A little over a week ago, we entered into the energies of Capricorn, through the gateway of the Winter Solstice, the point in our annual solar cycle when the Sun begins its journey back north from the Tropic of Capricorn, the Southern most latitude it meets in its volley between the Tropic of Cancer in the Northern Hemisphere. This gradual emergence from darkness, as the light of the Sun returns north, we celebrate in various festivals – the Hindu’s week-long Diwali, the Jew’s eight nights of Hanukkah, and the octave of Christmas in the Catholic tradition.
The zodiacal symbol for Capricorn is the sea-goat, a mythological creature that has the torso, forelegs and head of a goat, and the tail of a fish. The head represents the conscious mind, and the tail the sub-conscious. The goat is able to climb to some of the highest places in the earthly realm. Mountains are the domain of the gods, sages and mystics. Their peaks penetrate the sky, serving as a bridge between heaven and earth. The goat’s ascent up the mountain reminds us of our ever-upward quest for Higher Consciousness.
Conversely, a fish lives in water, and the ocean is the realm of the deepest lying places on earth. Water is symbolic of the emotional life, of the sub-conscious, the home of our intuition, insight and inner knowing.
The energies of Capricorn serve as a bridge then, between the terrestrial and the celestial, between the conscious and the sub-conscious minds, between the masculine and the feminine energies within us. The Sea-goat, then, represents the evolved being who has mastery over the mind and the emotions, who is able to move freely between the material and spiritual planes, and who has sacrificed the ego to the Will of the Higher Consciousness.
The Tarot Key associated with Capricorn, interestingly, is The Devil card, on which we see a creature with the head of a goat. Capricorn is ruled by Saturn, the planet that represents, among other things, the teacher, limitations, and karma. It is under the auspices of Saturn and the energies of Capricorn that we learn our karmic lessons through the experience of limitation.
Very often, we view limitation as a negative thing. We see it as something that restricts our ability to live as we choose. Any experience we perceive as a limitation in the material plane is, however, always self-created, a reflection of our own actions from previous incarnations revisiting us in this one. They are never a punishment, but only ever about reestablishing karmic balance.
In the human body, Capricorn governs the skin and the bones. When we speak of an old home, we often say, “It has good bones.” What this means is that the house’s foundation and structure are solid, in good repair, and perhaps pleasing to the eye. The siding we might view as the “skin” of the house. It is what gives the building its external character. More importantly, however, it is that which contains and protects what lies within. If we had no skin and bones, we would only be a puddle of liquid and tissue.
Limitations are necessary for our growth and development. They provide a structure for our evolution, a crucible within which we burn off all that we are not, all the illusion that the ego has amassed, to reveal the pure perfection in the golden nugget of our Essential Self. The seed must break out of the confines of its hull in order to make its way toward the Sun. The seed coat serves a purpose for a time, but eventually it must fall away, if we are to emerge from the darkness into the light of day.
This reminds me of a film I saw in which a man, who seemingly has everything - wealth, power, privilege - sets up as the head of his family and business another man, who could easily be his identical twin. This theme is not a new one; “The Prince and the Pauper” tale was written by Mark Twain and published in 1882. What made it new for me, in this particular telling, became clear in the film’s title: The Scapegoat.
In ancient Jewish tradition, as depicted in the Old Testament, on the Day of Atonement, two goats were chosen, one to be “The Lord’s Goat,” which was offered as a blood sacrifice, and the other, the “Azezel Goat,” to serve as scapegoat, to be sent into the wilderness, symbolically carrying the burden of the nation’s sins away from the people. La Azezel translates to “for absolute removal.”
In the opening credits of this psychological thriller, the first and last names of the actors, producers, director, and such, glide over each other in red and white type, blending before they separate again to disappear out of view. As I watched, the same finally occurred with the movie title. “The” passed over “Scapegoat” bringing into highlighted view the melded word “Escape,” and it was then that I had an aha moment and the theme of this reflection began to come into focus.
I think it is fitting that we celebrate the birth of Jesus just after the Solstice. With his birth celebrated in the time of Capricorn, He, too, serves as a bridge between the material and the spiritual realms. Jesus was both a fisher of men’s souls, and, he served, ultimately, as the sacrificial goat, cleansing humanity of 2000 years of karma. His teachings all pointed toward the throwing off of limitation and embracing the Light within, as the only salvation from the pain and suffering we create for ourselves, when we cling too tightly to the material plane of existence.
