Yoga & The Search for Authenticity

I asked one of my teachers recently, “How do I know which tapasya (austerity/renunciation) is the right one for me?” He replied, “It’s the one you least want to do.” My own personal tapasya transformed over a three-week period. I went from abstaining from sugar, to abstaining from seeing people, to abstaining from certain relationships. I found that I could live without sugar, chocolate, and wine easily. What really got me, however, were my relationships. One by one, mirrors broke all around me. I noticed that most of my relationships were a cheap ploy to keep my act going. Without an audience, without anyone watching, what happens to the performance? Is my act over? This is abhinivesha, the fear of death. Practicing non-attachment has brought up questions like “who am I, really?”

Without anyone looking, who are you? Without anyone giving you what you think you need (love, affection, food, power, etc.), how do you know who you are? How willing are you to stay in the presence of pain, loneliness, jealousy, and sadness?

Bad habits are easy to break: nail biting, excessive caffeine consumption, sugar, junk food, etc. However what happens when we run out of “things” to let go of? Over time, we experience that we are not so much letting go of “things”, but of long outdated ways of being. This proves to be very frightening and hard. Joseph Campbell said, “We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the life that is waiting for us.” In order to do this we reexamine everything we do in our lives – work, relationships, all of it – in order to see how these ways of being are simply mechanisms by which our egos perpetuate their existence. We want to be good, effective, virtuous and right, so we behave in certain ways to reinforce this image. If this continues, however, we lose our connections with:

(1) our authentic selves

(2) the people in our lives

We can’t really connect with others when we are concerned with the survival of our egos.

Letting go of this way of being can bring up an immense amount of fear and anxiety because we do not know what lies beyond it. We do not know and therefore we fear. Questions arise like, Who will I become? How will I fare in life without striving to be the best? What will become of me? These are all questions we beg answers for. When that part of ourselves dies, how do we let go gracefully and with faith that the unseen/eternal will be there to help us reemerge on the other side whole, in tact, and anew?

The practical application of letting go of outdated modes of being looks like this:

Empathy: How do we make others feel? Can we consider the other person in an authentic way without protecting our own self-image?

Transparency: Can we become clear enough to NOT project our own self-image onto another person? Can we see someone as they really are apart from our own ideas about them: boyfriend, friend, parent, teacher? Can we allow someone to shine forth without past experiences or future expectations polluting our interaction?

The rationale behind the above methods can be illustrated best through grammatical personage: first, second, and third person. Ken Wilber and Andrew Cohen described the process of self-awareness through dreams and personage. When we dream we sometimes see things through the lens of second person or third person since humans are typically unable to self-reflect directly. We must position ourselves in relationship to a subject. This is the nature of Purusha and Prakriti, the seer and the seen. In certain dreams, we have an adversary (second person), so we attack, or run, etc. We know that in dreams this adversary represents our OWN ego we are fighting with or running from. Now after many years of yoga or meditation, it’s possible to create a shadow self out of the ego, so the adversary is us (first person), but still a bit dissociated from our direct experience. I’m thinking, if I can look at another and truly empathize and feel for them, I can get in closer contact with my true self. The intention seems a bit self-centered, however, if I do this work in the service of knowing the Authentic (large) Self, then the work ultimately serves all.

Patanjali advises us that true Samadhi happens when we become so clear that we can see the world around us clearly. He likens this to a crystal. When the crystal is tarnished, we see the world through concepts often defined by our ethnicity, economic status, religion, political ideologies, gender, occupation, or relationships. When the crystal is clear, all concepts disappear and we can see things as they really are.

The implication is that before clear perception is possible, one must, through yoga, cleanse oneself. What practices help us and prepare us to look at ourselves openly and honestly? Can we continue to keep our process of self-inquiry going so as not to fall into the traps that Patanjali warns us about?

Even yoga can become just another layer of clothing. Hopefully, with the right teachers and the right sangha we will be able to see beneath the layers of our fragmented bodies, minds, and emotions. A true yoga practice helps us lessen the impact of our psychological patters, or samskaras. A real yoga practice engages us in tapas, or austerity, when we actively and consciously renounce old ways of being and patterns of behavior that no longer serve our search for growth. While yoga practice isn’t meant to further entrench us in patterns of achievement, there can still be an objective or a goal. And that goal might very well be to find out who we really are.

Adapted from Laura Dunn Yoga Blog