Sunday, February 3, 2013
Attainable Bliss—“The Fifth Sheath”—And Calm Body-Mind Practice
THE TERM "BLISS" popularly references ecstatic moments when we are lost from the everyday—ecstatic, entranced, esoteric, or ethereal rather than real. As such, bliss describes a quality of experience that is seems outside and elusive, rare. But very interesting and remarkable, in a Vedantic philosophical perspective, bliss is inherent and ever-present, something possessed, but typically colored or obscured by other energy levels. And when we are in contact with life as it is, and our truest self, bliss is a working, healthy attribute rather than an escape. As such, bliss may be a deep, practical resource upon with we can draw and optimize, rather than be a place of occasional respite or a fantasy.
In Vedantic philosophy, five sheaths [pancha koshas] are described as energy levels associated with a person: (1) the physical body/food, (2) prana that is physically manifest as breath, air, (3) mind [sensory awareness that varies and limits], and (4) the intellect [discrimination/will and wisdom] and (5) bliss [Anandamaya kosha]. The sheaths might be likened to the layers of an onion, and are ranked as such, from density (1) to subtlety (5). Bliss is imagined as the deepest, innermost sheath, and so subtle—a pure light, radiant—and when unabated, and the authentic expression of Atman, or true, original self. This sense of bliss is as a natural state, the very best self-expression rather than a transcendent state that abandons life.
Vedantic or not, especially in quieting and calming and stilling, body-mind practices can guide the breath and senses and emotions toward a way that allows bliss to radiate out from the center into the other sheaths or energies. Quieting and calming, the experience of breathing can become quite different. For example, inhaling softly through the mouth, sensing the cool air, provokes the experience of freshness touches bliss. The process can reward us with glimpses of bliss when we approach taste or fragrance or sound and emotions and thought. Then, there may be a sense of illumination in these experiences, as if light or “lightness” [subtlety rather than density; suppleness and softness] in somehow entering these experiences. We begin to see that the way that attention to one breath and then another in body-mind practice reveals that every breath offers this experience, were physiology de-stressed and attention so directed.
Bliss is already within us, in the “heart space” that is not the physical heart, unbreakable, and filled with our “personal gifts,” many of which have not yet been opened.
We can find bliss on a mountain summit (in the experience of perching over a vast landscape while, simultaneously, feeling quite small). But when we descend from the mountaintop, there is often a sense of losing this feeling perhaps because we perceived bliss was on the mountaintop. Awe and wonder were easy on the mountaintop, but sustaining it in everyday life is the real measure. And yet, bliss is inherent, never abandoning us. Awe and wonder are both profound and nothing special, ordinary in the sense that bliss has never been apart.
This experience of bliss is ecstatic but, when authentic, is a practical and optimally healthy sense of bringing oneself more into harmony with life as it really is. By this going IN, paradoxically, ultimately goes OUT so that “self” in bliss harmoniously expresses the universe. Body mind practices in general aspire to bring self [the little universe] into harmony with the larger universe, for optimal functioning.
Breathing and every experience offers an opportunity to authentically “follow your bliss.” Still and calming and quieting can open a door where they had appeared to be only a wall.