At long last I’ve finished the last part of my notes on Richard Freeman’s Immersion. This, of course, is not everything that we talked about in class. I just shared some that particularly stood out to me and those that I kind of understood more of.
On Mind, Ego, Philosophy, etc
According to Richard, the ego has backward thinking in that it thinks that by holding onto something, we can achieve more. For example, we are greedy of money and luxurious items, and we protect those like we protect our lives. He said one of the beauties in life is letting go–letting go of our desires, material things, and other unnecessary blockages. The essence of the pleasure of letting go ultimately reveals the Atman, or the universal Self.
Richard also mentioned that our mind sees through everything with a saram wrap. We think we see reality, but in fact, there is a thin layer of this sheath that is our ego that prevents us from seeing reality. Most of us don’t even notice it. For example, when we meet a new person or see a new thing, we immediately start forming our own opinions about that person or thing. That is the mind forming its opinions, its own perspectives, but that is not necessarily what that person or the object really is. Our minds are usually closed, we subconsciously put those layers of perspectives on without noticing. This is avidya (ignorance), one of the 5 klesas (obstacles) we should diminish. Our minds make maps and symbols of the things we see, giving them a false impression. So basically, the whole universe as we see it is also made up of our own avidya. But when you let go of your ego, of who you think you are, what you think you see, again you will experience the reality, the Atman. In our lives, we rarely get to really understand and know an object or a person (exceptions could be your best friend, your soul mate, or your dog). We see things for what they really are. We dust off the dirt that’s clouded our vision.
Yoga, Richard said, is the opportunity for us to experience the senses in its reality, to let go of our egos. This was one of my many “Aha!” moments in Richard’s class. Yoga comes from the Sanskrit root “yuj,” which means “to yoke,” “to join,” or “to unite.” Yoga is all about duality. Take the word hatha from Hatha yoga for example, “ha” means the sun while “tha” means the moon. Prana vs apana, ida vs pingala. Even in asanas we have backbends to balance the forward bends, inversions as counterposes to the standing poses. It’s all about playing with the balance of the two dualities, till we find the equal, center point, when again Atman can be revealed.
But how exactly do you let go of that ego? Well, I’ll say here what Richard said, but I haven’t fully understood this part yet. The definition of yoga according to Patanjali is: “yogas citta-vrtti nirodhah” ( Yoga Sutras I.2; yoga is the channeling/controlling of the mind patterns). Vrtti is the patterns of our mind, the disturbances that we want to bring into our own control. So Richard said that we should take on vrtti and observe it; observe it and see through it. Then you let it go, and you let go of the ego. This still leave me scratching my head, but I think I have a vague idea about it now. Our mind is a turbulent thing filled with emotions and thoughts. So we have to take one of it, like pulling a distinctive thread amongst billions, perhaps a recurring one that is obvious to us to begin with (e.g., you always get pissed off when another car cuts in in front of you). Then you look at it, observe it at full-length, ask yourself why you feel so, what makes you feel so, how it affects your mood and mindset when that turbulence sets in. In the end, you don’t see a point in getting angry in the first place with that car, because you will still get to your destination no matter what. So you let that go, and you’ve let go of a burden in your mind. Repeat that with all other mind-stuff, dig out the ones that aren’t obvious and ones that you hide even from yourself. Let them free. Then you have achieved citta-vrtti nirodhah.
When things get hard, that is when we need to keep digging. It is in the nature of human beings to run away from hardship instead of facing them. As the yoga student delves deeper and deeper into a certain school of yoga, they will inevitably encounter things they cant immediately understand or grasp, and get frustrated. Thus, they turn away from it to other schools of yoga, and when that gets hard again, turn away again, resulting in hundreds of shallow holes, but not one of them got to the core of the matter. From my personal experience, the first phase of my Ashtanga practice was like the honeymoon phase. I was younger and more supple than alot of my classmates, and I progressed faster. After a couple of years, injuries started surfacing–knees, hamstrings, wrist, lower back. At a point, my hamstrings (specifically the attachment sites to the sit bones) were so bad that I wondered to myself why I was doing this to myself, why I was continuing my practice despite the teeth-gritting pain it brought me during and after practice. Regardless, there was still that little voice inside me telling me that this yoga can also relieve me from my injuries, that these pains are in fact my best teachers. Abhyasa (repeated practice) is what gets you there in the end.
In Ashtanga, in any form of yoga, actually, you are always working on something. There is no stop in learning in yoga, you are always a student. Just because you get stuck in a pose, like marichyasana D, or supta kurmasana, or kapotanasana, or drop-backs, you don’t just stop. You keep going. Same with the mind. I have tremendous difficulty with meditation. I can sit still for maybe 20-25 min, but during those minutes, god knows where my mind is at. Pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses) and dharana (concentration) are easy to achieve during your asana practice since you have your breath and your postures to focus on. I just need to learn to incorporate that into my seated meditation.
Richard had said that most of us, when we want to look for something, we would go stand on top of a hill so we could see everything. We look outwards and beyond. But few of us realize that what we look for are usually at the point where we’re standing on, underneath our feet. That is how we “under-stand“. In fact, you have more answers to your questions within you than in the external world. You just have to concentrate and look within, free from the distractions of the outside world. In yoga, the feet are symbolic to feeling grounded. There is a reason why the Ashtanga opening chant begins with “vande gurunam caranaravinde” (I bow to the two lotus feet of the Gurus), because it is believed that you can obtain knowledge and enlightenment through your Gurus’ feet.
Imagine a fly or a bug that flies into a bottle with small opening and gets stuck. It flies this way and that with the result of hitting the glass walls again and again. The Self is like the fly, we are trapped in the bottle containing the mind structures. We just need to find the way back out where we came in from to free our Selves. It’s not easy, but if our life depends on it (actually it does, if you look in the bigger scope of karma and reincarnation), we will surely find a way out of the mess.