Wisdom - Insight Applied in the Fulfillment of Need

Thought usually moves in one of three ways. It wanders aimlessly,circles repetitively or plods from point to point. Although these three ways of thinking vary greatly, they share one common factor. They are all processes. Intuition is not a process. It is a freestanding occurrence of direct perception.

white lion

Before we proceed too deeply into an investigation of thought and intuition as these faculties relate to yoga, it would be helpful to lay out the gist of the Eastern mystical perspective—composed of thought, inspired by intuition—that forms the backbone of most introspective yoga practices. In summary, that gist is this:

Truth is relative and absolute. A relative truth is only real in the world of manifestation—a world that exists relative to and because of its unmanifest source. The relative truth of the manifest world is revealed in experience. Because experience can only occur if there is an experiencer, the unmanifest Self must manifest as awareness to be that experiencer.

Because awareness can only be aware by becoming what it is aware of, it suffers a propensity for getting stuck in its experience. As awareness gets stuck in and thus wrongly identified with its experience, it loses track of its one, true and essential identity as Self.

In a loss of even a sense of its Self, awareness falls prey to fear and desire. Prodded on by fear and lured on by desire, this lost experiencer—now a pilgrim-on-the-run—has no choice but to take on many transient identities as it works its way back toward a conscious reunion with its one true identity after having experienced all the manifest world has to offer, one piece of that all at a time.

From a perspective like this, the manifest world looks like a precariously shifting existence that does not function according to truths that remain fixed. The statement, “you should wear warm clothes,” for instance, would be true during a cold winter but false during a hot summer. Or the statement, “you should do as your father does,” would be true if your father was a kind and wise man but false if he was a psychopathic killer.

Yet, we can also sense from this perspective that there is a one unchanging truth that stands behind the very existence of the ever-shifting world we live in as well as that world’s ever-changing truths. We sense this one unchanging truth as an ultimate essence that cannot be seen, heard, smelled, touched or tasted because it is timeless, spaceless, formless, causeless and thus obviously indefinable. This one-and-only, behind-the-scenes, off-the-grid ultimate truth is what some yogis refer to as the “absolute truth” or the “unchanging truth” to distinguish it from all those many changing truths that are relative and temporary.

For the most part, our most frequent access to this absolute truth occurs indirectly and incompletely as we strive to solve day-to-day problems in the manifest world of relative reality. In these down-to-earth efforts, we perceive gleanings of this truth absolute in bits and pieces, as it gets filtered through into news we can use. If we are good at this down-to-earth accessing of permanent truth in a practical context, we are said to have “common sense.” In this grounded state of clarity, the one and only, unchanging, absolute reality lines up with our personal, ever-shifting and relative needs to reveal pragmatic wisdom on the fly.

Breath: Life of Body, Leader of Mind

lionHave you ever noticed that your breathing slows and occasionally stops when you concentrate deeply, and your concentration diffuses out offocus when you breathe deeply? Awareness literally moves on breath. For awareness to be still, breath must decelerate and occasionally pause. For awareness to move, breath must become active.

Practices built on a recognition of this connection between breath and awareness are designed to help develop what is often referred to as “mind control,” but might more appropriately be called awareness control. The working principle here is that awareness, which is not physical, can be controlled through the skillful manipulation of breath, which is physical. This is a most practical teaching. It states that, if we find our awareness fixed in a place we do not want it to be, we can unfix it by simply breathing deeply. Conversely, if we like where our awareness is, we can keep it fixed there by calming the breath into stillness.

The first practitioners of yoga thought of breath as life. Hence, their term for breath control was pranayama, literally “the control of life force.” As those early yogis and yoginis worked with this life control, they learned that pranayama could boost physical health by enhancing the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the physical body. They also learned that pranayama could bring an element of transcendent control to both yoga and life.

There are many pranayamas. All pranayamas are significantly strengthened when they are performed rhythmically. A rhythmic pranayama is a breath control that is measured with a counting that is felt as a pulse. Rhythm brings hypnotic cadence to breath control and makes it enjoyably sustainable. It also awakens a powerful mysticism.

From a mystical perspective, rhythm is a trance-building pulsation of doing interspersed with being—each pulse is a do; the space between each pulse is a be—that can yield, in any action performed rhythmically, nearly limitless power. Such a marvelous potential is too often left sleeping in life, but not in yoga. In yoga, rhythm is extolled for all its worth.

