November 7, 2013

Everywhere Looking, God Seeing.

Tiffany Cruikshank

Three…everything is always in three.

In Christianity, there are the three graces (faith, hope and charity) along with the divine trinity of Father, Son and Holy Ghost – while at the heart of Hinduism is the Trimurti: Brahma (the creator), Vishnu (the maintainer) and Shiva (the destroyer).

Yet, it’s not just religion that loves a good trio. Businesses use the three-legged stool and writers have their rule of three (think stooges, pigs and bears). And of course, there are the three words we all love to hear: I love you. (Or in the case of my husband, You were right.)

In yoga, we have our own three—the physical, the mental (psychological) and the spiritual.

I’ve always felt a strong connection to the physical practice of asana, but for so much more than postures. You see, I’m a more physical learner and so it’s how I take in information.

And as a (former) counselor, the psychological piece has also struck a chord, for the mat is certainly a metaphorical mirror; and the practice, a tool for constant observation and awareness.

Yet the spiritual thing is a bit more elusive. And sometimes I really wonder how (or if) I’ll ever dive deeper into that realm. Like when am I going to trade in my #complicatedyogastretches and learn some “real” yoga? That complete absorption I read about…that oneness with God?

Because western society will dictate I replace one for the other as we so often assume the newest makes the previous, irrelevant. Whole language replaces phonics. And these days, holistic treatments replace modern medicine. And so on…but I’m not ready to throw out my Ashtanga yoga practice.

Like, I just might need (many) more lifetimes for that …

However, Indian knowledge systems tend to add new information in layers. A new insight comes along and rather than discard the previous, the new is simply added to the old. So perhaps it’s simply another layer to add …

Besides Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, the father of this very physically and mentally challenging yoga I practice, was also a deeply spiritual and devotional man as well. So there simply can be no coincidence that he called this method, Ashtanga yoga—after Patanjali’s eight limbs moving us toward a divine oneness, of which asana is only one.

And why lately, I’ve been digging a little deeper and came upon the fifth limb: Pratyāhāra.

Nicholai Bachman describes this fifth limb as neither an outward practice nor an inward—but rather, the transition between the two. It’s not so much an effort to withdraw the senses as much as a way to limit the amount of ways we are distracted. So we learn to tune out, the way my teenage son has learned to do with my nagging, and as a result—we can better tune in.

But here’s the really interesting part for me and why I’ve always been resistant. I can’t learn this sitting down. I’m sorry, I just can’t. And thanks to my asana practice, I don’t have to.

Because Ashtanga yoga sets the stage Pratyahara by teaching us, using yet another trilogy: Tristhana. Thus in my asana practice, I am given the tools to move from outside to inside through a practical method I am asked to apply every morning.

  • The dristi is prescribed, limiting distracting visual information.
  • My breath is with sound (not Ujjayi, a pranayama), directing my ears to the sound of me.
  • And the movements are all efficiently choreographed with bandhas, moving me away from unnecessary fidgeting and flourishes that steal my energy.

Crazy that I’m only now realizing the very method I love and thought I must abandon is designed to induce this intermediary phase as the Tristhana brilliantly moves us into that space between the outside world and our inner self. So if we follow, so does our attention.

To think, I’ve been beating myself up in a way for not being able to quiet the chatter in my head—but what I hadn’t fully realized is that somewhere along the line, I did learn to quiet the chatter outside my head. This is progress.

Of course, this change extends (as it almost always does) to behavior off the mat, as well. In an effort to conserve my energy and attention for what (and who) matters most to me, I am slowly learning to limit life’s clutter as well.

Pratyāhāra. I won’t lie, even with these tools, it remains a struggle for me. Distractions come at me strong and in every sense and direction. And yet, perhaps a little less so lately. While I’m no where close to being capable of controlling my monkey(s), I am learning, in a very real and applicable way—how.

Ashtanga is giving me the tools, to practice what my school teachers always wished I’d learn: to pay attention.

Still, the question remains, how does this translate into a more spiritual practice? After all, if the three were shaped as a triangle, I’m quite sure that God sits at the top.I believe in my heart that God speaks to us all the time, and yet, is in competition with all the other activity, sights and chatter we allow.

So I try to imagine what would happen if God no longer had to compete with Facebook or all the time I spend worrying? What if suffering wasn’t necessary to open me up any more than a dramatic sky directs my eye. What would happen if all the noise eventually vanished, the maybe, just maybe, I could hear even when God’s whispers …

Perhaps we don’t need to look for the light—for it’s always there. We just have to slowly, slowly drop away the unnecessary and frivolous until all that is left is what was there to begin with.

And as Guruji would say, “Everywhere looking, only God seeing.”


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Ed: Bryonie Wise

{photo: Marine Noclain}

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