Sex, Death, Sleep, Love, Magic and Pratyahara: Jivamukti Yoga Focus of the Month: July 2014, by Sharon Gannon

Everything that is seen should be looked upon as the Self
Shandilya Upanishad

“Guruji, what is pratyahara?,” I asked my teacher. He came closer to me, turned my head to face a wall in his practice room and asked, “Look at that wall, what do you see?” “A wall?,” I asked timidly. “If you see a wall that means you have to practice pratyahara, then afterwards you will see God, not a wall.”

Yoga is a tantric practice in which the practitioner practices seeing all of life as alive, as the living manifestation of God. What is realized in the yogic state of samadhi is the Oneness of being. A realized yogi does not see a world populated with others—living beings or inanimate objects—separate from themselves. A realized yogi sees the Self/God in all of life. It is the illusionary appearances of others that must be overcome in order to break though the false separation between self and other, or between self and nature, or between self and God. Practically speaking, what that might mean is that you start by putting a face on the other, you relate to others that you encounter as persons, you even relate to the Earth as a person, to animals, trees, plants, even streams, rivers and oceans or rain and wind as persons. You don’t see the living world as made up of inanimate objects or unfeeling, faceless animals, plants, minerals or elemental forces, but as individuals, much like yourself. When you perceive the world as alive in this way, it is easier to interact with and relate to your environment; you don’t feel so alone or as if others or the world were coming at you and you were only a passive victim. Pratyahara is the practice of purifying your perception—not believing in only what you see with your physical eyes, but looking deeper. When you can really relate to others as persons more like you than not, that provides a way, an access point, to get underneath or through the illusion of separateness.

You know how it feels when you fall in love with someone and at first, they seem like a separate person, and you seem like a separate person, but then you become enthralled with the similarities rather than the differences between the two of you, which draws you even closer, and the separateness that seemed to separate you from them dissolves. You may even feel like the same person. It may dissolve for perhaps only a moment, but in that moment, you know that it’s possible. They say that everyone experiences the true Cosmic reality many times in their life. You don’t have to be an enlightened being or a saint to have this experience of the Oneness of being: it happens at the moment of sexual orgasm and at the time of death. And it also happens every night when you go to sleep, into deep sleep, where you lose your identification with your ego/personality, with your body and mind, and you no longer experience your own self as separate, you let it go. For most people the merger experiences of orgasm, death and deep sleep are involuntary, beyond their conscious control.

A yogi wants the deep sleep experience while they are awake, a conscious experience of continuous ecstasy, like a perpetual orgasm; well, we could use the metaphor of the orgasm, but we could also use the metaphor of death. Many tantric practitioners meditate on death, and others on sex and others on sleep. The word tantra means to stretch across: tan=stretch + tra=cross over. The tantric yogi stretches their perception of self and other so far that their perception magically encompasses all of existence, including of course the Divine. To the realized yogi there is nothing outside of, or separate from God.

The word sex means separation. Etymologically, the word sex is derived from the Latin roots seco and secare, which mean “to divide, cut or separate.” Actually the experience of orgasm is a resolve of sex or separation, where the person loses themself and feels the heightened experience of oneness, if for only a moment. At the time of death a person separates from their body and merges with the oceanic experience—no longer identifying themself as a separate being confined in a body of flesh and blood, but instead as one with the universe of potential. The experience of samadhi is akin to orgasm, death and sleep, as it is a resolving of all forms of separation into the reality of Oneness. Yoga means “to yoke, to connect, to dissolve disconnection.” Yoga is the antithesis of sex, because sex means separation—to divide or separate—and yoga means union—to yoke or bring together. The state of Yoga is the state of Love, unconditional. To see yourself in others—to see so deeply into others that otherness disappears and only the Self—only God, only Love—remains is the yogic magical quest. Through the practice of pratyahara—looking deeply within—one refines their ability to go past the outer differences apparent in other beings and things in order to perceive what unites all beings and things—the universal solvent, the Divine force of eternal love, which is actually the essence of one’s own self.

