Recently I've been talking with students about falling apart. We've talked of all the ways in which this practice unearths us, provokes us, and brings underlying issues to the forefront.
I've told them that at this point I recognize that everything can fall apart and I will still be okay. There is an underlying sense that I can handle the hard things in life. I trust that I can both take on and survive adversity. I have access to a deep pulse that drums steady even as everything around me- or inside me - feels unstable, unsafe, or just flat out wrong. I have this sense precisely because I have gone through transformation over and over again in these practices. Having gone through it, I trust it.
It's important to acknowledge that it's not a safe world out there. This can get buried in contemporary yoga culture with it's emphasis on bliss and freedom, power and release. We have to acknowledge adversity, suffering, and unfairness or we're participating in repression. We have to acknowledge suffering or we alienate huge swaths of the population who are living with adversity. Simply saying 'feel peace' or 'relax' or 'recognize your innate goodness' can rankle people and turn them away. This was my first experience of yoga, to be sure. Self-help and self love seemed cheap and unrealistic. And they are cheap and unrealistic in much of their contemporary expression. The vast majority of yoga studios and teachers left a sour taste in my mouth. Yet there was something in the yoga itself that drew me in. There were a few teachers, and hints in many of the teachings that took me years and years to draw out and find and come to terms with, that embraced me as I was and suggested my inner conflict was both very real and okay. That it was, actually, promising. There was, beyond any argument, my own experience.
Of course all of this is true not only of 'the world' - or within yoga culture where it shows up in projecting 'wisdom' onto the body of a teacher, attachment to or objectification of the body, escapism and magical thinking, addiction to what feels good in the moment or for ourselves - but it's true within our heart. We can't heal the world unless we're also able to acknowledge our own guttural need for healing.
We've all been wounded in some way. And we all have needs. These needs go beyond simply needing food and shelter and physical safety. We need to feel heard, seen, connected, and that we are vital. We need to feel that we matter. There are far too many of us walking through the world feeling that we don't.
We're half way through the year. The summer solstice has passed and the eclipse season is coming. This full moon involves Capricorn, ruled by Saturn, and occurs with Mars in retrograde. Saturn is the planet of being ringed in, constricted, a reckoning with all our limitations. It invokes honesty and reality. Mars is our sense of personal power or core identity, the essence of our deepest values and beliefs. In retrograde, all the qualities of Mars turn backwards or twist. That is, we're likely to question or doubt our values and core identity. We're likely to doubt or berate our selves.
This moon is likely to feel a little cold and dark. It could provoke detachment or withdrawal, even regression or retreat from the face of things. Fear is present, weather consciously or unwittingly influencing our moods and behaviors. Pessimism might leak in. Doubt and insecurity. There can be suffering, including suffering of the undue and unfair and unrelenting kind. There can be an urge to shut down. Worry. Worry. And however we personally respond to worry.
This isn't a good time to wallow in victimhood, though the urge may be there. It is a time to take responsibility for our emotions and behaviors and if necessary set boundaries.
It is a good time to work with deeply held - often inherited - core beliefs.
The gift of Capricorn, and of limitations themselves, is the way they teach us to step into our own lives. Capricorn's lesson is how to become ourselves, paradoxically, by overcoming ourselves. The end point is integrity without harshness, an ability to do the work of our lives without becoming attached to power or frozen by fear. Capricorn is tremendous in harnessing power, order, structure, in melding intention and actual behavior. But that behavior tends to be motivated by the will and detached from feeling. There is dedication and will galore, but without tenderness and vulnerability and feeling the will turns to stone, and loneliness comes.
Hence, our work, our really real work, has everything to do with getting out of our head and into our emotions. Capricorn's gift is learning to be okay in ourselves.
Capricorn is ruled by feminine Saturn, which means limitation - Saturn's rings - reflecting upon herself. It isn't like Aquarius, the masculine sign ruled by Saturn, where wisdom and the gifts of wisdom are poured out into society. It's an inner parsing. Saturn forces us to face the essential truths of life - including the obligations we acquire just by being born and members of society.
Saturn takes a very very long time to go through a full cycle, unlike the moon that does so every 30 days, the sun that does so once a year, or other planets like Mars who completes a cycle in two years.
Saturn takes 28-30 years to complete a full transit of the zodiac. Therefore, he represents time and the wisdom that comes with age. There is a very real sense in which every seven years or so, or one quarter of Saturn's transit, a person will go through a new stage of personal development. A different chapter in their life story.
