How do we further still the mind, now knowing judgment is a detriment and subtle sensation is the focal point? We have to consider time and space in our practice.
We've learned that the more the mind can be stilled the more subtle sensation can be felt. The more these subtle tingling sensations of the body can be felt, and in time appreciated, the more peaceful the mind becomes. The more peaceful the mind is the more enjoyable life is for that moment of presence and sensitivity. The effort of the yogi is to reconstruct themselves into a being that understands how to enjoy reality by perfecting their mental stillness. But, where does the stilled mind go when it's successfully focused on these subtle sensations? It goes into the proverbial, Now. Compare this to a mind that is mainly in its thoughts of the future and past. That distracted mind drifts in the unreal worlds of fantasy and memory, occupied with things that do not actually exist. Slowly, that mind becomes more disoriented to the point where life's essential nature, which is grand, is imperceivable. That lack of physical presence supports the onset of this confusion which leads to dissatisfaction and eventually suffering.
This proverbial "Now" is the first word in the Yoga Sutras and is the main point of instruction in the first aphorism of the book. The Yoga Sutras is a book written 1,500 years ago that outlines the full journey of yoga from beginning to completion, step by step, definition by definition, instruction by instruction, sutra by sutra. The first sutra is translated as, "Now, the practice of unity." This Now is named Atha in Sanskrit. Atha is a special and precise moment in time defined by its absolute potential and connectivity. Atha stands between past and future, both of which are infinite and eternal. Atha is uniquely finite and real compared to the two ghostly eternities of past and future. Atha becomes paramount to the achievement of Truth and Bliss (Yoga's two propositions; mentioned in previous newsletters) because it is only in the Now that the individual can fully come to terms with the opportunity of a manifested existence. Presence is the intentional commitment to this moment, which is a common understanding. Less commonly, presence is the physical location of a personal "center". Atha is the physical location where the mind achieves maximum stillness and it is located in the centerline of our bodies. Think of a child raging in a temper tantrum. In the arms of a stranger the child wales. In the arms of its Father, the child settles. It is a matter of location! The consequence of being present in terms of both time (this moment) and space (center) is what leads to the profound mental stillness of yoga.
When all awareness, barred of judgment, is invested into Atha (Now) the yogi learns to sense life in a truer way. Imagine extending your open palm carefully towards a flame, the heat would increase as proximity diminishes. Similarly, the blissful nature of life as a physical sensation is felt more intensely as the mind anchors into Atha (Now). As that blissful vibration is felt more intensely, like the arms of a Father sheltering the child, the mind of the meditating yogi is stilled. When the mind is stilled, consciousness is permitted to absorb its world without the distortion of fearful thoughts and judgments. Then, the epiphany of life presents itself. All of this depends on presence. From the opening poem above;
"Beneath the foundations of my home
(meaning: the present moment is a physical location)
are your footprints
(meaning: the evidence of life's truth and companionship)
Observe how the philosophies we've been studying of subtle sensation (Sukshma) and now presence (Atha) are overlapping. The mind of a yogi is as exotically contorted as their bodies when in postures, both limb and thought are folded and connected into unique beauty and special understandings.
The way animals' tracks must eventually lead to water, the point of focusing on the bodies' subtle sensations was to discover and then follow them to the physical present, again, Atha. The more present we become the more united we are to the actual world as it physically exists. Presence is often only thought of in terms of time and compared to the past and the future. The yogi, however, knows the present or Atha as both a moment of time and more importantly a location in space. Consider: If I meditate on a candle's flame that is ten feet away from my face, which is a practice called Trataka, I am less present than if I meditate on a flame that burns three feet from me. If I close my eyes and feel my own body, those sensations having zero distance from me because they are me, I am more present than if I were meditating on the flame three feet away. Both the flame and my body exist in the same moment of time, as does every star, city, tree, and cloud. Defining presence as a location in space is more concrete and creates more opportunity to internalize. Presence, meditation, truth, bliss, all become physical experiences which is helpful in terms of learning the mystic nature of yoga.
The more subtle details the mind can feel within the body the more present the practitioner is because they are focusing on experiences that have less distance from their physical center. Think of Yoga poses. Most of the physical practice is geared towards opening the spine through back-bending to create space and sensitivity within the centerline of the body. The opening of the hips supports the strength and flexibility of the spine. The trend of inversions also has everything to do with the core and stability of the body's center. The spiritual-energetic channel that traces the spine is called Sushumna. Sushumna is the same tingling sensation felt in the skin but now, experienced in the spine area specifically. It is still the same subtle sensation. When the mind is anchored in this central channel, the yogi is as present as they can be because they are mentally focused on their literal center.
So, as the Milkyway is held together by the blackhole at its center, as the solar system is held together by the Sun at its center, as a cell holds its chromosomes in its center, as a wheel spirals from the hub at its center, as a peach holds its pit in its center, as a mother holds their child in their center; the human being as a conscious creature designed to "realize" reality holds its perfect clarity in its physical center where mind and body meet.
A valid question is why work so hard to understand these ideas and then spend precious time practicing techniques that seem to be so impractical? Can't we just live our lives? Isn't life sweet enough? There are always ups and downs, that will never change. So, what is all this centeredness in the name of Truth and Bliss for?