In Jesus’ birth already existed the germ of his death. The effect is always present in the cause. The soul that incarnated as Jesus was prepared over many lifetimes for just this eventuality, with full understanding of the outcome. Had Jesus been ruled by ego, there were many opportunities when he could have chosen a different path, yet he remained, staying true to his Higher Calling.
Jesus, the Christ, is called Messiah, the savior. Like any super hero, people look to him to be their champion, to relieve their suffering, to make everything better by ridding their lives of the darkness of evil. He did not come to absolve humanity of its sins; He came to awaken those who are asleep, to rouse from the grave of life the walking dead.
Though Jesus “took on” the sins of the people, and cleansed two millennia worth of karma, He knew his mission was not to give out “loaves and fishes.” He understood that teaching a man to fish is the only true path toward liberation, the only way to lasting salvation. He was here to show us the truth of who we are, Divine Children of God. Jesus came to lead by example, to set an archetypal pattern for us to follow, demonstrating that devotion to God is devotion to Self, and in serving others, God and we are served.
Unfortunately, too many lose sight of this, and focus exclusively on Jesus’ dying on the cross to redeem the sins of only the “true believers.” We then miss the lesson and the greater purpose of incarnation, atonement or at-one-ment, which really means alignment with God. We forget that this can only come about by taking responsibility for ones actions, that redemption only happens when we are willing to make amends, to mend our destructive ways of thinking and being.
Jesus was here to serve as a way-shower, not to do our work for us. When he didn’t live up to the people’s expectations, when he wouldn’t deliver them from their suffering, in the ways they expected him to, they turned away from him.
Many of us are still turning away, still denying and betraying Jesus. Yet, it wasn’t Jesus, the man, who was denied or betrayed some 2000 years ago, it was the Christ, the consciousness or awareness, that we are sparks of Divinity. It is the Christ within each of us whom we continue to reject. We are still clinging too tightly to the ego, and in this state of contraction, we leave no space for the Christ Light to shine forth.
Certainly it is easy to trace through history countless men, women and children who have served as scapegoats, multitudes who were sacrificed at the hands of those who were unwilling or unable to do the work of atonement, to fully align with soul, and, by extension, the Higher Self.
We select and offer up a scapegoat for sacrifice when we want to escape the responsibility of our own creation.Whenever we refuse to take responsibility for our own thoughts, words, emotions and actions, we contribute to perpetuating the archetype of the scapegoat. This is only possible by means of projection. It requires that we thrust upon another all of our own fears, all of our unfulfilled expectations, disguised as judgment, anger, hatred, and disappointment. It is so much easier to place the blame on another than to look closely at our own unresolved issues and imbalances. But herein lies the seed of limitation.
For fear is the source of all limitation. Fear and its offspring doubt are the brick and mortar of our self-made prisons. Our belief in separation from God, ultimately the cause of all of our suffering, produces guilt, from which fear arises. The brainchild of the ego, fear, underlies all the thoughts and actions that move us further away from Self, from God. We then subconsciously feel we must suffer, to appease the God we believe we have betrayed.
If we unconsciously believe we must suffer for turning away from God, we may attempt to amend this through self-sacrifice, casting ourselves as scapegoat. We then punish ourselves unconsciously through personal injury, illness, an inability to earn or retain money, or the destruction or abuse of personal property, for example.
This may also manifest when we take on the role of the martyr, to atone for our own guilt, by suffering for the good of others. We create a scapegoat when we designate another as the reason we are incapable of being in alignment or integrity with ourselves, using the excuse that it might hurt their feelings or offend them, were we to put our own greater good first.
Still at other times, we project our crippling fear and guilt onto another, seeing them as the cause of all of our unhappiness or misfortune, unaware that it is only in facing our own fears that we may truly overcome them.
When we make another our scapegoat we are actually, in essence, sacrificing our own soul. It becomes the Azezal, the goat that is sent off into the wilderness, banished. If our experience of limitation is always a karmic opportunity to grow, and we abdicate our responsibility, by blaming another for our circumstance, then we are only denying and betraying our own soul, who would ultimately be the rightful beneficiary of these evolutionary lessons.
It is interesting that the word sacrifice means to make sacred. Yet, when we condemn ourselves or demand another carry the burden of our unconscious patterning, these are anything but sacred acts, which are meant to bring us closer not further away from God.
