March Newsletter: Reflecting on Wholeness and the Wisdom of the Upanishads
Daylight savings time just started, which means Spring is just around the corner! While, to be totally honest, I absolutely abhor this absurd yearly tradition of messing with our clocks here in the US, I absolutely love late winter in middle Tennessee and the coming of spring. To be transparent though, the month of March is a challenging time for me as my mother both was born in and died in this exuberant month, so I have learned to take it slow and gently as I move through the month, and surround myself in Nature and with my loved ones and friends, so that's exactly what I did!
Something else I've been doing since Mahashivaratri in mid-February is reclaiming my everyday meditation practice. My daily meditation practice provides me time to reflect on my inner experiences through consciously interoceptive practices, cultivate inner calm and resolution, and practice letting go of my cluttered mind in order to take in new experienced and impression or reappraise old experience with compassion in preparation to release them. One reflection I've been contemplating lately is the feeling of wholeness within a person.
What does this mean to "feel whole," where does it come from, and how do you experience it?
One thing I've noticed is "feeling whole" is not actually dependent upon any experience. What I've learned and experienced through the principles and practices of yoga is the sensation of wholeness is a quality of inner resilience and healing that is spontaneous and self-generative. This quality is one that's always present within someone, regardless of what the external (or internal) situation is. However, it's a subtle presence that one has to learn to listen deeply to. Meditation is one of those such practices that support a practitioners ability to hone their conscious interoception skills. Not only is this a personal "a-ha" moment for me, but also got me thinking about the lessons embedded within the Upanishads.
Interested in what the Upanishads say about what it means to "feel whole?" Please read on to consider an ethical and spiritual parable within some of the Upanishads with respect to the eternal and unwavering Self that dwells within. But first. what is an Upanishad and why is it important? Let's talk about that!
According to Eknath Easwaran, the word Upanishad is a Sanskrit term meaning to “sit down near," such as how disciples in ashrams would—and still do—sit down near their revered teachers to listen to their wisdom and take part in spiritual discourse. There is something very special about being in the presence of an illumined master that, in my personal experience, fills a person with unwavering faith and purpose—called shradda in Sanskrit—while shining light into the uncertainty of what lies ahead in life, death and beyond. Yet Upanishad is not only a word; the Upanishads is collection of spiritual and philosophical discourse written into text more than 2,000 years ago.
The Upanishads developed in ancient India and date back to as early as 800 BCE. The Upanishads have their foundations in the Vedas. These four books—the Rig Veda, Sama Veda, Arthava Veda, and Yayur Veda—were written approximate 3,500 years ago between 1500-900 BCE, making them the earliest known texts in the Vedic tradition.
Each Veda talks about Vedic ritual life, but also Vedic wisdom teachings such what life is about; what death means; what the human being is, and the nature of the the Divine. These wisdom teachings of the Upanishads, however, is one of the first emerging texts to synthesis Vedic wisdom into the philosophy of Vedanta--or the "End of Knowledge" as it is often translated.
The ancient sages of India held that each Upanishad was more than just philosophical and ethical knowledge to simply be listened to and taught, but darshana to be “seen” and “realized” as a fundamental part of a practitioner’s way of living and state of being. According to Easwaran, the Upanishads’ purpose was “not so much instruction as inspiration: they are meant to be expounded by an illumined teacher from the basis of personal experience.”
Interestingly, while the Upanishads are dense with illumined philosophical insight, the author of each Upanishad is actually unknown, as the sages that penned them did not provide their names. Another unknown is how many Upanishads were ever in existence; however, later sages decided 10 of them to be the “principal Upanishads.”
Now that you understand what the Upanishads are, let's return to that Upanishadic wisdom story on feeling whole!
There is an exquisite verse in the Mundaka Upanishad that speaks about two golden birds perched on the “Sameself tree” of life with one bird representing the ego eating the sweet & sour fruits of life, and the other bird representing the eternal Self looking on with detachment. With such a beautiful analogy, what the wisdom of this prose suggests is profound. It suggests that while how a person feels can be influenced by external/ internal actions and events, how a person responds to these stimuli is essentially up the individual.
These two birds represent a single person, and illuminate the way the dualistic nature of ahamkara, the ego-driven mind, is driven to react through blind desire of pleasure and avoidance of pain, while the discerning higher intelligence buddhi mind doesn't get wrapped within the internal or external drama. The work is noticing if the spontaneous and self-generative quality of wholeness can still be there when dealing with adversary or challenge.
Overall, a person has a choice to knee-jerk react with ignorance, following the pathway of avidya, or learn to respond with clarity in perception—vidya—intelligent discernment—viveka—and intentional detachment—vairagya. This is the trick to triangulating refined awareness to higher-level experiences of divine contentment that opens you up to your own inherent wholeness--yogic principle known as santosha. So, the work is also developing the awareness that you can actually tap into this quality of wholeness at any time. With dedication and patient in your meditation practice you can learn to maintain that inherent wholeness even in challenging moments—like bathing in a 40-degree cold creek.