What Remains is Whole / AKA How to Be Wild
“In the Self all desires are fulfilled.” Chandogya Upanishad
“It is better to strive in one’s own dharma than to succeed in the dharma of another. Nothing is ever lost in following one’s own dharma, but competition in another’s dharma breeds fear and insecurity.” Bhagavad Gita
“This is true knowledge, to seek the Self as the true end of wisdom only. To seek anything else is ignorance.” Bhagavad Gita
Om Mani Padme Om.
“The jewel of the lotus lies within.” Buddhist mantra
Om Puurnnam-Adah Puurnnam-Idam Puurnnaat-Purnnam-Udacyate
Puurnnasya Puurnnam-Aadaaya Puurnnam-Eva-Avashissyate
“That is whole; this is whole; From that whole this whole came; From that whole, this whole removed, What remains is whole.” Isha Upanishad
The more I study ancient texts related to yoga, the more I seem to encounter one central theme. That theme goes something like this: “Remember that you are whole and complete. Remember that the best wisdom is within. Don’t look outside of yourself for completion and validation, because you’ll never find them there.”
The message is that when we tune into the deepest aspect of ourselves, when we clear away the stories, narratives, pains, attachments, and aversions we have picked up in this lifetime, that what remains is whole. The term in yoga used to describe our true essence is satchitananda, which means truth, consciousness, and bliss.
Perhaps during savasana after a wonderful yoga class I might feel like my true nature is blissful consciousness, but it’s not always so easy for me to remember this.
I often find it helpful to look to the natural world for guidance, as this is what informed many great teachers. When I observe the animals, trees, plants, and weather systems around me, I do see beauty and wholeness in their wildness. I see complete acceptance of birth, destruction, and transformation; I see constant growth and no concept of “should.” I see the beauty and humility in repetition, I see an enormous amount of effort and productivity, and I recognize an inherent interdependence that is reliant on the ability of each of us to play our part.
In my backyard I am fortunate enough to have an enormous Cypress tree. This tree is home to many creatures and visitors. I put sunflower seeds in feeders that hang from some of its lower branches and watch the squirrels and many species of birds who come for food. I see them bicker with each other before establishing boundaries that are acceptable to all so that all can eat. I have also always enjoyed living with animals. I currently live with a cat, who teaches me a great deal about conserving my energy. In my house we often joke about and anthropomorphize her. We’ll say: “Don’t let the cat trick you. She already had her dinner.”
Of course, the behavior we see and call a “trick” is actually just instinctual behavior designed to get a community member’s attention. It does not involve actual deception. Animals can often seem more capable than humans at honest, nondiscriminating interactions. Perhaps they are more skillful at seeing others’ true essence because they have no way of screening their own. They operate on instinct and the present moment alone and expect no less from those around them. Tapped into their wild and real nature, they are undiminished by the expectations of others.
Humans, on the other hand, don’t necessarily have it so easy. We start to cover up our true nature to meet the expectations of others, societal pressures, family and work obligations, and more. We start to believe in our patterns and tendencies and let them define us. The covering of ourselves takes place over many years as we begin to tailor, amend, rearrange, cover up, and negotiate with ourselves to gain approval and acceptance from the world around us. Perhaps we feel that if we don’t, we won’t be good enough or worthy of love.
But what if we could return to our essential nature, our own wild instincts, and operate on that same level of honest recognition of ourselves, uncluttered by our past? What would remain?
Sharon Gannon often refers to yogis as “radical” beings because yogis want to get to the truth of things. This can require going against the grain, stepping away from social complacency and acting boldly. Recognizing who we truly are, unveiling our inner happiness and freedom, and acting accordingly is a radical act because it means uncovering all of the pieces of ourselves we have worked to bury. I find it extremely comforting when I hear that my true nature is one of happiness, freedom, truth, and bliss, even when I don’t feel connected to those qualities, because it sends a gentle message that I don’t have to go out and find those things — that they are already within me and perhaps have just been hidden from sight.
The word “radical” comes from the Latin word for root. These practices involve clearing away dead leaves and old stories, until we get to the truth and root of who we are. We begin to see that all beings have this wild inner truth beyond our masks and shame. Remove all the stories we tell ourselves about who we think we are, and what remains is whole.
The teachings of yoga remind us repeatedly to shine the light of awareness within and consciously step into our own truth and potential so that we are able to live our life’s purpose and respect our interdependence with others. This is a courageous act. It is a process of remembering our instincts, of finding radical love and acceptance even for the parts of us that we dislike and holding space for them anyway.
This means we start to unravel in a good way. We begin to shed layers, deconstruct beliefs, and turn within. An entire inner landscape opens up of pieces of ourselves we may have disconnected from. Being in this landscape is radical and wild.