—Sharon Gannon

On love and suffering


“Sadness gives depth. Happiness gives height. Sadness gives roots. Happiness gives branches. Happiness is like a tree going into the sky, and sadness is like the roots going down into the womb of the earth. Both are needed, and the higher a tree goes, the deeper it goes, simultaneously. The bigger the tree, the bigger will be its roots. In fact, it is always in proportion. That’s its balance.”
(thanks to Tamar Samir for posting this quote last week on FB)

Being embodied on this earth is not always easy. A part of our existence is experienced as suffering, and we do everything we can to avoid staying in that place. Indeed, we do our utmost to escape it; we even add to our suffering by resorting to destructive behaviours to circumvent the original source of sorrow.

Many of us turn to the guidance of a spiritual path as a result of becoming aware of our suffering, and wanting to do something about it. Whether it is physical, mental or emotional pain, we come to the path looking to cultivate a more beautiful, grace-filled existence. This, however, in itself does not mean the end of suffering. Sometimes the spiritual path can involve grieving, especially when it leads to discovery of self that can ultimately be transformative, but initially quite painful.

The spiritual practice brings awareness to our lives, and ultimately can lead to freedom from suffering; after all, the goal is enlightenment. Sometimes, however, an increased awareness comes before anything else, before we have even cultivated compassion and kindness towards ourselves and other. Rather that feeling better, it is in this stage that things can initially get worse and result in severe loneliness and deflation.

About ten years ago I went through a period of deep depression. I had been practicing yoga for a number of years in earnest, but had recently been diagnosed with a life threatening illness. Overnight, I lost my self-confidence, and wound up questioning everything in my life, and was steeped in self-loathing and blame. While I did my best to carry on with daily life putting on a brave face, I ultimately broke down, crying through savasana on most days at my local yoga shala, and even had to take a few months off from work. At the time I felt embarrassed and weak, and it felt like this period would never end. I didn’t feel I had much to live for in that moment. Over time, however, things did change. They always do. I found my way out of the darkness to a lighter space and a more peaceful way of living, thanks to the practices of yoga, dear friends and family. It is an unfortunate truth that many are not so lucky. For some, the roots grow deep long before the branches see the sun and bear fruit.

Eventually and inevitably, with darkness comes light, but we must be patient with ourselves and others; time knows no boundaries in happiness and sorrow. The best we can do is doing the best we can; it can easily be overlooked that in each moment the aim of the spiritual path is in cultivating kindness and love. So that we do not waste our energy or effort in the wrong direction, so that we are not driven necessarily off course, when we recognize our attention being diverted to anything other than the cultivation of love (including anger, jealousy, greed, fear and anxiety), we might ask ourselves three basic questions: 1. Is it kind? 2. Is it true? 3. Is it necessary? (Thanks to Jules Febre for sharing these).

As humans, the more loving we are of ourselves and others, the less we have to live in fear; fear of what others think, fear of worldly events, and most of all, fear of ourselves. When we cultivate kindness and love, we are creating the right environment for those around us to do the same. When we embrace and allow ourselves to be embraced, our suffering, and the suffering of those around us diminishes. We must walk together as we grow our roots and branches, we must support one another. When we water our trees with love, we can leave the timing of the roots to grow deep and the branches to grow high up to the powers that be.

Jivamukti Yoga Focus of the Month, March 2014: Bhakti Trumps All


The Lord does not reside in the heart of one who is always focused
on worldly affairs, …and is falsely attached to the path of action.
Shiksha Patra 32.4, translated by Shyamdas and Vallabhdas
A practitioner must be careful not to lose sight of the ultimate goal of yoga, which is God realization. Remembering God and being able to serve God should be foremost in our minds and hearts and should permeate all of our actions. When we ask, “Make me an instrument for Thy Will, not mine but Thine be done, free me from anger, jealousy and fear, fill my heart with joy and compassion,” we are asking God to reside in our hearts and to use us as His instruments. That plea invokes the arising of humility within our hearts and diminishes pride and with it the tendency to indentify ourselves as the doer of actions and instead acknowledges God as the ultimate doer.

