“There is a world of difference between an inference and a feeling. You can reason that the universe is a unity without feeling it to be so. You can establish the theory that your body is a movement in an unbroken process which includes all suns and stars, and yet continue to feel separate and lonely. For the feeling will not correspond to the theory until you have also discovered the unity of inner experience. Despite all theories, you will feel that you are isolated from life so long as you are divided within. But you will cease to feel isolated when you recognize, for example, that you do not have a sensation of the sky: you are that sensation. For all purposes of feeling, your sensation of the sky is the sky, and there is no “you” apart from what you sense, feel, and know.” – Alan Watts
We are all one, right? This is what we have learned in this yoga matrix, this is what we teach, and this is what makes sense from both a scientific and spiritual viewpoint. But what does it mean to really feel or be this sense of oneness? I remember studying with the amazing Georg Feurstein, and we spent a whole day once talking about the concept of purusha. It is more than just a great name for a cat, it is central to Vedic teaching, and the underpinning for a lot of what modern yoga is. The discussion that day revolved around the concept of oneness, and how there really is no inherent ‘one’ in oneness, as one implies opposition to something that is zero. Georg was adamant that there was no ‘oneness’, and that purusha was more of an non-dual ground reality, that is beyond all dimension or context. You can imagine that had a lot of our heads spinning that day, but it was nonetheless so rich and relevant to our study.
I hadn’t thought about this too much until I became somewhat fixated on researching my family tree. Similar to a yoga practice, it was a process of peeling away layer upon layer of identity and dismantling where and who I thought I came from. We typically think of ourselves as coming from two lines, our mother’s and our father’s. Maybe we will think back a couple of generations and get that we come from two or four streams. But I was going back in some streams to the 1700s, some to the 1600s and one stream to the year 1500. At that point I felt like I was spinning, simply because of the hundreds of streams that I could have followed if I were to take the time with each of my ancestors, particularly the women’s side. At the end of it, that existential dizziness of not really belonging to a single/dual stream slowly shifted into a warm and contented feeling of belonging to the whole. There are a trillion stories from a trillion streams, and they were all informing who I have come to be. One illness or one accident at one time in any of those streams, and I would not exist. One chance meeting missed, or one argument that went too far, and I would not exist. This all plays out with each one of us, and every creature. None of this would exist, including these words you are reading right now, if it were not from this immense and countless formation of rivers, streams and tributaries. I am glad we all made it to this one point in time – it has been a long journey!
So what is this all about anyway? What I am trying to convey is that our life is a gift and there have been an infinite amount of variables that have conspired to make us. And it’s not just our human ancestors, but through the various iterations of upright primates. Through the various kinds of pre-primates. All the way back through our oceanic ancestors and single-celled organisms; back through a collection of space dust that became earth, back through exploding stars, and so on and so on. We are of a great stream of being that ultimately has no beginning and no end, for time is essentially a dualistic concept that humans have invented and embodied. Ultimately, we are part of something that transcends oneness AND we get to be the embodied nervous system that reflects on it all. This is what we explore in savasana, and sometimes, if a bunch of variables and circumstances collide and conspire, we experience that sense of transcendent knowing.
So what we do with this awareness? Do we check out of life and see it all as an illusion? Do we become super-peaceful and removed from stress, finally? Do we break at the bigness and nothingness of it all? The answer, of course, is a big, fat ‘no’ to all of the above. We are embodied nervous systems that are a fundamental part of the myriad life forms and structures that make up this planet. And we have the capacity for intelligence and wisdom, which naturally creates a love and responsibility to the planet and a relationship to it that our eyes and mind and body feel deeply. The expansion and the unity that we receive in our practice is the fuel that tethers us to an engaged and active commitment to that which gives us life. As well as the myriad creatures we share the planet with, particularly those that are oppressed or lacking in power. Why is this the case? Because it is the focus on goodness, community, sustainability and fair play that reaffirms the ground reality of no separation. It is an echo of the common ancestor that we all share – some may call it god, some unity, but ultimately it is that ground reality that is beyond the nervous system and conscious thought. When we act counter to this intimacy, we reaffirm and reinforce the construct of the ego and at times make our decisions solely based on how it affects us alone. This creates that isolation from life that Alan Watts is referring to above.
I will end with a story. When I was a kid, about 12 years old, we used to take our boat home from the arcade on Saturday night, and sometimes we would stop in the middle of the lake and look up at the stars. At a certain point I got too freaked out by the concept and the bigness of infinity, and so stopped doing it. Yoga has allowed me to pick up that thread of observation and contemplation again and even try to feel it deep in my bones. That is not to say that it is easy. Most of us go into savasana and have a blissful, unified experience, and then when it ends or dissolves, we check out and return to the land of thinkingthinkingthinking. But like most elements of our practice, our hope is to keep circling back to the start of the experience in order to peel away the layers of negotiation, reflection, and opinion. Through this we find ourselves getting better at being at home in a transcendent and loving connection to all that is, even if it is for a brief few seconds. And then we come out of it and go to work at making the world a better place.
May we all feel an intuitive and embodied sense of this connection to all that is, and within that recognize our connection to one another, because it is those connections that fuels our ability to make positive change in the world!
P.S. Here is a sample formula of our bloodlines, going back only 5 generations to our 32 individual great-great-great grandparents. Wild, eh!?!?
Mom + Dad
G + G + G + G
GG + GG + GG + GG + GG +GG + GG + GG
GGG + GGG + GGG + GGG + GGG + GGG + GGG + GGG + GGG + GGG + GGG + GGG + GGG + GGG + GGG + GGG
GGGG + GGGG + GGGG + GGGG + GGGG + GGGG + GGGG + GGGG + GGGG + GGGG + GGGG + GGGG + GGGG + GGGG + GGGG + GGGG + GGGG + GGGG + GGGG + GGGG + GGGG + GGGG + GGGG + GGGG + GGGG + GGGG + GGGG + GGGG + GGGG + GGGG + GGGG + GGGG
P.P.S. Did you know that on a perfectly clear night, we see around 2,500 stars, or about one hundred millionth of the stars in our galaxy?!?!?
P.P.P.S. Did you know that for every grain of sand on every beach in the world, there are about 10,000 stars in the observable universe?
P.P.P.P.S. Oh, and I did once have a cat named Purrusha…