These days almost every situation can trigger the fight-flight-freeze stress response. Life in the 21st century so far feels as if we’ve been hijacked into a bizarre Rod Serling “Twilight Zone” episode from the 1960s.
Suddenly, what once seemed stable and reassuring now feels uncertain and potentially threatening. Fear, anger, anxiety and depression are now commonplace in our minds, our homes, our politics, at work and school, in hospitals, concert halls, vacation resorts, on television and the internet—even in our sacred houses of worship.
Nothing feels quite as normal nor as optimistic as it once did. A clear, sobering indicator comes from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. CDC Director Robert Redfield recently announced that “for the second time in three years, life expectancy in the U.S. has ticked downward as the result of a troubling rise in opioid overdoses and suicides.” Faced with that kind of fear-filled news every day, the ego remains in reptilian overdrive, incessantly worrying about what the future might hold.
But from the long view of history, it seems these kinds of stressors are not totally unusual. In 1984, for example, Joseph Campbell, then a professor at Sarah
Lawrence College and acclaimed lecturer on comparative mythology and religion in human experience observed, “When we talk about settling the world’s problems, we’re barking up the wrong tree. The world is perfect. It’s a mess. It has always been a mess. We are not going to change it. Our job is to straighten out our own lives. We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us. The old skin has to be shed before the new one can come. If we fix on the old, we get stuck. When we hang on to any form, we are in danger of atrophy. Hell is life drying up. The Hoarder, the one in us that wants to keep, to hold on, must be killed. If we are hanging on to a form now, we’re not going to have the form next. You can’t make an omlet without breaking eggs. Destruction before creation.”
Of course, Campbell was not speaking to the average person on the street. His words were directed purposefully at the potential spiritual warrior within each of us —the woman or man now poised at the threshold of their own Hero’s Journey. To encourage that Yoga scientist-to-be in the face of their own stressful challenges, Campbell implored, “Say ‘Yes’ to life. ‘Yes’ to it all. Participate joyfully in the sorrows of the world. We cannot cure the world of sorrows, but we can choose to live in joy.”
If the prospect of learning to “live in joy” even in the face of powerful forces like fear and anger sounds a bit too Pollyannish, you’re missing some important news-to-use. Yoga Science and AMI Meditation provide a philosophy of life and complete toolbag of easy-to-learn, commonsensical practices that make the work of thriving, while navigating through the currents and cross-currents of life, easier than you might imagine.
First, you must understand that human birth is not an accidental phenomenon. Life has distinct purpose, and every human being is born with all the means and resources necessary to attain the goal. That shared goal is to discover the Truth of who we are, from where we have come, why we are here, what’s to be done in every relationship, and where we will go when the body is no more.
By establishing your own consistent meditation practice, you’ll quickly learn, to your amazement, that you are not who you think you are. You are actually a citizen of two worlds. Essentially, you are a wise, free, eternal, spiritual being—pure consciousness itself—having an individual human experience in time and space through a transitory mind-body-sense complex.
The Doubting Thomas in us objects: “If that’s true, why am I not aware that the Supreme Reality resides at my core—closer than my own breath? Certainly, human beings are highly intelligent. We have sent people to the moon in spaceships, harnessed the power of the atom and cured polio. We possess the secret of heating a house in freezing temperatures, and comfortably cooling that same building on the hottest summer days. Why then am I blind to the most important question of all: ‘Who am I?’ Why do I suffer from such an unknowingness; from a persistent sense of lack and insecurity in all kinds of situations? Why do I permit myself to be continually highjacked by the forces of fear and anger? What keeps me unaware of my true divine nature? What unknown force inhibits me from fulfilling the goal of life and living every day in joy? Am I a bad person? Am I unlucky? Am I being punished?”
From my own personal experience, I can assure you that none of those three guesses are true. Your unknowingness of who you really are is common to all human beings—until the veil of illusion is removed. Part of the mystery can be explained through an acquaintance with the principle of illusion called maya. Maya is defined as the deceiving force by which the One, Supreme Reality (a. k. a. God), boundless and whole, is made to appear limited, divided and lacking. This potent illusion gives rise to our mistaken conviction that as a human being “I” am an individual.
The power of maya operates at many levels of human perception, casting a veil of ignorance. However, by understanding how we have become so thoroughly identified with the limitations of body, mind and senses, an earnest spiritual seeker can begin to recognize and overcome this pervasive error. A short visualization will serve to initiate the process.
This visualization is not a meditation. While meditation requires the flow of attention to a single point, visualization asks you to allow your fertile imagination complete freedom to create detailed mental images.
Before you begin, remember that strong habit patterns (known as samskaras in Sanskrit) are created and maintained in your unconscious mind by the attention you habitually give to certain thoughts, and that your awareness flows through those most open and frequented channels in the mind. It follows that we, ourselves, are responsible for creating our own mental software, simply by repeatedly directing our attention according to habit.
