As Ashtangis, I think we're missing a pretty significant tool, the tool to describe and put us in direct contact with our inner experiences. So much of what we learn in the classroom is technique. "Lift the arm a little higher." "Drop the chin down." "Ekam. Inhale. Dve. Exhale. Trini. Inhale. Head up. Catvari. Jump back...Jump back, I said!!!" This is all what needs to be done in the way of yoga. Very little is spoken about the experience of yoga within this tradition: what it is? what we're truly after? how we know when we've achieved it? The instruction has always been, "You do!" But what about the being? Isn't the doing in service to the being, the subjective, inner experience? That's why I've taken time to write this blog series. My hunch is that without a language for the experience of yoga, we'll always be caught in the doing, and the doing, and the doing. Frankly speaking, I see and do enough that when I come to the mat, I don't need to keep doing. So what follows is an inquiry into the language of being. What does that language look like and how do we use it to describe states of consciousness and where we are in reference to the direct experience of yoga.
I find that most of the descriptions of the experience of yoga or union don't fit our everyday, work-a-day-world language, and, as a result we make up the story that the the end-goal of yoga, is only for advanced practitioners, gurus, and saints. But, in fact, most descriptions use wording that is either outdated or way, way too esoteric. Descriptions often include words like "beatitude," "rapture," "absorption," "emptiness and fullness," or "exultation." I've recently become acquainted with an ancient description of the qualities of this union that works for our everyday lives. It's called Sat-Chit-Ananda. Devorah and I will be leading a workshop in the Spring on May 11th, 12th, and 13th in Santa Cruz, CA that is all about this very topic. We both feel strongly that the experience of yoga is something we all have access to all the time, even, in fact, in the very moment that you are reading this. It's not something "far out" or obscure. It's here and now, easily experienced, and not just for the advanced yogi.
Put Your Mind on "The Yum"
Sat-Chit-Ananda, as a compound, is a description of the quality of experience that's occurring when we're "in yoga" so to speak: when the mind and, ultimately, our being are directed toward and fixed in the direction of what deeply feeds us. The compound is made of three Sanskrit roots: Sat, Chit, and Ananda, each with their own meaning, but together connoting qualities of the experience of yoga. Sat means being or existing. Chit means to understand, comprehend, and to fix the mind. Ananda is often translated as bliss, but the problem with that word is that it sounds somehow way too insubstantial in everyday language. Ananda isn't some rarefied experience that only mystics experience but, rather, something accessible to each of us now. It's a normal, everyday experience. So, I am translating it as "the yum!". When you put all three together, what you get is the following:
A state of being in which the mind is fixed on "the yum!"
Ananda: The Resonance of Yum!
When I say "the yum" I am not pointing to pleasure. Pleasant feelings are temporary and fleeting experiences. They come and go. The ultimate experience of yoga doesn't come and go. It's always present, always accessible, and here and now. Instead, "the yum" is the profound experience that something deep inside is fed and, thus, resonates profoundly. We all have an experience of this from time to time. It shows up in those moments in life that are especially rich, rewarding and poignant. "The yum" shows up in these moments and experience that remind us of our innate of love, peace, joy, and compassion. "The yum" is another way of describing our essence, who we essentially are.
One of our students recently lamented that she was unmotivated to come to practice yoga. She was finding it rather drab. Clearly, she was in "the yuck," so I asked her, historically speaking, what "the yum" of practice had been for her. After a brief moment of reflection, I saw her eyes light up with mischief, and she said,"I love the play of it." The practice had become way too serious for her, so serious that it had led her away from her essence. One of the ways she finds it is through fun and, from what I could tell, a little mischief. So her access point to experiencing the transcendent in the practice was to reawaken the sense of frolic in her practice.
Fixing "The Yuck" In Order to Get to "The Yum"
I sometimes hear students say the following: "I don't like the way I look, and I don't feel good in my body. I just need more discipline in my life." That's the equivalent of what I call: following " the yuck" in order to get to "the yum." When we do this, we attempt to put a noose around what we don't like about ourselves and suffocate it to death in hopes that an experience of the sacred and profound will magically appear. The problem with putting effort on getting rid of, fixing, or overcoming "the yuck" is that instead of getting rid of it, we actually grow it and make it stronger. The practice of yoga shows each of us that whatever we focus on, we grow more of. And if our orientation is on getting rid of, destroying, overcoming, beating down, or fixing "the yuck," more often than not, we find ourselves with more and more of "the yuck" to get rid of, fix, or overcome.
I remember when I was about to graduate from college, and I was thinking about all that I had to complete in order to graduate: the papers, the exams, and the lectures. I thought, "once I'm done with all this shit, then I will feel free." Well, I finished the work necessary and graduated, but then I was confronted with the stark reality of what I was going to have to do to earn some money. And, of course, I thought, "Once I have a job, then I'll be okay." And the struggle went on and on because once I had found a paying job, it wasn't the job I wanted. I was looking at the whole experience of life from the perspective of trying to overcome "the yuck" in order to get to "the yum." The only problem I found was that it just led to more yuck.
What We Place Our Attention On is What We Grow in Our Lives
Trying to overcome "the yuck" in order to get to "the yum" doesn't work. When our attention is placed on fixing what doesn't work, we get more of what doesn't work. And if we put our attention on what feeds us deeply and profoundly, which is the ananda in sat-chit-ananda, our lives become filled with more resonance, more fulfillment, more aliveness. Invariably those students who learn to connect with their version of "the yum" don't need to develop discipline. When they find, what one student recently called "the bubbles in her Coke," discipline naturally shows up as a byproduct. It's not something that they need to force or foist on themselves when they bring passion to what they do.
A Context Wide Enough to Hold the Opposites
Following our own, individual sense of what "the yum" is for us can be a subversive act. It takes us on what the poet, Robert Frost, called "The Road Not Taken." We often don't end up following what our parents wanted for us; what society deemed acceptable; or where we thought we would ever end up. Often times we find ourselves walking down glorious roads and sometimes on lonely ones. But no matter how elated or alone we are, when we follow "the yum", we realize that we have no choice, anyway.
That's why ananda or "the yum" isn't pleasure. It's what transcends pleasure and pain. It is a context for life that is wide enough to be able to hold opposites: pleasure and pain, good and bad, right and wrong, sthira (stable) and sukha (pleasant). When we truly follow "the yum," we know deep down that rain can come, sun can come, but we're on our path, and we wouldn't have it any other way. What's your "yum?"
This is the First part of a four-part series that explores the experience of yoga. Be sure to check out the other posts!