Friday, July 31, 2009

Big Bellies and Transcendence

By Raghunath Das (Ray Cappo)

I sat there dumbfounded. Blown away. An "ah-ha" moment had just manifest. It may not seem like a lot to you but those few words changed my view of reality. Twenty years ago I sat in an North Indian yoga ashram and a Swami spoke to me. "You are not your body. You are not your mind. You are not your false ego. You are a spiritual being that has a body. You have a mind. You have a false ego that you project. You are just witnessing them.”

That little nugget of wisdom changed me and has proved to be a powerful tool for living at peace in a hectic city.

To this day when I teach yoga classes in New York City I paraphrase that quote at least once a class. It was etched in my mind that morning. Since then I've actively and eagerly studied every ancient book on yoga philosophy and yogic lifestyle that you could imagine. Most of them start with a similar introduction, "We are spirit embodied in matter.”

But we're American! We tend to take bits and pieces of the ancient culture that appeals to us and ignore the rest.

"Let's face it," one student said to me half seriously, "all the spiritual stuff in yoga, the chanting the breathing just can't make my big belly go away!” He was right. The mantras and breathing may not work on your belly or ass.

And NO, strangely enough, the ancient sages of India were NOT interested in six-pack abs or a firm butt. Go figure! (But they did have them!) They were in the transcendence business. The toned body is just a nice side benefit. And this is where those words of wisdom come in to play.

What does that mean, anyway? Transcendence? Next time you're holding a pose in your yoga class-and that stinging feeling starts: Your arms start to burn, your sweat drips from your brow and chin, your legs wobble like at the epicenter of an earthquake, and your mind tells you to quit. It's at that time this quote, this mantra, this affirmation kicks in.

In your mind proudly declare: "I'm not this body! I'm not this mind, I'm not these senses.....I'm not the stinging of my thighs! I'm something spiritual. I am divine." At that time yoga begins. When I want to come out of this asana (position), yoga is beginning. That's when I am called to transcend my mind and my body. I am asked to find my peace in more subtle places, underneath my senses and mind; to use my breathing, mantras and affirmations as my tools.

Take this little quote off the mat and into the world and you’ve got another incredible gift. I’m not the mind. Have you ever been in a place in your life where everything is perfect? Finances. Career. Relationship. Home. Perfect. Yet you are miserable for some reason. Call your mantra. “I’m not the mind.” One of my students told me the first time she heard me say this in class that it changed her life as she was struggling with depression. “It made me realize,” she confessed, “that this thing I’m going through is not even me. It’s just my mind.”

It’s true! I always use the example of a pit bull. You can train those tough dogs to be sweet – super sweet! You can also train them to cause havoc and terrorize. The mind is the same way. It can be trained to serve you or you can be a slave to serve it. Has your mind ever caused you havoc or terror like that pit bull? Mine has. Thank God I’m not the mind.

How about “we’re not the false ego?” Now in our culture when we say somebody has a “big ego” the yogis would consider this the “false ego”. We do have a real ego. This is described as our real genuine self. This is the beautiful part of you that people authentically love. The false ego is what I present to others in hopes that they think I’m cool. The false ego, when exacerbated, has people calling me pretentious. Fake. Inauthentic. In the age we live in, there’s a tendency to be very insecure. A natural “false ego” arises as a protection mechanism against pain. We don’t want to be vulnerable. We’ve been hurt. We don’t want to cry. We don’t want to let people in. I project myself a certain way hoping you don’t discover the real me. You may not like me.

But as we advance in yoga our inner self starts to shine through. We feel safe. Grounded. The false ego melts. We learn to be soft-hearted. We lose the competitive edge. What other people think of us is none of our business. Even if we are not in stellar shape we become aloof to public opinion. We actively search out relationships, friends and communities where we can be vulnerable, open and genuine. You’re not the false ego. You’re something divine. Isn’t that great news!

Experiment on yourself today with this simple meditation. Not the the body - I have a body. Not the mind - I have a mind. Not the false ego - I have an ego. I am Divine. When things get tough, and they will, because that’s part of being in this world, can you transcend?


ex-punk, ex-monk, yogi, husband, father to four, inversion ambassador. detox junkie. evolution assistant. coalesced by kirtan. cacao consumer. reciter of Gita. animal friendly. transcendence in training. full contact fighter. devours durian. likes to chant. likes a challenge. servant of the servants. harmonium hugger. conscious of Krishna.

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