Idealization in the Psyche

jesus&buddha

A core function of the human mind is dreaming, or imagining events that haven’t actually taken place. This can occur while sleeping, while bored during the day, while exercising, pretty much any time when your attention is free, this is possible for the mind. If you are intensely focused on something, for instance your breath, then the mind cannot create these abstractions or false realities. This is part of the Maya that Buddhists and Hindus believe is the illusion of this world.

I’ve heard a lot about spirituality in the last 3 months; I’ve heard that the Buddhas enlightenment meditation was about 4 hours long, I’ve learned that the mind will ceaselessly process events for seemingly no reason, I’ve learned that Buddhism is absolutely a religion, and I have come to the conclusion that the Western and Eastern spiritual religions are two sides of the same coin; the quest for power.

The Buddha and Jesus Christ are treated very similarly in their respective religions of Buddhism and Christianity. Each is somewhat of a key holder to salvation from the world; the Buddha through enlightenment, and Jesus through heaven. Being educated by Jesuit priests has its advantages; I believe it is a requirement to have a PHD in both Theology and Philosophy. Eight years at Jesuit schools has taught me a lot about how to understand and interpret mythology, which religion can effectively be compartmentalized under.

Proper understanding of any literature requires analysis of three major factors : historical events, cultural rituals, and most importantly language. It is impossible to understand what writers were attempting to say in ancient times without understanding their lifestyle, educational background, and historical circumstances. These three things cross over into each other (ie language is a cultural phenomenon and history consists of many important rituals and customs), so having a decent understanding of all three circumstances is important to understand the meaning of what is being said.

If we look at most modern-day christianity, a lot of this contextual information is forgotten, therefore disregarded which causes us to completely lose the meaning of the original text. You need this contextual information to understand what the author is trying to express.

A lot of people don’t understand the bible but quote it regularly; I hesitate to say most, but I don’t think I would be wrong. It is an ancient book written for ancient times and most of it was passed orally before it was ever written, including all four books about Jesus’ life. Even with all of the available knowledge regarding historical, cultural, and linguistic circumstances, we still have a very small picture into the life of someone like Jesus. So we idealize about the individual person in nearly every way, because we allow our brains to construct “the perfect” human. This is essentially what the ideal of Jesus epitomizes in Christianity, an individual that sacrifices everything for his community, even though he receives no recognition for it.

The buddha is very similar to eastern traditions. A lot of the knowledge passed from the Buddha was also passed down orally; but instead of the 70-100 years gap before Jesus’ teachings were written, the Buddha’s teaching were first written about 400 years after he died. This leaves a rather large margin for misinterpretation in the writings of both holy books. He was also a “perfected” human, though his path was different he achieved enlightenment and unison with the divine.

Most scholars accept that the Buddha lived and founded a monastic order and that he was a younger contemporary of Mahavira (the Jain teacher). But very few are hesitant to say much more than this, because of the convoluted theologically influences historical events. The same is true with Jesus, most scholars accept that he lived, died, and founded an order in the process. But scholars of both traditions believe that the traditional texts are not at all historically reliable.

Both the Buddha and Jesus led tremendous cultural revolutions that were anti-establishment; Jesus against rabbis and Jewish pharisees, and the Buddha against Hindu ascetics and Brahmins that constructed the caste system. Both taught about freedom that can’t be obtained externally and both were very misunderstood then, and now. And both were lost to time, never to be truly understood because of lack of reliable information. This has created a complete idealization of both figures, so much so that individuals consider them to be the gateways to the divine.

Why am I writing about this? To exemplify a constructive process of the mind, called idealization. We do this with people we look up to, idolizing and making up idealistic personalities for them. Modern music, movies, acting, etc creates plenty of this. It is part of how we dream, we look up to the individuals we think of as the most successful, or the highest quality. Then we try to be more like them to improve our functioning within society.

We need to step away from these ideals and understood the people around us as humans, rather than idealizing about your favorite artist, a model whose body is unforgettable when photo shopped. Jesus and the Buddha were both humans. There really isn’t any evidence to show otherwise, so that is my position that I am sticking to, because instead of creating an impossible ideal to strive towards, now you have a concrete human that you can measure your own progress against.

Being anti-establishment is important; it’s what allows the establishment to grow and evolve to better fit the needs of the unfortunate underprivileged. Both leaders were completely anti-establishment, in my opinion. They were leading revolutions. Remember that the next time you go to church, or a temple. Jesus literally taught against established religion. I don’t remember Jesus ever going to church, nor the buddha building a temple where he wanted to meditate. The Buddha was enlightened under a tree! And both were focused on being and existence and you can tell because they didn’t write anything about themselves! They were busy teaching people how to stop thinking about how virtue can make you happy. So focus on being happy now, like these awesome dudes!

 

Letting Ego Go

Sigmund_Freud

The ego is a concept used to describe consciousness, made famous by Sigmund Freud and used consistently in religion to talk about the principles of “reality” and the functioning of the mind. The ego is an illusion, ultimately it does not exist outside of your own head.

