Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only dance. (T.S. Eliot)
Practicing yoga has helped me to wake up to some of the illusions I’ve harbored about myself, about other people and about my culture. It’s helped me come to grips with difficult relationships, useless thinking patterns, paranoid fantasies and silly misunderstandings. Undoubtedly, I have plenty more to wake up to, but I’m also pretty clear that I’m more awake than I was before I started practicing.
Enlightenment isn’t like flipping a switch; it’s more like removing layers and layers of veils. And sometimes the veils are wet and soppy, or have static cling and don’t easily separate from the veils underneath them. And sometimes, just when you think you’ve peeled away a particularly thick, nasty one, it reattaches itself with a vengeance. Waking up is a messy process. But the fact that it’s dirty work and takes a long time (perhaps lifetimes) doesn’t mean it’s not worth striving for.
It might be loaded but I’m going to say it anyway: enlightenment is the goal of yoga.
I’ve heard the argument that it’s wrong to judge that one person is more enlightened than another – that the whole idea of enlightenment is a ruse, fabricated by control freaks. Clearly there have been narcissists who have exploited the idea of enlightenment. On the other side, people have been duped and exploited. Others have misunderstood enlightenment and sought to wish away anything unpleasant about themselves and their lives.
But just because enlightenment has been exploited and/or misunderstood, doesn’t mean it’s not the goal of yoga. And just because yoga has a goal that seems to trigger insecurity and resentment, doesn’t mean it’s wrong. As loaded as the term is, enlightenment is the potential of all human beings.
Maybe we need to use different terms, or maybe we just need to redefine it. I think the most straightforward way to understand enlightenment is as the capacity to see the whole – to see the interconnectedness of all things – and to become aware of our own private (as well as our collective) veils of illusion that keep us from that awareness.
Quantum physicist David Bohm has explained this process in a useful way:
“The notion that all these fragments are separately existent is evidently an illusion, and this illusion cannot do other than lead to endless conflict and confusion. . . I would say that in my scientific and philosophical work, my main concern has been with understanding the nature of reality in general and of consciousness in particular as a coherent whole, which is never static or complete but which is an unending process of movement and unfoldment”
Committing to waking up to the interconnectedness of all things is committing to the pursuit of enlightenment – understanding and embodying interconnectedness.
Sometimes I feel like I’m dancing closer to the nucleus of this understanding and sometimes further away from it. My choices, my attitudes, my behaviors, my relationships all influence that movement. I have no illusions that I am enlightened – what would be the point of being here if I was? But I am okay with being imperfect while longing and striving for cohesion and integration
I want to participate with all my heart in this dance – it’s where the juice is. I strive for this awareness: Am I dancing closer or farther from the force of love that spirals from the center?