Over and over again my practice brings me to the realization that the only way “out”, the only way to relieve suffering, to make a difference in the world is to transform myself. Not to make myself into a shiny saint or wear the mask of a good person, but to truly live in harmony with the world to the best of my ability. To take down the layers and layers of delusion that misinform my experience of separateness. To sit calmly with my beautiful monsters inside and out. To see the beauty in even the most awful of circumstances. To surrender my will and everything that I think I have over and over and over again to the fire of emptiness.
I have always been a curious person. Skulking in the shadows, digging through debris, uncovering people’s secret fears and desires, that is like a good mystery book for me! More interested in the “black market” of life then the shiny rainbows and roses that emerge from the compost. I love traveling, learning new languages, getting to know new people. Superficial conversations about weather and things will not keep my attention for long. Tell me about your deepest desires, fears, aspirations, and you have captured my attention fully. Come to me when you are in pain, suffering, dying, and I’m your gal. Much more difficult for me is letting the light come through.
They don’t call it enlightenment for nothing. Out of empty space emerges luminosity, clarity, wisdom and it is the unification of the two which is described as awakening, moksha, liberation. Form is emptiness, emptiness is form, form is no other than emptiness, emptiness is no other than form. Dark and light are just two sides of the same experience.
It is also described that we must go into the shadows, the darkness, the silence, in order to reveal the light, the true light. Yet some of us get stuck in the darkness. We get comfortable there merged into the earth or water or space. Thinking that this is the end-state, we get “comfortably numb”. The importance of a teacher at this point can not be overemphasized. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali’s prescription for this situation is
I.18 Shraddha virya smrti samadhi prajna purvaka itaresam
This dull state must be overcome with faith, diligence, recollection, absorption and insight
Faith, shraddha, I have it tattooed on the back of my neck. Several years ago, I went to my teacher Manouso and confessed, “I have 100% faith in yoga, 100% faith in Guruji (B.K.S. Iyengar) and 100% faith in you…” we paused for a moment and then he looked me in the eye and said, “but you don’t have faith in yourself right? That’s where we’re going!”
Self-trust can also be described as intuition. It is the unshakeable belief in oneself, in one’s ability not to make the right decisions all the time, but to make every situation workable. Once you have faith in yourself then that fear of worrying if people like you or not, or whether you said the right thing or did the right thing starts to fall away. And you can become to observe yourself and your actions from another perspective. From faith and self-trust comes virya, diligence.
Virya is one of those Sanskrit words that cannot easily be translated. Vir means a strong man or a hero and is the same root as virility. Virya is translated as energy, enthusiasm, effort and diligence. It is the male energy of a sperm competing with thousands of other sperms but still believing that he will be the one that penetrates the ovum! Even if he knows the odds are against him, the Hero stands up for what is right and good even at the cost of his own life. He is also willing to lay down his weapons and surrender. He serves the greater good. From this energy comes smrti, recollection, that which is remembered.
Smrti, that which is remembered is that you are not separate from this world that you inhabit. That you are inextricably entwined with everything and everyone. And, when you have faith that this is the truth you become absorbed in the object of meditation, samadhi.
Samadhi is a meditative state in which the mind becomes still and absorbed. In the Tibetan Buddhist lineage in which I practice it is described as emptiness with a core of compassion. It is not a state that can be accomplished or taught in the same way as an asana, yogic posture, for example. But a true teacher, a guru can lead you right up to the edge of samadhi and keep pointing it out to you. “It’s as easy to find as your own doorstep” in the words of Khandro Rinpoche. “It’s as simple as looking at the other side of your hand.” in teachings of Tsokyni Rinpoche. It’s so simple, that we can’t believe that we’ve found it. Like the old Indian story of the deer exhausting himself in a fruitless quest for the sweet fragrance he smells in the forest only to find that it is his own musk scent that he is seeking. The beautifulness he chased outside of himself was within him all the time. That realization is prajna, direct insight, the highest and purest form of wisdom, intelligence and understanding.
Prajna, direct insight can only be found inside of one’s own self.
I embark on an outer journey in order to fulfill my inner journey. I leave attachments to friends and family with grief but knowing that “every meeting ends in parting”. I have a plan of some sorts to travel to a certain place, to meet up with dear friends and teachers, but I am also open to what happens along the path. What I do know though is that I must take this journey, I must take this leap into the vast unknown, to step away from what is comfortable.
Having read this, you are also now joining me on this journey. It may not be again in this life but we will meet again, and it is my sincere hope that you become happy, free from suffering and that you experience your own sweet fragrance of being alive.