Fear of Darkness, or Fear of Stillness?
You all know how it goes. Usually at the beginning or end of a Yoga class, the yoga teacher will instruct:
“Let’s adopt savâsana. Let your feet fall out to the side and separate your arms from your body just a little placing the palms of your hands towards the sky. Relax your body and close your eyes…”
These words sound familiar to all yoga students and teachers alike. As we begin or end our yoga class, and everyone comfortably nestles down to take the position that for the majority of people is the part of the class they most look forward to, the final relaxation and a chance to relax, we let the mind and breath synchronize and our body fall into perfect stillness.
It seems too easy to be a real yoga âsana—but is this pose disguising something a lot more challenging?
As a timeless Yoga student and Instructor, I observe students during this time and ask myself, Why do so many people have so many difficulties closing their eyes and letting themselves just be in this pose? There is always someone in a class (if not more than one) who can’t resist…they crack open their eyes to take a peek around, unable to remain calm if they lose contact with their exterior and sensory world. I gently encourage and remind them keep their eyes closed, and like eager children, they once again close their eyes…only to pry them open a few seconds later still unable to manage the task at hand.
Many times I have asked myself why is it so difficult for us to close our eyes, remain still and remain that way for the few and only moments we might have in our busy day. Its a chance to really be with ourselves, a time to look inside instead of outside. But are we ready for this? Are we really that attached to our sensory world that we can’t, even for a minute, turn it off or surrender to the beauty of our inner world? Are our senses really that weak that outside temptations are just too attractive to ignore? And is stillness such a foreign concept that we find it impossible to actually maintain? The nature of the mind is without doubt movement, but we have the invaluable possibility of learning through this posture to master the stillness of our minds through the stillness of our bodies so the mind gradually ends up working for us and not against us and we are able to ride the wave of life with a lot more stability and confidence.
Our lives are filled with constant distractions. When we are bored we can use our phones to call someone to talk to us and distract us from our thoughts, when we are sad we can drown our sorrows in alcohol, drugs or a plethora of other substances, when we need entertaining we can go to the movies, to a club, the theater, see a sports game, chat, flirt and marry on the net. We are worried about filling our days, each minute with “things” to do, so as not to be left alone with ourselves long enough to think about anything more profound. What if you decided not to watch TV one night like you habitually do, and sit in silence? What if you decided to turn the radio off in the car driving to work and be with your thoughts? Maybe you might just get to know yourself a little better, and maybe you might even enjoy these precious silent moments.
At some point we all complain about how stressed and distressed we are and how our lives just keep becoming more and more accelerated and how we just don’t have the physical or mental tools to cope, which is ironic because precisely through the wonderful world of relaxation and âsana we can find a complicity between our body, mind and spirit that helps us to master our monkey mind always so keen and decisive as it clambers around and vies for our attention, jumping from tree to tree without stopping for just a moment. These are our wayward and vagabond thoughts that flit around like a monkey without taking time to rest on one particular thing long enough to actually contemplate it philosophically. If we did stay long enough to actually contemplate it philosophically, perhaps we would become fearful of who we have become or what we are doing, maybe we would regret a lost possibility or allow ourselves to feel disappointment at an expectation or maybe we would wonder if we are truly happy on the path we have chosen.
Perhaps that fear prevents us from discovering our true potential, our true Self, far from the expectations of others or worse our own harsh judgment on ourselves. Our minds are experts at thinking about the past and future and completely evading the present. We would rather live a life already lived or a life yet to be lived than our actual and very real present life. Confrontation is an uneasy word as it drums up negativity. What if we saw confrontation as a way to overcome those parts of our personality we don’t really like, overcome them and develop into the person we really want to be?
In Dyaya VI, Sloka 34 of the Bhagavad Gita, Arjuna says to Krisna:
“For Krisna, the mind is very unsteady, turbulent, tenacious and powerful; therefore, I consider it as difficult to control as the wind.”
My venerable master Shri Swami Shankaratilakananda always teaches us that a truly wise man is a person who eats when he has to eat, sleeps when he has to sleep and walks when he has to walk. Life is like a continuous meditation; consciousness is all around us in all that we say and do as our mind is fixed on just one moment at a time. It sounds so simplistic, but try keeping your mind on what you are doing and see how difficult it really is.
Relaxation is one of the five points in Yoga that lead us to healthier well being and mindfulness. Discover the beauty of lying on your back, relaxing your muscles from any tension and letting your mind be free. Be a silent observer to the thoughts in your head. Try not to pass judgment on them, “this is bad” or “this is good”, just be a witness and without favoring or disliking any one particular thought, feeling or sensation, be equanimous, without judgment and maybe something really beautiful may happen…Your own personal journey to self discovery.
Yogini and Yoga & Dharma instructor on the Art and Science of Living, Yogita expresses her gratitude to her Guruji, Swami Shankaratilakananda for being a beacon of inspiration, for his all encompassing knowledge, generosity, compassion, light and spirit which shines through her example. Contact Yogita via email.