The simplest definition of Jivamukti Yoga is “a path to enlightenment through compassion for all beings.” Even though bhakti and ahimsa are both tenets of Jivamukti Yoga, there could arise a tendency to forget bhakti, devotion to God, and become overly consumed with promoting animal rights, veganism and environmentalism—or you could say saving the world—as a way to practice ahimsa and develop compassion in one’s daily life. We must be careful not to allow our activism to take priority over our devotion to God. If we do we will undoubtedly be bound by avidya and asmita—ignorance and ego identification and all the debilitating vices that come with those hindrances, like pride, anger, revenge and impatience, for example.

It is understandable that when a person becomes vegan and experiences the truth that has been kept from them for their whole life it can be a huge, cathartic awakening. Realizing how caught they had been, how indoctrinated into a cultural system founded on unquestioned prejudice against other animals, on enslaving, exploiting and eating them, as well on consumption of the Earth’s resources and the quest for money, it is not surprising that that awaking would come with a certain amount of zeal and a full on commitment to activism. After all, to have your world turned upside down, to see that what you previously thought of as “normal” is in fact a lie, could certainly motivate a person to a life of action. Passion for compassion is a good thing and should be fostered and honored. But if you become too obsessed with thinking that it is up to you to save the world, you could easily become prideful and identify yourself alone as the one that must accomplish great goals.

Remember that karma yoga is the yoga of selfless service. As described in the Bhagavad Gita it can only be truly practiced by someone who is willing to relinquish the fruits of their actions. A karma yogi is one who acts selflessly for the greater good, is humble and does not expect any reward, not even acknowledgement or appreciation from others for their good actions.

I am not saying that we should be apathetic and not aspire to live a committed life that focuses on uplifting the lives of others and making this world a better place. On the contrary, we should aspire to living in a way that enhances the lives of others and strive to abolish all forms of animal and Earth cruelty and selfish exploitation. I am only pointing out that if we neglect to remember God in our whirlwind of compassionate activism we will lose sight of our ultimate goal and mire ourselves in undeserved fame, trapping us deeper into the grips of ignorance and ego identification. The solution is to devotionally offer every thought, word and deed to God—striving to align with and love God more. Be humble and remember that the cause of everything is God. Don’t try to do everything all by yourself. Let go and let God be the doer; be His instrument, His conduit. When you can become a conduit for God’s grace then you “can-do-it.” Allow God to work through you and give God credit for any accomplishments you may appear to have achieved. When others congratulate you, immediately defer to the real doer who is behind every action and proclaim, “All glories to Shri Krishna!” If invoking Krishna is too religious for you, that’s fine, but at least be humble enough to defer to a power higher than your own limited, mortal self.

~ Sharon Gannon


At this time of year many of us naturally pause to take stock of all that we have in our lives, yet sometimes the joy of the season is veiled by family conflict, loneliness and grief. Yesterday was Thanksgiving, an American holiday that celebrates togetherness, abundance, and gratitude, yet many are left alone, or without enough to eat. Sadly, the families that do have enough often have an animal on the table to eat that goes unrecognized along with many other beings who are cast aside, unappreciated.

A lovely practice at this time of year that is also a constant practice, is moving through the day with mindfulness, with intention. What beings do we interact with and do we treat them as we would like to be treated? So much of life is taken for granted and seen with blinders, when in actuality, every aspect of life is precious. Being here is precious. Even reading words on a computer is not to be taken lightly; to have eyes to see and the means to have a computer. Short interactions in passing can be meaningful and bring a lot of joy to others if met with the right intent.

We all have the potential to be vessels of love, yet often words of gratitude are the most difficult to express because they are the most heartfelt; we become vulnerable by expressing matters of the heart. It takes practice, humility but also confidence to listen within, to open the vault and speak with compassion. It is a challenge sometimes, but the results give life sweetness and meaning.

