What’s the point of practicing Yoga? The physical benefits are obvious; flexibility and strength increase, range of motion in the joints is simultaneously increased and stabilised, and muscles and tissue become more supple and responsive – as long as we’re practicing safely…. Of course, the number of Yoga injuries has naturally risen as the number of practitioners has, and just as the physical body experiences pleasure and pain, comfort and discomfort, ease and suffering – the mind does and is intended to experience these things too.
Although we might not always admit it, almost all our decisions are geared towards making ourselves happy in one way or another. Even something done seemingly ‘selflessly’ will have a deeper intention to bring some sort of benefit to ourselves, even if it’s just the sensation of knowing we ‘did the right thing’. The thing about happiness though, is that just like all other emotions – it’s temporary.
Generally; the more happiness we accumulate, the more we’re inclined to cling to it in fear of losing it. The more sadness we accumulate, the more we become desperate to experience happiness again. It’s these two things; Raga and Dvesa (attraction and repulsion) and our attachment to them that brings suffering, not the actual situation, person or circumstance that seems to cause it at the time.
Experiencing Reality as Ecstasy
On May 3rd 1953, Aldous Huxley took four-tenths of a gram of mescaline (a hallucinogenic similar to LSD or psilocybin), the effects of which lasted for eight hours. He explains in his book The Doors of Perception that he expected to experience great visions, something wonderful and other-worldly. What he actually experienced wasn’t much like that at all; instead, he reports seeing things in front of him in a more realistic and clearer view than ever before. One experience he recollects is of looking at a vase of flowers on his desk:
“I took my pill at eleven. An hour and a half later I was sitting in my study, looking intently at a small glass vase. The vase contained only three flowers – a full-blown Belle of Portugal rose, shell pink with a hint at every petal’s base of a hotter, flamier hue; a large magenta and cream-coloured carnation; and, pale purple at the end of its broken stalk, the bold heraldic blossom of an iris. Fortuitous and provisional, the little nosegay broke all the rules of traditional good taste. At breakfast that morning, I had been struck by the lively dissonance, of its colours. But that was no longer the point. I was not looking now at an unusual flower arrangement. I was seeing what Adam had seen on the morning of his creation – the miracle, moment by moment, of naked existence.
‘Is it agreeable? Somebody asked.
‘Neither agreeable or nor disagreeable’, I answered. ‘It just is’. “
He experienced ecstasy; not because he escaped the world and floated off into a magical land, but because he came into this world more clearly than ever before. He didn’t find happiness or sadness, or any emotion or falsity at all; he found what Meister Ekhart coined as Istecheit, meaning ‘I-ness’, the pure knowledge of being, of naked existence.
“The change which actually took place in that world was in no sense revolutionary….I saw no landscapes, no enormous spaces, no magial growth and metamosphasis of buildings, nothing remotely like a drama or a parable. The other world to which mescalin admitted me was not the world of visions; it existed out there, in what I could see with my eyes open”
– Aldous Huxley
Loosen Your Grip
Patanjali likens the mind to a clear quartz crystal; whatever we hold the crystal up against will appear to be coloured by that very object. Hold a crystal in front of a piece of red paper and it’ll appear red; hold it in front of blue and it’ll appear blue, and so on….
In the very same way, wherever we place our mind, it will be ‘coloured’ or affected. We’re coloured by the company we keep, the surroundings we place ourselves in, the thoughts we choose to hold onto, and the emotions we feel and become attached to feeling.
So, the aim? To become clear, unaffected, detached, liberated, free. To loosen our grip on life so it’s able to flow and expand to its full potential. They say “if you love something, set it free”; if you want to love your life, set yourself free.
The point of life is not to reach an end goal where we are ‘happy’, because what happiness is to one person doesn’t apply to another, and what makes us happy in one moment will bring us sadness when it’s gone. The point is to experience the ‘good’, the ‘bad’ and everything in between; and to experience that pure knowledge of being, that I-ness, to see a vase of flowers for exactly what they are, to experience each situation you encounter throughout your day without colouring it with past experiences, expectations, desires or temporary emotions.
In no way are we expected to not experience the states of being happy or sad – of course not, they’re a natural part of the human brain – the point is not to get attached to them. This is also known as vairagya (dispassion, detachment or renunciation). It’s important to realise that this doesn’t mean we aren’t passionate; in fact we are much more passionate about life, because we know this is it. By practicing this, we not only experience each moment of life more fully, but we truly come alive. We see the person in front of us as they are, not as we expect or want them to be; we experience the day without the worry of how it might turn out, but with the freedom of knowing that now is only a moment, a blank canvas, ready to be painted with all of today’s experiences.
Loosen your grip….
The Doors of Perception by Aldous Huxley
The Bhagavad Gita (Eknath Easwaren’s translation)
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (Swami Satchindananda’s translation)
Karma Yoga by Swami Vivekananda