There are three primary reasons for the existence of an ego, the first and most important is survival. This includes sex, feeding, and unavoidable needs (excretion, water consumption, regular movement). The secondary purpose of the ego is regulation of social hierarchy, which is more important and prominent in pack mammals such as monkeys or dogs.

The ego can also be examined as the internal dialogue, though aspects of the internal dialogue can certainly transcend the ego. The real key to understanding the ego is considering that the ego cannot exist outside of a subjective mind. This is what makes an ego so necessary for survival, it allows the do-er to differentiate itself from its environment to act upon it. So in many ways, birds must have at least a small ego because an ego provides a sense of worth to a being. A sense of purpose in survival.

Do-ers can also transcend their ego, acting as a part of the whole of their surroundings and not considering their own survival as more necessary than that of others. It is possible to unify with the self, therefore transcending ego and simply being, rather than doing. The difference between being and doing is pacificity, surrender, letting go of the ego’s need to feel gratified by actions or thoughts.

The unification with the environment allows for the do-er to become the receiver, outlet, and observer, rather than the one who is acting. With this realization comes a tremendous amount of freedom in existence, the do-er becomes an illusion, part of Maya, of Samsara. Oneness is understood.

However, ego is still necessary in many situations, it must be renounced as false and an entity that does not truly exist except in the mind. At a certain point, your ego will stop serving your self and this is the situation you should be looking for in renouncing the ego, that you simply do not need it as much any more. This is why transcending the ego takes a serious amount of time in stillness, meditation, and peace. The only way to renounce the ego is through both thought and action and there are many spiritual traditions that teach about various aspects of the paths to the renounced state, where the individual is able to see past the illusion into the oneness of the Brahman and live in a state of togetherness with nature.

Freud liked to talk about the ego and Id together, but I think that we should give ourselves a better identification; ego can be looked at as the internal dialogue or at least a piece of this. In Freud’s terms, some of this is powered by the ID (the instinct drive), but we can do away with this idea for modern neuroscience and talk about the lower level functions of cognition. We humans have very basic cognition that fuels us in social situations and teaches us how to react when in groups, on teams, in the classroom, etc that can be considered Freud’s ID. This is what we are looking to renounce, the part of the mind that “overthinks” social situations in whatever way this manifests itself. Most of the time, it occurs in hubris, or excess pride.

The Ego is something that was once completely necessary for survival, but with the technological and societal advancements in the 21st century, many people are finding that their egos hamper their work. Art is one of these professions that is a constant battle against ego, trying to express self and the soul rather than the be side-tracked by the ego. But with the proper mindfulness, you can let go of that voice inside your head that is always talking shit in your head. (or maybe it is just talking)

The Responsibility of Ashtanga

Ganesha Temple, Gokulam

I love being able to learn yoga from multiple sources, multiple teachers with subjective and unique viewpoints. I think this is one of the biggest reasons I have been able to progress through various yoga traditions without injury.

Lots of the yogis here are injured, in one form or fashion. I’ve seen taped toes, adjustments, heard about knee tears, ankle injuries, wrist pain. This is the pitfall of advanced practice, injury is more prevalent when you are exhausted, too tired to breath, or simply disconnected from your body. I notice this almost exclusively with my breath, it is what guides my practice.

Using breathe to guide practice is the only way. I am extremely fortunate to have learned this from Rusty Wells, Bryan Kest, and many of my other teachers before arriving here. It is how I stay sensitive to the soft spots in my body, the places that are not normally touched. It is how I open my hips, by drawing my breath deep down into my abdomen and activating my lower abdominals to twist, open, and externally rotate. I can feel what is too much, or not enough because I am in tune with the fluctuations of my body. Each exhale is pushed out with ease and each inhale fills my torso and lengthens my spine. When there is too much pain, I can feel it is too much, but when it is good pain, I can breath through it, feel my body opening and making space for less. The power of the primary series and the Ashtanga practice is undeniable, no matter which series or whatever you are on.

I can’t imagine doing Ashtanga then resting for the rest of the day. I walk heavily and practice Yin, as well as static Hatha style poses to compliment the imbalance of the primary series (there is no doubt that it is powerful, but it is not necessarily optimal for a 25-year-old. Why? My knees need to be strengthened simultaneously, my hips need to be stabilized, and my mind needs the softness of moving slow. Forwards folds, child’s pose, lunges, Baddha Konasanas, happy babies, goddess poses, half pigeons, and cow-faced pose are all a part of my practice outside of the studio and they are absolutely allowing me to go deeper, faster, but honestly I don’t care about where I am in the series anymore.

Over the past week, I have talked to many people about the politics of the Jois Shala. Of course there are politics, these are humans we are talking about; however, it does seem that there is a certain mindlessness about the Shala. My personal observation is that the art is quite as respected as it once was and it now mass-produced so that everyone can experience the Jois Shala. Apparently, this morning there was fighting at the gate to get into the Shala because people wait outside for hours before the class starts to get a good spot. So it’s a lot like the freeways in America now.