Flowing — Moving awareness at will

In this practice, entitled “Flowing,” we will be creating and performing two guided meditations designed to help us develop our inborn ability to intentionally move awareness at will. One of these meditations will be designed as a script. The other will be designed as a map. As we practice both of these meditations we will be tapping into what we have learned over time from watching the performances of great television, movie and stage actors, who have become—by their natural ability and acquired skill—great movers of awareness.

Flowing with life

In preparing our guided meditation with scripting, we will compose a script conveying the enactment of a series of thoughts and emotions that starts negatively and ends positively. In this script there will be no dialogue or monologue. Here is an example.

“John enters a room and sits down on a sofa. He is overcome with sadness and grief. Just minutes before, he and his wife, Jane, had argued. This was nothing new. They argued often. This time, however, Jane had stormed out of the house, vowing never to return. Now, the anger John had experienced while he and Jane were yelling at each other turns into anguish. Yet, just as he is about to cry, he remembers exactly what it was Jane said that made him so angry. And again, he becomes upset, this time trembling with rage. In his rage, he begins to mentally chastise Jane for everything he can remember she ever did to upset him. As he reviews all of these bothersome events, however, he sees they were not all generated by Jane. He realizes many of them were of his instigation. In this revelation he feels remorse. Soon enough, John is mentally apologizing to Jane for his faults. After this cleansing recognition and admission of his own shortcomings, John experiences a curiously uplifting sense of joyful freedom. He understands that in honestly looking at what he did, as well as the person he thought he was while he was doing what he did, he stepped into an ability to see himself as
others might see him. In this detachment, he experiences a calm and gentle transcendence of burden.”

The meditation portion of this exercise occurs in two stages after the script has been written. In the first stage, we attempt to live out our script in our head as we read it through. In the second stage, we close our eyes to again experience our story line, this time without reading the script. A note: Although there is no monologue or dialogue in our script, we can have fun creating such imagined talking or conversing on the fly as we inwardly enact our story.

This kind of meditation requires visualization, a remarkable tool for moving awareness creatively. Be prepared to surprise yourself with how powerfully your visualizations can stir quite real emotional reactions and how intensely those emotions can activate quite real physical responses. In the truest sense, visualization is a practical implementation of mind over matter.

A guided meditation with mapping is similar to a guided meditation with scripting except that scripting is composed of words and mapping is composed primarily of pictures. While a script is a block of words that gives a somewhat detailed description of a story, a map is a collection of images that includes only enough words to convey but a hint of story outline.

The only words on a map are in event titles. These titles are placed aesthetically here and there on the map page and tied together with directional lines drawn artistically to represent the order of the story’s events. In the space left around these titles and connecting lines, drawn or painted imagery depicts the details of the events entitled. Here is an example description of how one such map might be drawn:

In the upper left corner of a full blank journal page, we write, “John and Mary argue.” We then draw a line from those four words across the top of the page to its upper right corner where we write, “Mary leaves home.” Connecting those words to the bottom-right corner of the page with another line, we write, “John is sad.” From this title, we draw a line half way across the bottom of the page and write, “John is angry.” From there we draw a line to the bottom left corner of the page to write, “John gets critical.” From that lower left corner we draw a line about half way up the left side of the page and write, “John has an insight.” Finally, we draw a line from “John has an insight” rightward to the center of the page where we write, “John experiences a curious transcendence.” Having now completed a briefly worded contour of our story’s journey, we go back and fill in the remaining blank space on the page with simple or complex illustrations depicting our story’s events in visual detail.

As with our script practice, the meditation portion of this map exercise occurs in two stages after the map has been drawn. In the first stage, we live out our map in our head, as we are looking at it with our eyes open. In the second stage, we close our eyes to again inwardly
enact our map, this time without looking at it. In life as in yoga, these scripting and mapping meditations can be used as tools for moving awareness whenever we feel the focus of that awareness getting stuck or locked in thoughts or emotions we would like to leave. The example story lines above, for instance, could just as well have been scripts or maps conceived to methodically move ourselves—our awareness—up and out of unpleasant psychological conditions we have been experiencing, perhaps for years.

The workability of these meditations hinges upon our understanding and acceptance of the principle that each of us is a point of awareness free to travel in the mind as we wish and will. This practice of “Flowing” is designed to provide us with some experience that might generate this understanding and acceptance.

