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Drive-thru Enlightenment

March 31, 2010

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I was born with a great gift: I am terribly incapable of ignoring physical and mental suffering. You probably have this gift too; I know that I am not special in this. Many of us have this gift but some of us leave it in the corner, wrapped up in its ribbons and design. Often—too often, and many human cultures and habits support this avoidance—we try to stuff its messages down and away with multiple distractions, pain killers, dissociation, and so on. When we open this gift and discover its true value we come to understand that mental and physical suffering are messages that can be read, explored, and understood as maps that can lead us to greater integration. It is helpful to situate this practice in the context of the founding yama: ahimsa (non-harming). I am not suggesting that we seek pain in order to grow; rather, when we feel pain we might turn our attention it to it and read its message. This will give us insight into a splinter that is blocking our integration.

“Samadhi, enlightenment, right now please,” seems to be the modern Yoga zeitgeist. The practice toward integration is not a magic pill that produces immediate results. It is not a drive-thru feel-good shop wherein you get (passive) purified. The practice is yours to work and that effort (tapas) will bring the cleaning, that is the eradication of samskara that block integration and maintain avidya (ignorance). What is our purpose? THAT is our purpose! The proper integration of personality and Self is essential work for each of us and the further we move toward that integration the more successful we are in carrying out the work we are best suited for in this embodiment.

This morning I walked several miles in the woods while joining an asynchronous satsang (!!) with Swami Yogatmananda. He delivered the lecture, Integration of Personality, in May, 2007 at the Vedanta Society of Boston. The personality, according to Swamji and Vedanta philosophy, is a covering that conceals the individual Self. The personality—in this conception—is made up of the physical body and mind. Therefore, in order to achieve unity and (that is, Yoga) between the personality and Self, our primary purpose is to properly integrate the personality. As I listened to Swamiji deploy various metaphors to show the importance of this work, I felt my body fill with a sense of gratitude and wonder as I slowly (on second replay) came to realize that my suffering, situation, body, and so on, are not aspects that I must ESCAPE but the very tools to be used for Realization. That is, God Realization, if you will forgive my public display of piety. God Realization being the successful integration of the personality and the Self—this requires recognition and experience of our Self as part of the whole and not separate.

Imagine how difficult it will be to recognize that oneness with the Ultimate Reality if we have not integrated the personality (body/mind) and the self that is of the Self. Swamiji says, “The integration is brought firstly by a common purpose. All have to be tuned to a common purpose….We have all different units but the goal is [common].” When all the parts are pulled together successfully in order to achieve the common purpose we have unity. When the common purpose is not known by all parts, we find ourselves embroiled in physical and mental turmoil as various aspects of the body/mind move against each other rather than in community. “How our feeling, reasoning, willing, and actions are at war with one another and created terrible confusion within ourselves. There may be conflict of duties, conflict of moral standards, conflict of spiritual ideas. We may become a whirlpool of emotions. So hereto lies the need for integration that stands for purity and strength and harmony.”

I’m starting small—with a little practice: to begin each day with a long meditative walk. The practice for the body and mind is to remain aware of the common purpose and become alert to the messages that arise to guide the parts toward greater integration. Will you join me in a practice for integration?

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