In this century, human knowledge is extremely expanded and developed but this is mainly knowledge of the external world…We spend a large amount of the best human brain power looking outside–too much, and it seems we do not spend adequate effort to look within, to think inwardly…Perhaps now that the Western sciences have reached down into the atom and out into the cosmos finally to realize the extreme vulnerability of all life and value, it is becoming credible, even obvious, that the Inner Science is of supreme importance. Certainly physics designed the bombs, biology the germ warfare, chemistry the nerve gas and so on, but it will be the unhealthy emotions of individuals that will trigger these horrors. These emotions can only be controlled, reshaped, and rechanneled, by technologies developed from successful Inner Science.
The Dalai Lama
What would this world look like if all people had the tools and the motivation to skillfully navigate their inner landscape? How many of the ills that plague us as a society would simply cease to exist if we understood that our thoughts, words, and actions are but reflections of the infinite creative power that we carry within us? And what would happen if we choose to mindfully channel this creative power to live in harmony with the natural world while getting our needs met with elegance and ease? You may say that I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one…
My sincere wish as yoga teacher is to help individuals return to awareness of their infinite nature so that they might align their thoughts, words and deeds with a greater purpose and act for the benefit and the enlightenment of all beings. This might seem like a lofty goal, especially when we’re nearly constantly being inundated with messages that the world is going to hell in handbasket…but I have seen first hand how just a moment of deep, rhythmic, mindful breathing can bring about great and nearly instantaneous transformation, and so I have great hope. If just a moment of mindful breathing can effect such wonderful change, imagine what many such moments could do!
Do you have a regular practice that takes you inwards? If you don’t, are you interested in cultivating such a practice? Let me reassure you right away that I completely understand how hard it is to commit to a regular practice, given the many demands that are placed upon our time and energy every day. Let me also reassure you that I will not judge you for not having a practice, not continuing a practice, or simply not wanting to engage in a practice in the first place–I’m just wanting to share a little of the possibilities that exist out there, should you have any interest at all in exploring them.
First of all, a practice of going inwards doesn’t have to take a specific form. I recommend exploring lots of different methods and paying attention to which ones resonate with you. Just as we all have different bodies and must sometimes try on many different outfits before finding one that fits us just right, so do we all have different inner worlds, and there is no one proscribed way of going inwards that will work for every person out there.
Secondly, an exploration of the inner world doesn’t have to involve a huge commitment of time. I ask my students if they have five minutes a day that they can take for themselves. I also say, “If you believe that you are so busy that you can’t take five minutes for your health and well-being, you might want to take a good look at your priorities.”
It can be as simple as sitting down and paying attention to your breathing for five minutes. When do you know that you’re ready to add more time to your practice? Add more time when you begin to see that more time would be of benefit. Add more time when you begin to notice that you are really wanting to show up for your practice.
Of course the mind that is stuck in the realm of the familiar will be fighting tooth and nail for you to never go inwards. It will get grumpy, it will tell you stories about how tired you are, it will be pessimistic, it will be judgmental. When the neurotic mind is telling you to stop practicing, this is a good sign that you’re finally getting somewhere. It is sensing that its time is coming to a close, and not wanting to give up its position of power, it will try every trick in the book to keep you exactly where you are right now.
To establish a practice that carries you through the vacillations of life involves discipline, at least at the outset. This doesn’t mean that you’re browbeating yourself into doing something that you think you should be doing–it means that you see the value in this work you’re doing, and you show up for it even when your tired, or feeling resistance, or feeling sick, or feeling doubtful.
The purpose of this practice of going inwards is so incredibly simple–to know who you are beyond the world that is always changing. The environment around us is always changing, so the input from our senses is always changing. Clearly our bodies and minds are always changing. If we identify with that which is always changing, we will necessarily feel ill at ease, as if we live in a world of chaos, never able to know deep and abiding peace. But when we go inwards beyond the body-mind identification, we touch upon a timeless, nameless, formless, unbounded expanse of awareness, and we remember that this is the source of peace. This is the source of joy. This is who we really are.
Knowing that we are not our bodies means that we can greet the inevitable changes of the aging process with dignity and grace. Knowing that we are not our minds means that we can be in the presence of someone who disagrees with our point of view and we can still feel compassion, affection, kindness, and good will for that person, because they aren’t attacking US, they are simply talking about thoughts.
Being familiar with the inner world means that we can navigate the challenges of our daily lives remembering that this is all impermanent, and therefore worthy of being enjoyed, because it will all be gone sooner or later. Can you see the gift in living life this way? Every moment is a chance to savor what we have. Every moment a flower is blooming, a sun is rising, a heart is beating. Every moment a flower is fading, a sun is setting, a heart is breaking–and all of it, ALL OF IT is a gift.
So how about it friends? Why wait? You can begin now, today, this practice of knowing your inner world–no less rich, no less vast, no less important and deserving of your time as the outer world. You can begin now, in this moment, your journey back home to your infinite self. Right now, in this moment, you can taste the eternity in you that exists beyond your body, your mind, the external world.
Just sit for a moment. Set a timer for five minutes. Close your eyes. Start breathing. Whatever happens–bodily sensations, sounds, smells, temperature fluctuations…whatever happens–thoughts, memories, regrets, hopes, fears…whatever happens, just keep breathing. The awareness that keeps calling you back to the breath knows what it is doing. So trust it, and let it call you back home. Come home and rest in the deep sea of peace that is your true self. Discover that your inner world is the most marvelous gift you could give to yourself, and the most precious offering you could make to the world around you.
And then when the timer rings, jump up and dance, because you’re alive! And then if you have one more minute to spare after dancing, tell me all about your journey, because I’d love to hear about it!