Practice pages: meditation by dr. Lorin Roche
A meditation on resilience from The Radiance Sutras, a new translation of the vijnana bhairava tantra
I’ve done my share of stupid things in life – you know, the kind of thing where you look back and shudder, and say to yourself, “What the %#*! was I thinking?”
These are, I have come to appreciate, Wiley E. Coyote moments. There I am, zooming along, chasing some goal, and then I realize, it’s a long way down. Zeeeeeeoooowwwww . . . splat.
In cartoons, when a character gets flattened or blasted by something, they look astonished or appalled for a second . . . then in the next they bounce back to their original shape. This siddhi, this power, is called resilience – the ability to return to your original form. The image behind the word resil is “to spring back, rebound,” suggesting that life is a physical sport. In the basketball of life we practice this magic of absorbing shock, healing from the damage, then accelerating in a new direction.
In daily life, we bounce back from some disappointments and obstacles in seconds, but others take all day, a week, or many moons to recover from. Life’s little steamrollers sometimes bend us way out of shape. Still, there are moments when the healing begins – when we as humans re-establish our indelible communion with life’s essence. One of the purposes of yoga is to make sure we have many such moments. An ancient text on yoga meditation, the vijnana bhairava tantra, presents over a hundred ways to access our innate powers of resilience. Sutra 23 of The Radiance Sutras invites us to pay attention in a simple way, and play with the relationship of the body and space:
Just for a moment
Forget all of your ideas about the body —
It’s this way and it’s that way.
Just be with any area of it,
This present body
As permeated with limitless space,
Drenched in freedom.
tanūdeśe śūnyataiva kṣaṇamātraṃ vibhāvayet |
nirvikalpaṃ nirvikalpo nirvikalpasvarūpabhāk ||
The approximate pronunciation is something like this:
tanoodeshe shoonyataa iva kshana maatram vibhaavayet
nirvikalpam nirvikalpo nirvikalpa svaroopa bhaak
Tanu - body; dese, location, land, in a place; sunya - void, space, empty, heaven; kshana - moment; matra - measure; vibhavayet - focus (on that particular ecstasy); nirvikalpa - without any varieties of thoughts; svarupa - original form.
Just for a moment, let’s forget that each word here could be unfolded for many matras and not fathom the depth of it. A loose translation would be: Enter the space between thoughts and experience your body as a void, even for a brief moment, and you will become free, one with your original form, your svarupa.
The other day I was sitting on the sofa meditating and idly wondering about this verse. Then suddenly I was inside the experience it is referring to. In a moment I dissolved into void-space-heaven. It felt heavenly, and totally normal. I was at home in the universe. Then I beamed into being Lorin again, feeling very refreshed.
Entering the space between thoughts can occur at almost any time, spontaneously, in moments of grace, beauty, or love – also in times of loss and shock. We go there any time we need to refresh ourselves in essence, in the essential, original idea of coming here and being in a body. We can enter just to play with the relationship of this body and its origin as an impulse in the space-time continuum. Scientists say our bodies are made out of atoms, and if the nucleus of an atom were the size of a pea, then the field of electrons around it would be as large as a football field. So our bodies already are made out of the “void,” shunya. At some fundamental level we already know this and can access the knowing as immediate experience.
When we are wounded, it is both harder and easier to access our original body. Harder because the pain is a distraction, and our image of ourself is disrupted, as is the flow of prana in the body. Easier because the pain demands our attention, and if we answer the call, we can follow it inward, beyond itself, to the forces of life at work healing the injury. Life never tires of healing itself.
Right there inside the wound is the path to recovery - the void created by the injury is a pathway into space. Go into it and come back, in a moment. Where we are broken, the light comes in. When we turn toward that light and fall upwards into it, we disappear. Our notions – of who we are and what the world is – disappear and the brain reboots itself into svarupa, our true form. We forget the story of how we were wounded and become the soul itself, suffusing the human body with healing grace. Annamayakosha is the body of food, and we don’t live by food alone. To heal, we become more and more intimate with the nature of the pranamayakosha, which in its subtle octaves is svarupa, our true body. In this way, each time we are wounded, and then rebound, we are stronger and smarter, for we are building a relient connection (yoga means connection) between our physical incarnation and our essence.
I have seen people do this as the shock of being injured starts to wear off – children, animals, regular people. There is a moment, a matra. You can see it in their eyes, they disolve the hurt somehow, or go to the space beyond the hurt, which lets them rebound. It is always astounding to perceive how quickly these moments come and go. It helps to realize that the energies we interact with in daily life are moving very quickly, and this is normal. We think nothing of it. The sound we hear, for example, is waves oscillating between about 15 cycles per second up to 18,000 cycles per second. Meditative experience also happens this quickly, and one of the functions of practice is to learn how to linger in a moment and savor it. This happens not by slowing things down, putting on the brakes, but by skillful attention. If we think, “I can’t meditate unless everything, the whole world, slows down,” then we are just declaring resistance.
In practice, even on a good day in meditation, wounds come up to be healed, even hurts we have forgotten. This is becase contact with svarupa gives our incarnate form access to a fresh burst of rejuvenating prana, which works on us like deep-tissue body therapy. The life force always wants to fine-tune us, work out the little kinks, and bring us up to full readiness. In meditation, we do not have to look for the wounds. Let the bodymind system bring them up when the time is right, and then tend to them. Thus we are always returning to our original form, learning as we go about how to be true to our basic integrity. We are always returning.