Tuesday, August 7th, 2007
I went with Michele and the boys to a hotel in Los Angeles where Mata Amritanandamayi (hugging Mama) was making a stop on her tour. When she sat down, she beckoned our children and others to come sit on her lap for a fifteen minute meditation. I noticed several things immediately- I hadn’t seen her in 9 years, and in the time between she had obviously gone through the divine wringer- Amma was fairly beat up, and yet beautiful and at peace. At that moment I confirmed what I had been sensing since I walked in the door of that hotel: in the presence of this woman, as she is right now, 2007, I could weep intensely, possibly forever.
In 1998, in India, she was a hoot, undoubtedly profound but with joy and evident delight: that darshan was not sexual but it was erotic to the core, in the sense of eros, cosmic love in full pleasure of the human form. The utter relish she takes in pulling us towards her is no secret. For that first hug she was hilarious and wild, a warrior determined to smack her love straight into the deepest part of my heart, the cosmic heart, no nibbling around, direct at the bulls-eye, and then lean back and go “Whoaaa!!!!” She stared straight into my eyes, conveying the most impossibly exciting journey one could envision, the mad ride she was on and had no intention of ever getting off. I’d never seen anybody so deep in Lila (the divine play), not high jazz guys, not my own Guru, nobody.
This time, 2007, a darker world stage, and if anything, she was far more deadly accurate, discarding most of the playful part, but willing to go to the grimmest, most horrifying pit, utterly regardless of the ravages on her own body, she’s sobbing and shaking in my ear. The sorrow she knows, the pain she carries, this is unreal. And then a beautific, young-girl-in-delight smile, chocolate kisses, we stagger off, she goes onto the next. A little research and I discover that she basically took that 2005 tsunami- which actually hit her ashram- straight in the face, an unspeakable amount of agony, right there with the people and their tears and tatters and microorganisms and psychic drag. And her charity network is gigantic, she is attracting political leaders, she’s on a very large stage and yet still taking, as Timothy Conway put it, “tidal waves of negative energy” into her own body, on a person to person level, and carrying it. I looked at ravaged beautiful Amma up there, holding my son while he sucked on his sleeve, and could weep forever. In the following two weeks, I was astonished by the way she still lived in me and the kinds of assistance she was providing, deep psychic restructuring, dream presence: I recognized the signs of a Shaktipat of the highest order. I could barely believe that there is someone out there with the strength and courage to do such a thing, let alone on such a grand stage. Who is this Ammachi?
Why is she so great? One way of expressing it would be: she is so high but so willing to get down. Up and Down: two cosmic directions. I’ll start with Up or ascension and with an example. Let’s say that you are involved in a relationship which, as it progressed, began to reveal various limitations within yourself which play out as dysfunctional relationship dynamics. In the beginning you were happy to engage the relationship, no doubt compelled by the urge to address these limitations. But as time goes by, you begin to get fairly clear about the limitations of your partner. At some point, you make the decision that you are going to force a change in this relationship, either confront it or discontinue it. You then proceed to go about doing just that.
This process can be seen in terms of ascension, up: a planet (the relationship) whose gravitational forces once held you in sway are now an orbit from which you can break free, and you want to break free because there is something amiss, or incomplete, or simply because the evolutionary urge becomes irresistible. Maybe it took four years, it took that much learning before you could transcend the gravitational pull of the system: finally you are able to ascend out of it into a larger system. The impressions left by the relationship no longer compel you to pursue them. (I’m not getting down on loyalty and faith, here I’m talking about situations such as dysfunctional relationship where one person refuses to respond, or is not up to, the attempts to address the dysfunction or lack of development by the other. Or it could apply to working at a job that begins to get extremely boring.) Of course, this is different than bailing out on a situation because it brings up too much of your own stuff. In such a case, you have not left the planet behind, but rather, you are still sucked in, have not learned the code which breaks the gravitational spell. In this case, discerning between that which is your own stuff and that which is your partner’s is a major accomplishment in itself.
Anyway, I’ve mentioned the cave yogi before, and he could be seen as a pure ascender: with ever increasing intensity of yogic focus, he breaks out of orbit after orbit, attempting to transcend his conditioning in its entirety. He lives in such a way that minimizes new impressions from outward experience, and also keeps inward discursive activity to a minimum. He breaks away from his immediate society, then gets into Mom, Dad, keeps going through archetypes, large regions of the collective, and eventually, his need to hang around the body itself.
What does a pure descender look like? One who goes from experience to experience, accumulating one after another, and never allowing reflection to occur, living to satisfy basic drives. In past posts, I’ve remarked that there is really no such thing as a pure descender because the human organism learns from experience despite worst intentions, is a profound theater of eros even in the most degraded individuals. But we could say that a descended person is one with little inclination to reflection or focus at all.
