He leant back against the hives, and with upturned face made observations on the stars, whose cold pulses were beating amid the black hollows above, in serene dissociation from these two wisps of human life. He asked how far away those twinklers were, and whether God was on the other side of them.

“Did you say the stars were worlds, Tess?”

“Yes.”

“All like ours?”

“I don’t know; but I think so. They sometimes seem to be like the apples on our stubbard-tree. Most of them splendid and sound — a few blighted.”

“Which do we live on — a splendid one or a blighted one?”

“A blighted one.”

 

~ Thomas Hardy

At Home – Bill Bryson

I recently finished this very interesting and informative book. It’s basically a social history, in the context of the home. During the second half of the book I began to note extracts worth sharing. In my own words:

THE STAIRS

By the late C19, 80% of English wallpaper contained arsenic. William Morris’s famous greens were made from an arsenic-based pigment. Green rooms were suspiciously free of bedbugs. No wonder a change of air could really help health!

The average person today has more than 600 times more lead in their system than 50 years ago.

Lead poisoning can induce seeing halos around objects – an effect Van Gogh used. It is probable that he was suffering from lead poisoning, as many artists did.

THE BEDROOM

The expression ‘sleep tight’ comes from when beds were made from a lattice of ropes that could be tightened.

When sleeping at an Inn before the 19th Century, it was common to share a bed with a stranger.

THE BATHROOM

Visitors and residents at Versailles could be assured in 1715 that corridors and stairwells would be cleared of faeces weekly.

A typical report found that one London house had 3 feet of human waste in the basement. The yard was six inches deep with excrement, with bricks as stepping stones.

THE DRESSING ROOM

In the mid 1600s when buttons came in, people were very keen on them, sewing them in arrays in places they had no use. A relic of this is the row of buttons, often overlapping, on a suit jacket sleeve, serving no purpose.

Artificial moles in the late 1700s took shapes like stars and moons, worn on the face, neck and shoulders. For men, which cheek indicated your political leanings.

Around the same time, it became briefly fashionable to where false eyebrows made of mouse fur.

THE ATTIC

During the 20th Century, when stately homes became tourist attractions, one elderly resident refused to leave the sitting room while the horse racing was on. “She was voted the best exhibit.”

One person in Tanzania takes a year to emit the same carbon emissions as someone in Europe produces every 2.5 days, or 28 hours in the USA.

Highly recommended reading!

Perfect adjustment to an abnormal society

“The real hopeless victims of mental illness are to be found among those who appear to be most normal. Many of them are normal because they are so well adjusted to our mode of existence, because their human voice has been silenced so early in their lives that they do not even struggle or suffer or develop symptoms as the neurotic does. They are normal not in what may be called the absolute sense of the word; they are normal only in relation to a profoundly abnormal society. Their perfect adjustment to that abnormal society is a measure of their mental sickness. These millions of abnormally normal people, living without fuss in a society to which, if they were fully human beings, they ought not to be adjusted.” –  Aldous Huxley

Teach Us To Sit Still – ‘Self’ is an idea we invented

More from the book Teach Us To Sit Still by Tim Parks (A Sceptic’s Search For Health And Healing).

Attention attends, unrequited.

Then, all at once, the temples!

I remember distinctly my first session of vipassana, it was in my temples that it began. First one, then the other: singing, buzzing, dancing. Had I wished to induce the sensation in this part of the body, I would never have imagined such mayhem, as though insect eggs had hatched, or breath on ashes found the nest of live embers. Yet it wasn’t creepy. And it wasn’t hot. It was the lively sparkle of freshly poured soda water.

In my temples.

At this point you realise that focusing the mind – eyes closed – on a part of the body is quite different from focusing on something outside yourself, a ball, say, or a bottle, or a boat. In that case the object remains an object, however long we look at it. But like light through the lens, or through a glass of still water perhaps, the mind sets the body alight, or the body and the mind. It is hard to say which; the skin glows in the mind and the mind fizzes in the skin. Together, neither flesh nor fleshless, or both flesh and fleshless, they burn.

This is the beginning of vipassana.

The encouraging thing is that once one part of the body has answered your polite enquiry, others to seem more willing to respond: here a band of heat, there a patch of coldness, here are dull throb, now a tingling current. The whole house is waking up and as you pass from door to door each occupant acknowledges your presence by turning something on: now blue light, now I read, hear the coffee grinder, there are TV. The tower block starts to  hum.

At the retreats, the first-time meditators are hungry for drama, for an encounter with the demons, submission to a guru. We all want to add another episode to the narrative of ourselves, the yarn we are constantly spinning of our dealings with the world. This is why so many go to India, I suppose, to do no more than sit on a cushion, eyes closed. They hope the exotic location, the gurus robes and foreign voice will add intensity to the tale.

But as words and thoughts are eased out of the mind, so the self weakens. There is no narrative to feed it. When the words are gone, whether you are in Verona or Varanasi hardly matters, whether it is morning or evening, whether you are young or old, man or woman, poor or rich isn’t, in the silence, in the darkness, in the stillness, so important. Like ghosts, angels, gods, ‘self’, it turns out, is an idea we invented, a story we tell ourselves. It needs language to survive. The words create meaning, the meaning and purpose, the purpose narrative. But here, for a little while, there is no story, no rhetoric, no deceit. Here is silence and acceptance; the pleasure of a space that need not be imbued with meaning. Intensely aware, of the flesh, the breath, the blood, consciousness allows the ‘I’ to slip away.

Teach Us To Sit Still – The pain had quite gone

More from the book Teach Us To Sit Still by Tim Parks (A Sceptic’s Search For Health And Healing). Park’s experiences painlessness after years of near constant pelvic pain.

The first few minutes have passed now. However excruciating, I must lie still. I breathed deeply and remembered Eliot. ‘Teach us to care and not to care. Teach us to sit still.’

Don’t verbalise.

Then after a while something would happen. The breath breathed itself and I slid down into that dark landscape with its low sky and damp hills. At once the muscles of my face buzzed and sang with tension.