In preparation for this visualization, assume a meditation posture in a comfortable, straight back chair with your head, neck and trunk in straight alignment. Gently close your eyes and mouth and connect your thumb and index finger on both hands in the okay sign known in Yoga Science as the “finger lock.” Throughout this visualization, the body should remain motionless.
Now, imagine what it was like to be inside your mother’s womb. To whatever extent your mind can visualize that experience, place yourself inside your mother’s womb.
It’s a perfect environment where everything you need is provided. It’s warm, comforting, loving and nurturing. Mama’s heartbeat is reassuring. Perhaps she’s humming a sweet lullaby or lovingly caressing her belly. With complete one-pointed attention, continue to imagine what it was like to be in that perfect environment.
As you grow in the womb you might subtly perceive the need for more elbow room, but beyond that minor inconvenience, everything is perfect. Then, in the ninth month of gestation, you realize that dramatic changes are on the way. You’re ready to be born. One day your whole environment begins to shift and squeeze. You experience a rush of adrenaline and expectancy as your body is pressed down through the birth canal. This is turning into a bit of a struggle, but you’re ready for it. After all, you want to live! Then, at last, you are born! Those first few moments after birth are momentous. Although your humanity has provided you with adequate physical and mental equipment for this new adventure, the intense onslaught of sensory information is overwhelming.
You have eyes, but they can’t really focus yet, and the never-before seen light is uncomfortable and blinding. The mesmerizing and comforting sounds of Mama’s heartbeat and internal organs suddenly disappear in a cacophony of loud, unidentifiable and even terrifying sounds.
For the first time you begin to smell and to experience the bodily functions of swallowing and tasting. So many new sensations! And the broad expanse of your naked skin is relatively cold. In fact, everything the skin touches seems rough and hard and cold compared to Mama’s womb. Then, if you’re not already breathing, somebody might slap you on the behind. After all, you have to breathe! Now, you’re on your own, baby.
Installing the Software of the Mind
So there you are, a newborn infant in a strange and wondrous new world. In the midst of an overwhelming barrage of sensory stimulation, an innate desire for self-preservation propels you to search for comfort, safety and contentment. Above all else, you want to live! You must learn how to eliminate the pain! You must find happiness! But how? You have no frame of reference to remind you that this situation is merely temporary. You can certainly scream and thrash your arms and legs about, but beyond that, you can do little.
Then, as you try to comprehend and deal with this seemingly endless sensory assault, you begin to experience a very different kind of relationship. You are introduced to your mama, and Mama’s breast. As Mama lovingly cuddles you in her arms and coos, you begin to nurse at Mama’s breast, and all your mental and physical attention focuses down to a single point: Mama’s nipple. Because of your one-pointed attention, you are no longer aware of the stimulus of the senses, and you begin to experience a cessation of pain and the establishment of pleasure. For the first time since the birth process began, you are aware of relative calm. You feel safe, secure, warm, nurtured, content and loved.
And, in the midst of this new, pleasant experience you reach your first profound, but ignorant, conclusion:
“I am a separate entity and Mama is a separate entity, and objects and relationships in the material world bring about contentment and happiness and cause the elimination of pain.”
Fueled by an intense desire for self-preservation, this memorable experience leads the newborn to conclude that “I,” the subject, perceive Mama, the object. The experience of nursing at Mama’s breast is the dawning of the delusion of duality known as maya. It represents the birth of the ego (ahamkara in Sanskrit)—that function of the mind that effectively separates the baby from the One Absolute Reality. In fact, the ancient Sanskrit word mama means mine. The baby now believes, based on the limited nature of the brain, senses and its own personal experience, that there is a “me” (the subject) and there is also an “other” (an object).
Because survival depends on this new relationship, the baby mistakenly accepts duality as the true reality. Separation becomes the operative paradigm. Separation is now key to the newborn’s self-preservation, and is stored in the unconscious hard drive. In fact, the attachment is so powerful that it strikes the virgin unconscious with a meteor-like force, creating a huge conceptual habit pattern that will dictate inappropriate, but believable, perceptions for a lifetime. After all, self-preservation is indispensable! The baby must survive!
As the newborn begins to experience, learn and make choices, he or she encounters continual reminders that reinforce the delusion that objects and relationships in the material world eliminate pain and establish relative calm and happiness. Remember, consciousness flows through the deepest, widest and most unobstructed channels in the unconscious. Only moments after birth, as soon as the baby nurses at Mama’s breast, the baby’s unconscious mind becomes programmed by a web of delusion. The cause? Newly installed software that is entirely based on the illusion of separateness and duality perceived by the limited hardware and software of the brain and senses.
