If we could perform just one action perfectly, we could know the perfection of everything. We could attain enlightenment. Yoga is the perfection of action.
There is a traditional story told of an enthusiastic student of mysticism who was given the assignment to write a poem. He worked through the night and rushed to his teacher the next morning with the following poem:
Remove its wings
And you get a pepper
His teacher looked irritated and shook her head from side to side. She took the paper from the boy and wrote the following:
And you get a Butterfly
The teacher was telling the student that for an act to be truly creative, it must be con-structive rather than de-structive. It is not enough for an idea to be revolutionary; it must be evolutionary.
What are the criteria of a perfect creative or artistic action? Actions are of three basic types: thought, word and deed. An imperfect thought leads to words and actions that mire us more deeply in samsara (the cycle of birth and death). So we must strive to purify our thoughts and motivations through self-reflection and mantra. Even if our thoughts are of a divine status, our bodies and minds are encoded with cultural conditioning that prevents the execution of perfect deeds or the uttering of perfect words. We must undergo a revolution of sorts, or a reintegration with an unconditioned state. This means that an action must be out of the ordinary, or even shocking, as it presents a new reality. It is common for revolutionaries to take on the attributes of their oppressors, usually because they are acting from a similar cultural and historical context and they don’t have any better ideas. When actions are repeated blindly, they will bind the actors to their role. When actions emerge from the ground of Being, improvisation and invention is possible as new forms appear on the horizon. That does not mean that form is bad and that anarchy is the true path. The techniques of a Yoga practice are the tools that we use to strip away the cultural conditioning of the body and the mind. The result of the practice is a lessening of inhibition and an increase in Self-esteem.
When John Lennon and Yoko Ono moved into Tittenhurst Park, a large house outside London, they chose to leave most of the rooms empty and painted everything white. What if you acquired a house and needed to decide on the perfect way to deconstruct it and to construct a new, perfect house. Does it just need a renovation? A few repairs? Complete demolition? Aluminum siding? Landscaping? And then you have to choose what to fill it with. All the stuff from the old house, kept in the meantime in some out-of-the-way storage facility? A lot of new stuff? The most modern equipment, furniture and library?
You have inherited a house—from your own past actions—called a body and mind. Your parents named the house, and you began to fill it up with stuff. You must decide on the perfect way to revolutionize it and construct a perfect new one—to perform the ultimate creative act, producing an angelic body, a butterfly, the House of the Lord.
- Habit is the enemy of creative living. By creativity we mean actions that arise out of the ground of Being with total clarity and consciousness. All energy comes from the same source, and through our actions we conduct and propel that energy in a certain way. When our actions are shrouded by habit (unconsciousness) or restricted by a limited perception of ourselves (lack of Self-esteem), those actions are never creative. When we encounter a form, like Surya Namaskar, after some period of time we want to change it. We want to add new asanas to it, make it shorter or longer, maybe just get rid of it altogether. We can spend lifetimes fascinated with the outer form and all the changes that it can be put through. This gives a superficially entertaining experience of the technique. But the asanas in a Surya Namaskar, or in a whole Yoga class for that matter, are like the crayons or brushes of your art. No matter how you line them up, no matter how many you know, in the end they are just crayons and brushes, not art.
- If what we want to do is make a creative action, we must start with the fundamentals, like blue-red-yellow, and repeat our encounters with them until they reveal their magical subterranean treasures. You might draw the same drawing 10,000 times, until the perfect moment immerges the 10,001th time. That perfect moment is fleeting and totally inspired. That perfect moment is completely disconnected with the work that led to it, but without that work you never would know it!
- Through repetition the microcosmic infinity of possibility is revealed. It would be very interesting to teach exactly the same class every day for the month. The students who came a lot could be encouraged to express their experience and how their experience changes from class to class, not depending on the asanas, but upon their own state of mind. Blue-red-yellow, blue-red-yellow, blue-red-yellow. Or, if not the whole class, perhaps just one section, like the Surya Namaskar, or a sequence of standing poses. As people get better at the same sequence, you can begin to delve into the finer aspects of the vinyasa. Once the sequence is known, you should be able to say very little and concentrate on hands-on assists to improve vinyasa. You must give people the time to practice the vinyasa with no instruction and exact breath timing. If you then feel that more instruction of an individual asana, or perhaps working on the details of vinyasa, is needed, it should be instructed separately.
- The grid of alignment is our primary tool for witnessing habitual physical movements, compensations, imbalances and weaknesses. When we observe the appearance and reappearance of these effects upon the asanas, we can, through conscious action, avoid these pitfalls and perform actions that are surprising and much more creative.
- Breathing irregularities experienced in individual asanas and vinyasa, as well as seated pranayamas make us aware of the discrete influence of states of mind upon the whole nervous system and the net effect upon actions of all kinds. When we resolve the breath, we resolve the mind, and our actions arise and manifest more creatively.
- Normally, when people say they are just ‘‘expressing themselves,’’ what they are actually doing is expressing some tiny fraction of themselves that they allow through—because it fits with their existing model of themselves, called ego. The ego is composed of all the misinformation, calamities, injuries and false-identifications that we have experienced. It is based in the past, and can perform actions only according to the past and past actions. It is a habit. When we find ourselves doing surprising actions well, it is possible to step out of the habitual way of acting and even evolve the ego consciously. Through the practice of yama and niyama we can evolve the ego through selfless action.