Sunday, April 26, 2009


Gee, Ma, I can’t believe I ate the WHOLE THING!

In yoga there seems to be an implicit search for that illusive sense of being whole (Ahhh, whole, at last…Home, at last.). A place of stillness, a sip of the holy nectar… But just like the gnome in the above picture, who has lost his nose, the tip of his hat (and who knows what else…), we always seem to be missing something—at least from a particular mood or perspective.

At times, I have been confused, or even misled by this pull towards wholeness because, when I rely on the mind to see the whole thing, the process must break down. The mind can only quantify things that are quantifiable. And the wonder of our universe simply cannot be understood in these terms. Experience must also be felt deeply to tap into a sense of being connected. This is where yoga helps by tuning a person into the rich content of their own body!

We can also be confused by all the smaller “wholes” in one’s experience. “I ate a whole apple,” one could say, or, “I blew a whole day.” This is the intellectual level of wholeness, and we can never experience the spiritual sense of wholeness in merely intellectual terms. Again, it must also be felt.

Another snafu shows up in the second definition of whole: in an unbroken or undamaged state. On the physical level (the place where we interact with one another on a daily basis) this is simply not possible. The body has illness. Our environment is decaying due to our active consumption of it, and relentless pollution. Feelings get hurt in the world of space and time.

At its best the quest for wholeness asks us to look outside of our narrow definitions of ourselves into the great beyond. At its worst wholeness represents a fantasy of perfection, almost a sort of denial. And I think some yoga teachers get caught up in this: thinking that we have to be perfect to sell yoga, and to get and to keep people interested in yoga. And the truth is that nobody can sell yoga. We can sell instruction, but the insight comes from inside each person.

The essence of yoga in within you, just as it is inside every conscious being.


Anonymous said...

One of my favourite meditations involves, at one point, seeing every single atom of your being, and in fact, the entire world, as containing whatever version of god, the universe etc, that you feel okay about working with.

Seeing every cell in your being as containing all of that, then it doesn't matter if something breaks loose (like the gonme with no nose) because everything you need is still within you.

I am grateful every day for that teaching, and for the meditation that helps flesh that idea out.


ad said...

I like what you said about having to "feel" wholeness, rather than understanding it intellectually. It just once again underlines the fact that yoga is a process, and that your goal has to be actively engaging in that process, rather than setting a goal (i.e. wholeness) and working singlemindedly towards it.

Chances are, if wholeness happens, it'll happen when you're not looking.

Have I sent you this link before? Great article:

YogaforCynics said...

It's funny that, skeptical as I was when I first got into yoga (and generally skeptical as I remain), I was nonetheless kind of shocked to hear that my teacher at the time--who was pretty much the guy who taught all the other teachers in that part of the state--and his wife, also a yoga teacher, appeared to be splitting up. Like, shouldn't big-time yogis be beyond that kinda thing? And, more recently, I was pretty disheartened when my current yoga teacher threw her back out (I mean, beyond just being concerned about her). There's a part of me that desperately wants to believe that yoga's going to be a solution to all my problems--guaranteeing perfect health and happiness until I die--even while my more rational mind knows that's preposterous. Then, maybe that's just because that fantasy's easier to conceptualize than the finding-wholeness-within thing....

RB said...

This post, and Svasti's meditation make me think of how one of my teachers once explained that practicing is not about making yourself more of something but rather helps us to become what we already are. Basically, we are already whole, and always have been/will be. But sometimes there are shrouds and impediments that prevent us from seeing it/feeling it. Yoga helps us reveal innate wholeness.

Another thing a teacher once said is that instead of thinking of "perfection" we should think of "fullness." In every moment, we the chance to experience life and ourselves fully, even if we don't get the quantifiable "whole."

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