Tadā draṣṭuḥ svarūpe’vasthānam - Then the Seer (Self) abides in Its own nature. ~ Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
While we are in our bodies, we tend to attach ourselves to identities that have to do with form. We think of ourselves as our names, our job titles, or the strongest attachments we have are to our roles in our relationships — mother, daughter, sister, brother, father, wife, lover, friend, teacher and so on. Similarly we project onto others the identity of the roles they play in our lives. The stronger our attachment to these identities, the greater difficulty we have in remembering our true essence, the innermost part of our being.
Take a moment to observe the thoughts you are having in your mind at this moment. Then get up and walk around and observe how your legs move as you are walking. Now ask yourself, who is it that is observing the thoughts? Who is it that is watching you take the actions necessary to move your body and walk? When we are in what Eckhart Tolle calls the mind identified state of our evolution, we are totally unconscious of the seer within us. To paraphrase the words of the Latin philosopher René Descartes, we think, therefore we are. In this stage we also tend to have extremely active minds, and we believe what we think to be absolute truth. Science has done research and concluded that we have about 65,000 thoughts per day (no idea how they came to that number but it’s quite impressive) and about 80% of these thoughts are negative. Thus if we are mind identified, we will generally tend to have a negative experience in our lives. For the ‘average’ person who is totally identified with their minds, they will experience the reality of their thoughts they occupy themselves with regularly, which in turn convinces them that their thoughts are the truth and they get caught up in the vicious cycle of ‘mind-manifested reality-mind’. Eckhart Tolle aptly calls this madness.
So how do we break ourselves out of this vicious cycle? By realizing that as the thoughts arise within our mind, something is observing those thoughts arise. While your mind is engaged in its incessant activity, there is a part of you that is entirely still, entirely present. You may not be very aware of this part of yourself if you are attached to to your thoughts, but it is always there. Have you ever experienced a moment of total bliss while watching the leaves of a tree or hearing a bird sing? Or maybe it’s when you feel the sunshine caressing your face. There is this feeling of complete oneness with the Now, with the moment. That tiny glimpse is a glimpse into your true self.
In the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, this true self is described as the always is, always was-ness aspect of God knows as Purusha. In the Kabbalah it is called Ein Sof. All of creation emanates from the Ein Sof, but creation, in essence and in potency, is not equal to the Ein Sof. You are that true seer, not your body, not your mind, but rather the un-manifested from which all form manifests. You are that which is observing all the forms arising and passing away, and when all forms dissolves, there will still be your eternal Spirit. This is your true nature, your true self, the eternal. While in your body and identified with your mind, you have forgotten it. And this is when your ego seeks to grow and expand through you and you suffer as your ego attaches itself to every thought, convincing you that it is real, and as your ego attaches itself to every form, and you start looking for the eternal in the physical, manifested world.
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Everything is the physical, manifested world will dissolve at some point. Death is an inherent part of physical life. Everything that is born, dies. Plants, animals, humans…and on a subtler level, emotions, thoughts. Arising and passing away. What happens is that we get attached and look for permanence in the temporal world, thus creating endless pain and suffering. Our egos, which can only live through our suffering, feeds on our attachments and then we experience the world through what the Buddha calls ‘sankharas’ which are our mental dispositions. Such power these sankharas have over our lives, that every spiritual teacher that has ever lived has in one way or another tried to help us in freeing ourselves from it.
The entire practice of yoga is based on freeing ourselves from our sankharas. In the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, the definition given to Yoga is ‘Yogaś citta vṛtti nirodhaḥ’ which is translated as ‘Yoga is stilling the fluctuations of the mind’. And the word ‘Yoga’ means to ‘yoke’ or ‘join together’. My understanding of this, is that the practice of yoga is meant to remove the veil of separation from our eyes and connect us with our immortal souls. It is through this connection that we find freedom and can make peace with the impermanence of our physical existence. And once we accept physical reality for what it is, we can enjoy it and not look for it to satisfy us in some way, but rather find a way to flow with the tides of life, finding our rhythm and our dance. It might seem paradoxical, but the more acceptance we have that this world is temporal, the more ‘permanent’ our sense of happiness and peace can become, because then the emotions we experience can flow through us, rather than us becoming attached to those emotions and fighting them, in the case of negative emotions or trying to hold on to them, in the case positive emotions. This kind of eternal peace is what the Yogis call ‘Satchitananda’. Sat meaning true, chit meaning consciousness and ananda meaning bliss, joy.
This is your state, one of bliss and joy, the state of unity with spirit, with the source of all creation.