I say ‘something would happen’, as though these sessions were all the same. Certainly there was an element of repetition, particularly at the beginning: the itches, the fuss, the trivial adjustments, the mill of defeatist thoughts. But from this point on, from the moment I entered my bodyscape, as it were, every day was different. And as the first week moved into the second and third, things grew more intense, more – here was a real paradox – exotic.

There were curious pulsations. In my wrists perhaps. Not a regular wrist pulse of the kind you can check and count. Rather it might move along my right wrist, from hand to forearm, then ripple over to the left. Faster than an ordinary pulse. More fluid, mobile. The wave was picked up by a ticking in the stomach. Then leg too. A sea swell of pulses were criss-crossing the muscles. The tension in my cheeks was exactly superimposed over the tension in my calves. The two seemed to be the same. Both were growing and changing, glowing and noisy. Suddenly, it was all so interesting that the mind found it easy to concentrate. More interesting than thoughts. As when you surrender yourself to strange music. It was so busy. Parts of the body were calling back and forth to each other with little ripping pulse oceans, as if the tide was lapping in and out across underwater weeds.

Stop describing it!

Concentrate.

Suddenly my belly drew a huge breath, absolutely unexpected, and a warm wave flooded down my body from top to toe.

I nearly drowned. Shocked and tensed, I sat up and opened my eyes.

What in God’s name was that?

The feeling had vanished at once. It was gone. But so too, I realise now, was the pain. The pain had quite gone. Not even the shadow of the pain. Not a ghost. I was lying still, painless.

 

Teach Us To Sit Still – Constant Motion

More from the book Teach Us To Sit Still by Tim Parks (A Sceptic’s Search For Health And Healing). Parks has begun to experiment with sitting still and sees that he is always moving:

The pain surged to the fore. It was strong. You deal with the pain by keeping in constant motion, I realised now.  That was the truth. Even when I was still, I moved. My knee jerking. Scratching. My fist clenching and clenching. That kept the pain at bay. And when my body was still my mind moved. My mind was in constant motion. All day every day. The thoughts jerked back and forward like the knee that twitched. The difficulty when I was writing was not to come up with thoughts, but to give them direction and economy. Like a climbing plant that must be pruned and tamed, pruned and tamed. Above all pruned.

 

You are supposed not to be thinking.

 

Or not supposed to be thinking.

 

Or supposed to be not thinking.

 

I moved the ‘not’. Language is always on the move.

 

Even when I slept I moved. To sleep I needed to be on one side with one knee pushed forward. Then I switched to the other side. And I switched my earplugs from one ear to the other. I can’t bear having an earplug pressing the pillow. I pulled the earplug out, turned over, put the plug-in. Six times a night.

In the silence, eyes closed, I remembered a documentary had seen years before about some kind of desert lizard  that stopped its feet from burning on the hot Sahara sand by constantly and rapidly lifting and dropping the right front foot and back left foot, then the left front and back right. Alternately. They lifted and fell in the blink of an eyelid, almost too quick for the camera to see. A sort of Purgatory, I had thought, when I saw the images.

 

 

Teach Us To Sit Still – ‘Something’s got to change! Please!’

Next month I am going to a vipassana centre in Hereford for ten days of silence and sitting; meditation. Having  been on shorter retreats I’d like to immerse deeper into this exploration, and a ten-day retreat has been recommended by several friends. The decision to go was helped along by the book Teach Us To Sit Still by Tim Parks (the subtitle: A Sceptic’s Search For Health And Healing), a very interesting account of the author’s freedom from pain after suffering for many years. Having exhausted all other possibilities to treat this pelvic pain, he undertakes a sitting meditation practice, eventually learning that the pain itself is a gateway for release. The writing is refreshing as Parks had no interest in spiritual matters or meditation beforehand and so the language is refreshingly free of anything new age.

Getting desperate, Parks visits an Ayurvedic doctor while on business in India. He is told that his symptoms can be relived but…

‘On the other hand…’ He sat back and looked me in the eyes. His face was frank. ‘This is a problem you will never get over, Mr Parks, until you confront the profound contradiction in your character.’

I can’t recall being more surprised by a single remark in all my life.

‘Ah,’ I said at last.

‘There is a tussle in your mind.’

I sat still. I had wanted a different story, to challenge the ‘official medical version’. I was getting it.

‘What actually causes all this pain?’ I asked.

‘It is blocked vata.’

‘That is an energy that flows in the body,’ his wife explained. ‘ One of the five elements. It balances others and needs to be balanced by them. When the balance goes wrong, then the vata is blocked and causes pain.’

‘It is this mental tussle that blocks the vata,’ the doctor said.

I reflected. ‘So, what is the tussle about?’

‘Good question!’ The doctor smiled.

‘A tussle like this is not really about anything,’ his wife explained. ‘It is part of the prakruti.’

They began to explain what prakruti was: the amalgamation of inherited and acquired traits coming together to form the personality. If those traits were at odds and the two couldn’t mix, you’d be in trouble.

‘In that case a person may get the impression that his life is a series of dilemmas. He may think: if only I could resolve this or that dilemma, I will have resolved my problems. But each dilemma is only a manifestation of the deeper conflict.’

…’are you telling me it’s entirely psychosomatic?’

A slow smile spread across the doctor’s face. ‘That’s not a word we have much use for, Mr Parks.’

I looked at him.

‘You only say ‘psychosomatic’ if you think that body and mind are ever separate.’

The generator fell silent. What a pleasure sudden silence is, as when a harsh light goes out and your eyes can attune to the friendly dark. I picked up faint noises of plumbing, cries from the street, and I reflected that most people feel ashamed if told their problem is psychosomatic. They feel accused, guilty. It’s acceptable to have a sick body, that’s not your fault, but not a sick mind. The mind is you, the body is only yours. Choosing to go to an analysist because you’re unhappy is another matter. There is a respectability about being unhappy in a complicated way and most people would agree that to recognise you need professional help shows humility and good sense. But someone who makes his body ill because he doesn’t want to acknowledge his mind is in trouble, because he’s repressing his fears and desires and conflicts, is just a loser.

At exactly the moment I formulated this view, I realised that I was actually extremely eager for my problems to be psychosomatic. I was more than willing to countenance the idea that my pains only existed in my head, or that trouble in my head had brought them into existence in my body. I want to change, I told myself, returning from the bathroom. Why else would I have gone to an ayurvedic doctor? I want everything to change, inside me.

