Want Yoga? Stop taking it literally.


“Nothing Ever Happened, so don’t worry. It’s all like a dream. Everything is ecstasy, inside. We just don’t know it because of our thinking-minds. But in our true blissful essence of mind is known that everything is alright forever and forever and forever. Close your eyes, let your hands and nerve-ends drop, stop breathing for 3 seconds, listen to the silence inside the illusion of the world, and you will remember the lesson you forgot, which was taught in immense milky way soft cloud innumerable worlds long ago and not even at all. It is all one vast awakened thing. I call it the golden eternity. It is perfect.”


To learn yoga you must stop seeing things LITERALLY, because nothing is as it appears to be.  The world does not exist in the terms that my calculating mind fools me into thinking that it does.  To become properly involved with this world, first I must realize that the apparatus that allows me take in the world (my brain, nerves, senses) continually gives me a false appearance of things.  This means that I must interpret my experience, the solid world that I perceive is meant to be interacted with symbolically rather than literally.  What is literally right in front of me, (the couch, the wall, the crouching and springing cat!, the computer) is false in that what I see with my eyes or feel with my hands does not tell me enough about the important context of its existence in this moment.  I must learn to devalue my thinking and change my perception to get at its truths—and my own truths.


There was a monk who dreamed that he was a butterfly fluttering.   The dream was so vivid that he had no other consciousness other than of himself as a butterfly.  When he woke he wondered whether, in this moment, he was a man who had dreamed he was a butterfly or if he was a butterfly vividly dreaming that he was a man.


Thanks to Freud and Jung I accept that things in my dreams are not what they seem, and that at least some my dreams are attempts on my part to communicate with myself.  And rarely does a dream speak literally to me.  Dreams partly serve to use my unconscious to correct my faulty conscious attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors.   And when looked at in the rational light of day, the language of dreams is symbolic not literal, irrational not rational, illogical not logical.  Dreams break all the rules of thinking that are in place during the day, and thus all kinds of bizarre and impossible things can and do happen in my dreams,  When I am asleep, my mind gives up its iron grip of rationality, its ‘sensible’ hold on things, its needs to look good or right or smart.  My mind is forced into a captive receptivity where nearly anything goes in service of telling a story that must be told to me even if it must told in code.  With my psychic guard down other aspects of my mind become uninhibited and seize the opportunity to speak to me in a new, strange, indirect language that uses and appears to delight in  images, pictures, metaphors, symbols, associations and other roundabout means of communicating.

And what if my waking state were not so different from my dream world?  What if the waking things that I take for reality, that I think of as substantial, solid, definite, and literal are in actuality as fluid and insubstantial as a dream.  When I loosen my hold on needing this waking reality to be fixed or known—I can begin to see the events that happen in the waking state as dream like, as having a peculiar logic that can teach me about myself and the world, and expose the illogic that my mind tries to pass off as logic.  The rigorous mental discipline of yoga shows me that when I carefully observe what takes place within myself, I come to see that everything in the waking state passes by fluidly, in a narrative told in moving pictures that continually shift and re arrange themselves.  Characters move in and out of my waking state dream, and scenes continually morph and take on different shapes, just like in my dreams.  This happens in service of helping me to wake up to the other, symbolic, spiritual world of consciousness that I am meant to identify myself with even though I conduct myself here on this seemingly solid, material earth.

Perceiving my waking state as a dream state helps me come to a an ever new perception of who I am as person, an entity, a conscious being.  Like the changing outer landscape, my inner landscape is also continually changing.  I understand the person that I identify as me as fluid as opposed to fixed, and thus it becomes untenable to identify myself exclusively with my too limited ego, and the static set of personality traits that I have long crafted.  I become less prone to acting out of habit, less attached, compulsive, predictable, less in need of rules or fast definitions—more spontaneous, original, mysterious, fun, loving and lovable.   Self study does not serve to give me a more and more definite picture of who I am, it conversely serves to emphasize that who I am remains a mystery, an evolving image.

I partly shape this evolving image of my self through the back and forth exchange between my experience and the internal process of assessment, reflection, interpretation, and action that I undergo in practice.  The more I know about me, the more I am unknown to me.  Who I am to myself is only discoverable now, as I go along, I receive this self knowledge when I lucidly and fluidly interpret what takes place within and without me.  Meaning unfolds within me by my becoming devoted to caring for and interpreting the passing show of pictures, images, stories, dreams, and symbols.

When I cease to see myself as fixed, literal, I am on the way to knowing my myself as Self, and my asana practice provides a perfect training ground for me to learn to use my brain and senses to switch from literal to symbolic thinking.  For example this can happen when my breathing emerges from the background to foreground inside my chest.  I can wake up to my breath as the stuff of an ever changing dream, with a cast of characters who speak to me in a multitude of ways.  Like sometimes my breath comes to me as wise old man river.  He has dazzling, weary eyes, winds along in wide, circular curves.  I ease back and enjoy his steady rhythm, ever coming in and going out, slow and patient.  He’s quiet or he speaks softly or gruffly, telling and retelling his countless stories from who knows where.  Or my breath becomes the vast, beautiful and fearful ocean with its waves, whose waters contain the entire range of colors and moods from the darkest steely grays and blacks of raging storms, to the scintillating colors of peaceful calms, and whose unfathomable depths hold infinite secrets that will never be told or known.  And eventually waking up to my breath as ever new also wakes me up to its deeper, internal and eternal sound, hamsa, the spontaneous, magical utterance.  This sound, Hamsa, is the beckoning call of the Swan or Word Soul that ever reminds me I am That, I am inextricably part of the “The Golden Eternity”.


“We were never really born, we will never really die. It has nothing to do with the imaginary idea of a personal self, other selves, many selves everywhere: Self is only an idea, a mortal idea. That which passes into everything is one thing. It’s a dream already ended. There’s nothing to be afraid of and nothing to be glad about. I know this from staring at mountains months on end. They never show any expression, they are like empty space. Do you think the emptiness of space will ever crumble away? Mountains will crumble, but the emptiness of space, which is the one universal essence of mind, the vast awakenerhood, empty and awake, will never crumble away because it was never born.”

The words in italics were written by Jack Kerouac in a letter in late January of 1957. 

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