Go Ask Alice

the-matrix
“This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill – the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill – you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes.”  Morpheus to Neo

I’ve used the “The Matrix” before to illustrate themes of nonduality. Now, I’d like to explore the allusions the movie makes to the child’s tale of “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” which contains some interesting insights of its own. Tumbling down the rabbit hole has become synonymous with entering the unknown and is understood to be the ultimate adventure. Neo is instructed to “follow the white rabbit,” which he does, and it leads him to the red pill and his fall down that very high tech rabbit hole.  Once Neo is unplugged from the Matrix, he is free to experience what would be considered ‘superhuman’ abilities: defying the gravity of the 3D matrix world or demonstrating excessive strength, as examples. Remember, “The Matrix” is an action movie, so the superhuman powers need to be visibly demonstrative. But the point is, whenever we see examples of ‘psychic’ or other ‘superhuman’ powers, we have mere mortals transcending the limits of the world in which they live.  The question is why? Where in the collective unconscious do these ideas originate from?

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In the book, “The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali” (translation and commentary by Sri Swami Satchidananda), there is a section on “Accomplishments”  or “Siddhis,” which are considered to be superhuman powers acquired by those pursuing a spiritual path. Even those not on a spiritual path may demonstrate certain siddhis, such as telepathy, clairvoyance, clairaudience etc, which are presumed to have been acquired through past lives. Let’s be clear: These abilities only seem like ‘superhuman’ powers, but actually these abilities are latent in all of us. They come to the surface as the layers of ignorance about our true selves are removed.

“…but Alice had got so much into the way of expecting nothing but out-of-the-way things to happen, that it seemed quite dull and stupid for life to go on in the common way.” ~Lewis Carroll, “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.”

Alice_in_WonderlandAlice followed the white rabbit and experienced strange occurrences after she landed at the bottom of the rabbit hole. She drank a potion and shrank in size. She ate a piece of cake and grew and grew. These are actually references to two of the siddhis (accomplishments) described by Patanjali. It is widely regarded that Lewis Carroll had deep spiritual leanings, which could have made him familiar with the sutras, but he used their literal meanings. What I mean is, no one literally shrinks in size or grows very large; it is consciousness that can be directed in such a way. For example, a person can ‘shrink’ his/her consciousness in order to contemplate the inner workings of an atom, or ‘expand’ it to contemplate the workings of the cosmos. Information is given to the seeker by use of the siddhis. Medical intuitives use certain siddhis to do their work.

“Samyama: practice of dharana, dhyana and samadhi upon one object, usually for the attainment of a particular power” ~ “The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali” translation by Sri Swami Satchidananda.

Dharana, dhyana, and samadhi are the last three limbs of the inner practices of the Ashtanga Yoga system: Dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation) and samadhi (absorption in the Absolute). Satchidananda explains, “By the mastery of samyama comes the light of knowledge….this means that the truth behind the object on which we do samyama becomes known to us.”  As the sadhaka (one on a spiritual path) advances certain siddhis ‘come online.’ But there is a caveat: They sometimes impede spiritual growth. The ego just loves to puff itself up and show off, so you can imagine the danger here. Fortunately, the teacher, who is constantly watching over his students’ progress, monitors how each student handles the onset of siddhis. The teacher can take them away at any time if they are impeding spiritual advancement. Siddhis are to be regarded as “servants waiting in the corner,” used in a judicious manner and not for self-aggrandizement by the ego.

Every generation has examples of metaphysical insight hidden within the various products of its pop culture. The creative impulse is a wondrous thing; it taps into the collective unconscious to bring forth the art, music,  literature and, since the 20th century, cinema we enjoy and study. So, enjoy the video of Jefferson Airplane performing “White Rabbit”……

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Open Up and Feel the Love

I’ve been subscribing to Yoga Journal for years and still get a thrill flutter when I open my mailbox to find the new issue waiting for me. I usually begin flipping through the magazine as I’m walking back to my apartment or car not being able to restrain myself.

In a recent issue, there was an article by Elizabeth Gilbert of “Eat, Pray, Love” fame in which she relates the experience of her very first yoga class.  It’s a great read for those of you out there who do yoga. Remember your first yoga class? Well, for Gilbert, that first class began a love affair with yoga that continues to this day. I was particularly struck, though, by her revelation of how she burst into tears during that class. She was in the lying spinal twist when the instructor came over and opened up her body a bit more as she held the pose.  That prompted a flow of tears and emotion helping Gilbert to release, as she puts it, the “longing, prayer, and doubt” she had held inside but never openly acknowledged.

Crying during a yoga practice happens from time to time.  We don’t realize how much “stuff” we hold in our bodies. I remember when a woman started to cry during a class I taught. Afterward, she came up to me and during our conversation she told me that her son had died during that past year and she was finding the yoga was helping her to release some of her pain.

Sometimes, though, when a painful experience is too new, it might be best not to practice for a time.  Some years ago, there was an article in Yoga Journal describing an experience by Thom Birch (late husband of ashtanga teacher Beryl Bender Birch). He was in Mysore, India working on his ashtanga practice when he began to cry. Pattabhi Jois (the late ashtanga yoga master) came over and Thom mentioned to Jois that he had just found out his father had died.  Jois stopped his practice and told him, “No practice. Three days.”

The cathartic release of painful emotions from your body allows for a transformation of sorts. You create more space for something else to come in. Gilbert called the “something else” shakti. I like to call it love. Love for whatever you can finally let go of.  Love for whatever you feel is missing in your life. Love for who you are and where you are in this present moment of your life.  Love for whatever may wait for you in the future. Just LOVE.  So during your next practice, open up and feel the love that is all around you.  I promise you will carry it with you off the mat.

Here is the link to Elizabeth Gilbert’s article in Yoga Journal

www.yogajournal.com/lifestyle/2999?utm_source=MyYogaJournal&utm_medium=newsletter&utm_campaign=MyYogaJournal