Friday, March 22, 2013

Turning to the Light: A Yogini’s Look at Consciousness

With the first days of spring upon us, I cannot help but welcome the light. The topic of light has been on my mind not just because the magnificent sun is shining upon us in lengthening days, but also in remembrance of the light which shines within.

Have you ever had the most amazing, enlightening experience, then noticed your eyes in a mirror? Cried until there were no more tears, then saw a new brightness to the color of your eyes? Had an orgasm then noticed your eyes (or your partner’s eyes) were practically glowing? Finished a yoga practice and looked at the way your eyes sparkled with fresh clarity? This is one of the ways that we can see the light that shines within.

The yogic sages and philosophers call this light Chit. Chit translates as —to observe, to know, to understand. In general, it means the Light of Consciousness.  

In yoga we practice turning our awareness inwards. We sit in meditation, or rest in corpse pose and observe our experience. But have you ever stopped to ask who is observing it? And, if your mind becomes quiet and still, yet you are aware of (i.e. separate from) its stillness, who was it that was aware (and separate)?

The answer is Chit. It is the Consciousness in you that has always been there and has never changed. Consciousness is our inner nature and is a perfect starting point for the practice of spiritual development; all you need to know is your Self!

When we jump down the rabbit hole of knowing ourselves, the topic of Light gets more interesting. Consciousness, according to Swami Shantananda, is “that which is endowed with the power to know and to perceive.” This is not so much the light you can see with your eyes but the light by which you see. The Light of Consciousness dawns in an Aha! moment — often before we even know what happened — before the mind begins to describe, label and categorize the experience.

Many of us never even know there is a difference between the dawning of Consciousness and our understanding of and relationship to it. It takes practice being present in order to witness the moment when the proverbial lightbulb goes on. Our experience and our labeling of it occurs almost simultaneously. In that moment, however, there is an opportunity to know the Chit and to know ourselves more deeply.

The Light shines forth (for you yoga philosophers at heart, you will also know this as prakasha) and is reflected back to us by what we see (vimarsha). Chit is the Light that emanates from each of us and shines out into the world, it is also our capacity or ability to know what we are seeing, and additionally, our understanding of what we see. Let me explain in more detail.

Consciousness emanates from us and shines on what we see, illuminating it and bringing it into our awareness. Then, in simple terms, we describe what we see; we label it, categorize it, know what it is. For example: That is a flower, that is a man, she has red hair, etc. On a deeper level, we then give personal meaning to what we see. Perhaps we have associations linked with red hair and memories that go along with it. For example: He’s got red hair, my first love had red hair, those were such special times, it makes me feel good to remember who I was then and what that love felt like. This is our understanding of what we see. 

And who is seeing all this in the first place? That is the unchanging One who has the ability to see it all. Chit emerges so that it can reflect back and shine inwards. Consciousness wants to know itself. Consciousness is conspiring for you to see your true nature, the part of yourself which is unchanging and inherently blissful. 

You have a unique face. Without a mirror to reflect your face back to you, you don’t actually know what you look like. You have a unique history, no one else has been through what you’ve been through. Those experiences are your mirror, each one of them reflects not only the experience and your associations with it, but also who you are beyond them.

Your vision and understanding is maleable; how you see yourself, others and your experiences changes day to day. So, the next time you sit down to meditate, or practice yoga, take a moment to breathe it all in. Sit back and open up to the Light. Do a little spring cleaning by taking a fresh look at your reflection. What stories and associations do you have that are no longer fitting? What associations are true? Can you pause the mental labeling long enough to glimpse that flash of Light dawning within? 

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