One final note: The words of the scripts and maps you create should be written in the third person rather than in the first person. In the above example, for instance, it is written, “John and Mary argue,” rather than, “My wife and I argue.”

This de-personalizing makes the application of scripting and mapping more beneficial for two reasons: 1. It provides objectivity. 2. It de-emphasizes an implication we are the life roles we play (by eliminating the pronoun, “I.”) Now, let us be the awareness we are and flow.

Flowing

• In the top left corner of a blank piece of paper, write “My Flow Script.” Under that title, compose your script.

A note: The “flow script” you compose will be most meaningful to you if it begins with a negative event that you have actually experienced. This will mean the first one, two or three events of your script will have already happened, while the remaining events of that script will have not yet occurred. In structuring these events that have not yet occurred, you will have an opportunity to intuit a movement of awareness that rises up and out of the negative state of mind you were in when you were experiencing the first event or events you recorded in your script.

• When you have completed your script, sit comfortably, breathe deeply and perform your flow-control meditation on the script you have just written—first, while reading your script with your eyes open; then, while remembering that script with your eyes closed.

• When you have completed your meditation, lie back (flat-back) in shavasana as you enjoy the aftermath of your script meditation.

• When you are ready to move on, sit up and write in the top left corner of another blank piece of paper: “My Flow Map.” Under that title, compose your map.

A note: This map can be a picture version of the script that you have just written, or it can be different. If it begins with and is based upon another event, work as you did with your script to compose a map that will end on a high note and leave you in a positive state of mind.

• Once you have drawn your map, continue sitting comfortably while breathing deeply and perform your flow-control meditation on the map you have just drawn—first, while looking at your map with your eyes open; then, while visualizing that map with your eyes closed.

• When you have completed your meditation, lie back in shavasana as you enjoy the aftermath of the practice you have just completed.

• After about ten minutes or when you are ready, sit up, and write in the top left corner of another blank piece of paper: “My Ever Moving Awareness.” Under that title, record your reflections upon your experience of creating and performing your scripting and mapping meditations. As you reflect, keep in mind this practice of “Flowing” was designed to provide you with an opportunity to acknowledge and exercise your inherent ability to intentionally move awareness at will from a negative to a positive state of mind.

Awareness - Consciousness Individualized

It has always been a basic tenet of ancient yogic thought that awareness and consciousness are not the same thing. From this yogic perspective, consciousness is a basic property of life—wherever there is life there is consciousness. Awareness, on the other hand, is conscious consciousness, a specific chunk of that general life consciousness made distinctive by its individualization out of an all-encompassing and all-pervasive energy that is collective by nature. Having become individualized out of a collective consciousness, awareness possesses the ability to have subjective experience. Thus, from an ancient perspective of yoga, each of us is both one with all as consciousness and highly individual among all as awareness fish

Remorse --- Yes, It Can Be a Good Thing

I was so very lucky. My spiritual teacher was immensely practical. He had a way of sifting high-flying mysticism down into news you can use. Take remorse for instance. He always used to say, "Remorse is a good thing." "But it feels so bad," we used to reply, to which he would respond, "Bad, good, good, bad. We're after something more. Remorse brings humility. And along with humility comes an overwhelming sense of that bliss we all share. What can feel bad about that?"

Personally, I have discovered many opportunities for feeling remorse. As a matter of fact, one of those opportunities just surfaced recently. I forgot an important event. Fortunately, I was able to rebound by creating the following card for my wife. Ah yes. I was so crafty. Most certainly, what could have been would have been far worse.

Birthday card

The Self - Our One Essential Identity

SunAlthough an unexplainable truth can only be known through experience, the very existence of that truth and the possibility of its experience can suffer obscurity if it is not announced in concept first. Therefore, paradoxically, an unexplainable truth must sometimes be “announced” in explanation before it can be experienced. Upon hearing the explanation of an unexplainable truth—even if that explanation is, “It’s unexplainable!”—those who have not experienced that truth will have to accept that explanation in faith, reject it in doubt, or reform it into a question left open for an answer yet to come.

However it is received, that truth stands announced—in concept. If that announced concept is either accepted or contemplated, it beckons. If it is rejected, it awaits. Sooner or later, a beginning development of that concept into experience will mark the start of a mystical expedition into the unexplainable.

