Saturday, 31 August 2013

Not Knowing

by Madhuri

Extracted from the 2012 Annual Ashram Newsletter
The admission: I want a safe and predictable universe.

The solution: Finding a glorious Truth that is permanent and creates a feeling of underlying joy.

The problem: Life is made up of certainty and uncertainty.

The next step:  How do I live with not knowing?

The dilemma:  One of the great declarations of the Kena Upanishad is ‘If you think that you know, know that you know not,’ and yet paradoxically the burning need to know makes us strive forward along the path (The Upanishads, translated by Swami Prabhavananda & Christopher Isherwood.)  In the place of not knowing I have observed myself getting into difficult waters because it is incredibly painful not to know. Instead of this being mysterious and exciting I instead feel more like Arjuna at the start of his epic dialogue with Krishna - The Bhagavad Gita - sunken with grief and despair. The gaping silence at the end of a question is a space in which the mind feels like it is dying. I have been troubled, like many spiritual seekers, with often paralysing questions such as: ‘How can I live fully when I know I am going to die?’; ‘Is spirituality merely another distraction to make the unpredictable nature of life bearable, or does it point to a profound truth?’; ‘Why has God placed me in a realm where I must inevitably lose everything I love?’; ‘How can I act in life if all actions are meaningless in the face of eternity?’; ‘Is God cruel and playing a sick joke?’ I am speaking of questions that create states of mental agony so cavernous that it is difficult to be alive in these moments. As Manu Bazzano, a contemporary philosopher, succinctly puts it: ‘A sword hangs over us, held by a fine thread’ (Bazzano, The Buddha is Dead, 2006.) It is an unnerving state of affairs!

However the spiritual texts encourage us to stay in this empty space at the end of a question.  For example, I take inspiration from Nachiketa in the Katha Upanishad.  He stayed outside the house of Death for three days and nights waiting for Yama, Lord of Death, to answer his burning questions.
 In comparison I watch my mind scampering to find a solution after just three seconds let alone three days! Lost in a habitual rush to refill the unnerving gap created by not knowing, I have often neatly solidified a half truth into an ‘answer’, just because it feels better.

However there are times when a question comes from deep within and then it has its own incredible momentum. Ramesh Balsekar says that we do not ask the question, the question arises. In these moments, answers cooked up by the mind feel like a sticking plaster over a mile deep wound. Here the mind is suddenly aware that it is trying to bridge the universe with a match stick and it humbly stops its game, red-faced and exhausted. I now recognise this state as fertile ground for insight because there is something about complete uncertainty that alters the normal functioning of the mind. Swami Nishchalananda says that meditation is about creating space in order that ­insight can arise. It is only insight that can help heal these wounds. ­Otherwise the mind goes around and around and the answers to life’s deeper questions simply do not arise at the level of the thinking mind.

The Insight:  It was a glorious moment when I realised that angst and confusion is a perfectly valid response to this rather peculiar existence. I resonate with Rumi when he says ‘sell your cleverness and buy bewilderment’. After a particularly excruciating few hours of mental turmoil the insight arose that I am not meant to know the answer to some of life’s questions. Somehow it removed a weight from my heart. I could stop striving for the impossible. I could trust rather than know. From a deep place I accepted that this universe is a mystery and that was simply and beautifully ok. Life no longer feels like an unsolvable puzzle that I am hopelessly compelled to keep trying to crack.  This allows me to see that anxiety and bewilderment are not unhealthy ­mental states from which I need to liberate myself, but can be gateways to insight. Indeed emotions that are too lukewarm ‘never threaten to undo the self; they safeguard it in a limbo where loss is never fully experienced, and thus never resolved(Bazzano, The Buddha is Dead, 2006.) Therefore pain is no longer a sign of failure in my spiritual practice but as miraculous and as necessary as joy. 


Why is this? I don’t know! But I feel that each time I get acclimatised to the sickly altitude of not knowing, my heart softens, I embrace more and, most importantly, my sense of awe and love for God increases.

