I Am That, and that, and that, and that…
written by Michael Quintana
Pictured in the above photo is a fourteen-year-old me in Badha Padmasana. It’s been twenty years since that picture was taken and in no way am I the same person. First off, I can no longer perform Badha Padmasana! My shoulders are much tighter and more muscle bound then they once were. Second, I don’t have that outfit anymore. Maybe I outgrew it, or perhaps the clothes were no longer fashionable (assuming they ever were!) and I threw them out. Third, our bodies are in a constant process of regenerating, replacing and reforming the structures that make our form. Old, damaged cells are constantly being replaced by newer ones. I am not the same person in that picture. I have grown and changed a lot but in many ways I am still that boy in that picture. The truth is I am a soul, an Atman, temporarily inhabiting this fleshy form. As I might change clothes many times throughout this lifetime, my body may change many times in this lifetime, and my soul has changed through many bodies throughout its existence.
BG 2.22: As a person sheds worn-out garments and wears new ones; likewise, at the time of death, the soul casts off its worn-out body and enters a new one.
In yoga philosophy, the physical world is said to be a manifestation of Prakriti, while consciousness or awareness is considered to be Purusha. We humans are thought to be an element of Purusha immersed in and occupying a form of Prakriti. The Atman, or soul, is Purusha, and the body is Prakriti. The realm of Prakriti in which we reside, the manifested universe, is known as Maya. Maya, often translated as illusion, distracts us from the divine. It acts like a veil or colored lenses, that when covering your eyes colors your perception of the world. The world of Maya is full of enticements that draw our attention and pull our focus. Often we think that maya is the only reality and believe I am that job or I am that car or I am that social media post. When we identify with the aspects of maya we tend to neglect our practices and lose connection with the divine.
BG 7.14 The three gunas make up my divine maya, difficult to overcome. But they crossover this maya who take refuge in me.
So, if we are a soul inhabiting a body and our true nature lies outside of this physical realm, how should we appear in this physical world while we are here? Shiva is often covered in ash to discourage an identification with maya. That may cause some issues with your employer if you attempt that look here in New Orleans! I have had to adopt many a different uniform to reflect different roles I was playing at the time; black and white outfits suitable for formal service, a black velour turtleneck and pants to perform glow-in-the-dark puppetry, dance belt and tights for ballet class and many more. Like many others in this city I have a dedicated costume closet full of clothes to meet any occasion. From corsets to tailcoats, sequins to denim, hotpants to coveralls, I have an outfit appropriate for most occasions. This capacity to change my physical presentation can be termed code switching or blending. Sometimes I do it to be ostentatious, sometimes to fit in or disappear. Using the tool of fashion and costuming, we can explore many ways to be, to occupy this physical word of maya. I can be that or that or that…
Another name for Shiva is Nataraja, or Lord of the Dance or Act. Shiva is known as a shapeshifter, often taking different forms to hide his true nature and fool others. Grounded in the knowledge of his true self, Shiva can take on many forms without being distracted by them or by the reaction within maya to these forms. This makes him the master actor or dancer. Grounded in his true nature, Shiva can look out upon the world of maya and say SoHam. I am that which is eternal and everlasting but also that body and that tree and that breeze and that mosquito and that…
As we move on and off our mats this month, I invite you to be curious about the way you present yourself in this world of maya. Take advantage of the carnival season and explore a new look, a new wig or new make-up. Explore setting up your mat in a different part of the studio. As you move through the many asanas of yoga, practice identifying with the beings the asanas are named for. I am that cat, I am that cow, I am that dog that is facing down or up. Some asanas are named after enlightened beings rather than animals. You might assume the form of Vasisthasana or Hanumanasana and think: I am Vasistha or I am Hanuman! If you are unsure of who those beings are, you might read about their lives and imagine yourself in their shoes (though they were likely barefoot). Nothing is set in stone unless you choose to behave that way. If we are less rigid regarding our outlook and expectations, we open ourselves to see more possibility. When we identify less with our small self, our ego, and more with our soul, our atman, we see ourselves, our soul, in everything. In this seat of higher consciousness we can truly say I am that, and that and that and that.
“Everyone is just god in drag.” – Ram Das
“You are not in the universe, you are the universe.” Eckhart Tolle
“We can see the same spirit in everybody only when we know that we are that spirit, Atman or Self. Only a person who has understood his own Self can see the Self in others.” – Swami Satchitananda
“All beings exist in an invisible state and then come to a state of visibility. Change occurs only on the surface, for the self-existent glory remains unchanged, changing form does not affect the self-existing reality. Atman, Soul or Self, dwells in all that is perishable, yet remains unperishable.” – Rama Swami
“You must change your costume every hour, every two hours. You’re getting monotonous.” – Edith Ewing Bouvier Beale
Inhale So exhale Ham
Asato Ma Sad Gamaya
Tamaso Ma Jyotir Gamaya
Mrytor Ma Amritam Gamaya
Higher Self Meditation
Songs for your playlist:
You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real) – Sylvester
I am Loving Awareness – East Forest
The Realness – Rupaul
Changes – David Bowie
Reflection – Christina Aguilera
I am the Walrus – The Beatles
Bitch I’m Madonna – Madonna
Media to watch
Paris is Burning
On Yoga: The Architecture of Peace
What the Bleep do We Know?
Sita Sings the Blues
Books to read
Be Here Now – Ram Dass