My parents tried to exorcise my brother and heal his polio. He was not changed. My sister gave birth to a severely handicapped daughter. The power of prayer did not transform her. Nor a trip to Lourdes. My father’s cancer was not helped by the laying on of hands. He lost his mind and died in pain. Afraid of anything that reminded us of their spiritual aberration, my brother and I counted entirely, perhaps aggressively, on official learning and official medicine; perhaps the only opinion we now had in common with my mother and sister was that all alternative therapies were baloney. Even today, if you mention acupuncture to my atheist brother, he will declare it  hocus-pocus. Just like my mother.

So where was I to turn, now that I had washed my hands of the doctors and they have me? The previous week, at the University, I had had to interrupt a lesson; for the first time the pain had obtruded  on my teaching. On Sunday afternoon at the stadium – for I was still an avid football goer – I was barely able to sit down during the second half of the game. I had to keep jumping to my feet as if excited by what was going on on the pitch. ‘Arbito di merda!’  I yelled, when nothing much was happening. My stadium friends laughed, but somebody client asked me to sit down.

On the bench in Regents Park, among the pleasant trees and lawns, I shouted: ‘Something’s got to change! Please!’ And a young man turned and glanced at me and hurried on.

Light on Life by BKS Iyengar – Chapter 7: Living In Freedom

Here is my last selection of quotes and extracts from Light on Life. In this final chapter, he’s writing about ethics, conceptions of God, truth, together with the full meaning of yoga.

The yogi is utterly disinterested but paradoxically full of being engagement of compassion. He is in the world but not of it.

Spiritual maturity exists when there is no difference between thought itself and the action that accompanies it. If there is a discrepancy between the two, then one is practising self-deception and projecting a false image of oneself.

Yogic knowledge is a centripetal force, for ever discarding the irrelevant in order to invest in search for the core of being where enduring truth resides.

Savasana is about relaxation, but what prevents relaxation? Tension. Tension results from clutching tightly to life–and in turn being held by the myriad invisible threads that ties us to the known world, the known ‘I’, and the known environment in which it operates.

To relax is to cut tension. To cut tension is to cut the threads that bind us to identity. To lose identity is to find out who we are not. Intelligence is the scalpel that cuts away the unreal to leave only the truth. As you are lying on the earth in savasana, do you not when the posture is harmonious and balanced, feel both present and formless? When you feel present yet formless, do you not feel an absence of specific identity? You are there, but who’s there? No one. Only present awareness without movement and time is there. Present awareness is the disappearance of time in human consciousness.

If you try to imagine time without using spatial concepts you will find it extremely difficult.

As a length of time, the present simply does not exist. How then can we live in the present? It is a paradoxical impossibility.

Dharma is about the search for enduring ethical principles, about the cultivation of right behaviour in physical, moral, mental, psychological, and spiritual dimensions.

The earliest Latin root of the word ‘religion’ means to be aware, and absolute awareness will never perceive difference or conflict.

The yogi cannot be afraid to die, because he has brought life to every cell of his body. We are afraid to die because we are afraid we have not lived.

One’s spiritual growth is only ever demonstrated by one’s actions in the world.

Ethics is the glue that binds earth to heaven. One cannot serve two masters. The only way human beings can reconcile the paradox of the demands of earth and soul is through the observation of ethical principles.

Cheats always lose. They are unmasked because they are transparently dishonest, deceive themselves, and fail in their human duty.

Action mirrors man’s personality better than his words.

It is better not to believe in God and act as though he existed, than to believe in God and act as if he did not exist.

Normally when we question anyone about whether he believes in God or not, we reduce God to a material thing. We reduce him to the level of matter, to something that can be believed in. Therefore it becomes a matter of belief. As the universe, which is beyond the reach of our consciousness, is unknown to us, so the entity that is God, which is beyond the reach of our consciousness, is unknown to us.

As has one increasingly feels the existence and pull of the divine, one’s actions more easily align with the ethical impulse of the absolute.

Spirituality is not playacting at being holy but the inner passion and urge for self realisation and the need to find the ultimate purpose of our existence.

Truth is an absolute of staggering power.

As yoga practice develops and the afflictions and obstacles to yoga interfere with us less, we begin to have some inkling of the glory of truth.

We should not use truth as a club with which to beat other people. Morality is not about looking at other people and finding them inferior to ourselves. Truth has got to be tempered with social grace.

Love is an investment, lust is a waste.

Ego is on an elastic and will always pull you back. Only the practice of meditation will eventually erode the attraction between ego and self-identity.

Surrender to God is not surrender to what you think God wants. It is not surrender to your conception of the will of God. It is not God giving you instructions. As long as ego persists, your interpretation of God’s wishes will be fragmented by the distorting prism of ego.

The ultimate reach of yoga is the total transformation of consciousness that pervades our whole being with awareness and that knows no frontiers.

My body and mind are the servers and followers of the soul. The unity of these three gives me the right to call myself a yogi.

The complexity of the life of the mind comes to an end at death, with all its sadness and happiness. If one is already free from that complexity, death comes naturally and smoothly.

Light on Life by BKS Iyengar – Chapter 6: Bliss – The Divine Body – Part 2

This full-on section relates to samadhi. Here are some extracts I selected from this second half of the sixth chapter:

From cosmic intelligence sprouts cosmic energy and consciousness, and from these devolves ego or the sense of self.  From the one root comes duality (which is the ability to separate), from duality comes vibration (which is the pulse of life beginning), from vibration comes invisible manifestation, and from the invisible comes the visible in all its glorious and horrendous diversity and multiplicity. This end product is what we take the world to be–our playground, our paradise, or our hell and our prison. If we misapprehend nature, take it at face value, through ignorance, then it is our prison.

Yoga examines in order to know, like science, but it wants to know in order to penetrate, to integrate, and to reconstruct through practice and detachment the perfection of nature’s original intention. In other words, it wants to reach the root and cut out the intervening turbulence. It does not want to be hoodwinked by nature’s appearance, but to adhere to its original motivation.

