A Place of Profound Individuality

The full moon of earlier this week has come and gone, and tonight the astronomical calendar to which I subscribe tells me it’s a “Disseminating Moon (75%).” Still, it has been quite rainy and cloudy here, so I have been lucky this past week to catch a glimpse of the just past full moon rising through the trees. I’ll take it.

One of the songs that has been stuck in my head of late I found on a free compilation called “Sounds of Tadasana,” released in partnership with YogiTunes for the Tadasana Festival, which took place in Santa Monica back in April. It’s “Free In Your Love (Purna)” by Steve Gold, found on his album Let Your Heart Be Known (2011).

In part, the lyrics are as follows:

Purnamadah Purnamidam
Purnaat Purnam Udachyathe
Purnasya Purnaamadaya
Purnameva Vasishyathe

Apparently this is from Hindu scriptures and is translated in the liner notes as follows:

That is whole, this is whole. From the whole, wholeness arises. Taking away the whole from the whole, the whole remains.

Shavasya Upanishad (Yajur Veda)

Steve Gold Music “Free in Your Love (Purna)”

Following my first immersion, in which it was systematically introduced to us, I was really quite drawn to the concept of purnatva, or fullness, one of the qualities of the Mahashakti, the great energy of consciousness in the Tantric view. Here are my notes from back in January.

Scan of my notebook for the first Anusara Immersion, January 2012

Scan of a portion of my notebook for the first Anusara Immersion, January 2012.

purna – full
not lacking anything
not incomplete
sufficient to itself

The double negatives like “not incomplete,” seem to be a way of driving home the point particular to Sanskrit. The phrase “sufficient to itself” was a phrase I had added to what my teacher had said. It certainly excited me that I was finally learning systematically what I had heard before. But more exciting still, was that just the week prior to that first immersion back in January, I had experienced this sense. I had been to visit my beloved yoga teacher, who had moved away six months prior to then. Regarding the landscape in Oxford County, Maine, which she sees every day, I had a perfectly contented sense of being at home, as if I were returning to the ancestral home to which I had never been. I didn’t need anything, and I didn’t need to go anywhere except to the window to breathe in the horizon. In his interview with Krista Tippett on “Restoring the Senses: Gardening and Orthodox Easter,” Vigen Guroian described this sense upon visiting Armenia, land of his forebears, for the first time. It’s considered “auspicious” when one of the qualities of the Mahashakti breaks into ordinary experience. I’m not the only one to regard time spent in nature sometimes to offer opportunities for transcendence.

John O’Donohue’s Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom, about which I’ve written obliquely before, has managed to insinuate itself into my consciousness. (“Anam ċara” means “soul friend” in Gaelic.) When my immersions were done, I returned a copy of Edwin Bryant’s The Yoga Sutras of Pantanjalito the studio from which I borrowed it. On that same evening, my friend to whom I had given Anam Cara as a gift returned it to me, thinking I would appreciate it better than he. I figured I was supposed to read it and I have been doing so. This evening as I was, I came across some of O’Donohue’s characteristically beautiful words about landscape that took me back to that time in Maine.

The silence of landscape conceals vast presence. Place is not simply location. A place is a profound individuality. Its surface texture of grass and stone is blessed by rain, wind, and light. With complete attention, landscape celebrates the liturgy of the seasons, giving itself unreservedly to the passion of the goddess. The shape of a landscape is an ancient and silent form of consciousness. Mountains are huge contemplatives. Rivers and streams offer voice; they are the tears of the earth’s joy and despair. The earth is full of soul. Plotinus in the Enneads speaks of the soul’s care for the universe: “…this all in one universally comprehensive living being, encircling all the living beings within it and having a soul, one soul with extends to all its members in the degree of participant membership held by each.” (85-86)

If that isn’t a frighteningly wonderful cross–cultural convergence of ideas, I don’t know what is.

What does any of this have to do with intention? The Sanskrit word for intention is sankalpa. San– means “to join,” and  -kalpa is a “construct, idea, or feeling.” So it is appropriate to join things together, even if it seems like they should be separate. Well, back when I was regarding that landscape, I had just set the intention to begin my immersions. Now they are complete, and other things have come to fruition in my life besides. I find myself in the somewhat unexpected position of having to set new intentions.

