QUESTION: Siddhartha’s transformation is the ability to embrace his own history, to see that everything he had done and been was a necessary part of his awakening. This ability to release the guilt of the past is an essential part of the healing process. How can you support your yoga therapy students and clients in coming to peace with their own history?
In the three Yoga Therapy sessions I have performed using the IYT Protocol there are many questions about personal history asked to the student. The time we spend going over personal history confirms the importance of our personal story. Our story is our journey, our journey is who we are. We can’t change our story or our journey we need to make peace with it in order to grow. I would share with my students, when I was young I wanted life to be linear I believed in destinations but as I age I see life is more circular or sometimes even without a geometric equivalent.
I often think about this quote from Maya Angelou “Oh, I’ve lived a roller coaster life, there has been this disappointment and that satisfaction, and then it begins all over again. Or maybe it’s one of those terrible rides that not only goes round and round, but also dips at the same time.” I would tell my students we can’t change the past, we can only accept the past as the past, and try to leave the past in the past. The only thing that is real is the present moment. We don’t want to be stuck and non-reality. Non-reality is everything that isn’t the present moment.
“Yes Siddhartha,' he said. 'Is this what you mean: that the river is in all places at once, at its source and where it flows into the sea, at the waterfall, at the ferry, at the rapids, in the ocean, in the mountains, everywhere at once, so for the river there is only the present moment and not the shadow of the future?'
'It is,' Siddhartha said.'And once I learned this I considered my life, and it too was a river, and the boy Siddhartha was separated from the man Siddhartha and the graybeard Siddhartha only by shadows, not by real things. ... Nothing was, nothing will be; everything is, everything has being and presence.”
All parts of our journey make us who we are. If we left a part out we wouldn’t have been ourselves. My mother often talked about the Robert Frost poem The Road Not Taken in response to me ruminating over making a decision or second guessing a decision I had already made. She explained with every path we take there are many paths we don’t take and all of those are lives that may have been viable and interesting but they are no longer our path. Siddhartha could have obeyed with father stayed with his family and never went to the forest to live with the samanas. Siddhartha could have stayed with the samanas for the rest of his life, but he didn’t. Siddhartha could have been the follower of the Buddha Gautuma, but he chose not. Siddhartha could have spent his life in the town with Kamaswami and Kamala, but he didn’t. He took the path the seemed right to him and the time.
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
For me sometimes there are two paths sometimes there are even many options. I try to follow and advise others to follow the path of the heart. Carlos Castaneda in the Teaching of Don Juan explains “Before you embark on any path ask the question: Does this path have a heart? If the answer is no, you will know it, and then you must choose another path. . . A path without a heart is never enjoyable. You have to work hard even to take it. On the other hand, a path with heart is easy; it does not make you work at liking it.”
In regards to Siddhartha's circuitous path and his acceptance of the nonlinearity of his life this passages is the one that strike me the most.
"How strange his life had been, he thought. He had wondered along strange paths. As a boy I was occupied with the gods and sacrifices, as a youth with asceticism,,,, I’ve learned to conquer my body. I then discovered with wonder the teachings of the great Buddha. I felt knowledge and the unity of the world circulate in me like my own blood, but I also felt compelled to leave the Buddha and the great knowledge. I went and learnt the pleasures of love from Kamala and business from Kamaswami. I horded money, I squandered money, I acquired a taste for rich food, I learned to stimulate my senses. I had to spend many years like that in order to lose my intelligence, to lose the power to think, to forget about the unity of things. Is it not true, that slowly and through many deviations I changed from a man into a child? From a thinker into an ordinary person? And yet this path has been good and the bird in my breast has not died. But what a path it has been! I have had to experience so much stupidity, so many vices, so much error, so much nausea, disillusionment and sorrow, just in order to become child again and begin anew. But it was right that it should be so; my eyes and heart acclaim it. I had to experience despair, I had to sink to the greatest mental depths, to thoughts of suicide, in order to experience grace, to hear OM again, to sleep deeply again and to awaken refresh again. I had to become a fool again in order to find Atman in myself. I had to sin in order to live again. Whither will my path yet lead me? This path is stupid, it goes in spirals, perhaps in circles, but whichever way it goes, I will follow it.”
As for transformation, Carol Myss, I recall saying in a lecture on spiritual alchemy that in order to have gold in our lives we must be willing to let go of some lead. I see the lead as the ability to release guilt of the past in order to fully embody the present. Tadasana is my favorite pose to use to teach about being in the present moment. I have people plant their feet on the ground first leaning forward (that is the future), then leaning back (the past), then leaning to the right (the masculine), then to the left (the feminine), then I ask them to plant themselves in the present moment to inhabit the here and now.
The Buddha is quoted to have said, “The past is already gone, the future is not yet here. There's only one moment for you to live, and that is the present moment.”
Deepak Chopra also reaffirms, "In every moment we have the opportunity to awaken. To let go of whatever fear constriction and stories are running through our mind as we become fully into the present moment. And it is only in the present moment that we can experience happiness.
In order to heal we can release the guilt of the past and embrace the present moment. Healing is a present moment activity.