So many people approach spiritual growth as if it were a lottery. They hope that some new book or new method, some new insight or teacher will be the lottery ticket that allows them to experience enlightenment. Yoga says no, the knowledge and the effort are all within you. It is as simple and as difficult as learning to discipline our own minds and hearts, our bodies and breath.

When we are in the suspension of breath in the deepest meditation – a spontaneous, as it were, God-willed retention – we enter the black hole, the vortex of nothingness, the void. Yet somehow we survive. The curtain of time, time that inexorably brings death, is parted. This is a state of nonbeing, but a living nonbeing. It is a present devoid of past or future. There is no self, no meditator, no longer even any breather. What comes out of that black hole, that nothingness? Information. What is the information? The truth. What is the truth? Samadhi.

For the beginner, samadhi is an alluring subject. But there are reasons not to get fixated on it. The beginner can only conceive of samadhi as a glorification of the self he knows.

It is said that the meaning of life becomes apparent only in the face of death. At this point in practice the ego dissolves, or rather it gives up its impersonation of the true self.

In meditation, consciousness faces the soul itself. Samadhi is seeing soul face to face. It is not a passive state. It is a dynamic one in which the consciousness remains in a state of equilibria in all circumstances. The disturbances of the mind and emotions fade away, and we are able to see true reality.

After significant effort, a yoga practitioner reaches a state where some are some asana poses are effortless. What we achieve here externally is achieved through samadhi internally. It is an effortless state, where one experiences the grace of the self. This is a state of great bliss and fulfilment.

If anybody says, “I am teaching meditation,” then as a student of yoga I say, “It is rubbish,” because meditation cannot be taught it can only be experienced.

Sabija means ‘with seed’. What this means is that although the experience of bliss is felt, the seeds of desire remain in the ego as future potential. Even after the experience of samadhi, these seeds can sprout again and cause a relapse. The ego has not been entirely purified by the fire of the experience. This particular point on the yogic journey, although so elevated, is one of danger as it can become a wasteland in which the practitioner gets stuck. This state is called manolaya, which means an alert, passive state of mind. But in this context, it implies a complacency with what has been achieved and a tendency to slacken efforts to complete the final step of the journey. The yogi cannot rest on his laurels but must press on to the higher states of samadhi in which even the seeds of desire are burnt out from the ego forever and can never sprout or trouble him again. This is known as nirbija samadhi (seedless) in which the feeling of bliss is not dependent at all, even on a vestigial eager. This is the bliss of the absolute void, of nonbeing transformed into the light of being.

I can assure you that everyone seeks samadhi, and most of us seek shortcuts to get there.

People seek somebody through drugs, alcohol, the danger of extreme sports, the romanticism of music, the beauty of nature, and the passion of sexuality. There are 1000 ways and they all involve the transcendence of the suffering ego in a blissful fusion with an entity much greater than ourselves.

Change leads to disappointment if it is not sustained. Transformation is sustained change, and it is achieved through practice.

Dreams of the divine union, however high their aspirations, contain an element of fantasy. They may not be sustainable. We must have spiritual aspiration not spiritual pretension.

Yoga is solid. It is the path I know, the path I trod, the path I teach. Everyone desires relief from both the restrictions of personality and its impermanence. Everyone desires samadhi. From the dawn of his history, man has sought dangerous, shoddy shortcuts as well as noble ones. Called the hard, sustained progress of yoga a long cut if you will, but if it is a long cut, then so is the flight of an arrow.

 

 

120616: The Soloist; Weeding; Pinterest; Death Must Die

A restful day, not moving far from bed. Spent some time this morning and late afternoon weeding or de-grassing the gravel at the side of the path coming into the centre. It has gotten very scruffy over the last year, more noticeable when returning from a trip. Having been living out of doors for much of last week, I was feeling like spending time outside, with something of nature. Such a windy day for June.

Watched the film The Soloist having finished the book yesterday. The story is about a homeless musician who dropped out of a prestigious music school in the 70s and is found by a journalist playing Beethoven on the streets of LA. The most touching aspect for me was the deep friendship between the two men, connecting at a fundamental level away from the typical values of society, and the healing nature of music. Reading the book and watching the movie also got me interested in Skid Row, the homeless capital of America. At the time of the book 90,000 people slept rough each night in Los Angeles, Many with mental health issues.  I suppose the numbers have only increased since then. I also read some more about Nathanial Ayres, (who doesn’t look very much like Jamie Foxx, who played the part well). I thought Robert Downey Jr was good as the journalist and author Steve Lopez. As is usually the case, the book was better than the film, honest and unsentimental, without much of the unrealistic drama filmmakers feel the need to insert.

I’ve been posting on Pinterest for the 1st time, with a couple of boards on food and pictures I’ve collected from the Internet that I found funny and had previously posted on my Facebook wall. These can be found here.  I suspect the female to male ratio of Pinterest users is very high.

Loosely following the football with a mixture of hatred and fascination. Greece and the Czech Republic are through. I heard the pundits saying quite the opposite just before the matches. What I really don’t like about football is the frequent fouling and trying to get away with it. Also the nationalism is quite ridiculous. The actual game I like watching sometimes, especially with others, although today I didn’t see any of the action. The irony of Greece celebrating a sporting victory whilst their economic woes deepen with a repeat election tomorrow is saddening.

While I was away on camp with the school a book arrived called Death Must Die  By Ram Alexander. I ordered it for the KFT archives because of the many references to Krishnamurti. I’ve been skim reading the book for references to K, largely referring to the authors struggle with his teachings. Today I also ordered the Red Book by Sera J Beak,  having read a list of recommended new edge books on realitysandwich.com and feeling like reading something a little spicy. The list is mainly  of books featuring the use of psychedelics for healing, something I see the potential of but have moved away from, personally, favouring yoga, meditation and diet, with simple living.

I’m experimenting with a gentle type of fasting where one skips every seventh meal. So today I had no breakfast and in two days I’ll have no lunch, and in another two days no supper.  The principle is that when one isn’t  continuously taking food on board the body has more time for repairing and cleansing.

