Swami Asokananda’s visit to the IYI was full of fun and enlightening moments, from the unique stretches of his Slow Flow Yoga class, to the stories that had us all laughing out loud. A few things he emphasized are really sticking with me.
One message that came up on numerous occasions is the importance of cultivating a healthy relationship with our own minds. It is easy to feel guilty when we fail to discipline ourselves as we envision we should, or to be our own harshest critic when we don’t perform up to expectations. We may even find ourselves judging the unruly thoughts that come into our minds unexpectedly when we meditate.
Asokananda stressed that there is no benefit to putting ourselves down, and talked about having a healthy respect for the deeply ingrained impressions that are imbedded in the subconscious and can so strongly influence our reactions to the present moment. He encouraged us to observe all those thoughts and feelings without fighting or evaluating them. We can instead treat our own minds with compassion, growing in our capacity to see the mental movements without being swept away by them.
In his Bhakti Yoga workshop, he encouraged us to consider what form, saint or symbol inspires us to know of the presence of a higher power, and then to cultivate a living relationship with that representation of the Divine. He said, “Rather than trying to fight the negativity, hold onto the radiance of your Ishta Devata (personal symbol). The goal is not to just glorify what you are worshiping, but to embody that.”
Asokananda also spoke eloquently about Jnana Yoga, the path of Self Inquiry. He offered us a number of profound quotes from great masters that pierce through the cloudy mind with the light of truth.
One such quote was from the sage Ramana Maharshi, who said, “Truly there is no cause for you to be miserable and unhappy. You yourself impose limitations on your true nature of infinite Being and then weep that you are but a finite creature. Then you take up this or that sadhana (spiritual practice) to transcend the nonexistent limitations.”
Asokananda commented on the ways we define ourselves and then suffer from this limited sense of self. By identifying with only our body/minds, we feel separate, disconnected and in need of something to be whole.
A regular practice of meditation can go a long way towards disengaging from this dynamic. He encouraged us in our meditation practice to initially see all the activity of the mind as guests that we welcome to our party, but do not spend time with. This way, there is no judgment or frustration with the natural tendency of the mind to think.
As a second step, Asokananda encouraged us to give our full attention to a focal point and our rhythmic breathing, steadily stepping back from other thoughts. In a final step, he suggested that “….whatever method you use, drop it when you find that you have naturally arrived at a state of alert, expansive, and vibrant peace.
One of the most potent teachings from Asokananda was communicated simply by his presence. While he presented the Yoga teachings with crystal clarity and insight, he was at the same time playful and full of humor. He showed humility as well as wisdom and a healthy self-respect. He saw his own mind with amused affection and did not let it override his commitment to regular practice and to becoming free of the ego.