There are countless volumes whose focus is on cultivating and sustaining dynamic, functional relationships. It is pretty universally understood that we must be active participants in our partnerships, if we expect them to flourish. Our relationship with God is our most personal and primary. Yet, so many of us give that relationship the least amount of our time, energy and focus. How can we expect to have a relationship with God, when we put so many other things before it?
Yet our relationship with God is not best cultivated like others, through external means. When we want to be close to someone, to develop intimacy, we literally and figuratively go to where they are. So must we go to where God dwells. It is true that God is present in all things, and it is appropriate to acknowledge and honor that presence everywhere. But our most immediate and intimate experience of God is always through an exploration of the inner realms of our being.
When in need, we often turn to our beloved for support and solace. In this space of love and acceptance, all fear falls away, if only for a moment. To truly eradicate fear, we must go to its source. We must acknowledge that the ego’s illusion of separation is the foundation upon which we have built our lives. As it is a false premise, it makes for a very unstable platform to create the structure of our experience.
In the Tarot, the Devil card represents this false foundation, the illusion and limitation inherent in the material plane, and the distractions it poses that come between ourselves and God. In the next card, The Tower, associated with Mars, we see the structure we have erected on this erroneous concept being destroyed. This is our first step in our journey back to God, when we finally acknowledge that everything we ever thought we knew is wrong, that the foundation is all a lie.
We then return to a state of beginners mind, where anything is possible. All of the old concepts have collapsed and we may start again, fresh. It is a Karmic cleansing of great magnitude. When the debris has been cleared, we can then begin the process of rebuilding. In this, we experience a renaissance or rebirth of our consciousness, the return of the Light.
The Piscean Age, beginning during the era of Jesus’ birth, was an expression of this same process, a dismantling of old outmoded ways of thinking and being, so a new foundation might be established. That age was born out, however, in great suffering, as we were too busy still serving the ego rather than the needs of the soul.
We must take responsibility for whatever the foundation on which we find ourselves standing, as we are the ones who constructed it. We need to forgive ourselves for all we thought, felt or did from the vantage point of that imperfect platform. We must direct our energies anew to rectifying our ignorance, through education, awareness and discernment. As we examine and understand our habitual attitudes and behaviors and their consequences, and seek the Truth, we will then be able to reconstruct our lives on the foundation of Higher Consciousness.
This calls for discipline, what some might perceive as limitation. As we purify the body, mind and emotions, we create the “good bones” that will provide solid support for the structure of our life experience.
In the Hindu tradition there are ten pillars found in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. These ethical and spiritual practices, called the Yamas and the Niyamas, serve as foundational underpinnings of the 8 Limbs of Yoga, and support all Buddhist philosophy, and will serve us equally in our daily lives.
First, we will explore the Yamas, which in Sanskrit means bridle or rein. These are a set of five ethically mindful principles, limitations we willingly adopt that concern our energy in relationship to others, and the environment. Though as you will see they easily translate to one’s treatment of self.
AHIMSA: Compassion for all living things
Himsa means “injustice” or “cruelty” in Sanskrit. Ahimsa is then the absence of himsa. Ahimsa is more than just a lack of violence. It also implies kindness, friendliness, and thoughtful consideration of others. We must also note that violence can take many forms, not only physical. An ill intentioned thought, word, feeling or action might be equally destructive. It is not to say that we can eliminate every petty thought or jealousy, or that we all must eat a vegan diet. What it requires is that one adopt a considered attitude, and learn to view the world through compassionate eyes. When we begin to recognize the deeper roots of our feelings, emotions and behavioral patterns, we can begin to alter our negative perceptions of others and ultimately ourselves.
SATYA: Commitment to the truth
The practice of right speech and action is what is meant by satya. If our communications and actions with others are honest and based in truth, our relationships will have integrity. Deliberate deception, exaggeration, and mistruth are harmful to others. Much of our conversations about others are based on hearsay, our imaginations, perceptions, suppositions, or erroneous conclusions. Idle gossip is miscommunication at its finest.
“It’s not necessarily what you say; it’s how you say it.” This was a favorite adage in my house, when I was growing up. In our increasingly virtual world of communication, it can be very challenging to convey our thoughts and feelings or interpret those of others, because the communication is so often being read rather than given or received in person. There is no tone of voice or body language to offer clues or cues as to the intention underlying the communication. That is why clarity and integrity are so important.