A concept can never be absolutely true. And that’s all right because the value of a concept is not in its content but in its connection. A concept of a truth is connected to that truth by a thread of logic that will eventually work itself out to give itself up to an experience of that truth, which will be absolute. Take, for instance, the classic yoga teaching about “the Self.” One conceptual announcement of that teaching might go something like this:

We all share a one life force that comes from a one life source, which is also our one identity that we’ll call “Self” for now, though any name would do. This Self is beyond the grasp of consciousness, transcends time, form and space and defies description. Although it cannot be experienced because it precedes experience, it can be merged with from within being and acknowledged, after that merging, as Self Realized.

In this one relatively short paragraph, there is a lot of concept to accept, question or reject. Yet even if all of this concept is completely rejected, it does not go away. It takes its stand in memories we think we have forgotten but haven’t. There, it awaits its opportunity to offer us a beckoning into the depths of yoga.

If we have worked out doubt enough to wholeheartedly accept that a given concept of Self offers at least an idea of a certain experiential possibility, and we can therefore allow ourselves to forthrightly seek Self based on a plan derived from this concept, even the heavy demands of everyday life cannot weigh us down into thinking Self Realization is too much to hope for, because we can now hope for anything. We can now hope for anything because we have replaced a dark doubt with a bright faith that makes any reasonable aim seem obtainable.

From a grounded faith in reasonable possibility, we can see clearly that inner and outer experiences do not have to contradict each other, but can actually share mutual support, as they most certainly do in the lives of mystics who are the way they are because their outer listens to their inner and their inner listens to their outer while they reside in being in between.

Whether or not we choose to accept the concept we will all become mystics sooner or later, we must at least concede that, while we are not, things may not be as they seem.

Because physical life is by nature so overwhelmingly mesmerizing and all-consuming, most of us are easily drawn into what seems like a necessary identification with the body and its urgent needs. Our “I” seems to be the body. And our life seems to be only physical.

We think to ourselves: “If I can’t eat, I’ll die in a matter of weeks. If I can’t drink, I’ll die in a matter of days. If I can’t breathe, I’ll die in a matter of minutes.” Physical survival becomes our paramount concern. We assume, if the body dies, we die.

“Such is not the case, of course,” some of us might be taught to speculate. Certainly, when we hear, read or think we are more than a physical body, we might intuitively sense this to be true. But do we know this beyond the shadow of a doubt? Is that small spark of intuition enough to fortify us against a “gut fear” of physical death?

“I’m not afraid of dying,” some of us might stoically assert. But aren’t we? Is it not a fear of our own physical demise that lies at the root of most of what we do in physical life, including getting educated, finding a job, buying a house, caring for a family and saving for retirement? Would we not feel a primal fear of death if any of these “necessities of life” were threatened?

Something must happen within us to turn this earth-bound thinking and feeling around. Something must happen and something does happen. This is the promise the sages of old have boldly made—that every one of us will experience our way up and out of the identification with the physical body that stimulates a disproportionate fear of death.

For a few of us, this transcendence might get triggered through a revelatory event—such as a near-death experience or an otherworldly dream. An extraordinary incident like this can mold its changes within us abruptly. Suddenly we are filled and thrilled with a confident knowing that we are not the physical body, that we wear the physical body like a set of clothes and that we have worn many physical bodies through many lives.

More often, however, this transcendence surfaces gradually, smoothly and unobtrusively as a gentle shifting of focus. We simply find ourselves realizing our lives really aren’t so burdened and our problems really aren’t so many. In this realization we give ourselves permission to become intrigued with the possibility of enjoying an internalized life that is far more substantial and fulfilling then the externalized life we have been living. When we arrive at this threshold of a new life, however we get there, we are ripe for merging with the “I” of all.

Yet seeking something that cannot be experienced (because it precedes experience) can be intellectually frustrating. We are left to wonder just how to go about getting what we already have, or being what we already are. Even if we are told in no uncertain terms that dropping the urgency of searching is key and the most efficient thing we can do is be, we are not usually willing to trust such simplicity until we have exhausted all of our other options.

There are two common meditations prescribed by teachers to help us deflate our infatuation with “other options.” One centers upon the question: “Who am I?” The other focuses on the statement: “I am.” Both of these meditations short-circuit doing by focusing upon the “I” that does. In this flipping of awareness back upon itself we are encouraged to either be who we are (“I am.”) or question who we are (“Who am I?”). Through both of these approaches we are drawn within to delve back into the energies that precede thought and action until we can delve no more.

