Sometimes change happens like this. You’re sitting around, happy to be a caterpillar, not needing anything to change at all. But then, despite yourself, you feel drawn to build a cocoon in which your wings will grow, and you’ll eventually become a butterfly and everything will change. Whether you thought of change or not, all of sudden, here you are. Things are changing. You have no choice. It’s like night time, and you’re the moon, the sun’s going to rise, you don’t really have a choice about it. The night will become the day and the cycle continues.
Other times you’re a restless caterpillar. Itching, knowing that there’s something else out there, but not knowing what it is. The caterpillar really has no knowledge of being a butterfly, no awareness of it, no sense really. It can’t talk to other caterpillars because no other caterpillar has become a butterfly. They’re all in the same boat, and butterflies, of course, don’t talk to caterpillars, and possibly don’t even remember that they ever were caterpillars.
But the restless caterpillar knows that something needs to change, isn’t sure what, and they might set out on a journey in search of that change. They might try to talk to other beings. They might try to build cocoons before its time for them to be built and fail. The yearning for change can be so compelling and when that change happens, I hope that the caterpillar is ready for it.
Because change is always intense. Whether you seek it out, whether you know it’s coming, whether it’s thrust upon you. Everything shifts. Quite often in an instant. You were one thing, you thought certain things, you were part of something, you identified as that caterpillar. You got used to it. You got used to it being night time and then before you know it, it becomes day time. Then as soon as you get used to the light, the sun goes down. This is the cycle we’re all in.
Change occurs also in another way. In this seemingly perfect, god-scripted moment, and in that moment you know all of your life was leading up to it. When you immerge from that cocoon and spread your wings - your glorious, colorful, magnificent wings - you know that all of your life led to this moment so that you could fly among the flowers, so that you could rise above and see the view.
But the thing about becoming a butterfly is that you can never go back to being a caterpillar. You can’t change your mind. No matter how unsuspectingly it comes upon you or how much you search for it as a restless caterpillar, or even, in that divine intervention type of occurrence, you can’t go back. Maybe you’ll meet all of your caterpillar friends again as a butterfly, maybe you’ll be butterflies together. Maybe some of your caterpillar friends don’t make it or they take a different road. Maybe they were actually moths, and, of course, everybody knows that moths and butterflies don’t talk to each other.
So what do we do with change? How do we embrace it, acknowledge it, accept it? And also accept that we really don’t have very much control. That wherever we are today we are in the process of becoming who we will be.
The truth exists in this moment, and only in this moment. Part of that truth is knowing that this moment will never occur ever again. This very special moment with the breeze just so and the light just so and the scent in the room, or in the garden, just so, the conversation that you’re having, the book that you’re reading, it will never happen again, just like this. Change is always upon us.
There can be a moment, after the change has occurred, when you’ve become a butterfly, where somehow you remember what it was like. Your little caterpillar community that maybe felt very safe and secure, and maybe you don’t even connect with it directly, but you remember it viscerally. It’s in your body, it’s in your bones, it’s part of your DNA. Even when the change has occurred, everywhere that you’ve been is part of your chemistry now, it’s how you got to where you are.
Because we have trouble with remembering, truly remembering, often times when you become that butterfly, when you have that point of evolution, it’s very much a lonely moment. Having that level of observation and awareness - the ability to fly above and see all that is happening - it doesn’t change where other people are in their process of change and evolution.
This metaphor of caterpillar and butterfly may not full encapsulate the complexities of our human experience. Still, it’s very simple that, essentially, we’re always changing. The truth of this moment is that it’s always fleeting, moving into the next and that each moment is building and that we are becoming the person that we are meant to be, however the road is that we will take to get there. Whether we take a more challenging route to get there, or not. We’re headed towards our own evolution, very slowly or very quickly.
But for those of us who, in whatever way, embrace change, pursue change, it can be a very lonely experience to look up, to look around, and realize that knowing what you know, growing how you’ve grown, all you can do is hold up the light. Hope that other people will find you, will find their own way, will find their own light, and you have to be your own brightness. You have to grow your own wings.
