I didn't take this photo, but I've driven past this statue of Arjuna in Bali. It's magnificent!
[Read part 1 first]
Okay, so enough with the psychoanalysis of our western self-loathing mind-set for a moment.
How about we go beyond the physical, to the metaphysical for a bit? Yeah?
Okay, so let’s take a tiny peek at some of the subtleties of yogic philosophy.
Note #1: I’m going to do my best to explain these rather complex concepts to you as passed down from my wonderful teachers. Of course, my understanding is still limited and imperfect but hey… I’ll give it a go. Also, there’s only so much I can pack into a single blog post!
Note #2: This is another long post. Try to hang in there!!
Samsara is considered to be this world of duality – the place where the universe can experience its Self as Other than its Self. ‘Nuff said about that for now…
And samskaras are deeply embedded patterns of energy within collective energy forms that manifest as individual human beings. “Pattern” being the key word here – a pattern comes from actions being repeated over and over again. And of course, the more often a pattern is repeated, the harder it is to change it. Kinda like a train running on the only tracks it’s got.
Samskara is a very peculiar thing. It is the library within a DNA molecule, containing everything that we have imbibed. One DNA molecule contains the total information of all of the libraries in the world combined. Samskaras are like that too. Samskaras are the inputs of volumes and volumes of books which we carry within us and which have been accumulating over millions of years. When these samskaras come to the surface of the mind, they are very powerful.
~From Yoga Darshan, Swami Niranjananda Sawaswati
A samskara then, is a thought or activity that’s become part of how the world appears to us. It can define our preferences, personality, understanding of other people and things. And with those definitions come limitations – what is subjectively true and what is not. However, limitations aren’t actually “bad”, not in the least.
In fact, they are key to our ability to exist in as humans where we all appear as separate entities, cut off from source/the universe/god etc. So, samskaras can be considered to be both useful (i.e. they comprise and make possible our limited view of the world) and problematic (when we can’t discriminate between our limited view and a wider view).
Still with me?
Limitations are a naturally occurring construct of this world and universe. They are part of how we function, our identity, why we have certain opinions and emotions and ideas. Our samskaras interact with karma (another much-maligned and misunderstood yogic concept) and form a filter through which we view “reality”. As we know, reality at this level is different for everyone, and far from the non-dual view the rishis and wisdom masters speak of. Hence, our diversity of opinions!
However, one of the true goals of yoga and serious yogis is to free ourselves from the limitations of the dual world, while simultaneously existing in both the dual and the non-dual. In fact, we can’t exist in the non-dual without duality, because then it wouldn’t be a non-dual reality – for the non-dual to be truly non-dual, it also has to encompass duality (hope that makes sense!).
Asatoma Sat Gamaya
Lead me from the unreal to the Real
Tamasoma Jyotir Gamaya
Lead me from the darkness to the Light
And so we yogis work to free ourselves from limited views through an intimate understanding of, and connection to our mind and body. The path to achieving this can include: asana, pranayama, mula, bandha, meditation, martial arts, dance, Ayurveda and so on. Usually, more than one of these methods is required to develop our mind-body awareness. Ultimately this MUST include long and deep hours of meditation (as opposed to say, fifteen minutes a day).
Freeing ourselves from limited views does not mean however, denying our anger or any other emotion. We need to go fully into the experience of being a human being in order to understand and liberate ourselves from the suffering of samsara. Because, how can you possibly be free of what you don’t understand?
As such, suppressing emotions or decrying other people’s anger as “un-yogic” is doing little more than keeping you stuck on those same train tracks, going around and around and around… and the more circuits of the train track you make, the harder it is to change. Get it?
It is tricky, because on the one hand we are here on this planet that exists in duality, and so we play by the rules of this world where interactions with people, our emotional states and experiences DO matter. But then, as we learn to drop into non-duality more and more (it comes in flashes or waves), we begin to see how much none of it really matters in the end. And things start to change as we begin to increasingly experience non-duality as our actual reality.
It can be both incredibly liberating and stupendously confusing at the same time…
And yet. We MUST learn to see the real from the unreal. This for me, is what makes the false and harmful messages about body image (burn that bra fat, minimise those wider-than-desired hips) so completely alarming.
Because it is being condoned not just by Tara Stiles (who, as a yogi with connections to Deepak Chopra should bloody well know better), but by so many other people involved in yoga.
The outcry in return seems to be all “don’t hate on Tara”, “don’t hate on anything we want to define as yoga” and “you people who are complaining are just simply un-yogic”.
BUT all of the folks in that camp – including Tara – are missing the glaringly obvious point here:
Yoga is about liberation from samskaras and the human condition of suffering. NOT about playing into and re-enforcing those patterns for ourselves and others. NOT about continuing to make people think there is something wrong about their physical appearance that needs to be fixed – this is a mass personal and cultural samskara and one that’s deeply embedded!!
This isn’t a personal attack on Tara or anyone else, but as my own Guru would say: WHERE IS YOUR MIND??
My criticism comes from asking: what kind of yogi supports messages that invoke deep-seated insecurities and self-esteem issues of others? From generating and confirming samskaras as real instead of limited thinking that one can learn to revoke?
This is not good work. And it is not yogic in the least. In fact, those in the yoga community who buy into this, saying that it’s all okay, are demonstrating minds that are still deeply embedded in their own samskaras, whatever they might be. Some things are NOT okay, especially coming from yogis.
Seriously, anyone who thinks Tara Stiles’ “Slim Calm Sexy” yoga is an okay way to market yoga to the uninitiated masses is not engaging in enough discernment or discriminate thinking. And those uninitiated masses? They probably spend most of their time feeling deeply unhappy and thinking self-loathing thoughts anyway, and don’t NEED anyone else to point it out to them!
Even as Tara et all are claiming “it doesn’t matter how people come to yoga” – and I’ll admit that’s generally true – in some ways it actually DOES. Because by pressing the self-esteem/physical appearance buttons you’re embedding those samskaras just a little more deeply than before and messing with someone’s appreciation of what yoga is all about. Who knows how much extra work - conscious and sub-consciously - will be involved in undoing all of that?
Basically, the Tara Stiles school of yoga marketing is unhealthy and unethical.
And as another teacher I’ve studied with would put it… WAKE UP!!
Or as I’d put it… WAKE (THE FUCK) UP!!
This is not a popularity contest where we have to be friends with everyone and accept everything that’s said about yoga, simply because we don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.
SO WAKE UP!!
Remember, Krishna was a warrior and he worked very hard to make Arjuna fight a battle. It’s not always about having the most friends, but about cutting through the crap and seeing clearly.
Lead me from the unreal to the freaking real, already!