How to sense the Self

third eyeDuring the sequence of actions described below, you will be asked to practice a breath control called the cleansing breath. To perform this cleansing breath, sit up straight, inhale deeply through the nose and hold your breath for about four seconds. Then, as you exhale slowly, force air vigorously through tightly pursed lips in a series of short exhalations separated by brief pauses until all the air in your lungs has been completely expelled. This practice just described comprises one “round” of the cleansing breath, which may be repeated.

Like all yogic breath controls, the cleansing breath yields both physical and psychological benefits. Physically, it assists in a more complete elimination of toxin-laden carbon dioxide from the lungs. Psychologically, it affects an immediate cessation of thought and emotion as it invites—in its aftermath—a calm focus of awareness in gentle bliss.

To begin a sensing of Self, sit comfortably with a pad of paper in your lap and a pen in your hand. Think of yourself as an actor and your life as a play. As you perceive yourself in this way, identify the various roles you have taken on in the performance of your life. As these roles occur to you, write them down.

At first, this list will accrue quickly since certain obvious roles—like brother, daughter, mother or husband—will be easily identifiable. As the list gets longer, however, your searching will have to become more introspective. Follow this searching all the way through to its natural conclusion—past your work roles of boss and bossed, paper pusher and problem solver; and your weekend roles of lawn mower, window washer and leak fixer—into your deeper more psychologically imposed roles like victim, hero, looser, warrior, coward and the like.

When your list is as complete as you think you want to make it, perform at least three rounds of the cleansing breath. In the pleasant exposure to the bliss of being these practices reveal, allow yourself to become settled in contentment.

Once you are settled, imagine yourself living without playing any of the roles you have listed. Ask yourself, “Who is the ‘I’ that’s left when no roles are played?” And wait for an answer. After about ten minutes, replace that question with the statement, “I am,” and allow your intuition to guide you into an easy sense of the essence of all.

This article is an excerpt from Muni’s latest book:

Into the I of all —An Ultimate Yoga.

Shoot for the Stars

This is a poem that I wrote and an illustration that I created in the monastery when I was in a mystical mood.   It is written about the Rishis of India who often seemed "mad" to those who didn't understand their ecstatic states of mind.  My guru's lineage had many such "Mad Men."   In this poem, the word "die" means "samadhi" which is the ultimate meditative state. Shoot for the Stars - no words

Shoot for the stars that glow in the head.

The secret they hold has never been said.

Cherish the moment that mad makes right.

Die for the wonders of deep mystic sight.

Aum Nama Sivaya

A few years ago, my wife made this video for me.  It is a sweet and simple video that highlights several spiritual pieces of art that I created in the monastery along with a few that were made right after I left.  The background music is the song, Aum Nama Sivaya, which had just been released from my first album, Trance in Dance. It features Hindu and Shum chants with jazz rhythms, fusing the music from my  days as a jazz drummer with the ancient chants and bhajans from the monastery. The chants are written out on my website (be sure to scroll down the page) in case you want to sing along!  We are now amazed to see that it has over 10,000 views.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jid6Hw3xJ7c

Bliss: The Feeling of One Life Force

Who could ever question the innate sanctity of a child’s bliss and the blessed effect that bliss has upon others? And who would not want to take that bliss and pass it on—just by reveling in it and letting that reveling spread of its own accord? Once we perceive bliss as the feeling of the force of life, we can see it everywhere—where it is obvious and where it is not. It is obvious in love, but not in lust. It is obvious in peace, but not in war. It is obvious in selflessness, but not in selfishness. Yet still it’s there, everywhere.

Clearly, pure bliss is apparent in the lives of small children who have not yet learned to abstain from an unrepentant and unpretentious enjoyment of their inherent joy. And clearly that bliss is obviously there in the upliftment those children spill over onto us as their bliss becomes our bliss by no intentional effort of theirs whatsoever.

Certainly, it is a turning-point day when we let it be okay to unabashedly seek our own bliss in the better of its many guises, but especially as itself, naked and pure—like a child would experience it. On that day, we learn to live without lack and give without loss by simply allowing ourselves an enjoyment of a bliss so abundant it overflows onto others as blessings.

At first, we experience bliss in things we do.

