i thank You God for most this amazing
day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes
~ E.E. cummings
This simple and beautiful poem speaks to me so strongly because in the Tantric tradition we are taught to say yes to life - which means accepting the full spectrum of experience, of emotion, every seeming challenge and apparent failure. But why? Why should we "choose to be unhappy" as one friend asked me when we discussed this topic.
This past week was particularly intense for me. We lost my beloved cat of 15 years, my new niece-to-be was due to be born, Arjun's aunt from India who we see very rarely was here to visit, as well as my sister and her family who we also only see every 4 – 5 years. It felt like I was on an emotional roller coaster, from deep grief and mourning for Desi, to excitement over the new baby's impending arrival, to the overwhelm of entertaining lots of house guests, to the joy of being with family and the sorrow of saying goodbye to those we don't see very often.
Ananda is an often-used Sanskrit word in yoga. It is usually translated as bliss, but scholar Christopher Wallace in his essential text Tantra Illuminated reveals a deeper meaning of this word: “We must be careful to distinguish Bliss (ananda) from ordinary happiness or pleasurable feeling (sukha). Ordinary happiness arises only when our needs are met, only when the circumstances are just so; otherwise we experience it's opposite, dissatisfaction or misery (dukha). By contrast, ananda designates a way of experiencing and loving reality that is completely independent of circumstance. Therefore, it is difficult to translate into English - but we get close if we describe it as a state of contentment, acceptance, and quiet yet sublime joy: the peace that passeth all understanding. This state, which is far more fulfilling than ordinary happiness, can exist in any circumstance. For example, you could be feeling intense grief or pain and still experience ananda. We begin to tap into our Power of Bliss when we simply become fully aware of what we are feeling in this moment and accept it totally, resisting no part of it. The more we practice this loving self-awareness, the more complete is the experience of ananda that arises through it.”
This understanding of ananda has helped me tremendously in trying times. Times when I've wanted to escape the discomfort or intensity of a feeling by drowning my feelings in a glass of wine or a mindless TV show. There is nothing inherently wrong about either of these things, but when they are used as a distraction or to avoid a real experience that is happening they can cause a disconnect.
One of the main goals of Anusara Yoga practice (and other schools of yoga based in Tantra) is to realize you are part of something bigger than yourself - to "align with the divine" as we used to say (and maybe still should...I think I still have that t-shirt from back in the day somewhere!). When we realize that the goal of yoga is not necessarily feeling "good", but deep connection with all aspects of the One (which includes all feelings, not just the “good” ones), we can stop beating ourselves up and feeling like we've failed at yoga during those trying times that don't feel particularly "happy", and to enjoy guilt-free those times where we are truly blissed-out.
Recognizing the Power of Bliss in your life gives the opportunity for you to experience that feeling of connection. Understanding that ananda is the feeling that arises when we allow ourselves to sink deeply into each moment, when we say yes to every feeling, challenge, and emotion and instead of seeing it as a failure of our human mind, seeing it as a portal that might lead us to divine awareness. This understanding has helped me to lean in to whatever is occurring in the present moment, to (try) not to avoid any emotion that arises and just be with what is, remembering that all there really is is Grace.
Off the Mat: (Inspired by Christopher Wallace) Be aware of all the moments that you feel “blissful”. Notice that this feeling occurs whenever you give yourself over fully to the moment, when you’ve allowed yourself to be truly present and aware. Now try to bring that level of awareness to all your experiences, even the challenging ones.
On the Mat: In my classes this week we worked towards Eka Pada Urdvha Dhanurasana, pressing our thighs back into full awareness of divine consciousness as we opened up in this deep backbend.
For the Anusara Junkies:
Open to Grace: Breathe in and fill up with whatever is present for you right now.
Set your (foundation) to reflect yes.
Say yes to whatever is arising for you in this moment .
Muscular Energy: Stand strong in your Power of Bliss
Inner Spiral/Thigh Loop: Widen sitbones and widen your perspective to see all experience as an opportunity to say yes.
Press thighs back into full awareness of your every divine emotion.
Root the top of your thighbones down and ground yourself in ananda.
Outer Spiral: Sink your tailbone into ananda/connection
Organic Energy: With your whole pose say “Yes!”
Say “thank you God for this amazing day” by spreading your ananda from the heart out in all directions.