We also have a system in place through which information can be disseminated in a nanosecond. As a result, misinformation is spreading like wild fire, because so many choose to accept at face value anything posted, tweeted, instant messaged, etc., without the due diligence of source/fact checking, or we only tune into information from those who are of “like mind,” therefore limiting the scope of the “Truth” to what already supports our concepts and view of the world.
Satya translates to truthfulness, “to speak the truth”. Yet it is not always appropriate to speak the truth, at the expense of someone else’s feelings. Kids have an uncanny knack for blurting out whatever they think about the person ahead in the line at the grocery store. What we try to cultivate in our children is a disciplined tongue. In many cases we, ourselves, don’t practice what we preach. Our “truth” is most often merely our perception, and not necessarily the Truth. Discernment is key. Is this “truth” coming from ego, or is it coming from Self?
Another saying in my home was, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” At times, if speaking the truth has negative consequences for someone else, then it is better to say nothing. One must use considered thought to determine when it is necessary to speak up and when it is better to remain silent. We might remember these words of Shirdi Sai Baba:
“Before you speak ask yourself: Is it kind, is it necessary, it is true, does it improve upon the silence?”
ASTEYA: Not stealing
Steya means “to steal”; asteya is the opposite- to take nothing that does not belong to you. This comes from the understanding that all misappropriation arises from a perception of lack, a feeling that usually arises from the belief that our happiness hinges on external circumstances and material possessions. If we consistently seek satisfaction outside ourselves, we are less able to appreciate the vast abundance that already exists in our lives. If we cultivate an attitude of gratitude and a degree of self-sufficiency, rather than neediness, the Universe and others will bless us with all that we require.
One must also be mindful not to take anything that is not given freely. We must not take advantage of another’s time, patience or generosity. Extorting aid or affection by laying on guilt, or exerting undo pressure is also to be avoided. Additionally, if someone confides in us or entrusts us with something, we must honor that compact, as we would be “stealing” that person’s trust in us, were we to divulge the information they revealed to us.
BRAHMACHARYA: Merging with the one
This word is composed of the root car, which means ‘to move”, and the word brahma, which means “truth” in terms of the One Essential Truth. Therefore, we can understand brahmacharya as movement toward what is essential. It is most often defined as abstinence, continence, or responsibility, particularly with regard to sexual activity. Ideally, we will form and foster relationships that enhance our understanding of the highest truths. Practicing brahmacharya implies that we use our vital life force or sexual energy to regenerate our connection to our spiritual self and ultimately with the One, avoiding relations that might bring harm to ourselves or to others. In practicing restraint, we can utilize our sexual energy to further our journey of self-discovery, by approaching our sexual relationships with mindfulness, or by redirecting that force into other creative pursuits.
Parigraha means “to take” or “to seize”. Aparigraha guides us in our efforts to let go, to release our attachments to things, people or ideas, which causes suffering (klesa) in our lives. If we hold too tightly to something, it hinders our ability to change. If we can clear out the tension, clutter and the baggage that overrun our body, mind and home, we will create space for new, more positive, productive ways of thinking and being. We so often hold on to tension in our body, to perceived wrongdoings on the part of others, to old outmoded ways of thinking and behaving, as well as to individuals. All of existence is impermanent. The idea that we can hold onto anything is an illusion (maya), which also perpetuates our suffering.
The niyamas refer to the attitude we adopt toward ourselves. It is an intimate and personal relationship that is cultivated over time.
SAUCHA: Cleanliness and purity of body, mind and environment. The word purity comes from the Latin, purus, which means clean and unadulterated. Practicing yoga asana and pranayama are two ways to instill the practice of saucha in our lives. A healthy, free functioning body leads to clarity in the mind, and vice versa.
When we eat nutritionally potent foods, focus on expanding our consciousness by reading books and enjoying entertainment that inspires, and associate with people who are kind and compassionate, we are feeding our soul in ways that nourish us and provide peace and equanimity in our lives.
When we create a home environment that is aesthetically pleasing, simple and uncluttered, this translates into our daily lives more readily. When we rid our life of the extraneous “stuff”, there is more space for that which is essential.
Saucha asks us to cleanse our self of things, people and habits that are destructive or inhibit us from living our truth. We create space by purging our life of the excess. We benefit by cleanig out our closets and our mind, by dusting out the cobwebs of old outmoded ways of thinking and being, and ridding our life of negative thinking people who drain us of our energy.