Say, for instance, we are listening to some music we love on the radio. That listening is a doing. And it is a doing that we are inclined to keep on doing because we feel bliss while we are doing it. And while we are listening to that music we love, we say to ourselves, “Ahhh, this music is pure bliss.”

Suddenly, someone comes along and changes the channel to a station playing music we hate. What happens to our bliss? Is it not gone along with our beloved music? Usually.

That’s the tricky thing about feeling bliss through doing. Whatever is being done can appear to be the cause of the bliss felt during the doing. Once bliss is perceived in its pure and virgin state, however, it becomes apparent that doing could not possibly cause bliss, because bliss precedes doing. This is not immediately obvious, of course. But somewhere along the line, each of us discovers it is true: Bliss stands alone without a cause.

Experiencing this causeless bliss is easy. It requires only a perceptual adjustment. If we can acknowledge to ourselves that bliss can be experienced for no reason and we can allow ourselves to drop the very idea we have to do something to feel bliss, we’ll find we’ve found bliss right then and there, without even looking for it.

Once we have identified bliss as a fundamental quality of life, we can more easily enjoy it as a backdrop to our doing.

In this new enjoyment, we know that regardless of what happens in our doing, even if that doing should undo itself in disaster, the bliss behind it will remain intact and safe in being. As a result of this knowing, our life shifts gently as does our consciousness so that we are inclined to act appropriately and live gracefully—all through a doing anchored firmly in being.

How to locate and enjoy your primal bliss:

There are many ways to approach reveling in the bliss forever emanating from the core of your most essential being. Here, we will suggest one. This approach is yogic. It begins with an exercise called the full wing flight.

In addition to enhancing the lung’s exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide, which is the primary function of the body’s respiratory system, this full wing flight helps to stop random thought, de-emphasize negative emotion and clear the way for an unobstructed perception of the feeling of being, which is the feeling of bliss.

The practice of the full wing flight shapes up around a well-known yogic breath control called the complete breath. This complete breath is performed by inhaling slowly and steadily through the nose, first filling the lower part of the lungs (expanding the abdomen slightly); then filling the middle part of the lungs (expanding the lower ribs, breastbone and chest slightly); and finally filling the highest portion of the lungs (expanding the upper chest and pulling the abdomen in slightly). The exhalation that follows is simply a reversal of the inhalation.

To accomplish the physical action that should occur in conjunction with the complete breath during the full wing flight, assume a standing position to lift your arms out and up, like a bird spreading its wings, so that each hand draws an invisible 180-degree arc from the bottom, where the arms hang limp, to the top, where the palms of the hands are pressed lightly together in prayer formation above the head.

This lifting of the arms gets coordinated with the complete breath in the following manner (see figure 1): As the arms are raised one third of the way up the 180-degree arc, the first phase of the complete breath is performed. As the arms are raised up the second third of the the arc, the second phase of the complete breath is performed. As the arms are raised up the last third of the arc, the final phase of the complete breath achieves a full inhalation. That full inhalation should then be held for a few seconds before an exhalation begins an exact reversal of the procedure just described.

Figure 1: The full wing flight

Performing this breath control with the three-phase arm motion helps the unified fluidity of the exercise by giving it a dance feel. It also allows for more air to be drawn into the upper lungs during the third phase of the inhalation.

In this approach to an enjoyment of bliss, we will also be assuming a posture called the “corpse pose” in English and shavasana in Sanskrit. When you are in this position (see figure 2) you are lying flat on your back with your arms relaxed to the sides of your body (palms facing up) and your feet set slightly apart.

Figure 2: Shavasana

 

Experiencing your primal bliss:

• Sitting in a casual and comfortable position, take a few moments to reflect upon the most recent events of your life. Go back no more than three days. Recall three specific occasions that were ethereally enjoyable such as when you watched a sunset, chilled out in a hot tub or relaxed in a hammock on a Sunday afternoon.

An example expressed in words: “It was about 6:45 in the evening on May 16, 2009. I had been driving on the interstate for at least three hours heading home from Lake Tahoe to San Francisco. With an hour of travel still ahead of me, I decided to take a break. Pulling off the road at the first ‘rest stop’ I could find, I got out of my car, walked a bit to stretch and sat down at a picnic table to watch the sun’s last sinking out of twilight into night. As I gazed into the final dazzling brilliance of this evening phenomenon, I lost track of time. If sunsets lasted forever, I’d still be there. But they don’t and I’m not. Soon enough, I was back on the road dealing with night traffic. All I could think about was getting home.”