We never know what others are thinking or wishing for, and as the gift giving season begins, it is a wonderful reminder that most people want Love. Its a beautiful gift to give, a sentiment of the heart, and it’s not too soon to start practicing and spreading joy. Everyday can be Thanksgiving, everyday can be about giving gifts of Love.

Happy Thanksgiving today, and every day.

Back to Love

Lord_Krishna_1yat karoṣi yad aśnāsi
yaj juhoṣi dadāsi yat
yat tapasyasi kaunteya
tat kuruṣva mad-arpaṇam
-Bhagavad-gītā 9.27

Whatever you do,
whatever you eat,
whatever you offer or give away, and
whatever austerities you perform —
do that, O son of Kuntī,
as an offering to Me.

Being human can be a bitch. It means that no matter how wide or open our hearts, we are susceptible to the flood of emotions, the unpredictability of life, the mental tug of war that reminds us we are alive.

The past week or two have been challenging for me in the hospital because the floodgates of emotion were unexpectedly filled and opened, and the trajectory that the doctors envisioned for me was inaccurate. Just like all humans, doctors do the best they can based on the information they are given and past experiences, but the body and its internal chemical lab creates complex actions and reactions that, at the end of the day, nobody can account for, even the world’s most renowned and brilliant doctors.

While the doctors were challenged with the factual numbers of my blood trying to decide what was going wrong and why, I was challenged with the abstract questions of “Why can’t I just feel grateful and happy?” “Why can’t I get back to letting go of sadness and frustration?” “Why can’t I get back to Love?” The answer didn’t come immediately, and I had to sit with my sadness, my discomfort, my frustration, until something shifted. This is not unusual, in fact, I’ll bet if you ask ten people how they get rid of feeling any of these emotions their answer would is some way be related to time, and finding an outlet to vent those emotions. Some may say something about learning to stay; a few might even use the word ‘surrender’.

The above quote is from the ancient and renowned text called the Bhagavad Gita meaning the “Song of God.” In the text, God is in the form of Krishna, a Hindu God whom among other Awesome things is Love itself. He is talking to Arjuna, who is a warrior prince about to fight in a battle. Arjuna represents you and I; a human being who has let life take him at least somewhat unconsciously to a place where he ends up on a battlefield with people whom he knows and loves on both sides of the impending war. In a moment of clarity he wakes up and realizes he doesn’t want to fight. What will he do?

Luckily, Krishna is his charioteer and tells him he must participate in the battle. If he does, and if he is able to place all his trust in Krishna, Krishna will show him another way to live, another way to be in the world.

You and I are Arjuna, and our battlefield is the daily life we are confounded with. According to yoga philosophy, our thoughts, words and actions of this life and past lives determine the battlefield and who we confront in the war. When we come to a point that we are aware of what we think and how we behave in response to those thoughts, it also becomes easier to remember how to change our intentions and actions. This can act as a trigger to remember Krishna, or God, because at some stage in awareness building, we start to understand the only way off the battlefield is to surrender. Surrender to Something, to Someone; surrender to God. To offer our intentions and actions to God is to experience God because in the yoga philosophy, God is Love. It goes further to explain that we each have the same, limitless potential for God within us, and in fact, we are God. We are Love.

Throughout these weeks when my mind and emotion have gotten the best of me, I’ve thought a lot about God. I’ve thought about how lucky I am; I’ve also thought a lot about those who have it far worse than I do, and the wonderful aura of Love around me in the form of friends and family. As life would have it, the shift back to feeling God and Love is sometimes not as simple as it seems. When the mind gets a firm hold on emotion, surrender means learning to stay. Staying with the sadness or whatever emotions come up is like forfeiting the game of tug of war with the mind (the mind always wins). There is no opposition of force with which to initiate the game, and the ropes go slack by disengaging, by surrendering. Eventually, the ropes fall away and there is no longer a battle to fight, there is no longer a battlefield. At this moment it’s back to Krishna; back to Love.

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