Since starting my Yoga Therapy training earlier this month, I’ve been thinking a lot about the idea of being whole.
Not just whole, as in, I’m physically intact, but whole on a variety of levels. Whole as in: enough. Whole as in: not lacking, not broken, not in need of fixing. Whole in the sense that I could still consider myself complete even if I had one less finger, or arm, or eye. Whole in the sense that I’m still enough when I feel anxious or angry or sad. Whole even when things fall apart. Whole even when your family/relationships/jobs are not where you want them to be. Whole even when you’ve got it all, and know on some level it won’t last forever.
I don’t think feeling whole is easy. I think our capitalist society stands to make a lot of money off of making us feel otherwise (see also: every advertisement ever, commercialization of a day dedicated to ‘love’, etc.). To feel whole is a radical act of self-love. To see others as whole, without exception, is a radical act of compassion.
In yoga school, we’ve been talking about these ideas through the mahavakyas, which are four ‘Great Sayings’ of the Upanishads, some of the oldest parts of Indian philosophy from several thousand years ago.
In particular, one of them is Aham Brahmasmi, which roughly translates as “I am (a part of) the whole, perfect, infinite and immortal all-encompassing reality.”
(You know, just some light yoga philosophy to ease into the next two years of yoga school.)
I see two parts of Aham Brahmasmi: Aham, “I” as both the individual/ego/body-bounded “I”, but also the capital S Self we tap into through mindfulness (moving towards a nondual view of reality, for my philosophy folks). The Self that knows that we are not our body/thoughts/emotions, and that rather we have a body, have thoughts, and have emotions. The Self with a capital-S is that space we tap into when we recognize the shared light in each other at the end of class. The Self is what links us to the enormity and beauty and challenge and perfection of all existence, called Brahman. The beauty is that we, and every living and non-living thing, are all a part of this enormous Something that we can barely even begin to understand.
To me, this mahavakya means that through meditation and mindfulness we are able to move from self to Self, disentangling ourselves from the trappings of ego that make us feel separate from each other. We all have shared humanity. We all experience joy and sorrow. We all want to be safe, and comfortable, and content. We all have the potential to transcend the limitations of the ego and connect with our shared humanity, and connect with the part that we play as interconnected beings that make up the Universe.
We’re all a part of it, together. We’re not broken. We’re whole. But we can grow.
You can allow for growth or change without feeling in need of fixing. Does a seed feel that it’s lacking for having not yet sprouted? Is it the tree’s fault that it grew in a different direction from lack of access to light? Does a baby give itself a hard time for not having been born knowing how to walk?
When we start from a point of wholeness, growth becomes the logical next step, rather than a process of repair. As we’ll talk about in my anxiety workshop on the 26th, I was best able to smooth out some chronic anxiety in healthy ways, making use of my mindfulness practices, once I realized that it wasn’t wrong to be anxious. It was a part of me...that I was finally ready to accept, which allowed me to grow in how I managed it, and in some ways, beyond it.
At their core, these mahavakyas aren’t meant to be immediately easily understood (trust me, I’m still working on ‘em), but rather something to contemplate, to meditate on. In my own practice, I’ve been sitting with Aham Brahmasmi, repeating it silently, sometimes in Sanskrit, and sometimes translated as “I am the infinite reality. I am whole.”
It’s a different experience, to be sure, than reading or writing about it. If that’s your jam, you might try it for yourself, just to see what suggesting these ideas feels like to the mind. Feel free to share your experiences in the comments below, or by emailing me!