March 30, 2012

Clinging to Life. ~ Camella Nair

Photo: Fetmano

A Taste of Yoga Sutras, Lesson Nine.

As part of her work connecting yoga and food, Camella Nair has created a 12 week course that pairs Patanjali’s yoga sutras with the everyday life activity of feeding the body. In this series for elephant journal, Camella provides readers with a short version of what she addresses more deeply in her course.

Svarasavahi viduso ‘pi tatha rudho ‘bhinivesah.

Abhinivesa is a clinging to this earth life that is present in all mankind

One of the earliest memories I have is a family gathering after the funeral of my grandfather. I was about two years old and ran into my parents’ living room that was full of grieving adults. Something about a little girl bounding into the room created some comfort, but also some sadness, as he would never get to see me grow up.

Death is a scary word that we seldom talk about, and yet is part of the inevitable cycle of life and death we all need to face.

Science has made so many advances in extending our lives that we tend to feel that we are invincible. Why is it then that we have made little progress in terms of dealing with the emotional anguish of separation through death? In this fifth klesha, or obstacle to enlightenment, Patanjali reminds us that even the wisest and noble people have to confront their fear of death and cling to the earth life.

Ask yourself what do you fear most—your death or loss of a loved one?

Photo: R.P. Norris

Sometimes, it is hard to distinguish between the two. The previous kleshas of attraction and aversion play a part in this quandary, as they tend to create very scattered, angular energy that results in vested self-interest and egoism.

Like a child’s teeter-totter in a playground, we are emotionally drawn to some things, and then, to the same degree, are emotionally averse to others. Extreme emotionality scatters our energy and causes us to forget what we are here for.

The yogi is seeking to find the middle path. This balanced path allows us to see that there really is a rita, or order, to the universe that we are functioning within. We don’t have to like it, but need to find a way of navigating through life’s drama with detachment, in order to reach enlightenment or self-revelation.

Our journey in life is seldom a straight path. With awareness, we can minimize going too far off center, in the knowledge that we are moving in the right direction. We need the experience of countless human lives to achieve this end.

The sense of fear that we all have within our soul is linked to an imbalance of the root chakra (earth element) and the inability to become more aware of what is going on in the back body. The back body is a symbol of our subconscious mind and the ‘base’ reference posture in hatha yoga is tadasana, or mountain, where we relearn how to stand up on our own two feet.

It can be a very challenging pose to many, as we tend to develop bad habits in the way we live our lives on a physical and emotional level. Tadasana, like any other pose, is never perfected, because we are living in a universe that is continually changing.  The assumption that we have accomplished and mastered a pose is really a delusion or maya. Small adjustments always need to be made.

Constant practice and continual dispassion” is the salt and pepper of the practice of  kriya yoga.

Does that just mean constant practice and continual dispassion while we are awake? What about when we are asleep? To the mystic, we exist in both the physical and the astral realms at the same time and do not go anywhere when we fall asleep or when we leave the physical body at the onset of death (I use an egg as a metaphor in lesson five—Humpty Dumpty who falls off the wall into creation). We merely lose our sense of awareness in the dream state that the yogi calls the “little death,” or death of the physical body known as the ‘big sleep.”

One story goes like this:

A Buddhist awoke from a dream confused and when his worried wife asked him what was troubling him replied, “I had a dream that I was a butterfly, but I am not sure if I am a butterfly dreaming that I am a human.”    

Asking questions is good, of oneself and of one’s teacher.

Who or what are we? The first klesha (avidya) tells us that whatever it is, we have forgotten and it leads us through the pendulum swing of pleasure (raga) and pain (dukha) extremes and causes us to fear death (abhinivesha), thinking that it is the end.

But, there is not end, just a series of cycles that Ezekiel calls “wheels within wheels,” in the Bible.

What” is one of the great seven rays of discernment that we should ask ourselves every day on some level.

Who, what, why, when, where, how, which?

Most young children ask their parents where they have come from, what lies beyond the stars, and a host of galactic questions that parents may not know the answers to. What happened to the large eyed children (us) that wanted to know answers to the big questions of why we are here and what we are here to do?

We forgot. Life drama consumed our self-awareness and we became fearful. Fearful of losing that which we feel is ours, or not getting that which we think we want. Welcome to the modern Western world.

We have traded in our understanding of life and death cycles in the same way that we have extended hours of daylight with the invention of the light bulb. Extending human life should mean that we have allowed ourselves more time to become wiser and more compassionate as a species.

In my online Cooking the Yoga Sutras course, we cook up some noodles, which are a symbol of longevity and often served at the beginning of new ventures such as the start of a new company or a marriage. They are supposed to bring longevity to a new undertaking.

A long, healthy, balanced life is necessary to put our ‘house’ in order before we exit the stage of this incarnation, which, in time, will result in another one. How we exit the stage is important, because we pick up the script once again as the wheel of birth and death spins.

But that means we have to deal with wills and estate planning, and that is simply too much for many people to face. So, we continue sticking our head in the sand like an ostrich pretending that we or our loved ones are not going to die.

The earth life requires us to understand and discipline the annamaya kosha (food sheath) to some extent. That does not mean that we have to be vegetarian or just drink water, but that we live a life of balance.

In yoga we are considered to have more than just a physical body that we can see and identify with. This food sheath is intimately linked to four other sheaths (prana, mind, intellect, and bliss), and the process of living mindfully and in balance brings each of these facets of our being into accord with one another so that we are energetically balanced. Our minds do not become slaves to the sense organs. We can practice discernment when it comes to our desires and aversions, and can be very aware of the balanced state of ananda, or bliss, that both permeates and transcends all things.

We have just recently greeted the Spring Equinox that is a celebration of balance in Nature. Equal daylight and darkness!  In the rotational kriya breathing techniques, the inhale is linked to the ascension and increased number of daylight hours towards the point of greatest self-awareness (ajna or sun center) at the point between the eyebrows. The Winter Solstice is the sun’s journey south towards the tail bone at the Saturn or muladhara chakra and associated with avidya, or forgetfulness.   The pauses in the cycle of the breath represent the two equinoxes, and it is here that we can experience ever greater joy, as we expand our awareness and experience of it in our yoga practices and our life.

People who are miserable and feel that they have not accomplished anything in life are very often the ones who cling to the earth life, while those who have had a happy and fulfilled life are much more accepting of death when the time comes.

Can you find contentment in life right now? You may not have everything that you want right now but, as there is no beginning or end, can you find contentment in knowing that you are moving in the direction of your dream?

We really are not here to suffer and be miserable. Our life before this one and the one after it are not so different unless we recognize that in this moment we can change the future. My teacher puts it this way:

“Yesterday is a memory, tomorrow but a dream, so look well to this moment for in it lie all the realities.”

We have looked at all of the five kleshas or obstacles to enlightenment now (lessons five through nine), which are all intimately connected to one another. In the next weeks, will look at how we can start to overcome them and find greater balance in our lives in order to change karma.


Camella Nair is an ordained Swami in the Kriya Yoga tradition and has been practicing yoga since she was 17. She has written two books on yoga as well as an online course on the yoga sutras which is part philosophy and part cooking (http://www.cookingtheyogasutras.com/). She lives with her two teenage sons in Northern California. She can be reached via email at [email protected].


Prepared for elephant journal by Lorin Arnold/Editor: Kate Bartolotta

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