SANTOSHA: Santosha is the practice of modesty and contentment, in essence, being satisfied with what we have. When we can see things as they are without being pulled into suffering by our expectations, there can be acceptance and true contentment. We need to cultivate a sense of peace with whatever stage of growth we are in, and with the circumstances in which we currently find our self, knowing that we are continually evolving, and no experience need be a permanent condition. This mindset can be integrated into our pranayama, asana, and meditation practices, as well as within our daily life.
TAPAS: The disciplined use of energy. Tapas, literally, translates as “fire” or “heat”, a burning enthusiasm. Engaging in tapas is a way of focusing our energy, so we don’t waste our time and energy with extraneous or trivial matters. Discipline is having enough respect for oneself to make choices that truly nurture one’s well being and provide opportunities for spiritual growth.
Pema Chodron tells us, “What we discipline is not our ‘badness’ or our ‘wrongness’. What we discipline is any form of potential escape from reality.”
SVADHYAYA: Sav means “self” or “belonging to me”. Adhyaya means “inquiry” or “examination”. Svadhyaya refers to any activity that fosters self-reflective consciousness.
Whatever the practice, as long as there is an intention to know oneself by means of it, and the commitment to see the process through, almost any activity can become an opportunity for learning about our self.
Certainly, the practice of pranayama, asana and meditation are essential ways to explore one’s inner life, but we are not limited there. Reading sacred texts, writing, going on retreats, walks in the woods, washing dishes, looking into the eyes of a loved one, from the profound to the mundane, all these activities can enrich our understanding of our self.
This practice uncovers both our strengths and our weaknesses, what brings us joy and stirs our fears, our addictions and negative patterning. We come face to face with our demons, when we are willing to dig deeply enough. Only by doing so can we cleanse our self of that which would keep us from our Higher Self, the spark of divinity that lies within. When we learn to acknowledge and embrace the “shit”, it can then become the fertilizer for the growth of the seeds of our new awareness.
ISHVARAPRANIDHANA: This literally translates “to lay all your actions at the feet of God.” Yoga teaches us that the spiritual infuses everything. When we put aside some time each day to express gratitude for the miracle we call our life, we begin to see the divinity in all things.
This practice requires that we recognize and acknowledge there is some force greater than our self that is divinely guiding and directing the course of our life. It may be hard to see the big picture, when we think we are the great controller of our life, the puppeteer holding the strings.
When we don’t have the recognition that there’s a bigger story going on, we get caught up in our personal drama, and a frustrating cycle of resistance to change, which ultimately causes suffering. We must surrender our personal will, so we can fulfill our true destiny.
So it is through these disciplined observances that we exemplify the energies of Capricorn and become an evolved being, like Jesus the Christ, one who has mastery over the mind, the emotions, and the physical form, who is able to move freely between the material and spiritual planes, and who has sacrificed the ego to the Will of the Higher Consciousness.
When we understand we are not separate from anything, that we are all a part of the One, all fear falls away, and we can freely let go of our attachments and finally develop the sense of peace and equanimity in our life that we truly desire.
FORGETTING & REMEMBERING
As we approach the solstice and winter holiday season, I am reminded of an experience I had some years ago, as I took a walk Christmas day with my son and daughter. We traveled our usual path over a footbridge that crosses a brook behind our house, a little meandering stream that plays host to a multitude of minnows and frogs, visible in fairer weather, bubbling happily in spring and slowing to a trickle at the height of summer.
That day, the water moved briskly with melt-off, gushing and gurgling around stubborn ice floes clinging to river rocks in the shallows, unperturbed by the unseasonably warm temperatures for late December.
My daughter, Kate, remarked at how high the water level was, as we crossed the rough-hewn bridge our elderly neighbor erected years ago for his wife, just so she could ford the stream on her Arctic Cat snowmobile during winter months.
We made our way into the woods. As we walked, I listened to the sound of the snow under my feet. There was a thin crust over the surface, my big boots crunched through it, as I trudged up the hill, noting with sadness how somebody dismantled the tree branch fort where my kids and I would sit on fall afternoons, looking at spiderwebs draping the rustic lean-to, hoping to catch a glimpse of the fairy folk we imagined might use it for their nightly revels.
I offered a challenge for the hike as we climbed further. “Whoever finds a crow feather gets a prize,” I said.
“What’s the prize?” they both chimed.
“I haven’t decided that yet,” I replied.
My son inquired, “What if I find some other type of feather?”
“What kind did you have in mind?” I asked.
“What if it’s an owl feather?”