• When you are ready, stand up and practice the full wing flight three times—more if you like. Then lie down in shavasana for about ten minutes. (Careful! A soft surface might invite sleep.) Allow yourself to bask in bliss.

• As you enjoy your shavasana, recall your three chosen events and reflect on each one separately. Once you have caught the enjoyment of each event, drop the event and hold the enjoyment. Be sure to do this with each event.

• Remaining in shavasana, strive to catch and hold the one feeling that was the same through each of your three experiences of enjoyment. That one common-denominator feeling is the bliss of being. Try to hold that bliss for at least five minutes without getting distracted.

This article is an excerpt from Muni’s  book: Into the I of allAn Ultimate Yoga.

A Study of Yoga Right Now - An Interview with Elephant Journal

Welcome friends. Below you will find a past interview with Tanya Lee Markul of Elephant Journal.

i. Where were you born, where did you live before the Monastery?

Muni: I was born in Plainfield, New Jersey but raised in Knoxville, Tennessee. After I left home at the age of 18 to attend college as a music/art major at Indian University in Bloomington, I never really returned to Knoxville except for short visits. After college and before entering the monastery, I lived and worked as a musician in New York, San Francisco and Hawaii. During my 37 years in the monastery, I came home to Knoxville only three times. After I left the monastery in February of 2007, a Knoxville home to which I might return no longer existed.

ii. What brought you to the Monastery and did you ever think you would have stayed for 37 years?

Muni: The charisma of my yoga teacher and my fascination with a deep practice of yoga drew me into the monastery. At that time, I wasn’t thinking about the future. I was just absorbed in a study of yoga right now.

Before I took vows, however, my teacher insisted that I think about my future quite seriously. At that time, he strongly encouraged me to carefully ponder the ramifications of a long-term practice of yoga in a monastic environment. After due consideration, I concluded I was ready to spend the rest of my life living as a monk in a monastery dedicated to the practice of an ultimate yoga.

Yet somehow, in all of that careful deliberation, it never occurred to me that my teacher might one day die.

iii. How did you arrive at the study of yoga?

Muni: When I was six, my mother had me taking private (visual) art lessons. When I was eight, she arranged for me to take private piano lessons. When I was ten, she had my dad buy me a set of drums and get me set up with private drum lessons.

Although this special training occurred primarily because my mother thought she could fix my childhood ADD, it also happened because, being the first of four boys, I was the recipient of my parent’s first and most exuberant experimentation in child rearing. From what they learned in dealing with me, they decided to raise my brothers in a more easy-going way.

Yet, as a result of all this private instruction, I grew up with people who were older than I was. All these people were artist-types, many were ahead of their time in certain ways, and some were interested in yoga, even though yoga was just then gaining its first recognition in the West. Under the influence these early yoga enthusiasts, I was practicing yoga asanas and studying yoga philosophy by the time I was thirteen.

“Yoga’s highest goal should be to realize life’s fullest potential by merging with life’s ultimate essence.”

iv. Why did you decide to leave the Monastery? Was it difficult?

Muni: I entered the monastery to study yoga full-time with my teacher. When my teacher died in 2001, I felt driven to seriously reconsider my monastic commitment. After some soul-searching, I decided to remain in the monastery out of a sense of responsibility (I was a senior monk). As time has proven, that was the right thing to do at the time.

In 2004, to my surprise, I fell in love. This occurred during one of the monastery’s travel study programs to India. Finally, in 2007, I decided to leave monastic life to marry. This decision was difficult. Yet, as time has proven, it was the right thing to do at the time. Now Mary Beth and I are very happy—and my yoga has deepened.

“Logic says that knowing who we are should be fundamentally obvious. Yet it’s not. The fact it’s not indicates there is something powerfully illusory about what we’ve become involved with by getting born into a physical body – something beyond logic’s reach.”

v. What were some of your observations upon entering the world outside of the Monastery?

Muni: The world is tough by nature. But I knew that as a monk—for at least two reasons: 1. Directly or indirectly, most of my service in the monastery had to do with helping people outside the monastery. 2. No one escapes the world—not even monks—for the world is nothing but a manifestation of that which we carry within us. If we are carrying nothing, the world is sweet and we’ll see nothing but sweetness everywhere we look, in a monastery or out. If we are carrying a burden of “unresolved subconscious issues” (negative karma), the world is bleak and we’ll see nothing but bleakness everywhere we look, in a monastery or out.