Light on Life by BKS Iyengar – Chapter 6: Bliss – The Divine Body – Part 1

Selected extracts from the first half of the sixth chapter:

Let us therefore sift through everything, says yoga, every component of a human being that we can find and identify–our bodies, breath, energy, sickness and health, brain and anger, and pride in our power and possessions. Above all, yoga says, let us examine this mysterious “I”, ever present and conscious of itself, but invisible in the mirror or on any photograph.

What yoga means by ignorance can perhaps be best translated as nescience, which simply means not knowing. So to Hindus, the archenemy is a state of not knowing. What don’t we know when we are ignorant?  The answer is this: you don’t know what is real and what is not real. You don’t know what is enduring and what is perishable. You don’t know who you are and who you are not. Your  whole world is upside down because you take the artefacts in your living room to be more real than the unity that connects us all, more real than the relations and obligations that unite us all.  Perceiving the links and associations that bind the cosmos in a seamless whole is the object of yoga’s journey of discovery.

We are not required simply to adjust our vision, but to turn it inside out as well as outside in, a complete reversal. It means that ultimate truth is inconceivable in normal consciousness.

Only a life built on spiritual values (dharma) is based firmly in truth and will stand up to the shocks of life.

It is this the egoic “me” that does not want to die. This impersonation of soul by ego is at the base of all human woes, and this is the root of avidya (ignorance).

No lovers, servants, riches, cars, houses, or public acclaim can salve the wound of a dysfunctional relationship with our origin. Know your father, said Lord Jesus. By this statement he was directly addressing the problem of not knowing (avidya).

We all know the phrase concerning death: you can’t take it with you. This is true. I cannot take my ego beyond the grave, and I certainly can’t take my car, my land, or my bank account.

There is nothing wrong with shedding tears for ones we love, but we must know for whom they are shared–for the loss of those who remain and not for those who have departed.

We conclude that we must perpetuate ego at all costs, through dynasties, fame, great buildings, and all immortality projects aimed at cheating the grim reaper. What rubbish, says yoga.

Look for the light. Ego is not the source of light. Consciousness transmits the divine light of origin, of the soul. But it is like the moon; it reflects the light of the sun. It has no light of its own. Find the sun, says yoga, discover the soul. That is what Hatha Yoga means.

Discover what does not die, and the illusion of death is unmasked. That is the conquest of death.

We have to keep on questioning ourselves, or else transformation will not take place. Advance with faith, yes, but always call yourself into question. Where there is pride there is always ignorance.

Inside the microcosm of the individual exists the macrocosm of the universe.

The eyes are the window of the brain, the years are the window of the soul. This is contrary to popular wisdom, but when the senses are withdrawn (pratyahara) this is the true experience.

When we can play with the elements within our own bodies, with their own renewal and disproportion and rebalancing, then we are aware of nature at a level that is not apprehend double in the normal way it is supranatural, as normal consciousness is blind to it.

Light on Life by BKS Iyengar – Chapter 5: Wisdom – The Intellectual Body – Part 2

Selected extracts from the second half of the fifth chapter:

This is not yoga by the body for the body, but yoga by the body for the mind, for the intelligence.

The intelligence we are now developing depends upon emotional and moral maturity, the ability to value truth and respect ethical conduct, the capacity to feel love in its more universal sense as compassion.

The role of awareness is to fill the gaps that inevitably exist between the physical and organic sheaths of our bodies when we practice yoga.

The power we generate through yoga practice must become a coherent and indissoluble whole.

Energy and awareness act as friends. Where one goes, the other follows. It is by the will of awareness to penetrate that intelligence, is able to move into and occupy the darkest inner recesses of our being.

We say intelligence has insight. We should complement that by saying that soul has ‘outsight’;  it is a beacon shining out.

Considerable achievements also bring in their wake considerable dangers. An obvious one is pride–not satisfaction in a job well done, but a sense of superiority and difference, of distinction and eminence.

Yoga is an interior penetration leading to integration of being, senses, breath, mind, intelligence, consciousness, and Self. It is definitely an inward journey, evolution through involution, towards the Soul, which in turn desires to emerge and embrace you in its glory.

The pursuit of pleasure through appearances, which I connect here to superficiality of intent, is quite simply the wrong way to go about things. To pursue pleasure is to pursue pain in equal measure. When appearance is more important to us than content we can be sure we have taken the wrong turning.

High intelligence brings the gift of power, and we all know that power corrupts. When intelligence is corrupted it brings woe upon ourselves and upon the world.

If we live outwardly virtuous lives, it is easy to convince ourselves that there is nothing else wrong with us. Often this is the besetting sin of the puritan or religious fanatic. We often both suppress the truth and suggest the false. Ego aids and abets all flaws of intelligence.

Conscience hurts, it causes us pain. We say we are pricked by conscience. … That is because it lies of the paradox of what it means to be a spiritual being living in a physical body in a material world.

Paying attention in yogic terms is not concentration. True concentration is an unbroken thread of awareness.

In a perfect asana, performed meditatively and with a sustained current of concentration, the self assumes its perfect form, its integrity being beyond reproach. This is asana performed at the sattvic level, where luminosity infuses the whole pose.

I am practising asana but at a level where the quality is meditative. The totality of being, from core to skin, is experienced. Mind is unruffled, intelligence is awake in heart rather than in head, self is quiescent, and conscious life is in every cell of the body. That is what I mean when I say asana opens up the whole spectrum of yoga’s possibilities.

I have often said that yoga is meditation,  and meditation is yoga. Meditation is the stilling of the movements of consciousness. It is bringing the turbulent sea to a state of flat calm. This calm is not torpid or inert. It is a deep tranquillity, pregnant with all the potential of creation.

The yogi is journeying from the world of things and events, which are so joyful, painful, baffling, and unending, back to the point of stillness before the waves were ruffled.

Do not confuse aloneness with loneliness. Loneliness is separation from the cosmos. Aloneness is to become the common denominator of the cosmic all.

Is this the end? Are we there yet? No. There remains the ego, the self, the known self, the impersonator of the soul. He is the last actor to leave the stage. He lingers even for the very final handclap of applause. What forces him off the stage? Silence and retention of the breath.

Just as the cessation of the movement of thought brings purity to intelligence, so a motiveless retention effaces ego. What the practitioner eventually experiences is not that at some point he suspends the breath. He is no longer the subject, the agent. The breath breathes him. What this means is that at the highest level of meditation the cosmos breathes you.