“Well, that might just outrank a crow.”
“How about an eagle feather?” he countered.
“Ahh … I think that would top the owl for sure, though I’m not sure that this is eagle country,” I said.
My daughter, who trailed behind a few paces, dove off into a cluster of bushes, emitting a sound of excitement, then came back empty handed. She said she’d seen an eagle feather, but it had mysteriously vanished.
Two crows barked their benediction, as we entered their sanctuary, and my son stopped to point out some deer tracks, while my eyes scanned the earth’s cloudy surface for the highly-sought prize to add to my own feather collection, but only pine boughs and cones were left for the taking. It seemed as though our feathered friends were conserving their downy insulation, wisely waiting for warmer weather to shed their winter cloaks.
We made our way through the evergreen giants to the abandoned farm, with its quirky graveyard of rusted machinery and musty, broken-down outbuildings, a veritable museum of a bygone era.
As the kids began hunting for treasures in the dilapidated barn, I reminded them that this was someone else’s property, and besides, we were looking for Nature’s bounty, so the old tricycle wheel and the unidentifiable metal farm implements were left behind.
We wound our way back through the tall pines where the crows roost at night, sheltered from the piercing and predatory eyes of the owl, to emerge in the bones of a meadow that once hosted wildflowers and milkweed, now blanketed in a shimmering mantle of white.
The final leg of our walk took us down hill, which Coe and Kate descended in somersaults, while I navigated on foot. I walked slowly along the ridge running high above the same stream we crossed just an hour before, recalling to myself how, during previous treks, I had the good fortune to happen upon crow feathers by the handful, like so many black bouquets. This day, sadly, offered not a single quill.
I eventually came upon my son and daughter, lying on the ground, looking up through the trees at the passing clouds, taking a little siesta. It was then that I paused to take in the sound of the flowing water. The gentle rhythmic pulse was such a welcome contrast to the more insistent sounds of the holiday season that I sat happily and heavily, the snow giving way under my weight to create the perfect seat, a zabuton to cradle me on my turning inward.
I closed my eyes and inhaled, breathing deeply. That first inflow of breath was invigorating, the cold air penetrating my lungs, clearing my head, igniting the senses anew. I felt a vibrant awakening within me. My skin was now alive with the cold. I could smell damp wood and evergreens, and my ears were attuned to the sounds of the water down below and the birds up above.
There was this intense vibratory dance going on inside of me, but beneath that was a profound stillness that penetrated to my core. Within this feeling of aliveness, there began to emerge a sense of deep, abiding serenity. It felt vast, eternal … all encompassing. It acted as a soothing salve to my senses, a tonic for my soul.
Every wisdom tradition holds some concept of the soul, in one form or another. Of course, there are as many interpretations of what the soul may be as there are traditions, and it is referred to by just as many names: Still Small Voice, Inner Place of Knowing, Higher Self , Christ Consciousness. Buddhists name it Dharma; Jung called it the Seat of the Unconscious.
When we take the time to consider the soul, in silent contemplation, prayer or meditation, we often ponder its “essential nature.” According to my copy of The Reader’s Digest Encyclopedic Dictionary, a relic I found at a library book sale years ago, the word “essential” is defined as, among other things, absolute, complete, perfect, and also the fundamental nature of something.
The word “Nature” is defined as the inherent tendencies, innate disposition, or intrinsic qualities of something, and of course, Nature also means the sum total of all things in time and space, the entire physical universe and the powers, forces, and principles that regulate it.
So, the nature of the Soul, then, as I understand it, or what is essential to it, has a direct relationship – and an intimate connection with – everything in the Universe.
In the Yogic tradition, we call this awareness atman, which translates in the ancient Sanskrit as the supreme soul or Brahman, the all-pervading Spirit of the Universe. It is the Hindu belief that the atman, or soul dwells in something larger, it is a part of the Divine, the great “I Am” or Parusha, and therefore Eternal.
If we accept this, then we would naturally see our soul-selves as limitless, vast, and unbounded as the Universe itself. This we would understand as our natural state of being, our true essence at our core. We are indeed made of the same stuff as the planets, the stars, the oceans, the earth itself. Yet most of us are unaware of or disbelieve this, or if we ever did believe, we have forgotten this Truth. We forget what we once knew so intuitively.
If you have ever observed a baby or young child for any length of time you know this to be true. They are fully open, trusting implicitly, blissfully unaware of boundaries. They are fearless. Children do not censor or discern. Anything and everything goes into their mouths, their ears, and their noses.
