Tag Archives: consciousness

Ten Years After

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Photos © James and Karla Murray

In a few weeks I’ll be visiting some of my old neighborhoods in New York City. It’s been a while since my last visit and I expect to feel discombobulated by its unfamiliarity. Like a time-displaced Captain America bounding into a future-ized Times Square, I’ll recognize all the old familiar places that this heart of mine embraces and reconcile myself to the fact that they look all wrong.

But it’s not just a case of sullen nostalgia because my old haunts don’t look they way they used to; it’s a case of disenchantment because now my old haunts look just like everyplace else. When I was born, no other city in America looked like New York City. Now, New York City looks a lot like everyplace else. People from Des Moines can have dinner in New York at the same restaurant they go to in… Des Moines! C’mon: really? You’re in the Big Apple and you want to eat at Applebee’s?

Every day everyplace looks a little more like everyplace else: the same corporate brands, the same architectural design, the same urban planning, the same kind of commoditized experience, sanitized and made safe for mass consumption. You used to be able to escape from the malaise of the suburbs by moving into The City. Now, the only real difference is that you won’t need a car (but you will need a trust fund). Continue reading

The Mind-Blowing Fantastic-ness of Being a Person

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art by Keith Haring

In my last post, I concluded with a couple of questions, the first of which was: “what does it mean to be a person?” It’s an often-overlooked question in spite of its obvious importance to… people. That’s one reason why, whenever the issue of person-ness arises in my yoga philosophy workshops, I make a point of asking participants to offer their thoughts on what it means to be a person. The Sanskrit word for ‘person’, purusa, figures prominently in yoga wisdom texts such as the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali so it should come as no surprise that the issue would come up in any meaningful discussion of yoga philosophy.

The response to my query usually includes ideas such as ‘to be conscious or self-aware’, ‘to keep learning and growing’, ‘to have the ability to communicate’, or ‘to have a soul’. Most of the replies I get suggest what I consider to be the essential element of person-ness but it’s rare that someone directly states my preferred answer: to be a person means to have senses. Continue reading

How to Charm a Rope

Continuing with our musings on the relationship between illusion and reality, I concluded my last blog entry with a couple of questions: how does Shankara, the founder of the school of absolute non-dualism, explain our experience of a dualistic world if, as he insists, we are, in reality, identical with Brahman – the highest truth – and Brahman is not subject to illusion nor in possession of energies that may be subject to illusion? Has the supreme reality of undifferentiated oneness somehow been subdued by an inferior illusion of differentiated many-ness? Continue reading

Listen To The Wind Blow

“The soul can never be cut to pieces by any weapon, nor burned by fire, nor moistened by water, nor withered by the wind.”

Bhagavad-gita 2.23

This verse came to mind during the past week of back-to-back natural disasters assaulting the east coast of the United States. I have to admit that I was a little slow in getting my yoga mojo in gear during the earthquake: despite the violent trembling of my apartment and the accompanying sounds of shattering objects, I stood stupefied in complete denial of the self-evident truth before pulling it together as the tremors dissipated.

It’s easy to understand why the mental discombobulation inspired by an earthquake (in Washington DC?) would throw one for a loop. As Brooke Gladstone tells us in her book about the media, The Influencing Machine; “Humans are wired to absorb information that confirms their worldview, and to repel information that disputes it. The quality of that information is immaterial.” This explains my denial: in my worldview, I’m immortal. The earthquake was clearly and emphatically disputing my worldview, so my mind reacted by rejecting the information it was receiving.

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How to be a Jivan-muktah

“The yogis, abandoning attachment, act with body, mind, intelligence and even with the senses, only for the purpose of purification.” Bhagavad-gita 5.11

During a class you’ll often hear me talk about yoga as a subtractive process; one of removing all the obstacles of the mind and impurities of the heart that prevent us from experiencing ourselves in our natural state of eternal, blissful consciousness; of being one who is liberated from illusion while still living in this world – a jivan-muktah.

Patanjali defines liberation (or samadhi) as the stilling of the fluctuations of the mind that results from the cessation of our identification with those fluctuations. So can we liberate our consciousness from the fluctuations of the mind and still be engaged with the world? As long as we have a body with which to act and a mind that’s generating thoughts that inspire those actions, we’d still have fluctuations of the mind and desires upon which we’re acting… so how can we say we’re liberated? Or, to put it another way, how is it possible to be a jivan-muktah if liberation is the stilling of the fluctuations of the mind? Continue reading

Moving Day

Moving day is about to arrive and with it all the joys of packing, schlepping, and unpacking. Our life as we know it must be disassembled and re-assembled in another location. Where’s my transporter mechanism when I need it?

So we’re moving from one apartment to another, from one neighborhood to another. Same square footage, same monthly expense, but we’re trading convenience for quiet. No more two-minute walks to the supermarket and no more drunken arguments outside our window at three o’clock in the morning. We’ll be right alongside a large park (all nature, no swings or basketball courts) and the building’s property includes a nice garden that should be great for early morning meditation.

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Criswell Predicts

“We are all interested in the future, for that is where you and I are going to spend the rest of our lives. And remember my friend, future events such as these will affect you in the future.”

‘Plan 9 From Outer Space’ remains perpetually on my list of movie favorites if for no other reason than the majestic scale of its unaffected weirdness. The poetic virtues of Criswell’s opening monologue notwithstanding, I’m obliged to take issue with his premise: none of us are going to spend the rest of our lives in the future because the future never gets here.

This is not to say that time doesn’t affect us; we move forward in time like fish swimming upstream. The current of time is an energy of Brahman – the source of all being – and as such is a divine and bewildering energy. But its influence is only felt in a state of separation from Brahman, when our cognitive faculty for perceiving transcendence is switched off. Living in the moment, being as fully aware of the present as we possibly can be, is an exercise that helps to turn that faculty back on.

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Developing Spiritual Vision

In my last class of 2009 I proposed a New Year’s resolution that would help us take our yoga practice off the mat and into the world: I suggested that we try to interact with people – all kinds of people: human people, animal people, plant people – on a spiritual level. The reason is because doing so fundamentally changes the nature of the relationship; it puts it on the spiritual level, which is the level we are trying to attain by our yoga practice.

Soon afterwards somebody very intelligently asked me: “How do you do that exactly?” Continue reading