Swami Nishchalananda says that without ignorance we would not exist as embodied beings. Accepting ignorance as an essential part of this life is an incredibly tender and liberating perspective to have towards ourselves and others. Bazzano also celebrates ignorance when he states that we find ourselves in a universe, ‘where nature has thrown away the key, where the code is unknown, and we have no other task but to delight in reality’s ambiguity’ (Bazzano, The Buddha is Dead, 2006.) No other task but to delight. Swami Nishchalananda teaches a profound practice from the Vijnana Bhaivara Tantra in which we are asked to reflect on everything as a revelation of Reality. It is extraordinary to catch a glimpse of both sadness and joy revealing Reality in equal measure.

Conclusion: The spiritual path is a curious mix of knowing, at times with such wonder and at other times being immersed in the pain of not knowing. I have moved from fighting against not knowing to a prayer that I may always be bewildered, and that I may always celebrate the unfathomable mystery of God. I experienced tumbling into the void of my own eventual nothingness and then, by God’s grace, a fire in my belly that told me I was going to live anyway! Mary Oliver expresses this exquisitely when she states ‘clearly I am not needed yet I feel myself turning into something of inexplicable value’ (Mary Oliver, New and Selected Poems, 2007).  It is a daily adventure to live with this dual realisation. Ignorance and insight are deeply interlaced strands in the tapestry of life. Tennessee Williams, the American playwright, stated that life is an unanswerable question, but added a word of encouragement: that we should also ‘believe in the dignity and ­importance of the question’  (The Meaning of Life by Richard Kinnier. 2010.) Amen to that.
Ordinary yet Magnificant

by Atma Jyoti
From the 2013 Annual Ashram Newsletter

Living in the ashram as a resident for nearly a year has been both a challenging and an inspiring time for me. I came here as I felt I had no choice. I was in the middle of a physical and emotional burnout. I felt that my life had come to a dead end and I had become overloaded with patterns that no longer served me, especially around work. The feeling that I am meant to be here is very strong. There are few places that are a true refuge in this world and this is one of them. I came because I needed to make space in my life for new experiences.

In the ashram I have experienced very intense mood swings. Yet, I am here willingly and happy to allow whatever comes up to be processed. I have been through a process of purification. The ashram is a safe sacred place where you are held, a special place where you are protected and allowed to unfold. I feel lighter and freer of my patterns. One of the reasons I feel lighter and relieved is that I do not have the stress of paying bills and having a home to run. This freedom is wonderful. Ashram life here is simple and I have become used to having less. Living here has the benefit of living close to nature. I have seen red kites sitting staring at me on the ashram gate; the large tawny owl on the tree outside; the polecats, the hedgehogs and the swallows and lots more. The sky is clear at night and the weather is very provocative and sensual here. The view from the ashram overlooking the Brecon Beacons is fantastic, and the changes and colours of the seasons can be stunning.

My relationships with friends and family have changed, no doubt, and the letting-go on an inner level inherent in this process has been a necessity to allow me to grow. My heart has been opened as this is a space where you can be vulnerable: there is an openness and honesty here. You are able to share deep concerns which are accepted as they are and, because so many people visit from many cultures, you are able to learn from different lifestyles and cultural perspectives.

Being a resident, you are responsible for the smooth running of the ashram during the regular residential courses, and there is a genuine motivation to ensure that guests are well cared for and their needs are met. Karma yoga is my main practice, and I have realised how profound it can be. What I feel through this practice is grace, and I feel nourished and healed as a result, purifying both my body and mind.

Taking time for oneself is a necessity during the fullness of ashram life. I have learned to value and respect my space and energy. I talk less and gossip less, and I prefer my own company more than ever before. Furthermore, I have a greater appreciation of quietude which has brought a profound change within me. I have a sense that this inner growth will enable a greater fulfilment in life wherever I may be.

I enjoy my weekly quiet day when I can go to the local town for a coffee but I am also glad to come back into the security of the ashram energy. I have lost my desire to buy clothes and only now need some basic possessions. Growth and change are the key benefits of living in the ashram. It offers a chance to explore who you are in a direct and honest way, without the distractions of everyday life; to take a step outside one’s usual lifestyle, to enquire beyond the layers of conditioning built and sustained over time for ‘protection’, and to reflect deeper and deeper on the very essence of who you are. 

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

A Meditation given by Swami Nishchalananda on the recent Kundalini Meditation Retreat

Bring your awareness to the physical body and the contact with the ground. Know that this moment is a moment in Eternity...