I always remember Rusty saying, “try not to act like you are the only one.” And its true, there are more people in the world right now than there ever has been, so we all need to act accordingly.

Last night, I met a man from Israel whose name I can’t remember, but he practiced with Patthabi Jois and we got into a lively conversation about the ego and what series you are on and what yoga is truly about. Happiness. He said he had met zen Buddhists that had never even practiced yoga and were the happiest men he had ever met. We also talked about how silly it was that the primary series is the point of focus for the Ashtanga tradition, because it is an anatomically imbalanced sequence that was designed for Patthabi Jois as a young teen by Krishnamacharya. He assured me that the sequence is not important and I can’t agree more. But by the same token, I didn’t necessarily come to India to learn the primary series, I came to India to deepen my Samadhi, my mindfulness, and to detach from the world of my birth. To meet people as a fresh unknown person, to learn more about myself, my tendencies, and most importantly, my flaws and strengths. And maybe, somewhere along the way I can find this thing that some call Nirvana, others call Samadhi, and most refer to as god.

The day before, I met someone who had only great things to say about Saraswathi. So far, she has done a great job with being personal, telling me what to do, and letting my practice my own yoga. on day 2 she told me to do head stand and I was very happy to do some inversions. Her assists have been great too, we got the point where I was bound in half-lotus, but there was too much pain and she let me adjust in the way I needed to adjust. That said, my lotus hip openings are moving along very well here because of the repetition of the primary series. You are welcome to your own opinion, but I believe that the physical body is something that contributes greatly to our mental state, especially the openness, flexibility, and strength of joints and limbs. I mean, 90% of the happiness neurotransmitter, serotonin, is in your gut. The body certainly is the overarching reason why we feel the way that we do, because the body is a system and the mind is what allows us to operate the body in the ways that are available to us. So by opening the body, I believe I am opening my mind.

I realize this may contribute to a sense of having to be somewhere, like there is a destination besides your current location, but the opening process is enlightening in and of itself. I am trying to focus my mind on gratitude for each day’s new sensations, new aches, new pains that I move through. And my Samadhi continues to deepen so I will continue to strive along the path that I have found. But I want to try to enjoy each step of the path, rather than just the major destinations call asanas, or sequences, or series, or styles of yoga.

Tomorrow, I will practice the whole primary series and begin to embed it into my body. When I come back to my own practice in the Shala on Monday, I’ll see how far I can go on my own. I am excited to practice with everyone, I always love the group energy. Plus, the main Shala is really cool and decorated and I don’t get to spend much time in it.

The Best Way to Wake up

Phillip Miller's photo

I got a chance to visit the Sierra Hot Springs last night and came back this morning. It was an interesting experience, both because of the Hot Springs and the relaxing atmosphere of the mountains. The elevation is probably about 6,000 feet high and the springs are 108 degrees. Extremely hot.

It took some getting use to, that was for sure. But the water was so relaxing; when I put my shoulders under the water, I couldn’t keep my eyes open. There were two cold pools as well, with water that was about 55 or 60 degrees, for cooling down in between sessions of the hot pool. It was a pretty cool experience. After a couple rotations in the hot tub, I went straight to sleep.

I woke up to a brisk gust of wind and birds chirping loudly in the evergreen trees, some were sequoias. I did the hot/cold rotation in the spa a couple more times, then went in the 80 or so degree pool outside and let the sun dry me off. The most relaxing part of this whole experience were the shifts and changes in my breath and how my body relaxed drastically with the heat and changes in temperature. It made me rethink the ways that I wake my body up in the mornings. I think that the changes in temperature in the shower are probably similarly therapeutic. Kundalini practitioners wake to cold showers to stimulate the nerves. Needless to say, it was a blissful way to wake up. But after its relaxation, this experience made me miss something… waking up to do yoga.

That may sound a bit weird, but meditation are beginning to become a really special part of the day for me. Right when I wake up, if I can get 10 minutes of breath focus and a few yin asanas I feel amazing. But I am getting back into a routine of working, which means that I am also getting back into my ashtanga routine. The stimulation of sun salutations and breathing exercises in the morning is an incredible way to wake up the mind.

Sun Salutations are probably the most powerful exercises I know of to wake up the spine. They sooth the body, stretch arms, legs, and flex and bend the spine back and forth, then proceed to increase heart rate and stimulate the circulatory system over time. Throw some jump-backs, jump-throughs, chair poses, warrior 1s, handstands, and of course everyone’s favorite chaturanga in there and you have some extreme burpee-like calisthenic exercises. Tomorrow I am going to start a sun salutation video series, or at least try to get one rolling without a goPRO.

I am planning on starting a new video series tomorrow teaching the fundamental poses of surya namaskara A. Surya is the sun god from Hinduism, to whom the poses are devoted. I’ll show you some of the techniques I use to wake my body up in the morning with the sequence. Stay tuned and check back tomorrow yogis…