My problem is I think I’m my body. When I dream about the love of my life I think the sadness and confusion I feel is mine, that it is who I am, and I deeply mourn the loss. I am bewildered by the impossible choice, knowing that it would have been a very different road to follow if we had stayed together. In these moments, floating along in the astral sub-consciousness of my mind, I think the kisses and the warmth of embrace are real and the fear of loss and the tears I cry are mine, that everything I feel physically and emotionally is real.
Yoga teaches that we are not our bodies or our thoughts. We are spirit moving through time. The attachment to temporary sensation is all-consuming without awareness. In the dreamscape it is very difficult to discern what is real and what is not. It can even be challenging to determine who you are in the dream. In waking life the task is to realize you are not who you appear to be. On one side, when we’re dreaming, we are trying to gain control over the illusion. On the other side we are trying to release control over the illusion we’ve created, both in order to set ourselves free.
The mind is a tricky thing. Consciously, I am over the hurt and loss of this love (and the many others that came before and after), but my subconscious displays these longing dreams before my impressionable astral eyes which cannot discern the difference between real and memory and fantasy. Does this mean our connection extends far into the past, into former lives spent together trying to share in experience? Or is it just an unclear perception of reality and the propagation of control over who I am that keeps the dreams alive?
In my dreams there is always love between us. In my dreams he tells me he is happy, I know that the connection between us is still so strong, but I forget to say I love you. I forget to say, can we try again. I am always moving on and grateful for the time to embrace. That is always enough. In the last dreamscape we spoke of the past, of why we had to go our separate ways. I cried. It was also so clear that it was the right thing to have done. Then we kissed, all the while through the conversation we were holding each other. When I awoke I affirmed that it had always felt amazing to be in his arms and that I certainly would be somewhere else if I had not charted my own course.
Aham Brahmasmi, I am the creative principle, which means that I can create any reality. I can be anybody, any entity and yet, most of us cannot choose any destiny because the pull of our attachments is so strong. We are stuck in ahamkara, the me-maker. It is the illusion that we are the creation and not the creator. How do I move beyond believing that I am a woman, a daughter, a lover, a writer, a yogi, an earthling!? I am kala purusha, spirit moving through time. There is an essence in between all of the thoughts, memories, dreams, visions and words that is the constant, and is the truth.
I am not these thoughts, these dreams, I am not this body or these memories. I am the space in between those experiences. I am the observer, not the observed. I am the constant. In an instant, I understand everything, but as soon as I intellectualize it the understanding is gone. I have identified with it. The Tao that can be spoken is not the eternal Tao. The dreamscape feels very much like this fleeting knowledge of life - any attempt to grasp it changes it and most of the time it just disappears.
I am not this body. I am not these thoughts. I am not these words I am writing or the dreams I am dreaming. I am the one who is watching it all, perfectly, sitting, waiting, knowing, it is only a matter of time before I wake up. The dreams I have may be closer to the truth, and they are certainly not the only dreams I can wake up from. As I understand it, there is just one dream to awaken from, and this is it.
Sri Goswami Kriyananda, my great teacher, has left his body. I am left with the powerful teachings he shared with me, and so many others, and I find myself trying to deepen my understanding of them.
I am continuing on this path of conscious awakening. At times, especially lately, it feels so intense, like I’m embracing something and opening to an energy that I am not sure I am ready to receive. It is overwhelming. There is also a fear that it won’t last; that it will slip away somehow and I won’t remember what it is like to feel so fully connected to life.
I return to the teachings for guidance. I return to the teachings to fan the flame of wisdom within me. I am confident it is there, in practice, in asana (posture), meditation, svadyaya (self-study) and jnana yoga (literally the yoga of wisdom, the practice of studying spiritual texts). The connection is so clear, but never clearer than when I am teaching.
There are moments when I am teaching that I am aware of a powerful transmission of knowledge flowing through me. It is almost a feeling of being out of body, but at the same time so vibrantly aware and alive. People talk about falling in love again after they’ve been married for a long time. This is the experience I have had with my teacher a few times in these short seven years, but now that he has moved on from this plane I am returning to the beginning, to learn, again, to understand better and to deepen my awareness. His emphasis on the power of teaching resonates with me deeply and confirms my dharma. I was told that when asked what his disciples could do to honor his transition he simply said, teach.
