Some of the talks I gave during class this month are based on these 2 lectures. Here they are:
I wasn’t a cat person before. For many years, I thought cats were boring and all looked the same. Well, things changed and I now have 3 cat animal companions. Two of them I adopted from a friend who found them wrapped in plastic thrown in the trash, and one I found myself while walking home from class one evening. Now, it’s very clear to me that they are safer with me than they were before. But they don’t know that. Their wild nature is still there. There are times I’d notice that three of them are gathered around the window, and I’ll see that they’re looking at a bird perched up on a ledge across. For them, staying in a 31-square condominium unit probably feels like prison. Almost every single time that I go home, the moment I open the door, the cats will try to escape. Sometimes one, sometimes two, and when I’m really really lucky, all three would like to run out the door at the same time. So that’s my routine. They would go to that corner and this corner of the hallway, I’d chase after them, and eventually I’d coax them into going back inside. There are times that I’m tired, or I need to go to the bathroom, and I want to get annoyed at these cats for delaying me. I want to get annoyed, but I end up just finding the whole thing amusing, because they are so clueless. And it helps that they’re super cute, so I can’t bring myself to be seriously annoyed at them.
The focus of the month is about souls and enlightenment and being one with all— and these are concepts that I feel are very hard to grasp. But this is what I think. Enlightenment, put simply, is to love everyone. Just as I love my cats. You see, other people around us will do what they want based on their perspective, based on what they think is going to make them happy. And loving them means that no matter what they do, regardless of how far they stray, we keep the door of our hearts open. We accept them in our hearts unconditionally. And through this acceptance, there is no desire to control, no need to use our power. One more thing about this loving everyone bit is that it includes ourselves. No matter what we do, regardless of how far we strayed, what mistakes we made, what embarrassing things we got up to, we accept ourselves completely, we keep the door of our heart open for ourselves. And when we can love all, then that is connecting to the soul, that is enlightenment.
The other night, because I was so tired from the day, I slept from 7pm to 8am. It was deep sleep and I woke up completely refreshed. Do you sometimes get to sleep like that? How was your sleep last night? Do you remember your dreams? Was it a dreamless sleep?
Here is a trick question, where are “you” when you’re in dreamless sleep? What about when you’re dreaming, where are “you”? Now at this moment that you’re awake, where are “you”? Yoga philosophy recognizes these 3 states: jagrat (waking), swapna (dreaming), sushupti (deep sleep). Another trick question: Which one is “real”? In the context of yoga, “real” is defined differently. It does not mean material or tangible, rather it refers to something that is unchanging. The only state that is “real” is a fourth state called turiya (samadhi) or cosmic consciousness. That is the state that does not change. To use an analogy, it’s like traveling among 3 cities, but your home— where you truly belong— is the state of cosmic consciousness. Another analogy we can use is of one actor playing different parts, the waking, dreaming, and deep sleep states are roles that the actor plays, while samadhi is his true nature. It is the only thing that is real.
In the state of turiya, time and space become immaterial, the attachment to the “self” falls away, there is no longer anything “personal” because one feels completely at home in the universe, one feels united with God, one experiences the kind of consciousness that is not bound by this body, this mind, this identity, or this incarnation. This is what is referred to as enlightenment.
The word “soul” is commonly used in the context of “heal your soul” or “my soul is broken” or “my soul feels light”. The word itself means many different things to many different people, but if we were to use “soul” in the context of yoga, it refers to something unchanging, something whole, something complete. This individual soul is called “Jiva”, and this individual soul has the ability to connect to something bigger, the cosmic soul called “atman”.
I know that when I first encountered yoga as a spiritual practice, the question in my mind was: What does exercising this body have to do with spirituality? The soul exists in the realm of the spiritual, yes, but it also exists in this world through a container or a vehicle, the physical body. If the vehicle is broken, uncovering the soul would be difficult because all energy would be spent on fixing the vehicle. In the same manner, if the vehicle is operating in tip top shape, the machine is maintained very well, the vehicle can do its work of transporting the soul.
Of all the physical exercises that I’m aware of, it’s only yoga practices that acknowledge both the body and the soul. And it is because of the recognition of the existence of both that the approach to the physical body is nurturance over obsession, conditioning over attachment, practice over perfection. We acknowledge that we keep this body in shape not because the end goal is to keep the body in shape, the end goal is to delve into the soul.
The thing with saving the lives of others is that we don’t know it might be our own lives that are saved in the end.
The story of Wesley the Owl is one of such— an interspecies friendship that spans years, health and sickness, and reminds one of the will to live.
May we see animals not as things, but as beings who value their lives as much as we value our own.
Imagine that you are the last of your own kind to survive in this world. That is unfortunately the direction many of the animal species are heading. The Kauai o’o Bird became extinct in 1987, and now we can only hear his sound through recordings. His singing has stopped for good.
The way we can prevent this from happening to others is to take care of their homes and food sources. On our end, that means consuming only what we need, going vegan, keeping in mind that this home is not ours alone, but one we share with others.
A German photographer took pictures of birds in the sky, and only upon checking the images did he notice that thousands of starlings in the sky have formed the shape of one giant bird.
This phenomenon of flocking together, as if they were one organism, into one-shape shifting cloud is called a murmuration. It is said that birds do this to ward off threats, to make sure predators do not approach them. Their strategy simply is in strength in numbers. Researchers found that each bird interacts with seven other birds, and this is how they manage to coordinate with each other as one giant unit. They don’t know why the magic number is seven though. They were only able to observe but not explain.
Starlings forming these murmurations is one of the most amazing phenomenon observed in the wild. Unfortunately, starling populations and bird populations in general have been dwindling, because of shortage in food and nesting places caused by destructive human actions.
And for now, even though we cannot completely understand nature, we can appreciate its wonder and beauty, and we can learn from it too. We can certainly do our part in preserving our environment, making sure our fellow Earthlings have a safe space to dwell and have enough to eat, and one of the most efficient ways we can contribute to that is by looking at our lifestyle choices and going plant-based. The less resources we use— land, forests, trees, water etc— the more that can be left for other animals, including the birds.