If we go deep enough in our understanding we realise that in this moment the past and the future do not exist. There is just the vibrancy of this moment. We live our lives in time- which is represented by the Chakras- our actions, words and feelings all take place in time. But simultaneously there is constant awareness, which is out of time. Awareness puts us in touch with the Timeless. Time is the realm of change, where everything changes whereas Awareness is unchanging.

Feel your body as a empty vessel and bring your awareness to the space within. Imagine that your physical body is completely surrounded by a rainbow of vibrant colours. The colours are mysterious in themselves.

The red colour descends to penetrate the Mooladhara where it spreads out to fill the whole body and mind in red scintillating energy.

The orange colour descends from the rainbow to penetrate Swadhisthana chakra. There it spreads out to fill the whole body and mind which resonates in an orange energy field.

The yellow colour descends from the rainbow to penetrate the abdominal space of Manipura. There you see the yellow blazing like the sun which spreads out to fill the whole body and mind with a yellow scintillating energy.

The green colour descends from the rainbow to penetrate the heart space of Anahata. There it spreads out to fill the whole body and mind, so they are filled with a green scintillating energy field.

The blue colour descends from the rainbow to penetrate the throat space of the Vishuddhi. There it spreads out to fill the whole body and mind with a scintillating field of blue energy.

The mauve colour descends from the rainbow to penetrate the head space of the Agya. There it spreads out to fill the whole body and mind which resonate in a mauve scintillating energy field.

Our sensory impressions are not conscious in themselves, we are conscious of them; we can objectify them.

Our sexual energy is not conscious in itself, we are conscious of it; we can objectify this energy. Our actions and our vital energy are not conscious in themselves, we are conscious of this energy; we can objectify it.

Our thoughts are not conscious in themselves, we are conscious of them; we can objectify them.

Our mental patterns are not conscious in themselves, we are conscious of them, we can objectify them.

When we receive insights and intuitions they not conscious in themselves, we are conscious of them; we can objectify them.

The only principle that we cannot objectify is that which objectifies - the Knower, the Conscious Principle, that which cannot be known by the mind but which knows the mind. You cannot objectify this Conscious Principle. For the sake of practice it is symbolised by the full moon of the Bindu.

We chant Om once to finish the practice and to acknowledge the primacy of Conciousness.

Saturday, 10 August 2013

Dave Twomey, a beloved member of the Ashram community passed away from cancer on the 17th July 2013. Swami Nishchalananda wrote these words in memorial of him. "All of us in MYA are deeply sad at the passing of such a handsome, intelligent, fun loving and riotous human being as dear Dave was. He was an asset to the ashram and was loved by everyone and those on the YTTC with him. Though he is not with us in body and mind, his essential nature lives on. We also give our condolences to Stella who must say goodbye to her son."
Dave was a member of our current yoga teacher training course (YTTC). During our two week residential in July we all had a ceremony to share our deep sadness for his passing and also to celebrate his beautiful life. We are all inspired by his zest for life, his generosity of spirit and his good humour. One TTC participant decided to name his new mala after him.. a mala called Dave- which only makes sense at the level of the heart. During the ceremony we sang Gayatri Mantra for him 27 times, a mantra which he loved, students wrote poems and songs dedicated to him: "Love & light love & light in loving light your spirit takes flight. Ebb & flow, ebb & flow, in love so free we will let go. In gratitude in gratitude for loving times we spent with you. In love we pray, in love we pray, ever joined in heart felt way. Peace and love, peace and love, you shine on us from above. In our hearts in our hearts forever you will be a part. Hari om, Namaste. We honour you with each new day. Each new day." During the ceremony everyone lit a candle for Dave and his photo was surrounded by light in the centre of the Sadhana Hall. It was a poignant reminder that we live in a world where joy and sorrow are inseparably mixed. Dave had a passion for connecting people and sharing yoga through the internet. His creativity inspired many new forms of communication in the Ashram, including this beautiful blog which he created. Dave also uploaded talks by Swamiji and Ashram chants onto U-Tube. Many people around the world have shared the joy at being able to link with the Ashram energy in this way. May all the sharing on this blog continue Daves love for life, sharing and passion for yoga.