Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Anarchy of Yoga and Naked Awareness

I was reading in Ascent--yoga for an inspired life, magazine today and ran across an article called Anarchy of Yoga which was an interview of Michael Stone by Christopher McCann. Michael Stone is a yoga and meditation teacher, as well as a psychotherapist and author of two books, The Inner Tradition of Yoga: A Guide to Yoga Philosophy for the Contemporary Practitioner and Yoga For a World Out of Balance: Teachings on Ethics and Social Action. You can check out his website centreofgravity here.

I really appreciated Stone's yogic/buddhist/ western psychological take on life as he answered the interviewer's questions. Below I've copied the questions and then I've done my own spin of his answers in both direct quotes and also my own interpretation of the meaning of what he has to say.

When did you begin to see the relationship between our work in psychology and yoga?

Stone talks about his "semi-mystical" visits to his schizophrenic uncle who lived in mental institution when he was a young boy. This uncle loved the Beatles and was interested in non-duality as taught by Maharishi Mahesh. Michael sit with a group of schizophrenics as they shared cigarettes and listened to the Beatles' White Album. He says that these experiences erased the boundary between psychology and spirituality for him. And of course whenever there is a story about schizophrenics I'm touched, seeing as my eldest child suffers from this disease.

So how do these two systems intersect, and how do they diverge?

"The essence of psychological change is waking up to a world that doesn't pivot around self-image. By definition, spirituality is waking up to something greater than the stories we tell about ourselves and others and the world." Well, there is the biggest part of my current spiritual practice in a nutshell. What I also find very interesting is when he describes his interest in exploring Indian philosophy, Buddhism, yoga, and Western psychology and how it's not how they fit together (you know, that grain of truth running through all religions thing?) but how they don't fit together that intrigues him. "Stephen Batchelor calls this 'the anarchy of the gaps.'" The gap is the "fertile ground." I love falling into the gap. He says that whenever you create a system something is always left out and that when two systems come together everything that has been left out of each of them comes out of the shadows because one system always brings out the shadow of the other system. Wow. Talk about the ultimate shadow work. And this has got to be the same for relationships, yes? I'm a system, you're a system, and whenever two people come together, whatever is left out in each of them will come out of the shadows to play. So each and every relationship we share with another is unique and significant. I'm supposing that light from each system (person) reflects from a different perspective which brings different aspects of the shadow out in each relationship. Let the shadow dancing begin! Oh, I love relationship work. And I love conscious shadow dancing too! Stone says, "the gap makes us uncomfortable" and mentions the danger in Western psychology is that it uses the teachings of Buddha and yoga to reinforce its worldview when its what is lacking that is being brought to light is of the greatest value.

What is the anarchy of the gaps in this relationship?

I love what he says here about the gap of Western psychology--that it has been unclear of it's goal. He says that when you ask a room full of therapists what the goal of therapy is you get a different answer from each one of them. The goal of yoga as Patanjali taught is very clear--"To see through the illusion of self. To see through the inherent emptiness of self-image." Western psychology approaches psychological symptoms with the assumption that if you go back into the past you will be able to find the root cause of your current problem. Maybe so. But the significance of what you find is bringing back a good story! The hope seems to be that the innate power in the telling and understanding of this story will heal your current problem. That's not my experience--not with myself, nor with my friends, or my clients. Stone says, "Western psychotherapy is caught in the delusion that our problems are primarily derived from memories in our personal past. So we go looking to the storehouse of memory in our personal past to heal our wounds in the present." But even with all this story telling and understanding people still don't know how to let go of their problems. That's because they don't know how to be mindful of the moment. Regardless of the origin of the problem, the experience of the symptom arises in the present. It must be dealt with in the here and now.

What perspective does yoga offer?

"The past is fictional." The truth resides in the moment. Telling stories about the past creates a false sense of self. Identifying with all these problems of the past reinforces a sense of self that is all about the symptoms. Yoga and Buddhist philosophies are about freeing one's self from the mind's perspective. It releases one from the limiting stories of who and what they are. A yogic perspective says that the symptoms do not cause our suffering but rather it's the sense of self that we have created that relates to the symptom itself. In other words, we attach ourselves to the symptom and identify with the pain. This is what causes our suffering. This is ego. Ego survives this way. It superimposes itself on everything as it has no identity of its own.

