I watched a lot of Monty Python growing up, and this scene from The Life of Brian always left me laughing. And the joke, I thought, was everyone chanting in sync that they were all different while doing the same thing and thinking the same thoughts.
The revelation, which I understand now that I’ve lived more life than my 13 year old self, is that we are all the same. There is no piece of the One Human Experience that any one of us is experiencing anew. We are all sparks on a journey, and if we’re lucky enough to stay on the ride, chances are that we’ll pass through several different dichotomies of the One Human Experience.
In your lifetime, you will likely experience being a friend and an enemy. Perhaps you will be the child and the parent, the student and the teacher, the innocent and the guilty. Each of these are simply two sides of the same coin. This transformation from one to the other and revelation that they (we) are one allows us to immerse in the experience of Svādhyāya, one of the Niyamas of yoga, often defined as self-study, but also encompassing Non-Judgement.
We don’t judge others when they are on a different arc of the journey because getting self-righteous doesn’t help them or us. That feeling draws us back into the powerful pull of the ego and away from our center. A good practice when we encounter someone who activates our judgement is to meditate on times when we have acted similarly. Is there a piece of our behavior which models something we are currently working to change?
Simply the act of observing our thoughts in moments when our ego is activated is a powerful practice. This Svādhyāya, this self-study, throws a wrench into our unconscious patterns of reacting, our Samskaras, and offers the opportunity to act compassionately from your highest and your best.
When we practice yoga, we are diving into that spark within – our sacred self – and connecting to the One Human Experience. That takes us beyond the world of duality [this or that, black or white] and into Advaita, or Non-duality.
Divisions are a man-made creation that separate us from each other and the world. The concept of Race is a great example: some people believe that different cultures are actually different races with different inherent qualities. In reality, we are all experiencing the joys and sorrows of The One Human Experience as we go through the journey in different places and cultures.
When we first begin to understand ourselves and our world, Duality is a good teacher. How else are we to know joy if we don’t also experience sadness? How can you appreciate a sunny day if every day is sunny? As we move away from acting on impulse and consciously choose to embrace our sacred self, we begin to shed the limiting beliefs of duality and embrace Advaita.
Douglas Brooks states this eloquently:
“Advaita teaches that these forms of ignorance are unreal in light of the true Self or, at best, only provisionally real experiences that evaporate with the knowledge of ultimate reality. Ignorance is like darkness that vanishes when the light of knowledge enters to take its place. Advaita tells us that yoga’s purpose is to realize Oneness and that all other experiences are ultimately rooted in error or illusion.”
So how do you break this down from esoteric knowledge and bring it into your everyday? If you’re on the mat, try a twisting practice. As you shift your body into twisting asanas like Parivrtta Trikonasana, Revolved Chair Pose, or Ardha Matsyendrasana, use each exhale to reconnect to your center. Close your eyes and feel that glowing light within even as your body moves in space.
As you move through your every day, try and notice when feelings of judgement arise. Be kind to yourself, as forming impressions and presuppositions of others is also part of the Human Experience. Let’s challenge ourselves to think and act from a place of compassion rather than judgement and view each experience as an invitation to understand more about life and ourselves.
“One day a sculptor was given a rock and asked to carve an image of God. He tried to imagine a form that would best encapsulate God. If he carved a plant, he would exclude animals and humans. If he carved an animal, he would exclude humans and plants. If he carved a human, he would exclude plants and animals. If he carved a male, he would exclude female. If he carved a female, he would exclude all males. God, he believed, was the container of all forms. And the only way to create this container was by creating no form. Or maybe God is beyond all forms, but a form is needed to access even this idea. Overwhelmed by these thoughts, the sculptor left the stone as it was and bowed before it. This was the linga, the container of infinity, the form of the formless, the tangible that provokes insight into the intangible.” — The Seven Secrets of Shiva