You’ve got to love the king of Bhutan: one day His Majesty decided that keeping animals in captivity went against the ethical and spiritual ideals of the kingdom, and ordered that all animals be released from the zoo. Apparently the only animals left there now are takin, the national animal ( http://www.windhorsetours.com/bhutan/wildlife.php ), who didn’t know what to do with their newfound freedom, and were seen wandering around town looking for food. The king realized the only compassionate thing to do was to allow them back into the zoo and to feed them, so there they stay as guests. Talk about enlightened society.
Sometimes I relate to those takin, freedom right in front of me and I am too ignorant to know what to do with it. I stay within my prison walls, waiting for someone or something to feed me. What are these walls made of? What prevents me from high-tailing it into the hills to live in my natural habitat? Oh, I guess I’ve done just that. Now if I can only learn to feed myself.
I suppose this is why we practice: to learn to feed, or rather nourish ourselves, so that we may be of some benefit to others. Sometimes I hear other teachers make promises like, “you will feel better, your bad habits will go away, your relationships will change as a result of practice.” What I have noticed recently, however, is that it is entirely possible to use practice in the service of ego. With unclear intent, wrong understanding or lack of awareness, we can use anything, even spiritual practice, to reinforce our bad habits. I find this is most unfortunate.
With unclear intent, we may use practice to enhance our position, confusing success or popularity with understanding. Wrong understanding can lead to solidifying experience into concepts or doctrine. Without awareness, we are blind to the subtle details of our experience. We practice to cultivate this awareness – not just on the mat or the cushion, but in every single moment of our lives. If awareness is not translating into our lives, then our practice is misguided, and we should look again at what we are doing, or rather how we are doing.
This is where asana practice comes in handy: we get to watch our responses (or reactions) to failure, success, ambition, hopes, drives, fears, disappointments. How we respond to the rules suddenly being changed, or to rules period. Can we see deeply into the core of our experience of how we view and interact with the world? Until we recognize our own little thingy – that habitual pattern, whether physical, emotional or mental, that obstructs our complete opening – then we won’t be able to release it. And if we can’t let go of our thingy, then it will rule us. We will carry it around with us our whole lives, like dead skin we no longer need, but refuse to shed.
In the evening I wandered down the lane, past the rice paddy and over the rushing stream to the Drukgyal Dzong, an old fortress ruined by a fire a few decades back. I’m told the fortress was built to ward off a conflict with the Tibetans at one point. Set on a high hill overlooking the valley, now it is charmingly dilapidated and there are no angry Tibetans in sight. When I approach from the lane, there is a group of children huddled excitedly around some point of interest. As I pass, they show me their treasure, fling it to me rather, the youngest yelling, ‘a snak, a snak’!! A snakeskin, fully intact, its previous owner somewhere in the wilds, beginning a new life.