And, of course, they are just as free with what comes out of their mouths. The saying goes, “Out of the mouths of babes …” Children understand the world by experiencing it directly, no filters. Like sponges, they soak in their surroundings, extracting all they can from each individual moment, and experiencing each one exhaustively. It’s no wonder they sleep so much! You would too, if you were in a constant state of sensory overload. Do you remember what that was like? Well … it is possible to return to that state, though it may seem well beyond our present grasp.
You see, over time, most often through cultural experience and social conditioning, we begin to shut down. We lose sight of that level of openness and trust we once had in our lives, especially as children. The slings and arrows of our everyday existence buffet and pierce our original awareness of the deep interconnectedness we hold with the Universe, the unlimited potential of our soul selves.
As human beings, we too often view ourselves as defined merely by the parameters of our physical bodies; the limited envelope of skin encasing muscle, bone, organs, and a multitude of complex physiological systems. In Yoga, we refer to this as “Prakrti,” or the basic matter of our selves … which also includes our minds, thoughts and feelings.
It is our way of seeing, our perception of ourselves as separate from, rather than connected to, the Universe, or Cosmos, and the Earth, with all her life forms, human and otherwise, that throws us out of balance, that knocks us off our center. This disassociation with the Divine contributes greatly to our suffering.
In the book Job’s Body, Deane Juhan offers us a passage which suggests another, more holistic way of considering ourselves, in which he likens us to forces of nature, embodying the power and grace found in the elements of Fire, Water, Air and Earth. He says:
"Indeed, since we have left the water and have become terrestrial creatures, subject now to special forces of gravity, we have become miniature earths, in the same way we first became miniature seas: we have added more and more solid features to support our containers of fluid on the ground. We have river channels and reservoirs in our circulatory systems, meadows and forests in our hair: we are mountains of flesh riddled with the caves and fissures of our pores and orifices: like enclosed valleys, we shelter our ancestral cultures, and like open hillsides and plains, we teem with a microbial bustle of new citizens and migrants. We have become an ecology of earth and air, as well as one of water."
When we view ourselves as one with, or as a mirror of Nature, intimately connected to the Universe, our perceptions begin to shift and broaden. We begin to remember. We begin to reclaim our power, our primal creative selves who formed in the void of Parusha, emerged from the vast abyss of pure potential to find our place here, having an experience of Space -Time.
Still, it may not only be our concept of our physical selves that causes this disconnect from our essential nature, our soul. We may also be limiting ourselves by thought and behavioral patterns, by the stories we tell about ourselves, the tapes we play endlessly in our minds that continually reinforce false or negative beliefs about who we are.
Granted, these ways of thinking may be useful for us at times in this life. Yet, just as the Universe is continually expanding and contracting and evolving into something new, so are we. Like the snake that sheds its skin, or the tree that splits and sheds its bark, or the crow that casts off its old feathers, we too must change, if we wish to grow.
When we cling to these old, outmoded ways of perceiving ourselves, we stagnate; we inhibit the primal call of our soul to evolve, to progress toward a more enlightened way of being in the world. When we do that, we’ve forgotten how truly cosmic we are, how we have the same immeasurable potential as stars. Similarly, when we cease to grow out of fear, or by conscious choice, we find ourselves mired in either inertia or fast-approaching entropy. One of the surest ways for us to remember our link to the Infinite and extricate ourselves from this dull torpor is to immerse our self in Nature.
It is here, in the profound majesty of Earth, within Creation itself, we can re-connect, we can remember. That Christmas day my daughter provided me with just such an opportunity, one that served not just as a wakeup call, but as an enlightening glimpse into the very depths of my soul self.
No sooner had I sat in the snow and begun my inward journey, I was stirred from my reverie by a call from Kate, who got up just as I sat down.
From down the hill I hear Kate say, “Mom, come look at this!”
I opened my eyes. My son had already bolted on ahead, eager to get back to his Christmas gifts. Kate, on the other hand, had made her way down the hill to the stream. She was kneeling before an enormous root cluster of a fallen tree now spanning the fast-moving stream below it.
With swiftness and agility, she wiggled her self through the knotty tangle and out onto the large trunk, where she plunked herself down, straddled its circumference, and began to inch her way over it. I stood there, momentarily paralyzed. I could feel fear welling up within me.
