Posts Tagged With: samadhi

I sea life is urching you.

I feel giddy with excitement whenever I find the skeleton of a sea urchin that has washed ashore. This is such a big deal to me that I actually have a little sea urchin dance that I do that my husband just shakes his head at. I think the fact that their shell is less than a millimeter thick and is delicate beyond measure leaves me feeling blessed to have found it. It’s quite a miracle that it managed to wash ashore in one piece when you think about the power of the ocean and its constant rhythm. Wave after wave thrusting into the sandy surface with the yanking force it has of pulling all back out to sea that don’t resist. I feel like each and every one I find is a sacred gift from the earth, something to be cherished. I have a bowl filled with their little delicate bodies. When I stare at this bowl I always come back to this one thought “What yoga does for me is a lot like what that urchin has gone through in its life to end up in my hand.”

A sea urchin skeleton, Sullivans Island, SC.

A sea urchin skeleton, Sullivans Island, SC.

This tiny little creature when it’s alive moves about the bottom of the ocean seeking just one thing – algae. It’s their version of “samadhi”. Nature has a beautiful way of giving all creatures a fighting chance against their natural predators. Sea Urchins are covered in sharp, pointy spines similar to a hedgehog. They are sometimes called the “hedgehog of the sea”. They move about by these tiny feet that suck water in and out creating their locomotion. They don’t like to be ruffled too much by the ocean, so they tend to like tidal pools. Their life goes on until they are caught by a predator or captured for food, as they are consider a delicacy in some circles. But if their life continues and they die of other causes, they will eventually make it to shore looking nothing like their original, living, breathing form. Their spines are gone, their body hollowed out, and they are an exquisite beauty of perfectly balanced geometric patterns. The lightest touch could break them, yet somehow they manage on occasion to make it ashore in one piece. Their demise allows them to become beautiful art in the eye of the beholder. All are not so lucky, some wash ashore and bust into pieces, looking like tiny remnants of a broken christmas ornament. This skeleton was their home, it was their castle, it was their place of knowingness.

Photo by Julie Wynne from Oceanic National

Photo by Julie Wynne from Oceanic National

I feel like I’m starting to look like the living breathing form of sea urchin with spines sticking out of me warning all to stay back. Then I head to a yoga class. After I practice I end up feeling like the washed ashore skeleton, what once was prickly, with spines clearly telling all to stay back is now transformed. Yoga has a way of removing the spines I feel like I am arming myself with. It has a way of gutting me of my insides and leaving me open, spacious, and beautifully balanced.

Life has a way of making us feel like we need armor, like how the sea urchin has its coat of sharp spikes protecting it. We tend on occasions to mumble and grumble through life shooing away opportunities for friendship, or adventures based on our perceived threat that these will disturb our comfort with the status quo. We can either prickle our way through life, or we can give in to being more porous, delicate and light. We are creatures of habit and always will be for the most part. We aren’t going to buy a different brand of toothpaste every time we run out, we don’t tend to go to bed at a different time every night, nor do we change habits like how we brush our teeth, or what our morning rituals are. We like routine, we fall comfortably into patterns. However, not all our patterns are working for us. Some of these patterns can start to look a lot like those prickly spines. Keeping out opportunity for growth.

As the opening invocation of Ashtanga yoga says the “samsara halahala”. Not all our patterns are worth keeping not all our cycles are worth repeating. The sea urchins know that in order to go on making an impression in this world even after they die, the best way to do that is to change. It leaves behind a very unique and different version of itself. We are able to do the same. Shed off your layers, your patterns and expose the most minimalist version of who you are: not so weighed down with pins and needles, but light and balanced. Next time you chant the opening prayer see the sea urchin in your mind as it is in life, and then as it is in death. Let it inspire you to quit being so bristly. Keep yourself open and try to become comfortable feeling hollow. Keep trying to stay whole, instead of shattered. Hold strong to your essential self and discard what isn’t essential. Remove the halahala – the poison, like how the poisonous spines of the sea urchin do not wash ashore with it, they release and let go of its old form, so should you.

Try to be delicate, but invincible. Be light, but solid. Be beautiful, but humble. Let others appreciate your beauty, but don’t be attached to your form. Be focused on the one thing that drives you, but don’t be threatened by those that might try to take it away. Move with the current, but be just as content to settle in one place. Be willing to release, so that you can change. Be comforted by the fact that your true self is always there, it is the shell. You are unique, different and beautiful. Stop letting life urch you. Quit being so prickly. Trust me, I have seen the beauty of what yoga can do. It can cleanse you of your history and leave you feeling washed ashore, restful and hollow. But being hollow isn’t bad, things that are hollow let the light shine through.

Categories: For the beginner | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Samtosa vs. Samadhi

Samtosa vs. SamadhiI would like to challenge your thinking about the pinnacle stage that yoga is supposed to lead us to samadhi. Samadhi gets the top rung on the Ashtanga ladder.  Seems to be the inspiration for all our expiration, frustration and conversations, this one included. Yogi’s love to flaunt their samadhi around to people who seem not to know how to pronounce it, let alone experience it. Some yoga studio owners are even bold enough to name their yoga studio, Samadhi. Which, I would believe implies that if I practice there, I would receive my bliss way ahead of all those other hard-working students of yoga. But is all this sweating, bending, breathing, meditating and chanting really going to make me blissful or take me to a super conscious state?

