Untangling the Knot - Saturday "Dharmette"
Whelp, here we are on the cusp of a big election, halfway or partway through a pandemic, and it just reminds me that I think a lot of us come to yoga seeking answers and meaning, or for some, to justify the answers and meaning we already accept. And I’ve spent a long time studying and reading and reflecting, and teaching, now, and I think that has all been very helpful. But I suppose the thing that continues to stand out to me is that this is a path of inquiry, and it doesn’t matter what someone else says because it isn’t substantive until we experience it for ourselves. This is the importance of remaining open, receptive, and curious to the world around us and our own experience, which is what we’re really cultivating this weekend. We’re developing our insight and willingness to be with what arises, and to live in the freedom of that, regardless of our circumstances.
So, tonight, I wanted to offer a very brief introduction to the 4 Noble Truths - and they’re called “Noble” because by acknowledging them, by understanding them and watching them unfold in everyday life, they help us recognize within us the freedom that is conditionless.
Most of you probably know that the first noble truth is the acknowledgement that there is suffering - pain, illness, sadness, dissatisfaction - it would be impossible to not feel the pain that surrounds us and moves through us right now. And this is present in obvious and not obvious ways. Like even when things are peaceful, and we’re living in some level of preoccupation and waiting for the other shoe to drop. Like loving something and being fiercely scared of its own likelihood of encountering some difficulty in life, or living without it. And suffering is relative. The word, Dukkha, is actually a whole range of emotion, from happiness to despair. It’s the mental unease - which is actually a better translation of the word - that we go through the day with: the wishing that things were different, of wishing that we were different, or even that whatever we have is so good we don’t want it to change!
There is no magic bullet, and I will freely acknowledge that so often it seems like the more engaged we are with this truth the more pain we are asked to endure. But while we’re cultivating the capacity to be present, and the capacity to let ourselves unfold along with the unfolding all around us, we actually just notice our suffering more acutely. The unfolding of time and space. What I like about this practice is that it helps me to see my own patterning, and it reveals where I get in the way of my own freedom.
There is good news about all of this suffering, though, and the second Noble truth is that there’s a cause to our suffering. In yogic philosophy it’s known as avidya, or ignorance. And it is our fragmented view of reality; that we are separate, that we are super special or not special enough. That we are unworthy. It’s all of the narratives and stories that we believe and take at face value, that we let both amplify our importance and diminish our light. This drives us to suffer and to even cause suffering when we act it out.
The toll that this takes on us, when we don’t recognize it, is all-encompassing. We have all felt the effects of this psycho-emotional stress - in our necks, in our back - and while we have embraced the effect of the mind to body connection, we seem to overlook, culturally, the connection of the body to the mind, the mind to the heart. By this I mean that we understand that the mind affects the body. We know that mental tension manifests as tension through the shoulders, for instance. But we often forget the inverse relationship, and that is that if the body is tense, if the body is stressed, or if the organs themselves are rigid, the mind will become tight and that constricts the flow to the heart. One of the most visual examples of this is with the lungs - when the ratio of oxygen to carbon dioxide drops below the acceptable range, the body automatically begins to respond to that stress, which inevitably triggers the nervous system and the brain to release chemicals correlate to fight, flight, freeze. We have no room. We choke off the flow and get bottled up as the brain whizzes around and around. It will not let go unless you teach it to.
So let’s talk about how we are approaching our yoga practice. Here we are in this thing that we acknowledge as a practice, and we hear our intention, and our intention is to become a good person. And then we practice 30 chaturangas or vinyasas or come in and out of warrior 2 relentlessly, or hold our breath in a class to get to that big pose, even when it hurts us or causes tension. Even when we tighten in order to do it. And that gets compounded over years.
It reminds me of a well known Krishnamuriti saying - I practice yoga every day, and it has never become a habit.
Where is your intention in practicing like this? That is the ego. That is the part of you saying “yes, I want to be a good person but I believe that this endeavor includes me changing. That being a good person requires that I look a certain way or can achieve a certain thing, of validating my worth, of validating my existence.” And this is the second noble truth, this is a cause to our suffering and we perpetuate it while doing the very thing we are actively doing as relief from the hamster on the wheel. Our clinging to how we should be or how life should be causes us so much strife. Even when we think we are caring for the body, we are so very often catering to the ego which is driving the mind rather than the heart. We can achieve healing on certain levels, but if we’re still running the same script, following the same patterns when moving back into the world, then it doesn’t matter how much physical healing we’ve experience, nothing will have changed.
So this is where the real practice is. In order to allow love to flow freely into the heart, we must understand how harmful greed, hatred, and delusion or confusion or not-knowingness are to us, which allows us to simultaneously grow in generosity, compassion, and wisdom. And it begins in each of us individually.
Understanding, seeing this for yourself, this is at the core of the 3rd truth - that there is an end. So, you see, there is this ebb and flow of giving and receiving from body to mind and mind to heart, heart to body - in the same way that the prana is taken in from the air and filtered, assimilated into the blood by the lungs and transported to all of the tissues in the body, and then we exhale. Letting in is letting go. And letting go is also letting in. It is so important that we begin to view the body as a system in the same way a plant is a system and the stock market is a system. Each organism relies on the others that make up its environment, and the environment relies on each organism.
So it’s important that we go into it. That we lean into the little edges and not just blow by them or push through them or muscle around them. Step by step. That is what vinyasa means. This is the 4th Noble Truth - that there is a path. This practice has done so much for me, and by doing the most basic things, just learning to sit, learning to be with stuff that’s uncomfortable. And I’ve used a lot of different modalities - movement and breath, touch and study, and lots of therapy, but it’s all rooted in this path. The nature of a path is that we take step by step, one foot leaving as the other arrives - vinyasa - to travel. We keep our eyes open and our head up. We find the joy in the journey, the joy in the path, even though we don’t know where it will lead.
My advice to you is not to undertake the spiritual path. It is too difficult, too long, and is too demanding. I suggest you ask for your money back, and go home. This is not a picnic. It is really going to ask everything of you. So, it is best not to begin. However, if you do begin, it is best to finish.” - Chögyam Trungpa
This is your initiation or permission slip or welcome basket, if you want it, to keep going. We have to keep going.
Another Krisnamurti - When the mind is at rest, neither seeking nor resisting a single thing, then, not struggling with life, then, only then, is it possible to see what is true. And it is the truth that liberates, not our efforts to be free.