrum (excitement); colors sparkling like a straw-fire; like sparkler and fire-crackers! That is not the joy that comes from getting in touch with your inner, divine nature; that is not the love that is your essential Being. The brightness of fire-crackers are a wonderful display ...for a second ... .exterior.

Joy and love are the light of the sun of compassion; - bright, constant and interior. Because of that, interiority it is never lost- but its radiance effects everyone and everything around! It grows for ever stronger so that ultimately there is no difference between within and without; between me and not-me ; between you and you; there is just Light, just Love, just tranquil constant Joy!

May we grow towards that love, light, life - our original nature!

Randall

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