Time is a really hard thing to reckon with or wrap our minds around. The inner pressure and awareness that we need to be safe and protected into the future comes from Saturn. We not only need to eat food today, or need a place to sleep today; we need a place to sleep and food to eat tomorrow and for the rest of our lives. Saturn is also the awareness of the past and what has happened to us, and is related to the ways in which we hang onto the past and have it dominate our thinking in the present.
The enormity of time and our relationship to it is the very the nature of Saturn and through Capricorn, we reflect upon this. We seal that relationship in our mind and heart, for better or worse. Capricorn is always a little bit scared of making mistakes, therefore very calculating and rational. An earth sign, Capricorn plays out in questions of structure and material reality, wealth and resources.
All that being true, Capricorn brings up questions of vulnerability and a tendency toward clinging and greed. This can turn people and events into commodities, seeing the whole world through the lens of self vs. everything else. There is an urgency, that inner pressure, toward things being useful and practical and rational. This is tricky, though, because once you've objectified a person or an event, there will be an underlying need to control or manipulate and an underlying anxiety that we may lose control or become vulnerable. There is an underlying mistrust of emotions and precisely because emotions are irrational and bring us out of 'control'. The Water of emotions and the subconscious dissolves the Earth of material resources.
In general, Capricorn is a hard working sign, good to their family, great providers with a strong ethical foundation and a rock solid sense of responsibility. Be careful about clinging to those principals and values out of fear; learn to be more in flow with the heart, and with the heart of others.
Facies - the face or eye of the archer. This is a tough, if not ruthless, concept. The root word is the same from which we get the word fascist. But it's also related to facere, or the latinate 'to make'. There are images of sticks being bound together, either for use as a punitive rod or with the connotation of strength in unity. As with anything, this influence can go either way: it can be the authoritarian perpetrator of violence or the humanitarian witness of violence who is stirred to make change. The urge here is strong, and you have to choose. To not choose is to become perpetrator to your own and the world's suffering. We know this already. To remain ignorant or not want to see directly creates suffering. Even though taking action can be frightening and may involve some humbling, some feeling, some vulnerable ickiness that we are discomfortable with, it is ultimately sweeter than keeping our head in the sand and our hearts under lock and key.
Kaus Borealis ~ This star, also in the archer constellation but southern, is a counter-balance to the more negative associations of Facies. It promotes humane ideals and a sense of justice, the right aim of the archer's bow that requires skill and flexibility, both. Right aim involves discretion and truth: when we level our gaze true we shoot straight. There are also implications of ideals, of aiming high, and of transcending distance or difficulty.
Mula Nakshatra - Darkness and shadow
This full moon is going to appear in the area of the sky known as Mula in the jyotish nakshatra wheel. Mula is represented by a bundle of roots, harking back to the influence of Facies. It's located very near a black hole at the center of our galaxy, and related to Ketu, the headless tail of the shadow serpent who represents that which is old and dead and still hanging on in us unconsciously. Mula is ruled by the goddess Nritti, a proto-Hindu version of Kali, one who rides a black crow, brings destruction, and abides in the realm of the dead. Her name means calamity.
That black hole symbolizes center, core, root and invokes questions as to what we need to uproot and what we need to plant. There is a lot, a hell of a lot, of heaviness and digging and uncomfortable revelation to all of these things, but there is also a possibility of working with our core beliefs for healing.
Embodying Core Healing
The difficulty of healing is that it's not thought or decided: it is felt. It is a felt sense. It happens in the body.
Think, for a moment, of some of your most precious relationships or deepest values. Think politically, spiritually, of your children or pet. Think of your childhood home with its scents and its textures, the voices. Think of someone or something you have lost.
We don't think these things; we feel them. We feel them in our gut. This is why working with our body leaves us so inexplicably, past understandingly, changed. There is rage in the body. And fear. And tenderness.
When there has been a wounding, there is a severance. Trauma has been defined as blocking off part of our human experience because we can't, at that moment in time, integrate it. The problem of course is that when we block off part of our life, we have to block off good feelings and experiences as well. We are no longer whole. The block was, at the time, the best possible thing we could do. In a very real sense, it kept us alive. It allowed us to get here and now. But so often those blocks are no longer keeping us alive, they are not necessary, but they are familiar and ingrained. What was once our survival has become our own limitation.
Serenity of the flesh
Yoga chitta vrittri nirodha. Yoga sutra 1.2
yoga is going past the mind (chitta) to inner wholeness (nirodha).
