I am reading Stephen Cope’s book Yoga and the Quest for the True Self. It is an entertaining read that is semi autobiographical but also packed with facts about yogic philosophy and mythology. During part of the book he talks about his experience watching Amrit Desai go into a trance like dance during one of the public sessions at the Kripalu Center. He explains that during this experience the room vibrated with energy and he started to hallucinate despite no mind altering substances being involved at all. He felt charged and energized….as if he was “catching” this trance and divine experience from his teacher. It was as if the barriers between each individual in the room self bled away. Afterwards he had a talk with one of the members living at the center about the yogic idea of “oneness”.
In yoga there is a core concept that we are nothing but consciousness. We are all connected and essentially we are made of the same thing. There is an idea that consciousness is constantly playing with itself, often manifesting as individual self in a multiplicity of ways. This play is called “Lila”. Lila is a way of describing all reality, including the cosmos, as the outcome of creative play by the divine absolute (Brahman). To me this is both a terrifying and beautiful concept. Essentially (in yogic terms) we are all “god soup”.
This idea of the individual self being temporary, and just a piece of the divine, is not solely a concept seen in Hinduism. It is all over the world, described in many religions, including Christianity. Most experiences or moments of transcendence somehow involve the loss of self and connection with the divine. These experiences are often described as the most beautiful moments. Moments of coming home… moments of knowing everything is okay and that God is with us.. But wait a second.. these are also the moments where my individual self ceases to exist. “Julia” the yoga teacher, designer, mom, surfer etc.. disappears. It is a death. “I” am gone. That is terrifying right? How can I be at peace when everything “I” identify with ceases to exist?
I think about this a lot. Most recently with the birth of my daughter. As I carried my daughter inside me she felt like an extension of myself. When she born and no longer in my body there was barely any feeling of separation. When she was tiny moments alone in the bed with her felt like moments alone. It felt like there wasn’t anyone else in the room but me. I was both myself and my daughter at the same time and it felt perfectly natural. As she grew the separation increased. Her self identification set in and her own unique personality started to manifest. Now when we lie in bed together I feel like we are two people. I am no longer alone. She is there. But… she was there before and it felt like we were one. So really I suppose… this is the case all the time with everyone. We are not separate. We are all the same thing. The individual personalities that come up as “consciousness plays with itself” are so real and vivid though. We identify with these stories. We label, identify and attach. In the process we forgot what we really are. We are eternal consciousness….playing with itself.