This morning, I was awakened by the crow of a rooster. When I opened the door to feel the fall air, a gust of wind suddenly blew the dry autumn leaves into the house. As they circled around my feet, I thought of nature’s seasonal changes and how they relate to changes in our lives, our country and in the world. The fall winds of change are symbolic of the withering and dissolution of one era before the rebirth of another.
As we enter into this Thanksgiving season, and the coming holidays, we are reminded to give thanks and gratitude for what we have rather than regret for what we don’t have.
I am reminded of the gratitude I feel for the many seasons I have spent studying the Yoga Sutras. And now with the help of so many, I am grateful for the miracle of publishing the first segment of a study manual, Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, Gateway to Enlightenment, Chapter 1, for the many students who have come before, and those who are yet to come, immersing themselves in the study of these ancient texts, whose meaning I have been blessed to receive.
In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali refers to afflictions in our lives as kleshas, which comes from the root verb, klisht meaning to inflict. These kleshas are considered to be the reason for our afflictions, pain and suffering in life:
1) Avidya - not knowing the nature of our oneness with the divine and with all beings, sentient and insentient
2) Asmita - egoism, which is the I-sense that identifies with the body, mind and personality
3) Raga - attachment to objects, or people; wanting to maintain the status quo
4) Dwesha - aversion, resistance, avoidance, not wanting to see things as they are
5) Abhinevesha - clinging to life and the fear of death; fear of change, fear of the unknown
The essence of all of yoga is to transcend the kleshas so that the mind can remain in the state of Yogas Chitta Vritti Nirodhaha (yoga is to quiet or still the waves of the mind). This means in all circumstances, all instances, all seasons, and phases of life.
These kleshas go through five stages of transformation. They exist within each of us, individually and they exist collectively as family, community, and country. They lie in the hidden depths of our subconscious and are known as the origin of samskaras (indelible impressions in the psyche). Samskaras are the product of our desires, actions and experiences throughout life or lives. Asana, pranayama, and meditation practices are meant to bring these impressions up to the surface of the conscious mind where they can be seen, healed and released from our cellular memory. As Mr. B.K.S. Iyengar would say, “The invisible must become visible before it can be eradicated” (or transformed).
For many people, this year has been one of uncertainty, instability, doubt and fear. For so many it has been a year of loss — of loved ones, property, jobs and security of the future. In an instant, the unprecedented winds of storms, flooding, and fires have changed lives. In times of change there is a sense of grieving — for the loss of what was and the uncertainty of what lies ahead. We are now experiencing this as individuals and as a nation.
It seems as if our 45th president is a catalyst for change. He has inspired so many kleshas in us as individuals and communities. Instead of seeing this as negative, we might see the positive influence of bringing the alligators up from the muddy waters of our own nature as well as the swamp of the collective. When that which has been hidden comes to the surface, it can be a bit frightening at first.
As stated in the Yoga Sutras, these kleshas at first arise from the hidden depths of the subconscious psyche to become fully blown and out in the open. As we continue our practices, they eventually move into the alternating state where one emotion or event overcomes the other. Eventually, they come into a thinning state where they no longer have the same emotional hold and power over us. This state is where the mind is not as scattered and comes into a concentrated one-pointed state of awareness.
When the kleshas arise out of the hidden depths of our subconscious whether individually or collectively, it can be a startling experience. It looks like all hell is breaking loose. But, perhaps it is just the light of heaven trying to break through.
The ancient Greek goddess Chaos always preceded change. Change can be frightening but out of chaos comes a new dharma, a new order or societal structure. I cannot help but observe collectively that this is what we may be witnessing today in our political, religious, business and entertainment community. The greater the light, more shadows appear.
It is an exciting time in history when the collective samskaras that have been hidden and repressed for a very long time, are now surfacing for healing and releasing. It is a major time of transformation when those who have had no voice in the past are now coming forth and speaking out regardless of repercussions.
Wow! Are we practicing yoga as a nation? When that which is lying in darkness and confusion begins to surface and comes up into the light of new understanding, it is a time to give thanks. This is what I am thankful for this holiday. I am thankful for the voices of those who have finally been heard and those who have yet to be heard. This includes the native people of this land who, at first, welcomed and helped the pilgrims survive the freezing winters. As history tells us they shared a communal meal on the commemorative day we call Thanksgiving. I have always wondered if this is a day we should be celebrating? However, it seems as if now, Thanksgiving has morphed into a day when we actually do remember to be grateful and give gratitude and thanks. It’s interesting that the words grateful and gratitude come from the same source as grace. In grace, we give thanks for those in our life, we give thanks for the love we share and have shared with others throughout our life, regardless of the hurdles and patterns of the past.
Thanksgiving gives us a glimpse into the possibility of a heart free of the burden of past wounds. It can be a time of forgiveness that opens our subtle heart to receive the light of universal love. This is a love that embraces all beings. It transcends all boundaries, walls and belief systems that separate nations, states and people. In the light of deeper understanding, subtle passageways within us will continue to open to ever-expanding compassion we might call grace. Grace is the universal gift of divine love, forever omnipresent and omniactive, and those who live in this state of grace, consciously and constantly live in eternal gratitude and thanksgiving.
As I sat on the porch of our log cabin looking out at the acre of green grass encircled by tall trees, I thought of a verse in the Bhagavad Gita. “The yogi who perceives the essential oneness everywhere naturally feels the pleasure or pain of others as his or her own.”
The autumn leaves continued to fall. The leaves of the maple trees were starting to turn their usual bright scarlet of the season. A red cardinal landed on the porch railing in front of me. We seemed to delight in each other’s company before it darted off to new exciting adventures. After a long hot summer of travel and teaching, it felt so good, not to be somewhere or do anything. The sun was playing peekaboo through the tall pines as the birds called to one another through their songs. I inhaled the crisp air of the changing season. My heart filled with the beauty and serenity of the moment. In the moment, there is no pain no physical and spiritual hunger, no wars, suffering or lack; it is a moment where leaders of nations truly DO care and those in positions of power are there to serve the highest good for all people.
While the sun began to set behind the trees, a cool wind began to blow. As I walked through the fallen leaves back into the house, I wondered if I had awakened from a long dream, remembering that dreams can come true.
Have a Thanksgiving full of love and gratitude,
Photo by Jeremy Thomas on Unsplash