It was, in essence, love at first sight. First read, actually. I read The Spiritual Science of Kriya Yoga in my 200-hour Hatha Yoga Teacher Training and the words spoke directly to my heart. The teachings were so clear and spoke truths I knew on a very deep level, but had never had the words to explain.
It was many years before I met Kriyananda. I had many dreams about him, and his teacher, Sri Shelliji, in the months leading up to meeting him. From the time I met him it took me about a year to ask him to initiate me as a disciple. I am sure now that I didn't understand what I was asking, what the path I was choosing was for, or why, but it was crystal clear that was what I wanted to do and I never once had any doubt. That came later.
I had heard and read stories of Gurus denying student requests to become a disciple, or putting certain parameters like, ask me again when the moon is in Scorpio opposing Jupiter, or something like that. I had also learned about a variety of initiation rituals involving mantra, spiritual prostration and all other types of traditional and non-traditional rituals.
Because I asked meekly, and somewhat unclearly (I mean, where does one learn the proper way to ask someone to officially be your teacher?), he made a joke, deflecting my hesitation. I am a relatively quick learner, so I boldly and directly asked him my question without hesitation. And he said yes. I know now that I will always treasure that moment. As I write this it brings tears of wonderment and awe at the simple lesson inherent in that profound moment. I believed, and still do, that he could truly see me, which has allowed me to see myself in a way I never could have imagined.
The actual initiation was simple and private with one other person being initiated. He put a mala around my neck, gave it a little tug and said, follow me, spiritually. They say when you align with a teacher it speeds up your karma and that they absorb some of your challenging karma.
Everything fell apart in the year that followed. I had felt so clear and so sure, yoga had opened my mind and now the teachings started to feel constrictive and dogmatic. The majority of this process was internal – my belief system crumbled before me and I was left with the agony of complete and total loss of faith. It was certainly a rehashing of my early disillusion with the Catholic religion. I had to take a step back from many things, including my teacher and I withdrew from the Seminary program (this is a topic for another time).
Coming back to the teachings and asking him again to be my Guru was truly a defining moment. I had fallen in love again. This time was not as easy and innocent as the first, but I had affirmed the connection on all the levels of my being and I was ready to take responsibility for it. Part of my resistance was feeling that the discipline of the practice limited my freedom. I was unable to conform to any particular system, and I still am. But, this is not what Kriyananda taught. This is not what any of the great teachers are saying, and that is why I went back.
Many people forget, or perhaps were never told, that Guru in Sanskrit means dispeller of darkness, and it is a process that reveals to you your own light. I honor my teacher because he fanned the flames of awareness within me, and I honor him by living the Dharma.
It is not enough to say, Guru is great, or God is great, and perform ritual at certain times – the ritual is in every breath, in every moment. You honor the Guru by embodying the teachings. It is how we treat other people externally, but perhaps more importantly, internally. If I do not or cannot see all beings as Divine Love then I cannot see myself that way. I can hear him chuckle and say, especially the ones that really irk you, with a little twinkle in his eyes.
Photo: Marc-Henri Auffeve
Learn more about Sri Goswami Kriyananda and his teachings here: http://yogakriya.org/
I believe in God. I believe there is an all-pervading energy that interweaves on various levels of consciousness to manifest this reality. I believe that God is Life, that I am, and you are, that same energy – not separate from but inextricably, integrally and completely the same. The challenge is the veil, or Maya. We live under the illusion that we are separate from God, from each other. We operate under the assumption that certain words, actions, experiences are good, and others are clearly bad. Perhaps more accurately, we believe that good and bad are opposing, contradictory forces, when it is only our perception of separateness that supports this notion.
I believe in free will. I believe that my individual life is important and that what I choose to do or not do is significant to my own consciousness and the collective consciousness. I believe that I create my own reality – joy as well as pain – and that becoming conscious is what life is all about. It is called Moksha, liberation from Maya. It could be said that without Maya, the illusion, we could not achieve Moksha. We actually choose to incarnate into these bodies to begin, continue and complete this process – moving from unawareness to awareness.
I believe we are all in recovery from something. I believe a long history of ancestors and other karmic connections to the past, of which we are largely unaware, profoundly impacts us. I believe that this long history, though painful at times, is necessary to embrace. We have all experienced hope and disappointment, and confusion trying to make sense of it all. We are all grieving, mourning what we have lost, directly and indirectly. We are grieving personally, and we are grieving for all people, searching as we are. It is because of this grieving that we are also healing constantly and our enlightenment is absolutely inevitable.