In the monastery and out, I have known bleakness and sweetness, in accordance with the resolution of my karma. Apart from this, I should say I see no evil in the world, only an adjustment of ignorance toward wisdom.

vi. Do you feel yoga practitioners gain a different experience when practicing yoga with a Swami versus yoga teachers of our time (so to speak)?

Muni: People get what they want. Desire is the determining factor.

A person who wants a lot from yoga can receive from his or her yoga teacher more than that teacher has to give—can force that teacher to grow. Who then is the teacher?

A person who wants yoga’s ultimate Samadhi will attract the appropriate teacher. This teacher will be appropriate not because of his or her outer title, but rather because of his or her inner discovery.

vii. What inspired you to write this book? How long did it take?

Into the I of All: An Ultimate Yoga.

Muni: With regard to your question, my first impulse was not to write a book. It was to condense the best of what I learned during my 37 years in the monastery into a program of yoga practice for myself. As I began to materialize this impulse on paper, what I wrote started looking like a book that could be useful to other people, especially since it was stemming from my sincere intent to produce something meant for my own use.

Because I was writing this book along with testing it in practice, it took a long time—about two and a half years.

viii. Do you feel this book is for any yoga practitioner and for anyone without a background in yoga?

Muni: This book is meant for anyone with any degree of interest in yoga. Because its principles are easy to understand and its practices are easy to apply, it can attract the curious and help the sincere.

Yet there is another reason why this book can be of interest to all yoga aspirants.

Yoga can stimulate a transmutation of desire. What I mean by “transmutation” is “a graduation up.” So, what I am asserting here is that yoga can naturally stimulate a graduation up of desire from one level to another and another.

Here is how this might occur:

A person begins a practice of hatha yoga to address certain physical health concerns. Yet as this person performs the hatha yogaasanas and breath controls, he or she experiences a release of physical tension that reveals a non-physical peace and bliss. At this point, the original desire might graduate up to a desire for more of this peace and bliss through the practice of raja yoga meditation. This raja yogameditation might then eventually stimulate a desire to find the source of peace and bliss beyond time, form and space in the depths of jnana yoga.

So, yoga itself pulls desire in and up. Many yoga teachers say this.

ix. What inspired you to identify the topics for each of the chapters?

Muni: As I looked back over all of my training, the principles and practices making up the 108 steps of this book’s path surfaced as key issues important in personal transformation, which is the purpose of the book.

x. Why the journaling? Do you feel it is an essential part of experiencing the book and its teachings?

Muni: Journaling helps bring the elusive mysticism of yoga down to earth.

In yoga, especially a yoga focusing on meditation, progress can seem fleeting. In fact, ironically, during the personal transformation that occurs as a natural consequence of an introspective yoga practice, we can feel like we are making little or no progress when actually we are making our most progress. This can be frustrating—frustrating enough to muddle the faith of even the most sincere. In this regard, journaling can be extremely helpful in establishing where we were, where we are and where we are going.

Having said this, however, I must assert that you can get a lot out of this book (and many readers do) without doing the journaling.

xi. If there is one thing you hope readers gain from this book, what is it?

Muni: Personal transformation. Self Realization.

xii. If there is one thing you’d like to see readers change in regard to the external world, what is it?

Muni: I see nothing wrong with the external world—nothing to fix. How many billions of souls has this world seen come and go? How many billions more will there be? And how many billions of souls have tried to fix this world? Our only job is to discover its source and merge with That.

xiii. Could you put into words ‘life’s ultimate essence’?

Muni: The unmanifest source of manifest existence is life’s ultimate essence. Because this timeless, formless, spaceless source of time, form and space is also our essential identity, we sometimes refer to it as “the Self.”

xiv. How do you consider sleep an accessory to yoga?

Muni: Sleep allows and facilitates the natural functions of our subconscious mind. The practice of yoga during waking life and especially just prior to sleep, enhances the mystical inner work that naturally occurs during sleep.

xv. What would you consider signs of ‘progress’ toward Self Realization?

Muni: There are many subtle signs of spiritual progress. The most obvious is character development. In character development, the key trait to watch for is selflessness. No self creates a vacuum for the realization of the Self.

Muni, thank you so kindly for this interview and thank you for being here.