Nirodha is one of the yogic concepts I've struggled with the most. I have beat my head on it, and the meat of my palms, and it still stands as a mystery. Nirodha is translated as stilling, constricting, stopping, controlling, or ending. But I don't know what it would mean to 'stop' or 'control' the mind, because you can't stop the mind.
When you go deep into the teachings, however, you come across slightly different understandings of nirodha. It may not imply stopping or controlling all of the mind, just the patterns laid down by our past. It may, perhaps, refer to using the attentive qualities of mind to witness the still, calm center that is a part of every human being's capacity.
All human beings have an inner well of silence and serenity. It is birthright. It is what it means to be human. It is inseparable from being alive.
Nirodha entails both our ability to still and disidentify from the relentless turning of our mind (chitta vrittri) that prevent clear seeing (a verb, a thing we can do) and our ability to recognize or witness the underlying stillness or wholeness (nirodha as a noun) that is our essential nature (purusa).
So long as we identify with our turbulent mind or various beliefs it's cooked up, whenever we forget our basic wholeness, we feel that something is amiss or wrong in our life. We feel that something is amiss, wrong, or lacking in ourselves.
Contrary wise, when we embody our wholeness, we recognize an indestructible and unchanging inner resource that enables us to face the world and the difficulties of being alive with equanimity, joy, and serenity.
I am saying that nirodha is not thought. It is felt. It happens in the body.
In studies of various mindfulness practices and trauma or stress, it has been affirmed that all human beings can invoke a sense of safety and security. In military studies, one man was asked to call up an image that made him feel safe and he said he was holding his weapon, his finger on the trigger, and his feet were squared. While that image makes me personally squirm, when this man was asked if he felt secure, he said you bet I do. Another man said he thought of making love to his wife.
Point being: we all have radically different and personalized imagery. But we all have something. Studies have shown that all people can, using imagery and suggestion, invoke a sense of security that changes their biochemistry.
The studies have also shown, however, that once we drop the image our biochemistry goes back on auto-pilot.
When advanced meditators, however, drop the image, their changed brain activity and blood chemistry continues.
We discover our wholeness or through experiencing the bodily sensations of being. Being is universal. It is somatic and non verbal. It is a felt sense. It is beyond what we typically call 'the mind'. Again, everyone has their own archetypes and images and language for this thing. Call to mind some of your own as you read through this list of examples:
peaceful. calm. whole. indescrible. warm. undeniable. everywhere. connected. safe. refuge. sanctuary. well being. serene. pure love.
Being is a dynamic, living, background presence. It is always there, but it goes unnoticed until it's directly pointed out. When we lose touch with it, when we forget our essential nature, we easily lose touch with our wholeness.
Beliefs are implicitly about relationship. Our relationship to money, for example. Or authority. Or gender. God or men or mother figures or sexuality. Whatever.
The primary relationship, of course, is to ourselves.
These practices help us reclaim our wholeness, not by implying that the world is safe or has our best interests in mind, but by helping us address our sense of safety, serenity, or wholeness within ourselves. This is why any variation of these teachings that implies a teacher, or a space, a gemstone or the accomplishment of a certain regime is the way to wholeness is a by-pass. They are fraudulant versions of the teaching that may be appealing but aren't, actually, true to the bone. They'll leave us conflicted or alone. They may work for a while, but our inner core beliefs continue to surface and resurface as soon as we leave the studio or return home from a workshop.
Remember that the physiology of advanced, long term meditators was different than those of novice meditators. These things happen through repetition. These things can take time.
A few weeks ago, I was asking participants of the deeper practice online work to call to mind their 'perfect place'. Everyone would have their own physiological and psychological response to this practice. Some might remember a special place. Some might invent one, out in the woods or alongside the ocean perhaps. And some might simply struggle with the words themselves, struggle with themselves. Even that experience is rich with information.
Once we have tapped into imagery, memory, or pure imagination, we take that process further by staying with the feeling but letting the image or the practice, go. We stay with the feeling. The feeling is real. And it is in us, not the object.
What we are doing, in such a practice, is giving the lived experience of having a place. Our experiences are what influence us. Our experiences make us who we are. Practice provides experiences. Of course, if our experience of life has been deeply fragmented or harmful for a long period of time or hard enough just once, we'll need a deeper and deeper well of experience of being whole. Generally speaking, I think it takes a whole lifetime. And it never, ever, gets us over or changes the real experiences we've had in our lives.
