Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Ego & Nirvana: Getting There By Being Who We Are

In my opinion, ego is the human structure that distinguishes one's self from the constant barrage of ongoing energies all around us. It is a critical part of the filtering and sorting of what comes in, and to some degree controls and influences what comes out. With our physical senses taking in all kinds of data about touching and texture, color, light, tastes, sounds and fragrances, we physically experience and shape our memory and understanding of experience. The body has myriad mechanisms to code and appreciate this, attach meanings and values, and place most of it in hierarchies of influence and importance. Our own unique ways of doing this make us the wonderfully diverse and peculiar individuals that we all are. The contexts for this and the company we have throughout this experience influence the things we file and where we file them too.

The less physical yogic principles of sensory withdrawal (Pratyahara), deep concentration (Dharana), and meditation (Dhyana) are not goal oriented nor do they aim to obliterate the ego or the senses. It seems to me that these three of the 8 limbs of Patanjali are parts of the process we experience as we separate out the essential-eternal witness consciousness from the individual ego. Or, I could say these principles illuminate the underlying vibration, rather than the ego, that which serves as the recording device for the variety of harmonic possibilities representing our experiences.

On the yoga mat we discover a little bit of this structure when we use the breath to neutralize the recording device (ego) and train our concentration on the more universal aspects of being. We can use the mind, the ego being, to visualize the structures of the body, to place intentions in the form of colors or sensations in a particular chakra or imagine the inner form of an asana without taking the body into it. Another example might be when we cultivate an awareness of energy beyond the body, as in feeling support from the earth and gravity. With the breath we can learn to pinpoint our attention and remain focused so that the flow of constant ego-linked observations and reactions can be seen as the foreground (or self with a small "s"), rather than the entirety of being (or the universal self with a large "S"). This is the path of Dharana, which begins to stretch beyond the physical body, giving a glimpse of where ego resides and opens to more of the authentic state of being.

I suppose this is why meditation is sometimes sought as a way of getting away from the self, or approached with the hope of quieting the mind into silence. Both of these attitudes are just that, attitudes that make the path itself a little more gritty. It seems to me that approaching the practices with a curiosity to know more about thus self, about this powerful and chattering mind, can start with the physical practices, the first of the 8 limbs, Asana practice and Pranayama, and open into glimpses, even for fleeting moments, of the space beyond the physical being. The opinionated recording and organizing device of ego is a bit like the shapes of a face or sound of a voice in its specificity. We all have this, and it seems we all have that which is beyond it as well.

Tada drastuh svarupe vasthanam - 1.3 sutra of Patanjali
Then consciousness abides in its true nature

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