I believe enlightenment is possible, dreams are powerful and true love is a real, living thing. I believe the only person we need to love is ourselves because in truly doing so we will always love and have compassion for all life, but that sometimes it is easier to learn to love yourself by opening yourself to loving someone else. I believe ritual and tradition are important, as are evolution and revolution. It is valuable to have practices that ground us, to build foundation on the lessons of the past. It is imperative to break the mold, not for its own sake, but in order to expand our awareness into pure consciousness. Both approaches are necessary.
I believe these things and yet I do not believe that anything is absolute. I believe that even my attempt to articulate these things takes away from their meaning. I believe that it is necessary to try. Life is in constant fluctuation. It feels sometimes like being lost at sea. The words are an anchor I cast but they cannot stop the movement – sometimes it is calm, others it is choppy. Enlightenment is a process that is catalyzed by trauma – pain, hurt, anger – if the stone was not filed down by the rush of the water it would never become so smooth. We need the friction to grow. We try to capture it only to realize we can never hold on to it.
Our lives are lived in such a crazy dichotomy: we are born alone, will die alone and can never truly be anything but alone, and yet, we need human connection and interaction. It is through relating to other people that we come to see ourselves more clearly. The desire to merge fully with another human being is so strong, for some of us, because it is a powerful way to experience the divine. Seeing our true essence reflected in another and connecting with their essential being transcends, if only for a moment, our limited perception of self. It is a beautiful, if somewhat painful, dharma to love another person. The discomfort is found in the fleeting reality of shared experience – memories are ultimately dreams from the past. They do not exist in this moment any more than a future dream exists in this moment
We are like ghosts playing out a scene from our life, over and over again. Are we just reliving heart break and love and desire and confusion and anger and joy from the past? And if so, how do we get to the now?
This is when I come back to the essence of the moment, because I think the essence is eternal. To witness the essential being of another, the pure energy of a given moment is a reminder of our spirit. It is why we are here… to remember.
I have heard that many great mystics spent their lives in great torment searching for the connection to the divine that they once found but could not access again, for whatever reason. The desire to be close to god is much like the desire to merge with another human being – one gets horribly lost in the memory and experience. Those moments of satori, small Samadhi, are always fleeting, I suppose, until we reach absolute enlightenment. Whenever that might happen… and there is a part of me that wants to sustain this moment of searching. There is something so fulfilling in the search.
So much of our human experience is like this – drugs and alcohol, sex, relationships, food – the pursuit of the high that we experience from these things is the most enlightening part of it all. The moment just before orgasm is the most precious, the high we get from drugs or alcohol can never be sustained, however delicious the food is eventually we are full, and our interactions with others ultimately end and we are left with ourselves, alone, where we began and will eventually end up…
So how is a connection to god any different? It cannot be sustained until it is entirely fulfilled and then there is a loss of one’s self into that pure bliss. A lot of seekers I know think fondly of this concept, even, like many mystics before them, desire it and are saddened at the lack of it. I am not sure that I want to step out of the ocean of life. The vastness of human experience is, in itself, intoxicating. I have cried a great many sorrowful tears, felt like my heart was being torn from my chest, so open and so exposed. I have seen god in the world, in the eyes of another, in the sunrise and for a moment felt pure, unadulterated bliss. I have loved unconditionally and I have hated irrationally. I have felt such anger and frustration and resentment that I thought I would ignite, I have also felt such passion and desire that I’m pretty sure I did ignite.
What does it all mean, my existentialist thoughts will say.. What is the point? This array of emotions and human experience at the end, is it not empty? I think to share this with another human being – to find someone who you truly can and do reflect the soul of each other – may be the most precious and concrete experience of humanity in all its forms. This may be misguided and spoken at the behest of the romanticist thoughts that have a pretty loud say about things much of the time.
The transcendentalist thoughts always step lightly through to say, keep it up. The experience of the now is what is. We are sailing the sea of this incarnation to remember our immortal and eternal spirit. That’s all; nothing big. So everything we do, or don’t do, every joy, as well as every pain, is in line with the process of our soul’s journey.
Read at elephant journal