Now and then over many years I have written the occasional FOTM. I realize now, that in one way or another I always write about awareness. As it is such a huge subject, I have approached this in different ways; the present moment, consciousness, the witness state, the supreme being, the atman, the Self, innate wisdom, basic goodness, one’s true nature; love itself. Out of awareness we may suddenly feel overwhelmed with gratitude or compassion, or by a staggering sense of beauty or by the presence of God’s love. Awareness is a special state of mind experienced in the letting go of bias. Empty of accumulated conditioning, what is left is that which cannot be removed as it is innate and eternal. This is the state of citta vritti nirodah; when we stop gripping to the whirling in our mind; the labels and judgments.
Placing this sutra at the opening of the text suggests that awareness is always with us, yet our experience of it is fleeting. This is the basic teaching in yoga; that we already have within us our greatest treasure; it is vast and untainted yet blocked by obstacles created out of ignorance of this treasure, from which we have many thoughts that are divisive that can polarize our world. In such a realm we often see no other course than to take sides. If this is done with contempt for the other side, this hardens us and thickens the residue of the dust; the coverings of prejudice, imposed on awareness so that the light appears dim. Contempt also creates a barrier so that the unifying of 2 sides, the yoga, is not likely.
Ultimately awareness is unlimited, like love. In other words, one starts with selective love for him or her but moves towards a state of love that’s much larger. Similarly, awareness on an object is limited at first to that object. Once the mind is absorbed in that object, the object no longer feels separate from oneself. Over time, one has through awareness, insights into the object they are aware of, and at the deepest level, in the yoga practice, insights into an object are always universal and include revelations about oneself.
Sometimes we only use our awareness for “important things.” But then if or when they slip away, we are left empty-handed. Therefore, it is best to take a humble attitude and bring awareness into small tasks. If we do the everyday things in a distracted manner, we may not be skilled in awareness for something that seems grander.
Awareness expresses itself in infinite ways. It’s why one might send a care package to a friend that arrives just when the friend is full of despair. Its why one would wear a mask in public during a pandemic or provide shelter for animals during winter. Its why yogis are vegan, no longer able to deny their awareness of the suffering of billions of animals on our planet and the specific violence that emits into the atmosphere. It’s through awareness of our own suffering that we understand the suffering of others and develop compassion. Aware of my difficulty concentrating while waiting for the doctor to call with my test results, compassion arises for those who are suffering the anxiety of having to wait. If one is about to get angry and is aware of it, the awareness diffuses the anger. If one catches oneself even seconds before an outburst, the outburst and its consequences can be avoided. Following rituals, including the ritual of an asana practice, with a certain set of rules assists us as long as we don’t see the rules as confining but rather as supports to show us how we can place our awareness, love, and care on the practice at hand; a way of stitching together something profound with harmonious vibrations.
Though awareness is innate it takes a lot of practice to uncover. The 8-limb practice of aṣṭāṅga yoga is an integrated approach to uncovering the bright light of consciousness. One cannot fall into a deep state of meditation without the practice of non-harming, and one cannot see whether or not one is causing harm without the practice of meditation. Like everything, the limbs are inter-dependent. Living in a materially oriented society, it’s helpful to remind oneself that yoga is not a transient “thing”- like a house, car, a nice body, success, failure, fame, etc. but rather a state of mind. Awareness is not necessarily about “fixing the world” but it certainly helps us look after one another.
Lastly, awareness keeps us in the present moment, such that we can view our world in a state of newness. Funnily enough over time, through practice, as we get older, the world appears more new, and the turning of a banana from green to yellow is a humbling and stunning occurrence!
Note: Teaching Tips provided by Hachi Yu (2021 300HR TT Facilitator)
- Teach Sūrya Namaskār first by just calling it out. Then teach strict vinyasa so that the students can experience the difference and thereby understand what is meant by awareness. When we do something over and over there is a tendency to actually put less awareness into it because we have done it before. Yoga practice addresses this tendency.
- Point out to students how after śavāsana or meditation there is an expansive feeling. This is because during that time the mind is free of its habitual dialog including the very limiting labels and judgments we put even on ourselves.
- Ponder over YS 1:2 and the two sutras that come directly afterward.
- Give examples of how destructive a lack of awareness can be.
- Explain avidya and how destructive it can be- how it leads to wars, genocides, microplastics in the ocean etc. Ignorance is not bliss nor benign.
- Give examples as to how awareness allowed for a situation to unfold beautifully.