In honor of this month’s summer solstice, practice shining the light of awareness on yourself to return to your essential nature. Recognize and believe how complete and whole you are. Without judgment or guilt, recognize the ways you may have guarded or changed yourself to meet the perceived expectations of others.
Practice stepping bravely into your true nature, without discrimination or deception. Hold space for whatever you find. Use the tools of meditation and pranayama to turn awareness within. Practice variations of sirsasana, or headstand, to access the sixth and seventh chakras, which have to do with our ability to see truth and the divine. Spend time outside to connect to wildness within and without. Observe the birds and other animals around you. Consider putting up a bird feeder!
This process of uncovering carries with it the opportunity for deep healing and an inner wisdom that is far more profound than any we could get externally. It can also be uncomfortable. We may start to face parts of ourselves that we’ve worked hard to forget. If this happens, remember Yoga Sutra 2.6, where Patanjali reminds us not to confuse our true self with the “instrument of perception” or to “mistake the mind, body or senses for the True Self.” Instead, rest in the comfort of your loving nature with forgiveness and patience, and practice using mindful awareness to let go of any stories that no longer serve you. In other words, return to the wild. What remains will still be whole.
Written by Laura Johanna
“Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.” Lao Tzu
“It took many years of vomiting up all the filth I’d been taught about myself, and half-believed, before I was able to walk on the earth as though I had a right to be here.” James Baldwin
“Truly, I too learned to wait and profoundly so,–but only to wait for myself. And above all I learned to stand and to walk and to run and to leap and to climb and to dance.”
“The yogi feels a part of the world and all of creation. For the yogi, the definition of wild is free, creative, robust, and meditative, in community with all of nature.” David Life
“Those who realize the Self enter into the peace that brings complete self control and perfect patience. They see themselves in everyone and everyone in themselves.” Brihadaranyaka Upanishad
“You are loved just for being who you are, just for existing. You don’t have to do anything to earn it. Your shortcomings, your lack of self-esteem, physical perfection, or social and economic success — none of that matters. No one can take this love away from you, and it will always be here. Imagine that being in this love is like relaxing endlessly into a warm bath that surrounds and supports your every movement, so that every thought and feeling is permeated by it. You feel as though you are dissolving into love. This love is actually part of you; it is always flowing through you. It’s like the subatomic texture of the universe, the dark matter that connects everything.” Ram Dass
“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” Maya Angelou
“If you’re always trying to be normal you will never know how amazing you can be.” Maya Angelou
“The most fundamental aggression to ourselves, the most fundamental harm we can do to ourselves, is to remain ignorant by not having the courage and the respect to look at ourselves honestly and gently.” Pema Chodron
Book: Women who Run with the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype by Clarissa Pinkola Estés
Close every class with a brief meditation or pranayama practice to work on turning awareness within.
Encourage students to think about ways they may screen or hide themselves in daily life. Sometimes this even looks like being “loud” or taking up a lot of energy and room in order to divert attention from other aspects of themselves. It can take many forms!
Practice wild thing, lion’s breath, and heart openers.
Break down sirsasana variations. Have students practice at the wall and with partners. A few options can be:
• Use a block on its highest setting behind the head. Students will cup the block with each hand. This provides extra support for the head and neck and helps build balance.
• Practice various ways to enter Sirsasana II (tripod headstand): from prasarita padottonasana, crow pose, etc.
• For students who are more advanced or comfortable in headstand, have them work on transitioning from Sirsasana I to II.
• Have students come into half headstand a leg’s distance from the wall and practice walking their legs up, coming into L-shape with feet on the wall, but with headstand rather than handstand arms.
• From Keith and Tias Little: you can offer a regular head stand set up, but then put a blanket on TOP of the forearms, so the head has a softer surface but the arms are still rooted onto something solid.
• Also from Keith: From Sirsasana II, when assisted pressing out into the calves, the student can lift their hands off the floor.
• If students have neck injuries or are not practicing headstand, encourage them to use the time for meditation and visualization instead.
Chants to Siva, who represents our wild nature with his ash-covered skin, trident, and dreadlocks
Om namah sivaya gurave satchidananda murtaye. (Anusara invocation)
Teach and practice the meaning of the word Namaste.
Have students practice visualizations as a way to access the upper chakras. They might imagine what the room would look like through the eyes of a dog, cat, fish, etc. while they are in those poses.
Teach about the term zoomorphize (the opposite of anthropomorphize). Invite students to explore how they can practice this!
Focus on poses and myths related to animals.
Play nature and animal sounds in your playlist.
Discuss the word “wild” and how it has gotten negative connotations.