Now, traces from experience become the fuel for transformational acts. Let’s say you go to a yoga class and it makes a nice impression. The yogic act (after you leave the class) would then be to let the impression work through you until the subtle structure has been been created which is an expression of the process of mastering the impression. This is an ascension, and it transforms the impression-from-the-experience into something more mature than it was. We want to free ourselves from traces that have us in their grip, this is a basic human drive. If you stop reading this for a moment, close your eyes, and feel whatever it is that you feel right now, you will get in touch with the traces that are in play for you now. Yogic practices are designed to move those very traces, to move them toward…something less dense, something that feels like delight, or doesn’t feel like anything at all. (The delight is usually experienced as the trace is in the process of transmutation. This process often trips off the heart, opening it. Also, the nerves appear wired to say a gigantic YES to this transmutation, and send out messages from happiness to deep rapture. Once the transmutation is relatively complete, we are left with nothing at all, or typically, the next, deeper samskara/impression fund comes into play). As we get through inward traces, we begin instituting outward changes in our lives.
One of the primary resistances to evolutionary ascension is the fear of loneliness. This is because the orbits we inhabit are sources of love, some of which is nourishing. But, inevitably in love, two things happen. One: we get bugged more and more by the parts that we don’t want, we feel the need to resolve these to something higher within ourself. By this I don’t mean that long term relationships are impossible, but rather that we become compelled with the urge to transform our responses to things. For example, it appears now that your wife of twenty years may never change certain parts of herself, but they finally no longer fire off your stuff. In fact, your reaction has been slowly transformed into a deliberate response, and now you feel compassion for these aspects of herself, or you can now appreciate them as an integral part of who she is. Certainly the relationships worth pursing are the ones that remain compelling in the long run, with an understanding that conflict, and fallow or plateau periods, are a natural part of healthy relationships.
And two: we develop a taste for higher love, a higher frequency, a larger view. This draws us up. But it also takes us into a realm whose love may not come in as clearly, or as supportively, or as comfortably as before. And to that I would add, it’s not coming in like that yet. I have spent time around several high souls, and their great importance is that they demonstrate the fact that you can’t outgrow nourishing love. However high you get, it will come in. In fact, it appears to come in far stronger the higher one gets, far more real, although it may illuminate different regions of one’s being than the stuff one was into twenty years ago.
The souls recognized as the High Ones through spiritual history have struck a balance between ascension and descension. Take the Buddha as an example. A burning young man, well provided for, chooses to undergo years of asceticism, has the will to keep going for quite a while. Eventually, he reaches a crisis point, and vows that this time he will either resolve the overwhelming conundrum that compels his being or he will sit working at it until his bones scatter across the field in which he is sitting. As one version of the story goes, it takes him seven days of strong determination to attain the desired resolution, which becomes one of the great achievements of human spiritual endeavor. So far, Buddha is basically a pure ascender. He then begins the second part of his life where he works to share his realization with the world, a mission in which he succeeds. In this teaching phase he advocates the middle way, which does not promote severe asceticism, but rather a mixture of practice which takes us up and participations in life which take us down. It’s important to note here, however, that the reason Buddha is compelling to us is that he got so high with his ascension before he brought it back to the lower realms, and the same is true of Ammachi (she was never a normal child and in her late teens/early twenties self-administered a lifestyle of severe austerities). When the high chooses to engage the low, something beautiful and alluring happens.
What is Ammachi’s delight in hugging? The passion of a high soul bringing love to lower regions: the love of God for creation. The delight of the gods for Lila, cosmic play. And Ammachi has loved the lowest of the low, just as Buddha was humane to those who tried to kill him, just as Christ managed to love those who did kill him. I have noticed and admired Pattabhi Jois’ willingness to continually engage new relationships which, sure enough, involved the reception on his part of basic crude negative projections: when a student is caught up in his junk, he will project it anywhere, including onto the master who has taught for sixty years, forget about respect. Guruji takes it; a higher soul in contact with those who may not be so high will result in unconscious transference processes on the part of the student. (This gets into hierarchies and may rub you the wrong way. My response is: all are ultimately equal, but some have developed certain regions further than you have. Go stand in the batter’s box with Barry Bonds facing Major League pitching and see who is higher in that realm. Go get hugged by Amma and experience a heart like that. For more on hierarchies, I believe that Ken Wilber, ironically using systems theory, has put in the final word on the debate: hierarchies are unavoidable.) And I will add: there are characters out there who are higher than you are.
Anyway, from the perspective of some seated meditation practices, Hatha Yoga itself is a descended form because it goes so deep into the body. I won’t get too far into it here, but my response to this claim is that although Hatha Yoga may get the soul free a little slower, it gets it up in a very stable manner, and the tortoise may eventually pass the hare. For example, Mula Bhanda appears to be a practice which sublimates the most dense energy in our psychic system. Undertaking such an endeavor may bog one down at first, but eventually it provides a way for the deepest, lowliest, earliest stuff in us to get smart.
So, the typical way here is to work to free oneself through ascension practice such as yoga, to break through the various orbits which hold us in their sway. At various stages in this work, we are compelled to act creatively in the world, to descend, receive impressions, sublimate them. Get up, dip back down, get it back up, go back down. Of course, most of us need to work a job, are required to create regularly, with deadlines, etc., and we are somewhat smothered with impressions. In that case, yoga can help us rise above some of it, maybe all of it, so that we want to get back into the mess that is this world, so we can love it.
Go get as high as you can , and then go walking in the world and see what happens…