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What Yoga ISN'T

Updated: Nov 16, 2022

Today's article comes at you from my kitchen table, looking out at a flowing river of cold, clear mountain water that flows behind my house .

I'd like to present to you to today some ideas or concepts that may challenge your views or perspectives. My wish, in all of my work, is to support people in stepping out of their boxes and into a less limited way of being. I'm okay with using unconventional methods to do this if it means more freedom for the human soul and more balance & harmony on Earth. I'm kind of a rebel.

Keep in mind that the original Hatha Yogis and Tantrikas were extremely unorthodox in their lifestyles but extremely orthodox in their methods. They understood that the cosmic principle was at work in their very own bodies in the same way that the cosmic principle was ensuring the Sun rose every day, the planets spun on the axises, and Nature continued on its evolutionary trajectory. They knew that they were not separate from the same Laws that governed everything in existence; the Laws which scaffold the entire cosmic pattern up so that life can BE. They felt that society and the mainstream ideas and social norms were often in conflict with the spiritual truths they were discovering through their experiments and methods. So they dropped out. They went into the forests and caves and dedicated themselves to their efforts, in pursuit of realizing the Highest Truth.

Entire systems of philosophy and methodology emerged from their work. Today we have books passed down over generations, but these books and the words within them carry the same vibrational energy that was downloaded centuries back inside of those natural temples which were the meditation spaces for these early yogis.

What might be said nowadays about what we are receiving in terms of the "teachings" of these yogis is that, we must learn the context from which Yoga was originally arising and how to extrapolate that and apply it into our modern day. I must echo the fact that these people were extreme -- they were willing to do whatever (and truly I mean whatever) they needed to do, outside of heinous or directly criminal/ offensive acts, to achieve their aim. Murder and other extreme acts were avoided probably only because they didn't actually lead to any real spiritual merit, but rest assured these yogis were passed the edge of insanity. They wanted God and nothing else would satisfy them.

But what does this mean to us, nowadays?

Well, for one, we must accept or at least acknowledge the fact that our modern society has made us "soft". Our once lethal and perilous lives have become comfy cozy existences where Amazon delivers packages to our door and we can order food that was grown in a 100 mi radius zone (or beyond); our clothing was made in third world countries thousands of miles away and we are largely spread out in terms of our consciousness because of the internet and what we are aware of now. Only a few hundred years ago all that we "knew" was immediately around us in our environment. Now, we have access to books of a million authors and a billion voices. Consciousness has expanded considerably, and there is the troubling fact that as it has expanded, it has lost a certain level of potency that once was.

Humans "back then" (whenever "back then" was) were suffering from the same core troubles we are suffering from today -- greed, anger, delusion, ignorance, fear, shame -- all of these troublesome human emotions that ultimately lead to the death and destruction of the life that is within and all around us. It must be said that unless our home is in "order" (and I mean truly in order), we will be at odds with the world around us. Why? Because if our home -- the place that we live and have our life -- is not "in order", it is very likely (perhaps certain) that our mind is not in order, either. If our mind is not in order, then we have chaotic thoughts (demons???) plaguing our consciousness, troublesome residue on our psychic field that causes damage to everything that we touch and interact with.

There is a reason religion prioritizes peity and purification. Religion was, and still is, humankind's best attempt to organize the chaotic forces of the psyche that are attempting to wreak havoc on life. Whether or not you agree with religion you must at least consider the fact that it exists and has existed for a very long time, and with good reason. Humans need some form or method of arranging their views about life. Submission to a "higher order of things" which religion is almost exclusively based off of allows humans to relax from their troublesome thoughts and commit themselves to trying to "do things right", or at least bring more goodness to life. The attempt to bring more goodness to life is perhaps the sole driving force of spiritual interest. The search, or the "seeking" of the spiritual seeker is what happens when we notice "wow, the world definitely has its f***d up bits, but maybe if I do things in a good way I can at least prevent it from becoming more F****d up". This is a pretty basic attitude, I think, that is shared by most people. I would argue that Life WANTS to help Life, and this impulse to restore order is an innate response from within us and directed by a higher intelligence so that Life doesn't fall apart into chaos. Because, chaos is certainly trying harder to rip the Universe apart.

Perhaps a better way to say that is that there is a force of entropy that provides a necessary tension. Without the chaotic forces that are "trying to rip the Universe apart" we would have no concept of goodness. There would be nothing to strive for, as there would be no striving! So there we have it -- the two poles of our existence, chaos & order, are giving rise to the precise predicament that we are in now... called "seeking".

