“Do you live in snow houses?”
Living abroad since 2008, I’ve met countless people that are interested in my home country, Iceland. I’ve gotten many questions like: “Do you have polar bears?”, ” Are you an Es Es Es….Sorry Inuit?” (Not PC to say Eskimo). “Do you have pet penguins?” (seriously!?)
I remember one girl that asked me, “Do you live in snow houses?” I had heard this question before but this girl was from France. Yes! France! I always remember thinking the same thing after hearing these questions, “ignorance”. But was it ignorance according to Patanjali?
Ignorance (avidya) is of four types:
1) regarding that which is transient as eternal
2) mistaking the impure for pure
3) thinking that which brings misery to bring happiness
4) taking that which is not-self to be self.
According to Patanjali the people asking me about igloos and penguins were not necessarily ignorant. Though they might not have been the smartest things to say, they were not ignorance.
Actually, I’m not here to talk about other people’s ignorance. I am going to talk about my own path to ignorance.
My path to ignorance started back when I was 21 years old… roughly 10 years ago.
Before that age I had no notion of anything being smarter, better or higher then my own thoughts, but suffering sparked a fire in me to go searching for the truth. I spent hours and hours reading endless self-help books, attending 12 step programs, meditation seminars, examining everything from Jesus to Buddha, Krishnamurti to the Dalai Lama, Reiki to the Tao Te Ching………
Finally, in 2008, at the age of 25, I packed my bags and went on a journey from Iceland to New York City to study yoga. I got initiated into Kriya Yoga and while living with my teacher in New York my eyes were opened, I had mystical experiences, and I experienced a divine love and truly found the answer to life. Or did I?
No…unfortunately I did not. After my experience in New York, I’ve continued on my spiritual journey and it wasn’t until a year ago, when I met my Baba from India, at which time I hit a wall and realized my own ignorance. It was probably the biggest blessing I’ve ever had because it was crucial for me to realize self-ignorance with total sincerity in order to gain spiritual growth.
With this realization as my foundation, things started to change. How I looked at the world changed. Instead of swallowing everything that had “self help”, “yoga” or “spiritual” written on it, weather it was spiritual books, meditation seminars, yoga teacher trainings or one of these social media quote posters stating the “truth”, I became more and more skeptical about the teachings around me. I began questioning everything, as to whether or not it was actually pure teaching.
I am aware that there are a lot of things out there to learn. What I used to consider to be pure and what used to bring me happiness, I now believe was actually harming me by blocking me from the path to self realization. This past year I have examined my past teachings from former teachers, family, and friends. It might all have been well-intended teachings but what I’ve discovered is that these teachings may not have necessarily been the truth. I’ve been slowly understanding why yogi’s talk about the “dark-ages” and their references towards their own ignorance.
Many people have asked me “What is Yoga?”
So what is Yoga for an ignorant Inuit? What I do know is that Yoga is an oral tradition that has been passed down from one guru to one disciple for centuries. Yoga is not “new-age” yoga, it is in-fact very “old-school”. I also know that Yoga is not merely physical exercises (as is commonly misconsrtued).
“What book can I read about yoga?”
… this is a question I get quite frequently from people. I smile, because I used to be the same way. I now understand that Yoga cannot be learnt solely by reading books. Patanjali’s sutras, the Bhagavad Gita or any other yogic scriptures are not yoga. Although they are indeed important to study as they can provide the necessary tools that can help you on the path of yoga.
“Where can I learn yoga?” is another common question I get. Well, I won’t learn yoga in a 200hr YTT, a 500hr YTT or any other school either…but again, it is an experience that might provide me with more tools to purify my mind from greed, aversion and ignorance.
“What is Yoga?” is another question I often hear. Again, stating my own ignorance, I will admit, that I have tried to answer this question myself and I have always struggled with the answers. I say, “Yoga is purifying your mind”, or, “ It’s realizing your true self” or, “it’s to separate the see-er from the seen.”
So… what exactly does all of this mean for an ignorant Inuit like myself? The girl from France (the one that thought people from Iceland live in snow houses) actually has no idea what it is to live in a snow houses. Similarly, I have no idea what it means to be enlightened, or what it is like to have a pure mind or to experience the true self. I have never meditated in a cave for 30 years (or lived in snow houses for that matter), the experience is not there and until that goal is reached I remain ignorant.
One of the first teachings from my Baba was, “We grow through different experiences in life, so practice non- attachment and seek the true self, the pure, the eternal and happiness. Become a spy with a discriminative knowledge.”
So for me, yoga has been growing into experiences with a spy kit to train my mind, in order to develop discriminative knowledge. One of the tools I was taught, is to use the sutra above, on ignorance. I try to ask myself, “Is it pure? Is it eternal? Is it the self? Is it happiness?”
1. Is it pure? Mistaking the impure for the pure:
For example, I constantly believe that my thoughts, emotions, or intention regarding myself and the world around me is pure, healthy, and spiritual, when they are actually a mixture of tendencies and impurities of the mind.
2. Is it eternal? Regarding that which is transient as eternal:
For example, I tend to look at the earth, sun, things, family, possessions, girlfriends, friends, and the air I breathe as something permanent. I’m grasping and not remembering that all these things will eventually go.
3. Is it the self? Taking that which is not-self to be self:
For example, I constantly identify myself to ideas and think that I am Icelandic, I am my body, I am my profession, I am an artist, I’m not an artist, but only confusing these with who I really am at the deepest level. Even the notion that I am a male is eventually an illusion according to tantric teachings. It’s a strong illusion, but still an illusion.
4. Thinking that which brings misery to bring happiness:
For example, I often take actions that seem to bring happiness in the moment, but later I discover that it can be hurtful to others or me.
When I asked my Baba if he wanted to teach me yoga (yes I had to ask him many many times and that was his way to teach me Bhakti). His answer was “go wash dishes for 12 years, study Yama and Niyama and then come talk to me”.
I was shocked! My proud little “spiritual” ego was crushed. I was devastated.
I’d been spiritually searching for 10 years and this is what I got! Later I found out that my Baba was trying to teach me that…
a) Yoga involves practice and detachment
B) Yoga is slow, not fast.
Patanjali talks about non-attachment and practice in one of his sutras (in my case it was washing dishes for 12 years) as essential tools towards yoga. After realizing my ignorance through working with my Baba, I started practicing non-attachment, externally and internally. I didn’t just try to detach from people, places and things; I rather started a process of detaching from old ideas, desires, habits and thought patterns… all with help from my Baba. It’s like he was popping thought balloons that were filled with wrong views, crappy teachings, and old beliefs about myself and the world. One of the balloons he popped was my balloon that said mystical experiences were the path to enlightenment… instead he replaced it with washing dishes, detachment and slow practice.
This past year has been like swimming through illusions..
…trying to see myself and the world around with the practice of yoga. I am slowly realizing that I live in an illusion, caused by my ignorance and with help from my senses.
So to end this on a new-age fluffy note, I can truly say that working with my Baba this year has been an amazing and rewarding spiritual experience. It’s slow, it’s going back to the basics (Yama and Niyama), it’s practical, and it has been about continuing to realize my own ignorance. It has been about continuing to strive to eradicate greed, aversion, and delusion out of my life. It has been about developing a discriminative knowledge and about continueing to seek the true self, the pure, the eternal, and happiness.
***This was a special post by Guest writer David Rafn Kristjansson. He is a dear friend of mine who I met in Beijing, China, in 2010. He is always trying to push himself to be a better human being, he isn’t afraid of being human, and for this I admire him deeply. Thank you so much Deebo for this amazing piece!***