Bhakti Sutra 6: “Having known which, one becomes ecstatic; one becomes stilled, one comes to delight in the Self”
So first we come to know what bhakti is (for a refresher check out last week's blog entry), then once we "know" it, what occurs is ecstasy, quiet, and delight. The word matta, translated here as "ecstatic", has many layers of meaning. Other descriptions of this experience are: an exhilarating, bubbling forth of happiness; heavenly delight; spiritual intoxication. Bill Mahony defines it as "Exuberant gladness that seems to flow outward from one’s core, freeing the soul to roam thru wondrous and beautiful realms."
When I read this translation I could immediately call to mind many such experiences I've had, but one stood out above all the rest. (I’ll ask your forgiveness in advance for getting personal.) I have 3 children, and had challenging births with my first 2. My labor with my 3rd son (who just turned 2) was quick and intense, and it was my only natural birth. It was an amazing experience on many levels, but what was most amazing was that as each powerful and uncomfortable contraction began to wane, in it’s place a feeling of utter joy, ease and contentment would rise up and take its place and stay with me until the next contraction would begin. It was not just a feeling of relief that another one was over, but an actual enjoyable and ecstatic state would come over me. So in the midst of the benchmark for suffering in the world I was having one of the most sweet and intoxicating experiences I’d ever had. It felt like, just as the word matta describes, a “bubbling up of heavenly delight”. The feeling was so strong that it lasted several days, and even though I had a newborn I felt completely energized and full of love and joy. I needed very little sleep and didn’t feel the least bit tired (that came later, like when your still-nursing 2 year old has a head cold and can’t sleep so he wants comforting from 1:00 – 4:00am….).
This was a dramatic and transformative experience for me, but when I reflect on this feeling I realize that it happens quite often really, in smaller but just as life-altering ways. After a good, long, hard run. Unexpectedly running into a dear friend. Turning a corner to see a huge, beautiful full moon rising above the landscape. I’m sure you’ve had experiences like this too – sweet moments of connection to grace when you feel spontaneous tears of happiness spring to your eyes, or goose bumps raise up on your skin, or your heart swell up with love or joy. Now here’s the thing: you have to expect that it is going to happen, you have to be open to it. Bhakti is always there, every present at the core and as the essence of our being. But as many times as we are reminded of it, we forget it’s there. Especially during challenging times, it becomes dormant until we allow it to rise to the surface.
So how do we allow it to bubble up? When we are aware of times we have had the experience of bhakti we become more and more open for it to happen again, and the more it happens the more we invite it and the more it happens. The start of this sutra says, “having known which”, meaning that once you’ve had an experience of bhakti you become aware that it is there. And, like beating a pathway through the woods (or in this case a neuro-pathway in your brain), the more it is travelled, the clearer the path becomes. We have to have the actual experience of it to really "know" it, then the ecstasy and delight surges up. When we practice yoga, we “practice” bhakti. On the most superficial level by simply taking loving care of our bodies, then deeper as we let go of judgments of ourselves, connect through our breath and our awareness to our ineffable, effervescent essence, and through the vehicle of the poses themselves, allow that essence to reveal itself from the inside out. When we allow ourselves to feel the ecstasy that is our true nature, we are truly able to “delight in the Self”.
Off the Mat:
What experiences in the past, big or small, have you had where love (or happiness, joy, or ecstasy) has just bubbled up and overflowed? Become more aware of these experiences on a daily basis. I spoke in this commentary on the more ecstatic nature of this feeling, but note that this sutra also mentions that this feeling can come in stillness as well. Sometimes the "knowing" of bhakti leads us into a quiet and profound state of simply being. When you have such an experience, either heavenly delight or deeply reflective and quiet, allow yourself to pause and savor it – let it come to the forefront of your awareness. Each time we do this we invite more of these experiences into our daily lives.
On the Mat:
Hopefully your yoga practice inspires matta in you each time you practice. To help encourage it, use the conduit of Ujayyi breath each time you come to your mat. Ujayyi means “triumphantly uprising”, referring to the dormant energy that lies at the base of the spine. But we can also think of the energy of bhakti – as you breathe, let the love and joy that is your true nature rise up with every inhale, and with each exhale let it overflow, giving the pose a radiance and beauty beyond just the physical form.
In my classes we worked on keeping the natural curve in the neck in all poses, with the goal of allowing the bhakti to rise up through a clear, unimpeded channel. In more advanced classes we worked towards sirsasana (headstand) and sarvangasana (shoulderstand), two inverted poses with many benefits. When you release out of holding any well-aligned inverted pose for an extended period of time, there is always an uprising of energy – a bubbling up of joy. Come out of these poses slowly and savor the ecstasy that floods through your being.
For the Anusara junkies:
Open to Grace:
Let the joy that is your true nature bubble up to the surface of your skin and fill you with an inner fullness.
Breathe in and fill up with the ecstatic feeling of bhakti.
Embrace the effervescent ecstatic love at the center of your being with every muscle.
Hug from skin to muscle to bone to the ineffable ecstasy at the core of your being.
Hold the muscles and the pose in stillness to connect to the quiet underlying joy that suffuses all of creation.
Make your skin like wrapping paper, encasing firmly the joyful gift that lies within.
Make your muscles like the cork holding in the champagne ready to bubble out.
Create a curve in the neck to allow the joy to bubble up unimpeded.
Draw the sides of the throat and the tops of the ears back and soften down the front of your face, keeping the channel open for ecstasy to rise. (Energy rises more easily up an unblocked channel - the channel is open when the curve is in it's optimally aligned position.)
From the inner well of knowing let your ecstatic essence spill over.
Let the effervescent joy pour out from your soul like champagne at a party.
Let your joy rise up and overflow.
Free your soul to roam thru wondrous and beautiful realms.
Spread your energy out beyond the confines of your physical body, into an extraordinary experience of joy and love.