Author: los angeles yoga club

Notes on Wakefulness

13 February 2018, The Malibu Hindu Temple

Bodhidharma – meaning “one who awakens” – was a 5th century Prince turned monk who traveled from East India to China, bringing with him Buddhism and tea. In stories he is cast as a little grumpy and incredibly devout, wandering about as the first patriarch of China. In one particularly tall tale Bodhidharma is said to have been deep in meditative practice, some time into a nine-year stint of wall-staring when he realized he had nodded off. Furious at his weakness he tore at his eyes, scratching and tearing until he ripped his eyelids off completely, flinging them to the ground in frustration.

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Robert Irwin works with light, “Open your eyes in the morning, the world is totally formed. You haven’t done anything other than be. It’s all around you.”

He continues in an infinite play of empty mirrors, “The whole idea is being able to recognize it, and pay attention to it, articulate it.”

“Beauty is all around you,” he says.

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Miraculously, where Bodhidharma’s eyelids fell, tea plants sprouted. Bodhidharma plucked the leaves of the plant and began to chew. His mind became clear, focused, bright – awake! Reinvigorated he returned to his meditation.

The ṛṣis, sometimes called the “Vedic seers,” were once asked: “‘In what are you experts?’ They responded, ‘in the sensation of being alive. We are wakeful – or, if you like, we vegetate.’ Vajra, the lightning flower, the ultimate weapon of the gods, is connected with vegeo, to be wakeful, vigilant…the lightning is the lightning flash of wakefulness. ‘Vegetation’ and ‘wakefulness’ share the same root.” And as the ṛṣis saw it, the secret of existence was in just three actions: waking, breathing and sleeping. And, Roberto Calasso continues, they were dazzled by one revelation: the elementary fact of being conscious.

The God of Consciousness and Creation; of Death, Time and Destruction; Lord of the vegetable world and of Yoga – Śiva – is said to be always awake; always aware, forever conscious, he keeps his third eye eternally open; he is the light that endures in the darkness, present even when the world ceases to exist.

On Maha Śivaratri – the Great Night of Śiva – devotees demonstrate their dedication to Lord Śiva by staying awake the whole night long, chanting, dancing and praying, maintaining that defining anatomical characteristic of wakefulness – an erect spine, or Mount Meru. In disrupting our patterns (unconscious awareness; sleep) we make space to recognize what is not mechanistic, unconscious being. Now. Now we can bypass our automatic patterns, control our habits, and gain insight.

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Vegetal and wakeful; conscious and animated; animal and vegetable. Even spoons and stones are conscious some physicists say. Panpsychism.

An all-pervading wakefulness available to plants, humans, seers and gods is described in the Śiva Sūtra (verse 11) as a samadhi-like awareness – turīya – : tritayabhoktā vīreśaḥ : The one who enjoys in the oneness of awareness of all the three states – waking, dreaming and deep sleep – becomes the master of all organic energies. Patañjali tells us – : svapna-nidrā jñāna-ālambanam vā : Knowledge in dream and sleep can awaken you to the truth.

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The quest for meaning, for wakefulness and truth, has perennially piqued human curiosity; it is a part of our makeup, steeped in our blood and bones, in the songs of the plants, and planets, myths and imaginings. It is not just a rallying mandate in the turmoil of our times – it is a lineage of inquiry, a tool for transformation: stay awake.

ॐ नमः शिवाय // Om Namah Śivāya!


Śivaratri at the Malibu Hindu Temple, 2018 | Photo by Roberto Maiocchi

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Groundhog Day: Darkness & Dawn

In the 1993 film Groundhog Day, Bill Murray plays a crotchety weatherman, Phil, ceaselessly reliving February 2nd over and over again, waking day after day to find that he must once again report on Punxsutawney Phil, the prophetic groundhog. According to lore, if Punxsutawney spots his shadow upon emerging from his burrow we’d better bundle up for six more weeks of winter. If, on the other hand, Phil’s shadow is nowhere to be found then it’s said spring is around the bend.

In other words – it’s bloody dark outside and we’re all in a hole. And we get one day out of the whole year to crawl out and IF there happens to be sun, it will reveal our shadows. This emergence offers a wake-up call, a break from the rut, from our habits, from the dark, dreary, damp, cold, dormant life. Hallelujah! There’s a crack and that’s how the light gets in.

But what do we do after we’ve seen our shadows?

In the film, Phil the weatherman experiences life as a time-loop, watching his self-centered mistakes and missteps happen again and again. Until he figures out that he can stop the loop by examining his ways, and, like Phil the groundhog, face his shadows.

Phil’s repetitive, unending groundhog day can be seen as every day of our lives. Years might go by without our noticing – days, seasons and cycles passing one after the other right before our eyes. Like Phil, can we break free from the time-loop by paying attention?

Contemplative practices, which are in themselves repetitive, hold the promise of this insight. We might stare at a wall day in and day out; or focus on the tip of our noses; or concentrate on the breath; or roll out a yoga mat and practice the same ashtanga yoga sequence that we did yesterday, today, and that we’ll do again tomorrow.

In the Hollywood version we get a hero and a romantic ending to the tune of Sonny & Cher’s “I Got You Babe.” In our version, we just go back to the mat. We habituate ourselves to a rhythm and method, to a sequence and breath count so that we might, through the tireless repetition, better see where we’re a little rough around the edges.

Rhythm setting, we learned from the 2017 Nobel Prize winners for medicine & physiology, is present in all multicellular life, and in fact circadian rhythms keep our lives attuned to the Earth’s diurnal cycle – we rise and set with the Sun because of our biological clocks.

So science reaffirms what perennial wisdom has always known. Groundhogs, humans, and creatures of all kinds crawl out of their holes to greet the dawn, or Uṣas, in Vedic cultures. Shining and radiant, Uṣas, who resides in the Gāyatrī Mantra brings relief from the dark, but also possibility, hope and a luminous path before daybreak.

ॐ भूर्भुवः स्वः ।
तत्स॑वि॒तुर्वरेण्यं॒
भर्गो॑ दे॒वस्य॑धीमहि ।
धियो॒ यो नः॑ प्रचो॒दया॑त् ॥
oṃ bhūr bhuvaḥ svaḥ
tatsaviturvareṇyaṃ
bhargo devasyadhīmahi
dhiyo yo naḥ prachodayāt
To that which gives birth,
please inspire our choices.
May luminous wisdom and knowledge flow like water,
And this in our hearts move us forward.
“Spontaneously, each of us has our preferences, references, frequencies; each must appreciate rhythms by referring them to oneself, one’s heart or breathing, but also to one’s hours of work, of rest, of walking and of sleep.”
—Henri Lefebvre, Rhythmanalysis: Space, Time & Everyday Life

P.S. If you’re in the LA area you can catch Groundhog Day in theatres tonight, February 2nd, at The Aero Theatre in Santa Monica and The Frida Cinema in Orange County.

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