It doesn't change the truth of what's happened to us. It simply gives us a new relationship to the characters at play. I mean this, and I mean it loud as thunder: yoga doesn't change the world, it changes us.
Many of us are familiar with the term sankalpa. We're often told it means intention or vow, and we may have been asked to 'set an intention'.
But we're not often taught vilkapa. I think the two teachings should go together.
San means to bring closer, and vi means to take you away. Kalpa means a long period of time (Saturn is time, remember). Kalpa means eon, means decades, means through your lifetime or maybe even multiple lifetimes. Kalpa also means ritual or rite. Kalpa is what unfolds in your lifestory.
So: a sankalpa brings us closer to what unfolds over time. Vikalpa is what takes us away from unfolding ritual.
Vikalpa is what arises when we feel limited, lacking, or broken. It's the voices in our head and the physical sensations that react in our body to such terms as 'peace', 'serenity', or whatever the hell. Vikalpa was my absolute disgust, rising like bile whenever a yoga teacher told me to breath and let go. It was bells and whistles and blood and terror in me screaming that if I let go, everything would fall apart. Everything. Everything. Me.
We're not taught to work with vikalpa. We're never taught to see and feel and taste what comes up. We're never told that they are exactly the thing we need to work with to get through.
When vikalpa arises, cultivate the opposite. Yoga Sutras 2.33
On the simplest level, pratipaksha bhavana means when we're having a really hard day, we should take a break and go to the movies before we come back to the problem.
It also means that we should use opposing poles to deepen our well.
We can work with our vilkalpa by cultivating nirodha, or that felt-sense of aliveness and just being, even as we are aware of constriction, limitation, fear or terror or pain. Like moving into and out of shapes in our asana practice, we can oscillate our awareness back and forth between reaction and felt-sense-of-embodiment. We can keep coming back to the felt-sense-of-embodiment.
sankalpa: I am safe within myself. I don't betray or abandon myself.
vikalpa: I'm not safe within myself. I don't trust myself.
sankalpa: I enjoy my physical body. I am strong. I am alive. I am beautiful.
vikalpa: I'm ashamed. Guilty. Powerless.
Notice that I didn't say "I am safe in this (or any given) situation." The prompt is 'with myself'.
What are some of your core beliefs? are there ways in which you can see them and care for them? Are there ways in which you can directly cultivate the opposite? This might be gritty, snotty, simple simple body things or an investigation into how things like punishment and love were meted out when you were a kid. It might be looking at how you think about food, or sex. It might be saying I need a hug now, or realizing that you can take a hug from a tree if there is no appropriate human being around.
Richard Miller teaches that vilkapas are messangers. They are not something we want to get rid of. They are messangers who show up to tell us that we've split or separated from the unfolding rite of our life. It's important to note, though, that sometimes we should separate from scenarios or relationships or behaviors. But we can realize we are separate from an Other without having to separate from ourselves. Developmentally, no preceeds yes. Children learn to say no before they say yes. But more essentially, we have to be able to feel ourselves and our boundaries before we can effectively 'join' with anything else. No preceeds yes.
Vilkapa tells us when we have severed ourselves. Pratipakshava bhavana is cultivating - or doing - the opposite. It's going to the movies before you come back and realizing that you aren't stuck figuring it out right now. But it's also becoming a person who can give herself the love she was denied, exploring physical practices that invoke nirodha, learning to take care of your money or your heart like the awkward learning to ride a bicycle.
There is a story from the buddhist tradition. Buddha said to Ananda: last night I recognized Mara and he went on his way. This happened many nights over the course of time. Buddha was 'noticing', as we are taught to do. But eventually, the Buddha said: last night Mara came, and I recognized him, and together we had many cups of tea and long conversations. The story goes on to say that Mara and the Buddha eventually became close. They became intimate. Mara became a student and together the two followed the path.
In the yogic tradition, it's said that there are three stages of working with the messengers. First, shravana. First, we hear the messenger at the door. We become aware. But in the manana stage, we hear the knock and get up and walk to the door. We open the door to the messenger. In the third stage, nididyhasana, we welcome the messenger and do deep contemplation with it. We become intimate with it, and together walk down the unfolding path.
You are not separate from your suffering. But there is also, deep within your suffering, some part of you that is breathing, listening, on-going. The life force is still there. And it is that thing that heals.
What would it mean to go closer to the ritual unfolding of your lifetime?