We only have one life. This is the only opportunity we have to perceive the miracle of our own existence which is enmeshed in reality itself. After life there is only the void or Shoonya. Life's greatness depends on our point of view and position within the mind and body. To some life is never seriously considered, only lived through numbly. To others, it is worshipped. Regardless of how we choose to perceive life, and that is a choice, when standing at the center of it all, deep inside the body's center, all thought and confusion come together with a snap that booms, "Epiphany." When you get there, where time stops because you're so present, nothing can be said. It is a selfless moment of pure absorption where you're assured to realize you are in a relationship with something far greater than yourself, far greater than what your mind can grasp. And yet, this thing that is so much more than you is always with you, feeding itself into you through your experiences. Yogi's are masters of marvel and wonder because they understand both where to stand in time and space and what they are looking for from that special moment-location of Atha. Imagine coordinating a trip to catch a migration of whales. You arrive. You see the pod. With practice might you call them? With luck might you reach out and touch them? If the whale is life itself, the yogi, through sensitivity to subtle sensation, has learned to call, reach out, and then taking it one step further become life itself. The mantra "Ahambhramasmi" explains this experience. It means, "I am that." That revelation only exists in the Now.
If the present is being studied the past and future must also be understood. The yogis realized the past and future were two favorite territories of the mind. When the mind distracts itself it is often trekking into either of the two. The old methods taught the details of meditation and presence by concealing lessons within stories. Eventually, the symbolism of narratives was replaced with descriptions of mental experience, techniques to change the mental experience, and descriptions of the new resulting psychology. But, these narratives when read carefully explain all the practical instructions of practice within their plots and the characters themselves.
An ancient Indian narrative, The Katha Upanishad, explains that it is our relationship to the past and future that ultimately disrupts our ability to exist in Atha and by approaching death itself one learns the value of the present moment and more importantly how to access it.
The story is; a boy is sacrificed to Death and waits outside the House of Night for three days without food or water. After passing this test of endurance he is rewarded with three wishes. These wishes explain how a meditator can better their relationship to the present moment and eventually realize yoga's two propositions (from the previous newsletter) of Bliss and Truth by stilling the mind into now.
The first wish was to heal his relationship with his father, who sacrificed him to death. This is a commentary on karma and our past. Before we can fully inhabit the present moment we must come to terms with our history (the father). Whether that means actively tying up loose ends or simply accepting it through forgiveness and trust is up to the individual. Regardless, the past must be resolved and once it is the present moment is amplified. The lesson is: Let the past go. It is done. Move on.
This second wish is the practical consequence of meditation. The boy asks Death to see the present moment as heaven (a combination of truth and bliss). The first and third wishes act as metaphorical instructions to support the attainment of the second wish. While the past certainly happened and the future will certainly come they are unreal compared to the current and living experience of the present. The truth that this moment is all we have is accurate in every way. Whatever can be done to support presence should be done and life will ripen because of it. The lesson is: Be present because the present is Life itself.
The third wish is two-fold. Death at this point is impressed with the boy and suggests the third wish to be a prosperous future for the boy and his bloodline to come. This would include health, status, and wealth. Ultimately, Death offers an eternal paradise for the ego. The boy correctly declines and asks as a mystic to know the unknowable. Death is surprised and agrees. This wish informs a meditator that our fixation on our future prosperity dismantles our ability to be present. It also solidifies the ego, which heightens our preferences and narrows our vision of the world. The best way to interact with the future when in meditation, specifically, is to disregard it by appreciating it as the ultimate mystery.
The boy's third wish of knowing the unknowable represents the passing of time. We all encounter the unknown every moment as time moves forward. It is in Atha as a moment and at Atha as a location that the unknown becomes real. The deeper philosophy is that this wish of realizing the unknown is the oldest thirst of consciousness itself and it is being fulfilled in every passing second. To exist is to be reborn into the unknown of every new moment. From a philosophical perspective, the soul has materialized to experience life as anything and everything, where before the consciousness of life itself waited in dormant aloneness for any world to finally begin. To live in a constantly changing and manifesting world is what brings joy to that ancient consciousness and our idea of personal spirit. The meditator, therefore, expends their energy to exist purely in Atha, the heaven of now, enjoying the climax of life as it manifests from the unknown future into reality as it pleases.
Once we have come to terms with the past and let go of the future the only place for the mind to exist is in the now, Atha. Technically, this nurtures endurance and intensity of focus in meditation. Step one, by targeting the subtle sensations of the body the mind is pulled inwardly and the journey towards the true self officially begins (this inner direction is called Anu; from a previous newsletter). From a euphoric tingling, the Sukshma sensations expand into a feeling of spaciousness. While the body "dissolves" it leaves behind the feeling of heightened consciousness. When that heightened consciousness anchors into Atha the senses are unleashed the way doors and windows are opened on a perfect spring day, letting the warm wind of the day into the home! From that openness and connection, life is recognized for what it is and we become aware that we are in a serious relationship with something infinite and divine. There is nothing more anyone can ask for once that is realized. We become the tantrumming child, now wooed by the arms of our center. From the opening poem above;
who resolved to prove, through these walls and rooms
(meaning: life's lessons are encountered from within ourselves)
life can never live alone
(meaning: we learn we are never alone because life is always with is)