Lying on my back with a steady stream of herb-infused warm oil pouring on my brow, streaming through my hair, I go blissed. I’m having a shirodhara treatment. My ayurvedic therapist Gerald keeps the oil tracing back and forth, monitoring me for a full hour while I slide into a trance. I become borderless, part of the flow of the oil except for the occasional jerk of my body asserting an involuntary response. In honor of Imbolc, I melt like wax.
Happy Imbolc, everybody! It’s the melting tide of the year. The hard edges of Winter are loosened. February feels different from January, less sure that it even is Winter. In the Wheel of the Year, there are high days of fullness and high days of transition. Solstices are the fullnesses of light and dark. The Equinoxes, while hinge points, also represent seasons in their highest mid-state. But the cross-quarter days, the ancient Celtic holidays of agriculture, are times of sliding, one state into another: Beltane is Spring turning to Summer, Lammas is Summer turning to Fall, Samhain is Fall turning to Winter, Imbolc is the melting of Winter into Spring. They are times of change where one thing becomes another and you don’t even notice quite where that happens: they are bridge times, flowy times, dhyanic times. Nothing knows quite what it is, and that’s good.
Imbolctide reminds me of dhyana in many ways. Dhyana is the seventh ‘limb’ of Yoga, after the practice and before the final dissolve. It’s the bridge between dharana, which has the same root as ‘gaze,’ visual and concentrated, where you are meditating ‘on’ something, and samadhi, the dissolution into utter bliss where you lose all sense of self. So, like a holiday not sure of what season it’s in, dhyana is the conduit between things, the melty transition, when concentration and interest in a thing flow simply on their own. It’s the moment what you were flowing towards starts to flow back toward you.
It’s all about flow right now. Imbolc is a holiday of water and wells. And when you read about dhyana, you find everywhere the language of fluidity. Tatra pratyaya ekataanataa dhyaanam, chants Patañjali (III.2): A steady, continuous flow of attention directed toward the same point or region is meditation. Ekataanata: ‘flow,’ extending continuously. ‘As heavy and unruffled as a warm flow of sacred oils’ writes Stuart Sovatsky. Like oil being poured uninterruptedly from one vessel into another, writes Iyengar. An unbroken current, writes Vivekananda. Like the flow of water in a river, writes I.K. Taimni. Like water telling the shape of its container, the mind reflects its object. Flow, reflection, absorption: all deep and sympathetic, all language of fluid, the mind streaming like the pour of energy from the vessels of The Star in the Tarot deck, shining like the stream beside which the woman kneels.
Mr Iyengar even writes that there is no way you can teach dhyana: it has to be experienced, and there is no way a person who has experienced it can give you the steps. All they can do is describe it to you, like a trip. You get to a state through your practice where it happens, where you realize all of a sudden that you are somewhere else, and it’s beyond ego. It’s free. I’ve been in states of dhyana. It’s my favorite of the angas, because it feels the best: you can feel being in oneness with another person, and with all around you. And I can also feel when it ends, that hard locking of the edges of my ego slamming down, ‘me’ coming back in my smallness, and sometimes it actually hurts: that clamping down of separation, of self-concept, like a steel trap; the tightening, like a snare around my brain. It tightens my vision like a tension headache. Most often now, my practice is to get over myself, to remember to let go and to see.
Dhyana knows that true seeing is an exchange. Jacob Liberman, visionary of vision, says that true sight, the fullness of sight, happens when we let the landscape look back at us. My boyfriend, a photographer, has the motto ‘Where focus goes, energy flows,’ which is a particularly profound statement coming from a photographer, since focus to him is his whole life and livelihood. For him, the focus is the flow. His immense gift, being able to evoke the inner spirit of what he photographs, may come from letting what he is looking at look back at him. Maybe the truest art is that: both parties are seers, and both are seen.
Desikachar writes, ‘whatever you choose as your object of meditation, your understanding of this will grow.’ Dhyana is about sympathy, and true sympathy is intermediate, like the nature of this holiday: the relenting of one season that makes it possible for the other to arrive. When we melt our edges, when we let go of our concepts and our narrow vision and the edges of our brain, we make it possible for someone else to come in.
May the ice melt for Spring. And may our edges likewise melt, and our eyes open, and our hearts flow like clear streams down the side of a mountain. May we feel the holiday this way.
Blessings on your brow! Namaste, and Love,
Photograph by Jeff Frazier, www.jefffrazier.com