As the baby grows, simple logic dictates that the security of Mama’s breast is then replaced by a succession of different objects: new relationships with a bottle of formula, a pacifier, a stuffed animal, a suit of clothes, a shiny toy, a good grade on a spelling test, a high school diploma, a college degree, an automobile, a girlfriend, a boyfriend, a husband, a wife, or even a new baby. The human being continually substitutes one object and relationship for another, prodded and deluded by the notion that the next object or relationship is going to bring happiness and eliminate pain. Why? Because the mental operating system is based on habit patterns that define each human being and material object as an essentially separate entity.
But without the guidance of a philosophy of life that reveals the Truth of who we are, we logically grow up viewing ourselves and others too as separate from one another and from the universe. This hypnotic optical delusion alienates us and guarantees fear, anger—and eventually danger, because by that time in life we’ve become naturally skeptical of what our mind thinks is not “me.”
To teach his students how to cut through this veil of delusion and to live a joyful life, even in the face of fear and anger, 20th century British-American philosopher Alan Watts wrote the following simple, child-like explanation.
“There was never a time when the world began, because it goes round and round like a circle, and there is no place on a circle where it begins. Look at my watch, which tells the time; it goes round, and so the world repeats itself again and again. But just as the hour-hand of the watch goes up to twelve and down to six, so, too, there is day and night, waking and sleeping, living and dying, summer and winter. You can’t have any one of these without the other, because you wouldn’t be able to know what black is unless you had seen it side by side with white, or white unless side by side with black.
“In the same way, there are times when the world is, and times when it isn’t, for if the world went on and on without rest forever and ever, it would get horribly tired
of itself. It comes and it goes. Now you see it; now you don’t. So because it doesn’t get tired of itself, it always comes back again after it disappears. It’s like your breath: it goes in and out, in and out, and if you try to hold it in all the time you feel terrible. It’s also like the game of hide-and-seek, because it’s always fun to find new ways of hiding, and to seek for someone who doesn’t always hide in the same place.
“God also likes to play hide-n-seek, but because there is nothing outside of God, he has no one but himself to play with! But he gets over this difficulty by pretending that he is not himself. This is his way of hiding from himself. He pretends that he is you and I and all the people in the world, all the animals, plants, all the rocks, and all the stars. In this way he has strange and wonderful adventures, some of which are terrible and frightening. But these are just like bad dreams, for when he wakes up they will disappear.
“Now when God plays “hide” and pretends that he is you and I, he does it so well that it takes him a long time to remember where and how he hid himself! But that’s the whole fun of it—just what he wanted to do. He doesn’t want to find himself too quickly, for that would spoil the game. That is why it is so difficult for you and me to find out that we are God in disguise, pretending not to be himself. But when the game has gone on long enough, all of us will WAKE UP, stop pretending, and REMEMBER that we are all one single Self—the God who is all that there is, and who lives forever and ever.
“Of course, you must remember that God isn’t shaped like a person. People have skins and there is always something outside our skins. If there weren’t, we wouldn’t know the difference between what is inside and outside our bodies. But God has no skin and no shape because there isn’t any outside to him. [With a sufficiently intelligent child, I illustrate this with a Möbius strip—a ring of paper tape twisted once in such a way that it has only one side and one edge.] The inside and the outside of God are the same. And though I have been talking about God as ‘he’ and not ‘she,’ God isn’t a man or a woman. I didn’t say ‘it’ because we usually say ‘it’ for things that aren’t alive.
“God is the Self of the world, but you can’t see God for the same reason that, without a mirror, you can’’t see your own eyes, and you certainly can’t bite your own teeth or look inside your head. Your Self is that cleverly hidden because it is God hiding.
“You may ask why God sometimes hides in the form of horrible people, or pretends to be people who suffer great disease and pain. Remember, first, that he isn’t really doing this to anyone but himself. Remember, too, that in almost all the stories you enjoy there have to be bad people as well as good people, for the thrill of the tale is to find out how the good people will get the better of the bad. It’s the same as when we play cards. At the beginning of the game we shuffle them all into a mess, which is like the bad things in the world, but the point of the game is to put the mess into good order, and the one who does it best is the winner. Then we shuffle the cards once more and play again, and so it goes with the world.”
So from birth to death, most of us grow up under a grand illusion of separation. In small ways, however, we begin to see that we have innocently accepted the limitations of individuality and separateness that our brain and senses, our ego, family, race, gender, tribe, religion and culture have suggested to us. We also begin to suspect that our unconscious concepts have been shaping many of our conscious perceptions, our actions, and the pains we have experienced.
Then, at a certain point in life, some are called to embark on life’s greatest adventure— the journey of Self-realization. On that voyage the veils of illusion and separateness are finally torn asunder, allowing us to discover the sacred unicity of consciousness Itself—which has always existed at the core of our being. And as that new, higher perspective becomes more established, we increasingly serve the world responsibly, joyfully, lovingly, skillfully and compassionately— especially when we encounter the presence of fear and anger.
For believe it or not, my friend, your own true Self, in the forms of “you” and “me,” is the Light of the world.