The unpremeditated retention of breath after exhalation opens the gap in the curtain of time. No past, no future, no sense of passing present. Only presence.

The end of duality that comes from meditation is the end of separation and the end of all conflict. The yogi stands one and alone.

Light on Life by BKS Iyengar – Chapter 5: Wisdom – The Intellectual Body – Part 1

Selected extracts from the first half of the fifth chapter:

Our individual intelligence, though an essential rudder to guide us, is merely a puny offshoot of cosmic intelligence, which is the organising system of the universe. This intelligence is everywhere and like air we constantly bathe in it and imbibe it.

Intelligence is the operating system of cosmic awareness.

You can force a piano up three flights of stairs but you cannot force the febrile human mind to be still. All you can do is train it to be vigilant toward all that disturbs its equilibrium.

Memory for past, imagination for future. Squashed between the two,  we lose the ability to use direct perception on what really is–i.e. now, the present.

‘If it feels good, do it’  is not a maxim to be trusted in the long run. All philosophies recognise that a pleasure seeker will end up as a pain finder. The ancient Greeks said that moderation was the greatest virtue.

When awareness is linked to intelligence we are able to see with absolute honesty. When brain and body are moving in harmony there is integrity.

A cleansed memory is one that does not contain undigested emotions from the unconscious but that deals with feelings in the present as they arise.

If one feels heavy and dull after sleep then that sleep has been tamasic. Disturbed, agitated sleep is rajasic.  Sleep that brings lightness, brightness, and freshness is sattvic.

Peaceful deep sleep, experienced while alert and awake, is samadhi. When the mind is controlled and still, what remains is the soul.  The absence of ego in the state of sleep is akin to samadhi,  but it is dull and without awareness. Samadhi  is the  egolessness of sleep combined with the vibrancy of intelligence.

If we feed our minds on violent images, thoughts, and words, our unconscious will regurgitate them in disturbed dreams. Just as right imagination opens the creative mind, right sleep exhilarates the mind and brings alertness.

Often as students do savasana  or attempt meditation they drift into an agreeable torpor, as if they were swaddled in cotton wool. This is not the prelude to samadhi but to sleep.

Good sleep makes consciousness brilliant. Poor sleep leaves it tarnished.

We say,  “If only I’d known then what I know now.” But what we know now does not seem to stop this from making more mistakes. The yogic blueprint says that right knowledge and erroneous knowledge are two modifications, or states, of consciousness. By the practice of yoga we can lessen and eradicate misperception and wrong knowledge and again accurate perception and right knowledge.

An opinion is yesterday’s right or wrong knowledge warmed up and re-served  for today’s situation. So opinions are rooted in the past and our examination of memory has shown us that the past can be a minefield.

When what is wrong is discarded what is left must be correct. As intelligence expands in consciousness then ego and mind contract to their proper proportions. They no longer rule the roost but serve intelligence.

We are seeking to cultivate wisdom, to transform mental dexterity or cleverness, which all people possess in some degree, into the penetrating clear light of wisdom.

A Graphic Biography of Hunter S. Thompson

Good as art, poor as a biography is what I read about this graphic novel on the life of Hunter S Thompson. I like Mark Frauenfelder’s description of the book/Thompson:

…about a passionate, rebellious genius who sprinted too fast at the beginning of a long-distance race, collapsed early, and spent his remaining decades burnt-out, crawling bewilderedly.

and:

Thompson could have been the “heavyweight champion of American letters,” but his self-destructive behavior, which got worse with each passing year, ruined that opportunity.

Video preview:

I always think the Dalai Lama and Hunter S Thompson look similar. Opposite sides of a two-headed coin?

Mr Lama:

Mr Thompson:

‘Christopher Walken’ reads Where the Wild Things Are and describes the pictures

I like the way he says Wild Thing

I also like:

There’s a bear strung up. I assume murdered. Maybe a suicide. I don’t know.

Max doesn’t look scared, he’s kind of annoyed, like, you know: Who are these bastards? And there’s a goat bastard riding on the back of a rhinoceros.

The goat is kind of spooning the rhino a little in amazement and shock.

Sure enough he’s got a crown and one of those king-sticks

I don’t know where these people are coming from, but one’s by a tree and he looks like he needs help

Parrot Person is with Smiley McDuckfeet and they’re having a good time.

Light on Life by BKS Iyengar – Chapter 4: Clarity – The Mental Body (Manas)

Quotations I’ve selected from the forth chapter of Iyengar’s Light on Life.

You cannot hope to experience inner peace or freedom without understanding the workings of your mind and of human consciousness in general.

With right perception and understanding of our minds the door opens to our liberation, as we go through the veil of illusion into the bright day of clarity and wisdom. The study of mind and consciousness therefore lies at the heart of yoga.

Yoga points out how we generally react to the outside world by forming entrenched patterns of behaviour that doom us to relive the same events endlessly in a superficial variety of forms and combinations.

The historical change from killing with stone clubs, to swords, to guns, to nuclear weapons is clearly no change at all, and it’s certainly not evolution.

What we call consumer choice is not choice at all but selection. It offers only an illusion of freedom.

Lao Tzu: “Know yourself. Know what is good. Know when to stop.”

A bowl of rice is good. A full belly is desirable. But should it be full all day? Do we really want “more is better” to be the epitaph of the human race?

Every time we say the word “I” we feel something hard and monolithic inside us, like a great stone idol. … Whatever the shape of our “I”, however defenceless and permeable we allow ourselves to become, a separation between self and other continues in normal consciousness.

Overweening pride is the symptom of the diseased self.

Ego has been compared to the filament in a bulb, which, because it glows with light, proclaims itself to be the light’s source.

The soul is a separate entity and should not be confused with with any form of “I” consciousness.

The soul is democratic; if in us then equally in others. It is not personal; if anything it is we who belong to it.

From our ignorant identification with our ego and its morality arises man’s creativity and his destructiveness, the glory of culture, the horror of his history.

Consumerism is an ineffective and temporary balm against mortality.

