How do we know we have souls? How do we know this body contains a soul? It is said that it is not that the body has a soul. It is that this soul has a body. When we look at it this way, it means that we are the souls who are bearing witness to the unfolding of this life. We are the observer, the consciousness, the sakshi.
As the soul, we observe our experiences with a sense of objectivity, without bias, without prejudice, without hesitation. We bear witness to what is rather than denying or minimizing or altering the truth. We observe with an openness to learn, and to take action if necessary. Whatever emotions or feelings or sensations or thoughts or patterns come up, we observe them. We bear witness to them. We do not run away.
Our society has encouraged us to run away from who we are. That is why we find it very challenging to sit still and meditate and spend time with ourselves. That is why we use so much of our time on shopping or alcohol consumption or playing games or surfing the internet, so on and so forth. It is hard work to bear witness. But it must be done if our goal is liberation and lasting happiness.
In our practice today, we will practice bearing witness to our thoughts, our emotions, our sensations. We will observe what the body is telling us. We will take on the perspective of the soul witnessing the experiences of the physical body. We will not escape. We will confront whatever the present moment brings. We will face reality head on, with courage and a sense of adventure. As Ram Dass said, "Be Here Now".
As a soul bearing witness to the experience of our own body, we may be tempted to run away from the discomfort. But if we run away from the discomfort, we run away from it all. Whether in a hip-opening pose or a backbend or an inversion, we may feel want to pull back to what we have always known. But if we choose to sit through the discomfort rather than run away, we may find that we can and we do grow from it, that we may stretch ourselves far and beyond what we thought we are capable of.
Similarly, as a soul who has the capability to bear witness to what happens to other bodies, we may feel the need to protect our vulnerable hearts and choose not to think about the difficult things. We may want to stay in our comfortable bubble of ignorance. When we are told about the suffering of other animals, when we are asked to watch Earthlings or get hold of other pieces of information, we may say we do not want to look and we do not want to know. We distrust our own capacity to sit still and bear witness. We want to run away.
As souls, our connection to the universe and to each other is deeply rooted. The universe hears our wish. If we choose not to look and not to know, if we choose not to feel and not to connect, then it is indeed what happens to us. Not only are we disconnected from the plight of others, but we are also disconnected from ourselves and our purpose and the meaning of it all. We deny one, we deny all. Our self-imposed desensitization means that yes, we may protect ourselves from knowing hard facts, we avoid the discomfort of having to make changes in our lives, and yet it also means we deny the beauty of waking up to our own power and capacity for limitless compassion.
In yoga asana, we emphasize alignment. To stand tall, to twist with ease, to invert with strong grounding all require proper alignment. More important perhaps than the alignment of the body- how we stack the shoulders above hips or put the neck in neutral position or turn the elbows in- is the alignment of our souls. Have we aligned our beliefs with our actions, our truth with our choices, our lives with our intentions?
Our progress in yoga is not measured by the number of asanas we have mastered but in how much happiness and freedom we allow others to have. Our progress in yoga means that there will be challenging situations difficult to bear. To want to run away is normal, but the choice in which we make determines the road ahead. Run away and we deny ourselves and others our humanity, our soul, our power, our capacity to be kind. Bear witness, bear it all, discomfort in the body, pain in the heart, stirring in the soul, and within these growing pains, compassion arises and life's meaning takes root. Bear witness and you will discover just how powerful you are, not in altering the present reality, but in changing the future by the choices you make now. Bear witness and you will find how much strength this heart holds, how much you are able to care, how limitless is the depth of your soul.