You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.
– MARGERY WILLIAMS, The Velveteen Rabbit –
You become; gently and with much patience. It may be a lifelong practice to fully understand the subtle nuances that shape us into who we are. In forging a path of authenticity, we might acknowledge our madness and misalignments and use yoga as a discipline to overcome hardships and challenge the forces that keep us tethered to unnecessary attachments and addictions.
Authenticity is becoming more aligned with the truth of the self and the higher truth of the world. When we are more aligned with ourselves, we’re better able to attune to the world and harmonize with others and the environment. Alignment looks and feels different for everyone. This is clearly demonstrated in yoga. Everyone breathes at a different depth and pace. All bodies are unique in shape, size, and mass. Participants of yoga may flow and move freely through space in a manner that their body allows. A proper teacher is one who adapts and uses specific cues to assist the student in aligning his/her body correctly with each pose in accordance with the bones, muscles, fascia and their development in the practice.
When we focus on aligning ourselves in our breath and body, we become more aligned with ourselves on an emotional/mental level. Yoga is a refinement of the body’s alignment to yolk the body, breath, and mind. On a physiological level, a consistent yoga practice increases neuroplasticity in the brain. When we learn new things and adapt to challenges, this creates new neural pathways in the brain and increases our capacity for growth.
To challenge dogma, popular belief systems, mainstream politics, cultural norms and values is to question your reality. Questioning leads to breaking the cycles of samsara as one clears the avidya (ignorance) and maya (illusion) that clouds our perception.
Aligning with oneself and cultivating a lifestyle for authenticity takes a courageous heart. Overcoming hardships such as addiction may serve as a trial for suffering where the soul may be strengthened. Many artists live in varying degrees of despair and addiction, providing us with an honest expression of what it means to be human. We might cherish those brave and beautiful souls who reveal their hearts to the world and strive to overcome their hardships. This struggle is a profound step in the development of a path of alignment and authenticity.
Discipline in Motion through Yoga
Dedication to yoga asana may create alignment and harmony in breath, body, mind, and ultimately, the spirit. This alignment fosters authenticity as we may become more aware of all the complexities that make us who we are, unique in form, expression, and style. The practice of yoga may help to cultivate a more profound awareness in how one creates and connects to their purpose or service in the world. The yogi who dedicates themselves to this process is aware of the karmic residue one leaves and aims to take action with regard to a higher purpose and/or selfless service.
Tapas is the Sanskrit term for heat, fire, and focus. It relates to discipline and burning off impurities that no longer serve. Dedication to tapas would be a discipline in dedicating the self with a specific focus in mind. For example, tapas in yoga may be demonstrated through breathing deeply into difficult poses and sticking with the heat and fire that arises. Tapas in daily life may translate to overcoming difficulties that arise through dedication and discipline; the inner strength to endure and push through whatever ails, contradicts, or despairs.
This is where the practice and teachings of yoga may prepare the yogi to endure whatever hardships appear in day-to-day life. Breathing into yoga poses such as binds, which may include Garudasana (eagle pose) or Svarga Dvijasana (bird of paradise) are strenuous and challenge the body and the breath. Such postures build heat and test the yogi’s strength. When we place such physical demands on the body and focus on breathing through the strain, stress, and sweat, we may teach ourselves to stay calm and endure the stressors that appear in our day. A practice for tapas is a practice for discipline to endure whatever experience arises, the good and the bad, to stay on the path we’ve chosen for ourselves. Authenticity may be born as we witness the evolution of our alignment, within our bodies through the practice of yoga and a commitment to tapas, and our alignment within the greater fabric of the universe.
Hungry Ghosts & Cycles of Samsara
In Buddhist teachings, there are six realms of existence characterized by the different ways in which we live. The six realms are beast, human, god, demi-god, hell, and hungry ghosts. As we enter different phases of consciousness, we move through the unique realms in the Buddhist Mandala of Life with the ultimate aim of freedom from the realms altogether.
The Realm of Hungry Ghosts is the realm of the addict and perhaps a means to escape the Hell Realm where characters of rage and fear where the characters of rage and fear rule. The Hungry Ghosts are depicted as bloated creatures with small necks, tiny pinhole mouths, and large bellies with no limbs. The bloatedness of the Hungry Ghost expresses craving, an emptiness inside satiated (momentarily) by an external substance. The Hungry Ghost is exquisite in showing the longing we may carry and how our addictions may thwart our path of authenticity. When we are bound by the chain of addiction, this may hinder our capacity to evolve and align with the harmonies of the world.
I previously discussed the Buddhist method of Emptiness, or sunyata, in sitting with loneliness to remedy the longing that craves external validation. Addiction is an expression of avoiding this longing and seeking an outlet to numb the pain. It becomes a way to kill the time we face each day. If one has the money and resources available, one might spend their time pursuing higher levels of education, indulge in sports, create a family, or advance their career. The poverty and despair in Vancouver’s East Side houses addicts from all conceivable backgrounds, many who lacked proper care and resources to focus their attention. Some may never transcend the Realm of Hungry Ghosts. Addiction is a disease for many who suffer drug and alcohol abuse. Providing a safe method to get high may be the best way to manage. The realm of the addict is a constant struggle to live with and without the substance of desire.
In Hinduism, the cycle of birth, rebirth, and death, is known as samsara. Sanskrit for ‘to wander’ or ‘to flow through’. Samsara is a result of our karma in this life or a previous life and based on one’s thoughts, words, and actions. The yogi strives to attain moksha, or enlightenment, and overcome the cycles of samsara through purging all karmic residue. The jiva is the soul of a person and in constant flow moving between the states of birth, rebirth, and death. The body, emotions, and senses keep the jiva tethered to the cycles of samsara in a state of maya, illusion. The metamorphosis and/or reincarnation of the soul is expressed as the jiva moves through samsara. The maya we experience is the stories of separation and avidya, ignorance. Maya causes one to act in ways to perpetuate the seeds of karma, keeping one bound to the cycles of samsara and furthering the separation.
Maya is from the Vedanta school of thought and was originally believed to be a magic power possessed by a god to make humans believe in something that turns out to be an illusion. Today, maya may be perceived as a cosmic illusion that the phenomenal world is real. Buddhist and Hindu traditions maintain that in order to move away from the realms of suffering, such as the Realm of Hungry Ghosts and addiction, one must transcend the limited perceptions caused by the ego where we feel lonely and seperate, to arrive at the higher truth of human existence where we know we are one with the universe.
Our true self knows this to be true: the interconnectedness of all things. Carving out a space for your authenticity is a part of the process in recognizing the oneness in the universe amidst the unique colors and textures in expression, idea, and form.
Madness and Misalignment On the Path
We’re all a little bit mad, striving to overcome anxieties and addictions. Addiction may be a symptom of the madness we all live with, the insecurity and fear. The pull towards addiction might be transformed into a will for tapas; the ability to overcome our suffering through persistence, patience, and love, to create authenticity and alignment within ourselves and the universe.
A little bit of madness and misalignment sheds light on our experience. It may be through our failures and our flaws that we gain a greater capacity to understand the inner workings of the self and a life of authenticity. Life is a mystery, rules were created by humans to establish order and reason. What works for you, may not work for someone else. Life may be illogical, messy, prone to disorder, and full of craziness depending on where you’re standing. There’s no guidebook to living. Our becoming is a solo journey where one might arrive to refine, accept, and awaken to what it truly means to be you.
May our madness wake us up to transcend our limited perception of reality and connect to the authenticity we have within.