I’ve been meeting with a group called the Center for World Spirituality.
What’s exciting to me about them is that they seem to be creating a place for Spirituality to blossom independent of religion. For people to foster their connection to spirit rather than their connection to a place or system of worship.
Which has me question what spirit actually is. So I call on some powerful teachings…
Yoga is not a religion, a belief system. It is a set of practices, which, when practiced, brings people to deeply experience many of the same truths that religions ask you to take on by faith.(1)
We are told and given our concept of reality from birth. With the best of intentions, parents, siblings, teachers, and guardians of all sorts tell us “the way things are.” Because our initial picture of the world is so unfocused, so as-yet unconceptualized, adopting their concepts of “what is” gives us a lens to see things through, to bring into focus so we can “make sense of it all”.
Yet imagine if everyone were fitted with a pair of bifocals right from birth, a cultural ritual that no-one questioned, that left an entire society only learning how to focus through those glasses. Would it be possible to learn to see without them?
I heard an anecdote about a couple who had been deaf the great period of their life, who had an implant inserted that enabled them to hear. Miraculous! They could finally hear! Right? Not so for them. They were used to quiet. Their minds had not mapped any sounds to any meanings, so everything was cacophony. One of them decided to turn the implant off. The other proceeded to learn to hear.
So we are fitted with cultural assumptions from the start. How do you know if you’re really assuming something? You don’t. If you are assuming something you take it as “the way things are.” As soon as you question, you are no longer assuming.
So again, what is spirit that you could practice spirituality – our connection to it?
One similarity I’ve noticed between great spiritual teachers like Jesus, Mohammad, Moses, Buddha, and Gandhi, is this: that they chose to question the dominant paradigm, to take off the lenses they’d been looking through, and see with their own eyes, to feel into their own truth, and have a personal moving connection with spirit that woke them up to (what seemed to them like) a greater truth of spirit, that many people resonated with.
This is the deeper practice of yoga. To let go of your assumptions and get in direct contact with reality.
So, to truly learn from these great spiritual masters, let’s try doing what they did, rather than following what they said, and attempt for a moment to lift the veil of our pre-existing teachings about spirit, and feel into our own experience, our own truth.
What is YOUR current belief about “the divine”, “Spirit,” “The greater self,” “That which I take great care not to name,” “the higher power formally known as ‘God'”? Take a moment to sink into this inquiry.
To distinguish that which you actually believe from that which you were told is true but don’t actually believe, try this:
- Get a picture of what you do believe.
- Then, feeling into that picture, is there anything there that you were told to believe that actually doesn’t resonate with your experience, that you have to rely on faith to hold? For a moment, put that aside.
- Then, feeling into your updated picture, is there anything missing that you had to put aside to allow for that faith? Just for a moment, add that in.
- repeat until you are fully resonant with your own image of spirit.
Breathe and feel whatever authentic connection you have to Spirit. Spend a minute/hour/day/year walking in spirit’s shoes. For whatever length of time you’re comfortable with, let yourself act as an expression of Spirit. Consider it may be your job to embody that part of spirit that you feel connected to.
“Walking with God” is the literal translation of the word “Bramacharya*,” the fourth digit of the first limb of yoga, the yamas. Practice it.
To bring this to your asana practice – What is the activity of yoga? According to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali book II vs 1:
“Tapas svadyaya Isvara pranidana kriya yoga”,
which I translate as:
“passionate self study through surrender to (insert your word for spirit here) is the activity of yoga.
Use your practice to Passionately study yourself. The passion comes in the form of staying attuned to whatever arises, never turning away from yourself. To really study yourself and learn something new about yourself, you’ll have to let go of what you already “know”: surrendering your ideas of what you are or are not, and what you “can do” and “can’t do”. Call back the connection to Spirit that you actually believe, and breathe in that connection, as that connection. What properties do YOU experience? I want to take great care not to project any more of my assumptions here. Experience for yourself.
Enjoy your practice.