I’m not so sure I want bliss or a super conscious state. I have found the thing that I experience the most from yoga is samtosa (pronounced Saam -to-sha) Just saying the word for me seems to put me linked right into its meaning, via feeling. Samtosa means contentment. Sutra 2.42 says “Samtosat anuttamah sukha labhah” translated simply as contentment brings supreme happiness. I find that because I do yoga, I am more content, more often and more easily. I sometimes think that samtosa should be given more respect and attention. Right now it’s just tucked into the second limb of yoga; the niyama’s. (which are methods for how I interact with myself) Where-as the first limb; the yama’s, bring’s me into my relationship with the world. (everything outside myself)

I feel like people are grasping for this eternal bliss in many of their activities in life. It’s kind of funny, because if I read up on samadhi, I find that there is not that much mention of this state of bliss. It is said as such ” The bliss OF samadhi”, because samadhi is actually where the mind becomes one with the object of its attention. Samadhi is a heightened state. Or it could be said that it’s a heightened state of dhyana – meditation, which is an unbroken flow of awareness. Somewhere along the way, people just started to say that the end goal of yoga or that the meaning of samadhi is Bliss. Bliss to me is happiness with euphoria.

We seem to be a society craving happiness more than anything else. Advertisers use this happiness desire on us endlessly to get us to buy more, do more, eat more and overall MORE of anything. I have read a book called “The Happiness Project”, and “The Geography of Bliss”, (by the way, good book) “Stumbling on Happiness”, and “Hector and the Search for Happiness”. I’m sure there are many other books out there touting their promise of achieving greater happiness. Campbell’s Soup has a whole ad campaign currently around the notion that “You can bring your happiness to work.” by bringing Campbell’s Soup to work for lunch. If all I need to do is eat Campbell’s Soup to be more happy, then why am I doing all this bending, sweating, twisting, and breathing to try to achieve it? Seems like there might be a short cut? Can soup really make me happier? Can reading all those books get me there quicker? Can doing all this yoga really lead me to Bliss?

If happiness was so easy to achieve, then there wouldn’t be such a large percentage of the population on antidepressants. I find that contentment comes way easier for me then bliss or happiness does. When I am content, I am at peace with what I am doing, or where I am, or who I’m with, or even if I am all by myself, no where in particular, doing nothing of great importance. I can find myself content walking my dogs. I can find myself very content reading a book, or right in the middle of my yoga practice, or even while raking leaves.  In order to achieve samtosa I must not want more than what I have in that moment. Which would mean, I am not grasping for MORE! Aparigraha, or non-grasping is another golden nugget from the great limbs of yoga. It also falls under the niyama’s.

To me, I like that when I am content I don’t feel pressure. But when I am happy, I sometimes do feel pressure. Happiness’s dark shadow would be sadness. The expression that  “the higher you go the further you fall” says to me the risk people take with all this bliss seeking. I figure that if I am content, I am neither sad nor happy but equally established in my reality. It’s not that I don’t want to be happy. Happiness is fun and joyful, and I like feeling that way. It’s just that I don’t need all my moments in life to be off the Richter scale. I am comfortable with the mundane, familiar and the dependable parts of my life. I know these moments of samtosa/contentment will be interrupted with moments of great joy and sadness but I’d rather have my life 80% of the time be where I am at ease and steady in my attitude, mood and energy. Being content does makes me happy, not euphoric, but happy. So does that mean happiness, a.k.a. bliss really is the top rung?

Samadhi is becoming one with what I direct my attention towards. When I’m content, my attention is no where in particular. I think that’s the difference between samadhi and samtosa. I think samadhi is for a higher form of spirituality but santosa is for daily practicality. To grow into being content more often in my life on a day-to-day basis would then probably help me create more room in my life to experience samadhi. So I think this a great example of chicken or egg? Cart or horse? I need samtosa to experience samadhi, without it, it’s not possible. I first need to learn how to become content with the mundane, necessary moments of my life before I can experience the bliss OF samadhi. So Samtosa is the egg and samadhi is the chicken that’s born from the egg. So does samtosa need more attention brought to it? I think so. I think if you were pitting the two against each other, as which is more important, it would definitely be samtosa.

Ding, ding, ding! So in this corner, we have the heavy weight of contentment and in the other corner we have the lightweight samadhi. I first need to  learn to become content with the necessary things. Contentment is like the drill work a boxer must do to win a fight. The repetitive, day-to-day work that prepares the fighter to get in the ring and to go up against his/her challenging opponents of life. I must first become content before I can experience that one pointed focus necessary for samadhi. When a boxer is in the ring he/she is thinking of one thing and one thing only. If he/she separates from that one thing for even a moment he might take a hit that could take him out of the fight. He can only get to that one pointed focus by first becoming content with doing the humdrum, redundant, but unavoidable skills of his craft.

So my advice: enjoy the moments you are neither happy nor sad, with people or by yourself, busy or bored. Become comfortable in the familiar, necessary patterns of your day, you’ll stop swinging so drastically between extremes and find that the place in the middle is a very nice place to be.

So the winner of this competition samadhi vs. samtosa is… yep you guess it, SAMTOSA!

Now be content with that.

Categories: For the beginner, My viewpoint | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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