Only in quiet waters do things mirror themselves undistorted. Only in the quiet mind is there adequate perception of the world.
Late this fall on a crisp Sunday morning I rode my bike out to a secluded stretch of sand along the banks of the South Saskatchewan River. Walking out as far as I could, I spread my blanket, took off my shoes, and embarked on a solo yoga practice in nature. Having to stay warm I moved through heat generating asana followed with as many headstands as I could muster….and as many falls as I could tolerate.
At the start of practice I felt shy. To whom? There was no one. Was I shy in the presence of nature (trees, sand, water, sky), uncomfortable in such a wide open space (void of the city) or simply becoming more aware of my own internal ego constructs and their stories? After all, I am an educated women…a civilized mother… doing headstands in the sand? Who does that on a Sunday morning…? what might people think? But the nature around me didn’t seem to care so I kept on.
The more I practiced the more the constructs dissolved into something else. The sky changed many times revealing a milky sun beneath soft clouds, streams of light glistened on the water and a large flock of seagulls hung out loudly nearby. Where the sand had once felt cold, it became supportive and welcoming, where I was once concerned about looking a fool; I was effortlessly now having fun. By the end of practice I was completely comfortable alone with myself, yoga and nature.
Following two hours of practice I closed my eyes for a final meditation. I moved inwards feeling my breath, noticing the support of my spine and listening with my hearts intention. Some time passed and I found myself drawn to an intermittent rustling coming from the bushes nearby. I wanted to ignore it, but it persisted. Checking in with my heart, the space of deeper knowing, I asked if this sound was ok, the response was simply, be calm, it is calm. I wanted to trust this response but I am by default a thinking type, and I was curious, and that curiosity was taunting me to open my eyes. … what was in the bushes? … soon I was to find out just how curiosity can kill the cat?
Once in the minds realm questions consumed the moment…was I being watched…was it an animal… man.. maybe a stalker…?? Fear jumped in! I opened my eyes and squinted towards the sound.
Two glistening eyes stared back at me and a brown rounded back swept into the bushes. Breath and body froze with fear. It could be a cougar… unlikely, but not impossible, seen leaping onto me in two effortless bounds. … was it crouching? Bear scat had been near the trail. But this animal was too perfectly camouflaged to be a bear. My eyes flickered back and forth squinting hard for some clearer truth. Cougar. Deer. Cougar. Deer. Fear. Calm. Each image and emotion was fighting a ring battle for dominance. Fear saw the cougar…. crouching in the bushes ready to pounce on din din. Calm saw a deer crouching delicately to eat some leaves… more afraid of me, than me of it. This ridiculous dance of feelings and constructs lasted only moments… I don’t have a lot of patience for banter so quickly decided if it was my time to be the only women in history eaten alive on the banks of the South Saskatchewan River, then so be it. Just then a rifle shot ricocheted through the valley! I jumped a hundred feet out of my skin and the three deer who had been staring me down ran off. This yogi, with the calm center, knew it was also time to leave. Inner and outer nature had clearly met.
There is inner nature and there is outer nature. Both are great teachers. The wisest say they are the same teacher.
In very basic yogic terms the human experience can be described as having a causal body of thought and belief, an astral body of emotion and desire, and a physical body of material substance. These parts of humanity are woven together with an energetic movement of life (chi, breath, life force, prana, spirit (outer movement) soul (inner movement). When these layers are experienced as an integrative knowing, there is both the ability to notice the separation of layers, as well as, to experience an integrative space of one with self and others. This integrative place as I have experienced it comes from beneath the mind, and lives in a stillness or realm of the heart and soul.
I have found that most people are born with one prominent area (causal, astral, physical) from which they naturally relate to and perceive the world most readily. If we were to make these human aspects into a circle I would challenge that part of our purpose for being here on earth is to widen the circle and experience life through the lens of another aspect of humanity. Thus broadening and deepening our experience and understanding of ourselves, humanity and all living beings.
For the past few years I begin my days with a meditation followed with a yoga practice. This simple routine keeps my internal and external worlds in balance. My purpose is to come to the mat, re-connect with breath and body and to acknowledge the conscious moment (vritti), hopefully coming to some deeper stillness. In this process of observing day after day my own moods, stories, fears, desires, attachments and aversions (the same thing) wrapped in a tight body, a limber body, a strong body, a weak body, there is, over time, a widdling away of. A realization and a seeing of the transience in what we believe and take for granted to be real. The bark gets peeled back some revealing a solid core and a source of inner stillness from which to move from. This inner center is a peaceful place that sees and feels more authentically what is…. without the immediate litany of thoughts and beliefs, emotions and desires or physical sensations. But this inner stillness too is changing. As yogi’s commonly say, the only permanence in life is change. Like the core of a tree, there is life, there is movement, there is a slowness, there is a different experience of reality. It’s as if seeing, feeling and being become clear. This authenticity emerges from beneath the layers of ego constructs and cultured persona’s and it is simply a much nicer way to relate to self and others.
Daily practice is as Helen Keller expressed… a longing to accomplish great and noble tasks, but rather the chief duty is to accomplish small tasks as if they were great and noble. With awareness simple practices become magnificent creatures.
Meditation and yoga are such seemingly simple endeavors, yet the repercussions of setting time aside to meet your own nature and authenticity is the greatest opportunity for growth. When life is slowed down enough to feel the feelings beneath the conditioned constructs, or to see the constructs built upon the feelings or to experience stillness and peace for the first time there is a vast freedom that opens before you. This allows you to relate to yourself and to others without the limits of a conditioning from society, your family, your past or your culture. It is known in yogic texts that this authentic place of seeing without the layers of constructs is both the greatest gift you can give to yourself and the greatest gift you can give to others. It is the heart of nature.
Out beyond ideas of wrong-doing and right -doing
There is a field
I’ll meet you there
When the soul lies down in that grass
The world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase,
Doesn’t make any sense