Trusting Your Self
In my reading I always seem to come back to Swami Vivekananda. He was an Indian Yogi who, between 1893 and 1902, was the first to bring Yoga to a wider awareness in the West, throughout the US, and England. That may seem like a long time ago. However, when we consider that Yoga dates back thousands of years, 1893 sounds positively modern.
When I refer to Yoga, I am not talking about the practice of the yoga postures but rather the philosophy of Yoga. At its most basic level, Yoga asks the question of how our individual mind relates to the understanding of the infinite Self. This inquiry is embodied in the defining Sutra of Raja Yoga which states:
MASTERY OVER THE MODIFICATIONS OF THE MIND IS YOGA
Swami Vivekananda elaborates on this Sutra by asking the question, what is the mind? He begins by stating that thought is a force of nature, just as gravity is a force of nature. But, unlike gravity, thought is a reactive force. For example, an event occurs externally in your life or an event occurs within your body. The mind reacts to this event by forming a thought about the event. It’s like when a stone is thrown into the water and the water reacts by forming waves. Thoughts are like the waves which are reacting to the event of the stone hitting the water. Just as the water is the medium through which waves move, the mind is the medium through which thoughts move.
Our habit is to believe that the mind is the all important, creative source of the self. But, it is essential to recognize that the mind is nothing but a bit of complex matter through which reactions come and go. There is something deeper and unmoving that perceives the thoughts and the mind. When the surface of a lake is agitated by waves and ripples it is impossible to see below the surface into the bottom of the lake. When the water is still, when it is no longer agitated and muddy, you can see below the surface where everything is calm. So it is also with the mind. When the mind is quiet the thoughts subside. You can see into the quiet depth of the True Self. The waves are the thoughts. The water is the mind. The bottom of the lake is the Self. To realize this is to discover the path to liberation from a life of confusion and agitation.
It is easy, Vivekananda said, to let go of the reins of the horse and to allow the horse to lead you where it may go. Just as it is easy to be ruled by the thoughts and let them lead you into confusion and agitation. But to move deeper than the thoughts and to calm the bucking horse requires skill and practice. This skill and practice is what we call Yoga. Whether it is through asana, meditation, or contemplation of yogic philosophy, Yoga actively brings you back to the natural place of serenity. Knowing serenity is your birthright.
Here are some practical examples. It is easy to judge others and to feel that you need to tell them what to do, how to live, and how to behave. It requires active skill to tame that propensity. It is easy to push the body into a state physical agitation and exhaustion either by overwork or extreme exercise. It is also easy to devote yourself to physical comfort and acquisition. All of these things are temporary conditions whose value is generated by a thought that says, “If I achieve these qualities I will be well and happy.” Yoga asks us to see beyond the temporal into the endless.
When you are alive in this life you are temporarily alive. Therefore everything we experience in this life form would seem to be temporary. It requires skill and devotion to see beyond the superficiality of the temporary nature of an individual existence. You have the ability to develop the skill, in this lifetime, to realize that you can calm the mind and see beyond what comes and goes. You have the potential to literally touch your True Nature. When you no longer get caught up in the scattered thought waves, you return to Self. Returning to Self simply means realizing your ability to experience bliss in this life, to experience the equanimity and harmony of this life and the eternal reality of your true nature.
You have the potential, right now in this moment, to slow down, to trust yourself, and to move through the muddy waters with ease.
This essay is adapted from my book, The Beautiful You That You Know Yourself to Be: Discovering the Eternal in Everyday Life
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