Cue: the yogis. The Yogis, the ones we had been talking about earlier, they saw that this great battle was taking place everywhere they looked. It is obvious, and it is perfect. It is the Great Pattern of Life. Opposites attract... and then Create. Opposites also repel... and destroy. Both are true. Life and death in a perpetual cycle. The yogis wanted to free themselves of this cycle. They wanted to escape the rebirth on the Earthly plane so that they didn't need to go through another vicious cycle of karma and karmic repercussions. They knew that every single action they took left a residue , an imprint, on the entire Universal fabric. Everything effected (and effects) everything. So, what did they do? They disappeared. They sat motionless, disturbing as few molecules of air as possible by controlling their respiration. They chanted mantras, attempting to organize the vibratory patterns of their nervous system into a pristine state of being so that their vision of God could become clearer. And through all of this, the teachings of Yoga emerged.

Yoga is a process AND a state of being. Yoga describes both the means and the end. Proper examination of yogic scripture reveals this. But what does that have to do with us, today? Are we going to sit motionless in our caves to pay the bills?

Perhaps not. But what we can glean from this, hopefully, is that our process is actually no different than their process. We just have different circumstances. And if we understand what they were truly trying to achieve, we can extract from their methodology the immense utility and value of the Yoga system. If we do not understand this, we will continue to view Yoga as a pseudo-spiritual exercise system involving stretching, breathing exercises, and maybe a little meditation. This is simply limited in both its scope and the effect of practice.

We must ask ourselves -- what exactly are we trying to achieve from these tools? This question can help orient us in a good direction. At least, it will help us become more real, and more authentic. What needs to be said here is that it is our ego, our selfish and self-centered identity structure, that is exactly the "thing" which must be properly observed, discovered, and restored to its rightful place. When the ego becomes aware of the greater intelligence that is moving through it, it begins to pay closer attention to and strives to come into alignment with this great intelligence. Then, the actions that the ego chooses to engage in are no longer based around serving it's own interest, but rather in serving the greater interest of life. This is a massive switch of perspective for the ego, and this is often very, very subtle.

For the yogi, one who is attempting to achieve union with the cosmic intelligence that we refer to, this one must be ready to give up everything -- all attachments, all forms of clinging to life, in order to realize the One. Why? Because everything we hold on to keeps us stuck on the Earthly plane, in the "world" of karma and duality, cause and effect, and material phenomena. This ensures that our human existence is made the priority instead of our spiritual existence.

However, knowing this puts us into conflict! What is the yogi supposed to do when bills must be paid and kids need a ride to school?

How do we balance the spiritual and material? How do we balance our impulse to become a cave-dweller, and one who is involved in the world?

The Buddhist lore tells stories of what is known as the bodhisattva -- people who had achieved the ultimate transcendent state, re-joined with the Cosmic Being, and yet chose to return to Earth to help others. This is, I feel, a perfect story to describe the archetypal energy present in this process.

Allow me to explain.

If, to achieve our ultimate enlightenment or Self-Realization, we are required to give up all of our material attachments and organize our prana & life-energies to be focused solely on God and nothing else, how are we to do anything else?

Well... what if this is merely one big process that we are all going through, and some are further along than others? (Jesus, Buddha, etc are examples of people who've gone "all the way"). What if, as we give up things we are attached to (re: the ego is attached to), we become "lighter" on the Earthly plane, we become less stuck on things, life can flow more smoothly through us, and we are able to provide more actual help to others who are a little bit more "stuck" than we are? What if all of this is describing the way we become more spacious for Life to simply BE? That as we clear out the cobwebs of our own personal opinions and karmas (which yogic methods, if they are truly "yogic", are specifically designed for) we become more available for the Greater Intelligence to flow through us, for us, with us, and around us? Instead of needing to use our mind to get everything done, we can just relax and allow Life to guide us? Sounds like a bodhisattva to me.

All that I am proposing is that we re-consider what Yoga really is. We are invited to see the context from which it is taken. We are invited to consider where we are today, in our days of comfort and luxury, and how this has actually robbed us of our truly peaceful state of mind and harmony. We are urged to contemplate on what might support us in our return to the one rightful place in the Kingdom of Life... as we are all responsible. Everything effects everything. No one is left out. And whether or not you want to be as extreme as the yogis of old, or you are simply living your life to the best of your ability today, there is always more to give, more to learn, more to let go, and more work to be done to keep the forces of chaos at bay.

Yoga is far, far more than stretching. Far more. It is (or can be) a system and set of tools that can support us in aligning to the Highest Good of All, for All. This is a scientific endeavor and we need all hands on deck.


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