Kate turned around and, with a big toothy grin shouted: “Hey Mom, aren’t you coming?’
Then she rose to her feet and glided the rest of the way across. I stood for a moment longer, not knowing what to say or do.
I had just watched my young daughter – nimble as an equilibrist on a tightrope – effortlessly and instinctively sashay across this natural bridge, barely a foot and a half wide. I was humbled by the effortlessness with which she bounded across the brook with no hesitation. How was it she could do it with no compunction?
Suddenly a flurry of thoughts began to rush through my own mind. All of the stories of self doubt, all the limiting beliefs about myself flooded my consciousness: “What if I lose my balance? What if I slip and fall in? I’m too old for this, for God’s sake! I can’t do that!”
Then, this softer voice emerged from somewhere deeper, just whispering, beneath the din of my ego rantings, and I strained to hear it.Why are you hesitating? What is stopping you? Why are you resisting this? What is really holding you back?
In that moment, everything stopped. I stood there, stock-still, and simply began to breathe. I closed my eyes, dropped beneath all the chatter, all the static, and I envisioned myself, as only a few moments before, sitting at the top of the hill. With each deep inhalation, I rediscovered that feeling of expansiveness and the deeply felt sense of peace, the true essence of my being that exists there eternally. When I quieted myself long enough, I could sense it.
I could remember.
I smiled to myself. How interesting that my daughter could access that part of herself so readily. At the same time, how had I forgotten that I display similar balance and grace in my everyday life, in my yoga and qigong practice? That I had dance training, and was also a gymnast as a child?
As I continued to breathe, the Still Small Voice began to gain strength. I think I can do this.
Yes, I can do this. Just like “The Little Engine That Could,” I know I can do this.
I walked to the fallen tree. I squeezed through the snarl of roots and gingerly crept out onto the trunk. I supported the weight of my body with my arms, slowly lifting myself off the log, then maneuvered out over the brook. About halfway across, I could reach a branch, which I grabbed to hoist myself up. I found my footing and, with arms out stretched, I confidently walked the last few feet.
When I caught up with Kate, by the neighbor’s outbuilding, I scooped her up in my arms and shouted, joy ringing out through my words, as I shared my exhilaration with her. “Thank you!” I cried. “Thank you for challenging me to go beyond what I thought I was capable of! Thank you for helping me to remember!”
The reason why it’s such a joy to remember is often because it’s so easy to forget. It is so easy to forget that we, like forces of Nature, have the stability of the Earth, the fluidity of Water, the limitlessness of Air, and the light of Fire within each of us.
In the Yogic tradition, it is said that the Divine or Parusha, of which we are a part and that resides within each of us, is symbolized by a mountain, and we, as physical, mental and spiritual beings, are a lake in whose reflection we can often see the majesty of its peak.
Yet, if there are ripples in the lake, representing the disturbances we create in our minds, the water will be too turbulent to view the mountain’s majesty clearly. We need to dive deeply, down where the water is still, and center ourselves in our breath. When we rise back to the surface, the waves will have ceased and we will once again be able to see the reflection of the Eternal in ourselves.
So, while my children and I didn’t have much luck scouting for feathers, during that Christmas Day, I did discover something else, a treasure equally valuable and precious. When we are in need of reconnecting with our deeper place of knowing, that same valuable remedy can be found in the natural world. Spending time in solitude within Nature's stillness, we can reconnect with our soul, the see of the Self. We may not feel compelled to do so on rainy days, or those offering sub-zero wind chill, but we may just surprise ourselves with what we find, even if we take a brief turn immersed in the elements.
And if the Earth does not offer up her riches for the taking, we will at least have the opportunity to unearth an even more precious prize, away from the cacophony and distractions of our daily existence. There, we can fall back into the grace of the original awareness of our vast, unlimited, essential soul.
The greatest prize awaits us there, and we hold the map within our self.
So, be still. Breathe.
Reclaim the treasure.
Katrin Naumann worked for 20 years as a Theatre Artist, both behind the scenes as a Costume and Scenic Designer, and on stage, film and TV, as an Actor. She has been a lifelong adventurer on the path of Self discovery, which has led to her current role as Director of Inner Balance Life Works. Her holistic healing practice focuses on offering pathways toward (R)evolutionary Self Transformation. Katrin serves the community as an Energy Healer, Intuitive Spiritual Guide, Qigong & Yoga Instructor, Author, Public Speaker, and Workshop Creatrix.