|AHYMSIN NEWSLETTER, ISSUE - April 2019|
Be a Flexible Rock
by Jim Fraser
Be a Flexible Rock: An Account of a Silence Practice
In a talk on the yamas and niyamas, Geeta, a resident teacher at Swami Rama Sadhaka Grama (SRSG), quoted Swami Rama who said it was important in observing the yamas and niyamas to become grounded like a rock. Yet this rock must be flexible so it can bend and move to meet the infinite variety of situations and accord with these without losing contact with the cultivation of stillness and silence. The simple practice of breath awareness, smriti upasthāna¸ helps: following the flow of the breath provides rocklike firmness. Then with the testimony of the senses and the mind’s elastic awareness there is a bit more brightness than the average rock.
Swami Veda gives a different command: in the first essay in the first volume of his work ‘Silence,’ we read ‘All that touches you from the outside, leave it there.’ So I did, or tried to.
The first twenty days of silence, I was part of the group of silent people led by Swami Ma Radha who prescribed what was to be done clearly and simply. We each wore a sign to indicate our intention not to speak.
We meditated twice a day in the Meditation Hall and once in the Initiation Room in the late morning after a half hour’s contemplative walking. So three hours meditation minimum and a purascharana consisting of 125,000 repetitions of the personal mantra. In the afternoons there was an hour’s relaxation practice. The last five days of this hour were devoted to yoga nidra. With the meditation and silence practice the entry into the cave of the heart became an intuitive transition of awareness. Thus I became one with the still core of the rock. It was wonderful to be led by the very quiet and clear awareness of the teacher.
On the first morning, 26 January 2019, at nine o’clock, the entire population of the ashram gathered around the flag pole adjacent to the main building to celebrate Purna Swaraj or Declaration of the Independence of India, first declared in 1929. It was interesting to notice as we stood in lines before the flag that the colours on the main building, the orange blossom of the Trumpet Vine, the white pillars and the green foliage matched the Indian flag which was so solemnly raised. By accident or design, there was a happy conjunction.
On the 4th of February we met with another special day, Mauna Amavasya, a traditional day of silence in India. When I was young, living in the north of Scotland, there were ‘Fast Days’ and these were observed by shopkeepers who closed shop for the day. It was like an extra Sunday when the town would become quiet. That is not observed now, neither is a quiet Sunday. The early experience of silence has stayed with me so to be silent on Mauna Amavasya was a confirmation of an earlier experience.
‘Silence’: the word in white on blue enamel signs can be seen fixed to pillars and walls around the ashram. It can be thought of in two ways, as an injunction – BE SILENT – or it is an observation that silence is all around. How the notice is viewed makes all the difference; you can DO silence, obeying the injunction, or you can BE silent, be in the being of silence which extends all around so there is no contradiction between the underlying nature of existence and the inner life. For everything comes from silence and exists in silence. It joins with what underlies and supports the noise and movement in the world. The practice is down to an attitude of observation, for what is outside is also inside and to know that requires silence. Meditation supports silence, silence supports meditation, which is the heart of yoga. So don’t Do silence, Be silence, I told myself.
Having pronounced thus on silence I would describe my experience of the practice as a composite silence. Sometimes it was very quiet and at other times I had to take my mind to the breath at my nostrils for steadiness.
The other thing about this flexible rock is that it can change weight as well. Wherever we go we carry our body and outlook which includes the regard of ourselves. By cutting language from the everyday the bonds of self-regard and amour-propre are loosened. So much less to carry. The rock floats. Without silence the mind is constantly considering itself and its behaviour as expressed through language and body. When that mental activity is released the prana which was locked in self-consciousness is free to flow. It is very pleasant.
I thought a lot about silence as I engaged in the practice and one evening sitting in the dining hall sipping warm milk laced with turmeric it occurred to me that silence is the anchor of all yoga practices. Silence does not possess any qualities in itself, but it allows there to be qualities. Samadhi, I imagine, is much the same as it is beyond qualities.
On my peregrinations from time to time around the ashram. I would pass the double guarded gates. A black cow with a white face drinks from a concrete basin kept filled by a guard. Beyond I could see Valley Fashion, Sewal Family restaurant, Soumik Medicos, Shivay the Medibooks Store, STD ISD PCO FAX and on the gates “Yoga is Samadhi, Yoga is Samadhi.” It occurred to me that the entire ashram is there to deliver samadhi. Shankaracharya sits each day bathed in the light of the rising sun; there is a Virgin and Child in the Contemplative Garden, Buddha in the Buddha Hall, Mahavira, and figures in glass cases reminding us of the Tradition of meditation which crossed the Himalayas to China. There are references to Judaism and Islam and in the Initiation Room the carpet bears the Taoist emblem. Thus ishvara-pranidhana has a wider reference as the ashram transcends the differences that beset the world.
In the introduction to the Samadhi Pada, Swami Veda writes: ‘Because yoga transcends all castes, belief systems, laws and philosophies, the yogis – including those who cannot sign their names as well as those who know the works of Shankaracharya by heart – adhere to this universal philosophy.’ The entire ashram is representative of this same darshan, of an open mind and an open heart.
After the first twenty days with the group I was on my own for a further twenty days. This was when I got a taste of Svadhyaya. That’s another article if the editor permits.
Jim teaches yoga in Scotland.