When I signed up for Sianna Sherman’s “Evolve Love” workshops, I had been thinking they would be the perfect bridge from the immersions to whatever’s next. Whereas the evening session about which I had written earlier was called “Metamorphosis,” the Saturday morning and afternoon sessions were called “Quantum Leap,” and “Inner Revolution,” respectively. It was curious that on Saturday morning, Sianna was talking about Ganesha, who stands at the threshold of transformation, in the very location where I first took a class with John Friend, during his “Melt Your Heart, Blow Your Mind” tour on Saturday, September 11, 2010, which was the Hindu observance of Ganesha’s birthday. Many consider Ganesh the “remover of obstacles,” and he is always invoked at the start of a new enterprise, especially involving commerce. Many yoga studios keep a murti of Ganesha where the money is transacted, and many Hindu homes have one near the entryway. At that time, John Friend emphasized Ganesh less as the remover of obstacles as the one who signifies one’s readiness to cross a threshold. Sianna, on the other hand, was quick to add that sometimes Ganesh places obstacles in one’s path if overcoming them will provide a lesson. I felt she was talking about John Friend here, and felt that others in the room certainly took it that way.

All this talk of thresholds reminds me that John O’Donohue, too, spoke of thresholds, and this may be no accident, since both Sianna Sherman and John Friend also trace their familial roots to Celtic experience.

Being in the soul, the body makes the senses thresholds of the soul. When your senses open out to the world, the first presence they encounter is the presence of your soul. To be sensual or sensuous is to be in the presence of your own soul. Wordsworth, careful of the dignity of the senses, wrote that “pleasure is the tribute we owe to our dignity as human beings.” This is a profoundly spiritual perspective. Your senses link you intimately with the divine within you and around you. Attunement to the senses can limber up the stiffened belief and gentle the hardened outlook. It can warm and heal the atrophied feelings that are the barriers exiling us from ourselves and separating us from each other. then we are no longer in exile from the wonderful harvest of divinity that is always secretly gathering within us.… (59)

On Friday night, Sianna Sherman called this a time of “accelerated interior learning.” She was referring to challenges facing us in the Anusara disapora, but also in the world at large. She talked about having returned from teaching in Greece, where she spoke to people about their fears for the future, and whether they would be able to stay in their beloved land. To be a spiritual activist, I think, is to place priority on interiority as the origin and not the end of effort. This is kriya yoga, the yoga of action discussed in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras and in the Bhagavad Gita, both of which we studied in the second and third immersions respectively.

I have been thinking a great deal, too, of Parker Palmer, and how in his writing on teaching, leadership, and democracy, he places great priority on the cultivation of interiority. The link to O’Donohue here is that he seems to treat landscapes as if, through the senses, they become superimposed on the inner life. This is why I have been telling people I’ve got to go walk in the woods by myself for at least half a day, in order to better sort all this out.

I know that I intend to complete teacher training with a former Anusara instructor. Consistent with the internet meme “Because of reasons,” I decline to state just now towards whom, but I am leaning toward a particular teacher. I know that I will be starting a new job in the fall. As of last night, I was elected to take on a leadership role in my church. The last of these is related to where I am in the “life cycle,” that others of my generation are stepping up into similar roles, and so must I. I’m passing into a different phase of adulthood, and my intentions must reflect this.

But the question remains, and is worthy of further contemplation, in what spirit shall I pursue these intentions? If intentions as sankalpa are to join a construct, idea or feeling, what shall I put together with these activities? This is no frivolous matter, and so the contemplation must be fierce and unflinching. But it must also relax into openness.

I expect much of this to be very personal, some things I share with friends and loved ones. But to the extent it is not, I certainly will not be shy about sharing such things here. I don’t expect my journey to be anyone else’s, but I certainly see mine in the mirror of others’ journeys, from which I always learn. My musings are then a humble offering, whether or not they are of more general use.

If nothing else, take the time to discern when you are at a threshold in your own life and how you may join your interior journey with the needs of the world at large. I think this is what Sianna Sherman is after with her Manifesto Movement, about which she also spoke this weekend. It’s a beautiful and fierce idea. Parker Palmer is very fond of quoting the notion of Frederich Buechner, another Celt, of vocation as the place where one’s deep gladness meets the world’s deep hunger. No one can simply hand us our own vocations. As O’Donohue says of landscape in Anam Cara, “A place is a profound individuality.”

About Richard Hudak

I'm a college teacher, writer, practitioner of hatha yoga, and an avid cyclist.
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6 Responses to A Place of Profound Individuality

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