The Stages of Yoga, and of Life

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Ausangate Mountain Trek – Peru

In the Śhiva Sutras, the exquisite 9th century source text of Kashmir Śhaivism, sutra I.12 says:

vismayo – yoga – bhumikaḥ  “

“The phases or stages (bhumi) of yoga are marked by surprise, wonder or blissful astonishment (vismayo).”      -Paul Muller-Ortega translation, ©2013)

This is true in yoga, authentic life practices that include meditation at the center. And it is true in the life of the individual meditator or yogic practitioner.

This morning I was thinking about the joys and wonder of life’s phases. In the Indian tradition there are four main stages or phases of life. First is the brahmacharya phase, this is the phase of studentship from adolescence to the early or mid 20s. It is the phase of preparation, learning and maturing into the responsibilities and capabilities of adulthood.

This is followed by the second phase: gṛihasta, literally meaning “householder”. This is the phase of work, of building one’s business or profession, of marriage and of raising children (for those who so choose). It is the phase of making an income, of participating in and supporting (feeding) your community, of developing your arts, talents and gifts; of making your contribution in an active way.

Then there follows the third phase, the vana-prasthaor “forest-dweller” stage. This corresponds to the beautiful time of life when we can relax the striving in outer life. It corresponds to semi or full retirement, to when one’s children are grown and (mostly at least) on their own. This period can extend from one’s late 50s or 60s into one’s 70s and beyond into later life. Now the problems of work and of making one’s mark in life have been largely solved. There is a turn towards a quieter life-style. Perhaps a downsizing and simplification occurs (hence the term forest-dweller). Wisdom matures and there is deepening of both intellectual and spiritual priorities. It is a time to consider and address what is most important in one’s life. What have we come here for? What is important to fulfill in this life? What is the fullness of who I am? In traditional culture the become the source of teaching, counseling, the source of wisdom for the clan or community. It is time for the fullness of life to be realized, embodied and enjoyed.

There is a fourth phase in the tradition called “sanyasa“, which for non-renunciates like the vast majority of us, refers to the stage of preparation for death, the withdrawal from social and cultural engagement and of spiritual focus at the end of life.

Authentic deep meditation practice, such as the practice of Neelakantha Meditation supports all of the stages of life. In ancient India the formal teaching (called dīksha or initiation) would be given at adolescence. This is the yogic tool that supports life and the growth of the individual through every phase.

Unfortunately, this has been largely (though not completely) lost even in Indian culture. I had the honor this year of teaching Neelakantha Meditation to some bright teenagers at the school in Rishikesh, India that my wife and I help to support. (Mother Miracle School: http://www.mothermiracle.org). It was very fulfilling as an acharya (teacher) to re-introduce this authentic traditional Indian practice back into India in this small way.

“vismayo yoga bhumikaḥ”  also applies to the many stages and phases of our own life as an individual meditator. Daily meditation practice powerfully and automatically catalyzes our deep personal growth in every arena of our lives. It is truly progressive and transformative. And this is indeed filled with “surprise, wonder and blissful astonishment”.

Our growth as a meditator is certainly not a linear process. Rather, it is like a spiraling process of many stages, ever changing and ever new. It is a living practice. This means that the practice grows with you throughout all of the stages of life. We never outgrow it. It evolves and grows with us. It does not need to be replaced or recharged. It is renewed every time we sit and practice. It is a self-sufficient “adult” practice that is so effortless, so enjoyable and so easy to do. There is no forceful concentration and no effort to still the mind. These are unnecessary. We practice with effortlessness, with innocence, and with surrender to our own highest self within. Then the process all unfolds naturally over time.

We come to recognize that there is a pulsating character to our own process and sequence of unfoldment. It is not a straight line. But it is relentlessly progressive and is ever for our highest benefit.

It is reminiscent of the path of a hawk soaring on the wind. Watching it, sometimes it races forward when going downwind. Then may appear almost to stall as it turns back into the wind. But ever it is spiraling upward, rising on the thermal current that supports it.

We too will have periods of rapid change and transformation. We ask for these. They inevitably bring some challenging character to our journey. Sometimes this can be confusing and disorienting. As though the rules of life have somehow shifted on us. We are operating in a new and greater, though unfamiliar way. Things that no longer serve us will be set aside.

Then there are the periods of relative rest and quiet. These are times for assimilation and stabilization. We ask for these too. It may feel like our meditation is no longer working or is stagnant. It is not so. We pass through these times also. It is necessary. For still we are spiraling upward, each stage is necessary and fueling the next.

For those who have learned Neelakantha Meditation, whether from me or from another acharya, remember that you have access to the entire Śhiva Sutrastext and English commentary in your Blue Throat Yoga support library. They are gems of wisdom that will support your path.

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Full Moon Over the Sea of Cortez – Mexico