The egoic self is an exhausting companion, forever demanding that his caprices be pandered to, that his whims be obeyed (though he is never satisfied), and his fears be calmed (though they never can be).

Intelligence does not chat. It is the quiet, determined, clear-eyed revolutionary of our consciousness.

The ego is comfortable rearranging the same old furniture in the same old room and standing back and saying, “Doesn’t it look different?” Does it? Yes. Is it? No.

Freedom is the innermost desire of all our hearts.

Yoga has the ability to take us further, to an unconditioned freedom, because yoga sees even good habits as a form of conditioning or limitation.

Direct action stems from direct perception, the ability to see reality in the present, as it is, without prejudice, and act accordingly.

The yogic action is an action that is absolutely unfettered by past habit and without desire for personal reward in the future. It is the right thing in this present moment just because it it right and is colourless or taint-free.

The yogi knows that pleasure leads to pain and pain to pleasure in and endless cycle.

Our consciousness increasingly becomes what we feed it.

When breath is calmed and attention focused on its inward movement then consciousness is no longer jerked by outer stimuli.

Time heals. It does but only if we allow it to.

While mind reacts to memory, intelligence interrogates memory. … Memory consulted by intelligence gives completely different answers to memory consulted by mind.

When intelligence is awakened in the cells then instinct is transformed into intuition and the past loses its deterministic grip on us, as our inner intelligence tells us what the future requires.

Light on Life by BKS Iyengar – Chapter 3: Vitality – The Energy Body (Part 2)

Selected extracts and quotations I’ve chosen from the third chapter (Part 2):

 

The destructive nature of hatred is everywhere evidenced in intolerance, violence and war. But it also exists in our own lives when we wish others ill or envy what they have.

The fewer our demands on life, the greater our ability to see its bounty.

Knowledge of yoga is no substitute for practice.

Jealousy, envy and resentment impoverish the person who feels them, not just morally but energetically. They literally shrink you.

It is exhausting to spend one’s time disapproving of others. It causes the ego to form a hard shell of false pride and certainly has no reforming effect.

It is a modern illusion to imagine that positive emotions, sympathy, pity, kindness, and a general but diffused goodwill are the equivalent of virtues. These ‘soft’ emotions can serve as a form of narcissistic self-indulgence.

All illness fragments and so whatever integrates also heals.

Age may diminish our capacity for vicious action but not for vicious thought or intention. Wars may be fought by young men but they are started by old ones.

The practice of asana clears the inner channels for prana to move freely and uninterruptedly. If the nerves are corroded and blocked with stress, how can prana circulate? Asana and pranayama removes the partition that segregates body and mind.

If there is anxiety in the body the brain contracts. When the brain relaxes and empties itself it lets go of its fears and desires. It dwells neither on the past nor the future but inhabits the present.

Why worry about it? Death is certain. Let it comes when it comes.

Light on Life by BKS Iyengar – Chapter 3: Vitality – The Energy Body

Selected extracts from the third chapter (Part 1)

Prana is the energy permeating the universe at all levels. It is physical, mental, intellectual, sexual, spiritual, and cosmic energy.

Prana is special because it carries awareness. It is the vehicle of consciousness.

There is a conduit available directly to cosmic consciousness and intelligence.

By lifting and separating the thirty-three articulations of the vertebral column, and opening the ribs from the spine like tiger’s claws, we deepen and lengthen the breath.

By learning to appreciate breath we learn to appreciate life itself. The gift of breath is the gift of life.

Pranayama is the beginning of withdrawal from the external engagement of the mind and senses. That is why it brings peacefulness.

Introversion in its positive sense, not shying away from the world out of feelings of inadequacy but a desire to explore your inner world. The breath, working in the sheath of the physical body, serves as a bridge between body and mind.

Breath builds up the tremendous power needed to face the infinite light when grace dawns.

Because of this fast life we are neglecting the body and the mind. The body and mind are beginning to pull each other in opposite directions, dissipating our energy.

Life is of itself stressful. People go to the cinema to relax. But even watching the picture is stressful. In sleep there is also stress.

Our aim is to be able to deal with stress as and when it arises, and not to imprint and accumulate it in the body’s systems, including both conscious and unconscious memory.

The main causes of negative stress are anger, fear, speed, greed, unhealthy ambition, and competition, which produce a deleterious effect on the body.

The practice of asana and pranayama not only de-stress you but energise and invigorate the nerves and the mind in order to handle the stress that comes from the caprices of life.

While yoga may begin with the cult of the body, it leads towards the cultivation of our consciousness.

Stress must be dealt with before one can truly meditate.

When you are emotionally disturbed, insecurity and anxiety from the conscious mind is converted into the unconscious mind.

We seek freedom but cling to bondage.

The pranayama kosa, the energetic sheath, is not only where we work with breath but also where we work with our emotions.

Most Westerners try to solve their emotional problems through intellectual understanding.

We carry around within the recollection of mind our rancour, resentments, hates, greed, and lust, even when the motivating stimulus is absent.

Look at your dog. When you leave him he is sad; his heart is on the ground. When you come home, is there resentment? No, he is overjoyed to see you. Are you closer to reality  or is your dog?

The ‘di’ root in Sanskrit is the same as ‘division’ and ‘devil’ in English.

The ego seeks power because it seeks self-perpetuation; it seeks at all costs to avoid its own inevitable demise. To achieve that impossible end, it devises a thousand ruses. … Lust is self-validation through consumption.

Light on Life by BKS Iyengar – Chapter 2: Stability – Part 2

Chapter 2: Stability – The Physical Body (Asana) – Part 2:

Here are some more extracts and quotes I found valuable in the second part of this chapter:

The mind does not balance when you force.

After reaching the final pose, one has to learn to let go of the effort and tautness of the muscles and shift the load onto the ligaments and joints so that they hold the asana steadily without even the breath causing the body to waver.

Focus on relaxing as you hold the stretch, not clenching, but relaxing and opening. This relaxes the brain as well as the body.

Notice your eyes as well, as you hold the stretch. Tenseness of the eyes also affects the brain. If the eyes are still and silent, the brain is still and passive. The brain can learn only when it begins to relax.

