Prashant on True Being
“What if, in your sleep, you went to heaven and there plucked a strange and beautiful flower? And what if, when you awoke, you had the flower in your hand? Ah, what then?”
~Samuel Taylor Coleridge
My old friend and former yoga student from Waco, Marie Martin, posted this as her Facebook Status today. Marie and her best friend, Pam, (another good friend and former yoga student), picked me up from Dallas on my return from India in 2007. (The sisterly pod had recently separated and Christina went onto Atlanta to meet up with Kelly and Mom and Dad who were still in Lavonia) and I waited for Marie and Pam to arrive. I was really alone for the first time in a month. An hour or so later, Marie and Pam swooped in from the outlet malls. I managed to stay awake long enough to crawl into the back of Pam’s Land Rover and fell sound asleep. 2.5 hours later I was in my house in Waco. They were both good friends to me at a very different and difficult time in my life.
Anyway, that seems like another lifetime ago. Almost another person ago. Another I ago. I hadn’t moved to Austin yet, hadn’t met Jeff, was still a cat person (3 – now I have 0) wasn’t a dog person, didn’t have Milo. Hadn’t finished my book. Wasn’t full professor, wasn’t director of BIC. Mom and Dad hadn’t moved to Texas. All these things about who I am have changed and yet there’s another level of me than has not, and still another beyond that that has nothing to do with all I call me at all. That’s the level of being Prashant evoked today. Being beyond being the I that we know and love so well.
Back in the world of the ego, (As Prashant talked about the ego, I got the impression that it is sort of like a very pesky and persistent fly that you can’t quite kill and just won’t leave well enough alone.) This time, I’ve travelled here with my beloved husband, Jeff. I am so grateful that we shared this experience together. We will be returning to Austin, a city I love living in. No cats to worry about. Though occasionally I think I want one. Ron is keeping Milo, and Mom and Dad will pick us up because they live in Austin and the flight gets in at a more or less reasonable time. Maybe we’ll at least be able to stay awake until we get to the house. Though with Austin rush hour traffic that might be harder than it sounds.
Anyway, Coleridge. Coleridge definitely had some insight into ultimate reality, probably not from the means of deep meditation, backbends or contemplating collective dynamics, but he was a pretty amazing poet with a pretty amazing drug habit. Both those aspects of his ego level of being enabled him to see to another level of reality, of being beyond the being of the I. I think he saw quite deeply into that reality of true being and struggled a lot with how to express the insights one gleams from that realm and how to express them in the language of this world. Anyway, I like that Marie posted the quote today on the eve of my return back to Pune. It has a nice temporal symmetry and it gets at the dynamic between the true essence of being and our attempts to grasp it which I took to be one of the major points of Prashant’s amazing class.
As we listened to his ending discourse on true being and the ego’s relentless attempt to make true being its own experience, Scott from Australia turned to me and said, “You are here for class tomorrow right?” I nodded. He said, “That would have been an amazing note to end on.” So true.
We started off in AMVrk. Prashant led us through some pretty intense backbends and we ended with another AMVrk (before doing a long Sarvangasana). He asked us to reflect on the difference in our experience of the first AMVrk and the last one.
Simply put, the level of ease and integration was palpable. It really did feel like the pose was being done to me or that I was the pose or that the pose was me or maybe collectively all of those ways of looking at it, where as the first AMVrk was very much an activity of I am doing the pose. I even think I’m doing the pose reasonable well and with integration and collective awareness particularly for 7:00 AM first pose post prayers. But I was very much doing it. I was my ego.
I was reminded of Nietzsche’s formulation of this dynamic,
“‘the doer’ is merely a fiction added to the deed – the deed is everything.”
To edit Nietzsche slightly, the doing is everything.
After Sarvangasana, he had us come closer and asked us if he had ever anywhere along the way given any instruction at all about how to do AMVrk more effectively. He then elaborated on all the numerous detailed things that an Iyengar Yoga teacher might say about how to improve AMVrk and said, did I do any of that. No. So how did that transformation take place? What brought about that change in our relationship in the doing and the being of and in the pose?
1 hour and 45 minutes of preparation. He said it can take that long if you only have two hours to practice to get 15 minutes of real yog.
Prashant then talked about the relationship between the ego and the true being. We are true being in those moments of integration, those moments of divine insight, those moments of deep sleep. Part of the trap of the ego, part of the trap of language also (two different traps) is to say or to think, “I had that experience.” It is not the I that feels cleansed and purified by such experiences of let’s call them moments of transcendence for lack of a better term, plus I think Prashant actually used it.
He said, sure the ego can get cleansed to some degree, but think of it like cleaning the toilet. Is the toilet, even when really clean like the cleanliness of the space of the meditation room? He elaborated on that metaphor for a while. It was reasonably hilarious. It also got me thinking about the value of humor in getting us to see beyond ourselves. He’s quite gifted at that as well. Nietzsche and Kierkegaard were masters of this use of humor as well.
In some of the Geeta interviews I’ve been reading, she talks about that nourishment of good sleep. It is where we touch the true self. I remember Rajiv Chanchani talking once about what feels so go to us about a good pranayama practice or a good savasana is that we get a break from the ego. We get a break from being who we inexorably are qua being who we are in ego-land. What is it like, then, to come back with Coleridge’s flower? Is that experience of true being the flower we come back with?
As wonderful as Prashant’s metaphor of the toilet was, the most powerful part of the last part of his discourse today was what he said about the soul that experiences god. We do not experience God qua Hindu, qua Muslim, qua Jew, qua Christian. The soul does not partake in those distinctions. I think that’s what Paul is getting at in the saying “In Christ there is no male or female, Jew or Greek, slave or free.” But this takes it one step further said; in God there is no specific religiosity. Prashant suggested that this is what even the most devout and tradition faithful of us truly want this experience of the true soul. Even the Pope, he said wants this.
For a variety of reasons, I am a close observer of the evangelical Christian world. Though I think Prashant is right, I do wonder if this is in fact true for the felt experience of the average devout Christian. Maybe in the sense that it is what the Christian truly wants even if they are not aware of wanting it, but I think the average Evangelical or any devout worshipper of God through the prism of a particular tradition get very attached to a particular vision of faith and sees the essence of the soul in those specific hues or tones that the prism reflects of the divine. Even as much as we might recognize along with Augustine, that we see through a glass darkly and never face to face, I suspect that a Christian expects to see a Christian face on the other side of that dark glass.
Be that as it may, Prashant is making clear that the yogic vision offers us a level of insight into the nature of God, the nature of the soul, the nature of the affinity between God and soul that is much deeper and more essential than those particular inflections of particular faith traditions.
A beautiful vision, the vision of yog.
I did manage to work up the courage to talk with Prashant after class. I asked him some questions I had about the body and reincarnation. My homework: ReadDiscourses on Yog.