I flipped the last page of my book and closed its cover. The content of what I’d just read was sinking in with profound clarity. I got up from my spot on the grass and started the walk back to my car from Ferry Landing in San Diego. As I was walking back something happened. I felt different. Even though the people that I passed on the sidewalk maintained their own outward appearance, my experience of them was that they were me! It was as if I was looking at a direct reflection of myself in everyone else. It wasn’t me walking past them, it was that we were one, that all of us were connected and that we were all, in many ways, the exact same. It was as if I had awakened to a deeper truth of the world. Even more strange, at the same time, I was having the experience that I was able to maintain an observation of it, as if I myself was somehow looking in upon the entire thing.
It probably only lasted five minutes and was over ten years ago but it is etched into my memory as if it were yesterday. I had only just begun my journey of self-exploration. The book I was reading was Power vs. Force by David Hawkins. I would go on to read more by this author and many others in search of a deeper understanding of myself, others and the world around me.
I had already stumbled upon yoga at that point and one author changed the way I viewed the world and my purpose within it in a profound way. This author of the Yoga Sutras was the somewhat mysterious yoga sage Ptanjali. In the four short chapters of his work, Patanjali lays out a road map of sorts for awakening to the true nature of Self. Within the map he presents an 8-limbed path:
Yamas – The five virtues that govern our relationship with others and the world
Niyamas – The five observances that govern our actions with ourselves
Asana – The discipline of steadiness and ease in the body (now as practice of yoga postures)
Pranayama – the Conscious manipulation of life force energy “prana” through focused breath work
Pratayahara – the withdrawal of the senses from the outside world to better understand the inner
Dharana – Concentration of the mind upon an object
Dhyana – Meditative state of sustained one pointed focus
Samadhi – Enlightenment or Spiritual Awakening
The first four give us guidelines of gross action while the second four are subtle in their workings with the mind. The 8-Limbed system is pretty well known in the Western World. However, I think most people think of it as only a self-practice, and one that isn’t even attainable. I don’t think this was Patanjalis intent.
First, I think the achievement of a spiritual awakening is accessible to us all if we’re willing to do the work. Second, I think this achievement is not merely for our own personal gain but for the betterment of society, our culture and the world at large.
When I had those five minutes of clarity, I was the same as every stranger that I passed. The grass was greener, the sky was bluer and the sun was brighter. The world was a beautifully connected and alive place. I know that since that experience, I’ve made different choices in my life with a heightened awareness because of the spiritual impact it had and if I could maintain that clarity, I would make even more.
Imagine if the world was lead by spiritually awakened citizens and leaders. We would not harm one another because we would know that it was a direct attack upon ourselves. Sustainable energy sources would not be the other option but the only option because we would experience the deep connection that we have to the earth as a sacred, living, breathing being. Global warming would not be a debated possibility but an understanding that regardless of the temperature of the planet we are doing so much that destroys it and its natural beauty. Our desires for fulfillment of our egos would be second to the understanding that we are spiritual beings having a human experience, not human beings with hopes of the occasional spiritual experience. This in and of itself would change the world. BKS Iyengar put it best when he described the nature of a yogi. He said:
“[A yogi] uses all his resources – physical, economic, mental or moral- to alleviate the pain and suffering of others. He shares his strength with the weak until they become strong. He shares his courage with those that are timid until they become brave by his example. He denies the maxim of the ‘survival of the fittest’, but makes the weak strong enough to survive. He becomes a shelter to one and all.”
We alone have the ability to make a difference. Patanjali knew this and he knew that he needed to create a system accessible to all, one that was not reserved for a priestly class or a specific religion but for all to access. I think that he knew that if enough people could be reached then there would be a tipping point in our consciousness. Because we are all connected, if there were enough people pursuing self-awakening to awaken and uplift others, together we would all move towards a brighter future. I see Patanjali not simply as a sage but a humanitarian, a city planner and a visionary. He gave the individual the power to heal all that is within them and at the same time the power to heal the world.