If the asana is done with continual reference to the back of the brain there is a reaction to each action and there is sensitivity. Then life is not only dynamic but is also electrified with life force.

One who knows the art of relaxation also knows also knows the art of meditation.

When an asana is done correctly the body movements are smooth and there is lightness in the body and freedom in the mind. When an asana is felt as heavy it is wrong.

Think of yourself as graceful and expanding however unlikely it may seem at the time.

When we lose this lightness our bodies shrink. The moment the body shrinks the brain becomes heavy and dull, and you see nothing. The doors of perception are closed.

We are seeking the balance of polarity not the antagonism of duality.

When performing asanas no part of the body should be idle, no part should be neglected.

Illustration: Tadasana (Mountain Pose) from Yoga Wisdom and Practice by BKS Iyengar

When the intellect is stable, there is no past, no future, only present.  Do not live in the future; only the present is real.

In asana, we find balance and integration in the three dimensions of space, but we also find balance and integration in the fourth dimension of time.

Many people focus on the past or the future to avoid experiencing the present, often because the present is painful or difficult to endure. In a yoga class, many students think they must simply grit their teeth and bear it until the teacher tells them they can come out of the asana. This is seeing yoga as calisthenics and is the wrong attitude.

It is not that yoga is causing all of this pain; the pain is already there. It is hidden. We just live with it or have learned not to be aware of it.

The goal is to do the asana with as much possible intensity of intelligence and love. To do this, one must learn the difference between “right” pain and “wrong” pain. Right pain is not only constructive but also exhilarating and involves challenge, while wrong pain is destructive and causes excruciating suffering.

If the practice of today damages the practice of tomorrow it is not correct practice.

When we extend and expand our body consciousness beyond its present limitations we are working on the frontier of the known toward the unknown by an intelligent expansion of our awareness.

When everything else is stripped away the essential is revealed.

The test of a philosophy is whether it is applicable now in how you live your life.

An asana is not a posture that can ever be assumed mechanically.

Practitioners of the asanas alone often forget that yoga is for cultivating the head and the heart.

You must purge yourself before finding faults in others. When you see a mistake in someone else try to find if you are making the same mistake.

In asana and pranayama practice we should have the impression we are working on the outer to get closer to the inner reality of our existence.

There is no such thing as a doorway that you can only go through one way. Yes, we are trying to penetrate in, but what is trying to come out to meet us?

The body is the bow, asana the arrow, and soul is the target.

How can you do asana with your soul? We can only do it with the organ of the body that is closest to the soul – the heart.

Light on Life by BKS Iyengar – Chapter 2: Stability – Part 1

Extracts from Chapter 2: Stability – The Physical Body (Asana)

It’s a long chapter, so this is Part 1:

Yoga is as old and traditional as civilization, yet it persists in modern society as a means to achieving essential vitality. But yoga demands that we develop not only strength in body but attention and awareness in mind.

Yoga offers us techniques to become aware, to expand and penetrate, and to change and evolve.

As you explore your own body you are in fact exploring the earth element of nature itself.

[One] must do asana not merely as a physical exercise but as a means to understand and then integrate our body with breath, with our mind, with our intelligence, with our consciousness, with our conscience, and with our core.

Yoga has a threefold impact on health. It keeps healthy people healthy, it inhibits the development of diseases, and it aids recovery from ill health.

You have to create within yourself the experience of beauty, liberation, and infinity. This is health.

As long as the body is not in perfect health, you are caught in body consciousness alone. This distracts you from healing and culturing the mind. We need sound bodies so we can develop sound minds.

Sensitivity is not weakness or vulnerability. It is clarity of perception and allows judicious, precise action.

The effects of impurity are highly undesirable. They cause us to develop a hard shell around us. If we construct a stiff shell between ourselves and the world outside our skin, we rob ourselves of most of life’s possibilities. We are cut off from the free flow of cosmic energy. It becomes difficult in every sense to let nourishment in or to let toxic waste out. We live in a capsule, what a poet called a “vain citadel.”

Central heating, air conditioning, cars that we take out to drive three hundred yards, towns that stay lit up all night, and food imported from around the world out of season are all examples of how we try to circumvent our duty to adapt to nature and instead force nature to adapt to us. In the process, we become both weak and brittle. Even many of my Indian students who all now sit on chairs in their homes are becoming too stiff to sit in lotus position easily.

Does not the American Declaration of Independence talk of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness? If a yogi had written that, he would have said Life, Happiness, and the Pursuit of Liberty.

If you say you are your body, you are wrong. If you say you are not your body, you are also wrong.

How does one find such profound transformation in what from the outside may look simply like stretching or twisting the body into unusual positions? It begins with awareness.

The sensitive awareness of the body and the intelligence of the brain and heart should be in harmony. The brain may instruct the body to do a posture, but the heart has to feel it, too. The head is the seat of intelligence; the heart is the seat of emotion. Both have to work in cooperation with the body.

The duty of the brain is to receive knowledge from the body and then guide the body to further refine the action. Pause and reflect between each movement. This is progression in attention. Then in the stillness you can be filled with awareness.

When we ask ourselves, “What am I doing?” and “Why am I doing it?” our minds open. This is self-awareness. However, it is necessary to point out that students should be self-aware, not self-conscious. Self-consciousness is when the mind constantly worries and wonders about itself, doubting constantly and being self-absorbed.

If you do not know the silence of the body, you cannot understand the silence of the mind.

When action and silence combine like the two plates of an automobile’s clutch, it means that intelligence is in gear.

The moment you bring attention, you are creating something, and creation has life and energy.

Extension is attention, and expansion is awareness.

Overstretching occurs when one looses contact with one’s center, with the divine core. Instead, the ego wants simply to stretch further, to reach the floor, regardless of its ability, rather than extending gradually from the center.

Always try to extend and expand the body. Extension and expansion bring space, and space brings freedom.

When there is strain, the practice of yoga is purely physical and leads towards imbalances and misjudgement.

Your energy extends through the tips of your skin and beyond. This is the secret that martial artists use to generate extraordinary force. They do not punch a brick, they punch through it. Extend the energy of the asana out through your extremities. Let the river flow through you.

Picture from B.K.S. Iyengar – Yoga Wisdom and Practice