Readers Write About Enlightenment
Mother Tongue Magic in Malaysia
BY MAGAZINE CONTRIBUTOR MICHELLE MYHRE
There are different approaches to yoga. Each offer unique methods for achieving our goal. What is this goal? The noble wish for awakening? To avoid pain? To drop some weight? A goal may be a number of kilo’s (or pounds). There’s nothing wrong with that. Once our original target is reached, perhaps new reasons for practicing will have become apparent?
My teachers Sharon and David are on my mind a lot these days. One thing they said is, “The prerequisite for teaching yoga is enlightenment.” “Enlightenment” is also one translation of the 8th limb of yoga, Samadhi, and for many this is seen as the “goal” of yoga. To add another dimension, this year I am teaching in Malaysia, a culture that “does not believe in enlightenment,” I was told before arriving.
Languages and Limbs
Sanskrit is an ancient language, a “mother tongue,” so many languages have Sanskrit roots. I have found similarities to Sanskrit in the languages I’ve been exposed to. These languages include Mandarin Chinese, Bahasa Malaysian, Hawaiian, English, Spanish, French, and German.
Each Sanskrit word can be translated in a number of ways, and I actually use 8+ translations of the yoga sutras for just this reason. “Enlightenment” may not be the best translation of “Samadhi” for my particular circumstances here. But I am certain that there are translations of “Samadhi” that would fit nicely with my friends in Malaysia too, whatever their beliefs. (Please feel free to plug in the appropriate word of your choice in place of “enlightenment”).
For the longest time I saw enlightenment as something outside of myself and impossible to attain. (As I write this, the Muslim call to prayer can be heard in the distance.) Part of this mind set comes from a particular method of meditation I committed to for 2 years. This meditation had me sit for 2-3 hours each day, reciting a Sanskrit mantra who’s meaning I was not “allowed to know” but whose healing properties were said to be changing not only my own karma, but the karma of my family for 12 generations forward and back.
Less mysterious, more mystery
The meditations, from an Indian guru, definitely helped me to be still and gave an impression of inner peace, but they were a struggle, and without the ability to ponder the meaning of the mantra, much of which I do know now through my studies of Sanskrit, the effectiveness of the work was limited. Enlightenment was for great saints and sages. Perhaps after much sacrifice and many lifetimes I might get a glimpse of it? When I was pure enough, and good enough, to get there.
Sharon & David’s instructions “You must be enlightened to teach yoga” have been a mystical koan that plays with my head. Then in December 2009 at Rusty Wells training a new path was shown to me. Rusty divided us into groups of 5 and we took a walk to the pier on a chilly SF day. “Discuss the 8 limbs of yoga” we were told, and many lively discussions ensued. When my group got to the 8th limb, Samadhi was spoken about as those moments when we experience the oneness of being and connect to a sunset, or child’s eyes. Those moments when everything dissolves and we’re connected, we’re enlightened. I didn’t quite believe this could be true. Could it really be that easy?
Already perhaps perfect
Soon after arriving in Malaysia, I definitely had moments of feeling great connection, peace, and felt my worries leave. Travel, especially in the beginning when everything is strange and new, calls for a great deal of mindfulness and attention. This is not a normal way of perceiving. That level of presence has the ability to open us, if we allow it to. It’s a state of grace. It passes. Soon enough we’ll be moaning about the MSG, or stomping our foot when the elevator doesn’t stop at our floor. But at the beginning of a new adventure, when our hearts and minds are open like children, magic can happen.
But enlightenment is not the point of this. The point is, there are many paths to yoga, and I am being exposed to another way of relating to the practice that reminds me very much of that method of meditation I practiced. It is a classical method of yoga, where “repetition leads to perfection”, and students are seen as lacking attainment, which they will mitigate with continuous effort and correction.
The man who teaches this classical yoga method is a yogi of excellent character. He is kind, cheerful, helpful and loving. Obviously the classical yoga method works. It’s not better or worse than how I teach, and in differentiating between “modern” yoga vs. “classical” yoga, it’s important to have both. We each have values, perceptions, and paths. We also have different needs at different times.
The classical approach is one I followed for years, with primary series Ashtanga. The repetition in both Ashtanga and Bikram Yoga taught me much about myself, and I watched people make incredible breakthroughs and amazing progress with those methods. For me, it was a step on the path, and after a few years of committed effort, I kept walking. My journey does not end there. In fact, I don’t know where this journey ends. Perhaps the 8th limb (the end? The goal?) is something I am already experiencing in the quiet moments?
Teaching with my teachers
We teach what we’re taught, and what we practice. I’ve been taught to see the highest in the students who work with me, and to acknowledge them as also being my teachers. The flow between us dictates what happens in class. It is always different.
I ask a lot of people: that they work hard, and trust me to guide them on this journey. The only way I can do this is to practice myself, do the work, and have the process work on me. There are things I practice for years before introducing them to a class. Until I understand it, I cannot teach it. I have many questions, and I don’t know the answers.
There are also things that took me years to learn, that I am able to teach in a few minutes after having done the work. It’s a journey for all of us, a beautiful, sacred journey, whatever your reasons for practicing, and whatever method works best for you to meet your goals, whatever these goals are.
Thanks for reading, practicing, and participating on this journey together. We are each a drop in the ocean of life.
Find more Michelle at The Devil Wears Prana
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© 2011, The Magazine of Yoga, LLC.