It's our day, yogis! American Independence Day may seem to be about grilling meat and parading in red, white, and blue, but history tells us that this holiday is rooted in the desire for freedom. As is yoga. The true yoga isn't contorting the body or chanting mantras, but the end result of these techniques: achieving freedom of the mind. (Which is even more exciting than freedom from the British, though we can certainly connect with our Indian friends on this point.) And I say that anyone who wants this freedom can call her or himself a yogi, regardless of how she moves or what he eats.
Although this possibility sounds terrific - who doesn't want to be free from the tyranny of the mind with its ceaseless rattle of to-do lists and old pop songs? - the specifics might give us second thoughts. Achieving this freedom means giving up the self, releasing identification with who we are, the good and the bad. "There is no 'I' living this life," the Advaita Vedanta scholar Swami Ajatanada said during his spring lecture series in Rishikesh, India. "There is only life living itself." Life living itself sounds lovely, but we all want to be an "I." For isn't that what America in 2015 is all about: enhancing our "I" through all means possible, including social media?
Thousands of years before the invention of the selfie, yogis have said that there's something better than our limited selves: an all-inclusive goodness where there is nothing to fear and nothing to fight against. This goodness is known by various names: our "buddha nature," our super-soul called Atman by the Hindus, and our Christ consciousness, which asks us to put others before ourselves because in essence, we are the same. When we can "drop our stories," as Ajatananda advised in his lectures, and release the ego by letting go of our identifications, we can "rest in awareness" and observe that only love remains.
However, the more I try to release my ego, the more it fights back. A friend of mine recently contracted Lyme's disease (it's been a bitch of a tick season) and she shared with me that her symptoms got worse - not better - when she started taking antibiotics. Her joints flared in pain and she awoke deep in the night, frightened, because the bugs were fighting hard to survive. And me, when I try releasing the stories I tell myself, that I'm good or that I'm bad, my ego fights to survive and surges over me like an ocean wave. I also awake deep in the night, frightened that I'm not good enough. I awake again in the morning, sobbing over the stories that seem knit into my bones.
But today is July 4th and I am a yogi. Liberation is my dearest wish. I have devoted my life's energy to being free, despite my fondness for selfies and my small "self." On days like today, I lead others into the woods and we practice freedom. We take off our mental chains by staying silent and focusing our attention on the present: the sound of our feet squishing through the mud, the sensation of our heartbeats, the color green that surrounds all. We forget ourselves and then we remember. We remember and then we forget. But we keep practicing. We practice being free.