The conversation about consciousness and transcendence is one that a lot of us are interested in. It’s fundamentally what Yoga is about, but these days Yoga is getting mixed with lots of other thought streams. I don’t think that’s problematic for the most part, but we also have to remember what it is that we’re doing here with Yoga.
It seems that on a daily basis we are interfacing with a steady stream of new ideas about the nature of consciousness, time, space, genetics, biohacking, etc. popping up everywhere, from the covers of science and culture magazines to every corner of the internet. Whether it’s Wim Hof breathing, Andrew Huberman podcasts, the Telomere Effect of Elizabeth Blackburn and Elissa Epsel, or the many others who show us how to access our inner potential, we live in a generation that is giving access to the ordinary person, folks like you and me, scientific practices that put us in the driver’s seat of our nervous systems, genetics, and physiology. It’s not necessarily the transcendence of the Yogis, but it isn’t far off.
However, a sharp distinction between the culture of biohacking and the transcendence of the Yogis is that in seeking to become masters of our universes, we have a big trap of “attainment” that we can easily get caught in.
There are different types of transcendence. There is the ultimate transcendence of going beyond all dualistic states into unity consciousness, “Oneness of Being”; and then there are relative states of transcendence that largely have to do with the reduction of suffering and personal narratives. A successful day for me, for example, would be to get everything checked off my to-do list, be home early, and have everyone in my family be happy. I’m only focused on absolute transcendent states for a short time each day if the truth be told. I like the idea of it, but you know, there are so many emails to answer, things to organize, bills to pay, stuff to keep track of… if being organized is nirvana, then I’m halfway there, and it’s my favorite kind of nirvana. Transcending my daily to-do list, as mundane as it may seem to the experts, is a small smile of freedom and accomplishment for me. Makes me happy.
As desirable as unity consciousness may be, most of us spend our time in states of consciousness that don’t feel all that unified. The arguments, the misunderstandings, the stress, the disappointment, the shame, guilt, striving, and arrogance are where most of us spend a lot of our mental and emotional time. Optimistically, this doesn’t have to be seen as separate from unity consciousness; it’s just unity consciousness with a little bit of a veil, playing hide and seek.
So the simple practice of awareness, of being aware of our changing states without getting completely lost in them, of being aware of awareness, and seeing how we move in and out from it—this is a simple observation shift from being lost in the changes to being present in the changes. It’s not that they go away, it’s that we stop getting so lost. That’s a pretty good accomplishment, actually. Our culture glorifies the “big wins” and the “massive achievements” and the “masters of the universe;” but really for most, small wins are plenty. My day is a success if I have just a few small wins–honestly they keep me going. Doing a short puja. Doing an hour of asanas and pranayama. Teaching some Yoga. Getting things checked off of my to-do list. Doing the dishes after Jocelyne cooks. Helping Lili move. Calling back my Mom or my Dad if they’ve left a message. Mailing some tee-shirts. I know you all know this stuff, these are basic things but sometimes we forget the basics when we think we have to be so frigging great all the time; sitting in a cold bath for twenty minutes or intermittent fasting or whatever. Do what you can do. Try not to stress. If you are happy sitting in an ice bath for 20 minutes, then that’s awesome, go for it. Just don’t sit in one because Wim Hof or anyone else said it was good for you, when actually, you hate it.
Our current culture rewards us for constantly doing things, and for doing them amazingly. But the world that is primarily concerned with attainments and “human potential” is a tough world to live in, because potential is unlimited, so if we’re always striving, we’ll never be happy or present. Whether it’s striving for a handstand or striving to sit for long periods of meditation or striving for fame, it doesn’t make a difference.
The practices that are oriented around consciousness, like Yoga, or simply being aware, are important because they help us feel found again. If something amazing comes from that, then it’s great, but we have to remind ourselves: don’t do these things for the outcome (or the income) but do them because they restore us to ourselves.
Being the best at something, the greatest in your field, the most respected—this is the short game. It can’t and it won’t last because something new and someone better is always going to come along. And then all we can do is rest on our laurels and regale ourselves with stories of how great we were “back then.” Play the long game. Be just good enough. Mediocrity goes a long way. I’m a big fan of it. To be just good enough means we just have to show up, do our best with care, and have enough energy to keep that level going.
In Sanskrit, one might even call mediocrity the middle-path. It’s most certainly a path that is paved with happiness and satisfaction. We might not get enlightened, but at least we’ll get a good night’s sleep.