What dos this mean for the asana practitioner?

"All yoga postures are designed to create new patterns of sensation in the body that affect the nervous system and the mind in such a way that we're invited to enter into these patterns of sensation as a meditative exercise." Asanas give rise to uncomfortable feelings because they will bring up all of our old stories. I can't tell you how many times I been filled with emotion and tears started flowing while I've been holding an asana. For me, asanas help me to stay in the moment and allow me to experience the stories as they course through my body as energy. I need to be doing more yoga.

Let's introduce memory into this. What role does it play?

"Everything we experience is filtered through the sense organs and the mind, which are always biased because they are patterned. The word for this in Sanskrit is samskara. The technical definition of samskara is the psychological, physiological and cultural grooves in the mind, the body and the culture." The psychological term for this is top-down processing (pre-existing schemata {conceptual framework of memories, assumptions etc.}).

This takes us to the "naked awareness" that my friend Edrid talks about. to learn more about naked awareness go to sandoth.com. This link will take you to the Cultivating Naked Awareness booklet with information about purchasing the booklet and CD from Edrid for only $7. (this includes shipping) or you can download a PDF version of the booklet for free.

Naked Awareness is when we become directly aware of awareness itself, rather than the particulars of what we are aware of. Naked Awareness is the core essence of our conscious experience. To practice Naked Awareness we detach ourselves from what we are aware of to become aware of our awareness itself. Living in naked awareness is exactly what Michael Stone is leading to when he describes the tendency to get stuck in our stories by identifying with them. When he describes samskara, (the psychological, physiological and cultural grooves in the mind, the body and the culture) this is what Edrid calls the sixth consciousness. To understand the sixth consciousness, Edrid explains what is not Naked Awareness and he starts with the five senses, sight, hearing, touch etc. which affect our awareness by giving rise to experiences in our field of awareness. Our senses give us raw information that comes in through our nervous system. The raw data that our senses offer us have no judgments, evaluations or preferences attached. It's just pure sensory experience.

Then there is the mind consciousness which the Buddhists call the sixth consciousness. Sixth consciousness is indirect experience. The mind interprets our sensory experiences. It makes up associations and stories. The sixth consciousness is what makes awareness not naked. Naked Awareness is something that must be practiced and Edrid's little booklet is a great guide to help with that. Naked Awareness is what pulls us into the moment and out of suffering.

Michael Stone pulls both the psychological and the physiological together when he describes how Patanjali uses the term samskara (memory). What's nice about yoga is that whenever we work on deep physical patterns we are always simultaneously working on the mind (the mind wants to flee the unpleasant feelings that arise) and "when we work on deep psychological patterns, physiological responses occur."

How does spiritual realization further cognitive insight?

Western psychology is good for recognizing our patterns and yoga helps us to deal with them. We need to practice seeing through our sixth consciousness, or as Stone says, "It is not enough just to re-cognize the pattern. We have to see through the process of cognition so that we can see how whatever we are noticing is impermanent and without an inherent eternal substantiality in time and space. It has no inherent essence."

What I really love about this article is when Stone talks about intimacy. He says that when we let go of contextualizing and storytelling what we are left with is intimacy with all things. This is the enlightenment that Buddha talks about. This is what is left when we relinquish our attachment to our viewpoint. "The Heart of Intimacy." This is so beautiful.

"That life is always organizing itself, this is the anarchy of yoga...A trust that there is a deep intimacy of all things, to the point where there are no things, just process."

What role does teaching play in your practice of yoga?

Stone says,"These teaching belong in alleys, in the gaps...We develop a relationship with people over time. And they develop relationships with each other, so that we can drop into deep practice without the constructs of institutions, even the institutions of the commercial yoga studio." Michael is motivated to share yoga with people in a way that rather than separating their practice from their daily lives, it becomes a living part of their life as they live it.

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