These days, Yoga practice has become too technical. We are focused on technicalities to a degree that takes us further and further away from the Yogic Space. We have compromised the mystical dimensions of Yoga in favor of the technicalities of Yoga. We all practice sadhana (daily spiritual practice) but forget the glory of shravana (pure listening).
It can be a slow, gradual bloom from Sadhana to Shravana, but this slow unfolding is what makes a seeker’s journey rich, unending, and unknown. I thank you for taking the time to read these words. May these words weave threads of awareness from my journey into the tapestry of awareness that is your own journey.
Now, I came to realize that Yoga has become too technical through a beautiful, primal source: darkness.
Years ago, I spent 21 days in dark retreat. For 21 days, I stared into darkness. I expected to emerge from that retreat an enlightened being. But I spent 21 days in the dark, and nothing much happened. At the time, it felt like I had simply sat in the dark for 21 days. Where was the big, ecstatic, enlightened luminous blast into elevated consciousness? I was disappointed. I did not emerge from the dark with profound realization.
When I saw my teacher, I just dissolved into tears. I cried and cried on my teacher’s shoulder for about an hour. Seems the dark retreat triggered a profound flow of tears, a few moments when I was able to be near to my teacher and release everything. I simply allowed this profound surrender and admitted that I am small; I entered into humility. Someone took a photograph of me because my eyes had changed; something was in my eyes now that had not been there before the dark retreat.
From this experience, I un-learned my mind’s hold on expectations. There is no meditation or asana or practice or retreat that gives enlightenment. Just as Bhakti is not taught—Bhakti is caught—so too enlightenment is not attained, enlightenment blooms. All happens through grace.
Now when I lead retreats or workshops, I never expect certain outcomes. Instead, I bow and offer myself to be receptive, open, and of service. I let the teachings do their own work. I open the door. I show up. Grace of the Guru does the rest.
From my retreat into the dark, it was not something that I attained that was important. What was important? The release.
Unlearning is a complete release. Yoga links us to unity consciousness. In Yoga, we bring consciousness to our breath and our movement. Why not bring consciousness to the experience of unlearning?
Bringing consciousness to unlearning is important because nowadays there are too many things that we have unlearned unconsciously.
For example, we have unlearned our connection to fellow human beings, our connection to the divine, and our connection to our own breath. We must be alert to these unconscious expressions of unlearning.
Through urbanization and alienation, we have unconsciously unlearned our deep connection to one another. Through dogmatic group-think institutions that parade themselves as true religion, we have unconsciously unlearned our deep connection to the Self and the divine. Due to environmental pressures, stress, poor diet, and bad habits, we have unconsciously unlearned how to breathe to increase our life force (prana).
It is urgent that we bring awareness to the unlearning experience. It is essential that we consciously choose what and how to unlearn.
Now, what did I choose to unlearn from a yoga master’s hair?
The process by which I came upon this hair reveals something about what I have unlearned.
Back in 2009, it was the fifth-year anniversary of Yogi Bhajan leaving his physical body. I was spending time in Española doing research for the Kundalini Research Institute. On that commemoration of Yogi Bhajan’s passing, I held this intention that I really wanted to receive something that the master had once used. I really wanted to receive something that had been close to him that I could keep close to me.
One of the events at the commemorative ceremonies involved reading through the entire yogic scripture, the Siri Guru Granth Sahib. This kind of reading is called an Akhand Path, and the reading goes on continuously for several days. I was taking turns reading in the Akand Path with the Gyanis, Sikh scholars. When the Gyanis got too tired, I offered to take over through the night so they could get rest. I read the Guru all night and could feel the powerful Shabad, sacred sound, merge with my consciousness. Surely any intention I set would manifest.
On the last day of this commemorative retreat, I was late to a meal due to a KRI meeting. When I came to eat, the langar was all finished and cleaned up. But, Yogi Bhajan’s widow, Bibiji, insisted on feeding me. She made food especially for me and packed it in a Tupperware bowl. “Yogiji used to say, in this house, everyone must be served.” She said and handed me the Tupperware bowl. My heart leapt. Wow, this was it! I felt like I was receiving my begging bowl, like I was receiving initiation; this was the first gift from my master’s house. This Tupperware bowl became a treasured item that I own to this day.
The following year, I was teaching a Yogi Mela retreat in Española. Throughout the retreat, I felt an intuitive sense that someone was going to give me something precious. There was a woman who attended all the retreat sessions. She had served as Yogi Bhajan’s secretary. He called her Frenchie.
At the end of the retreat, Frenchie approached me and said, “I felt Yogi Bhajan was teaching your class, and now something tells me that I am supposed to give you this.”
She presented me with a jewelry box. I opened the box to see a thick lock of Yogi Bhajan’s hair. His secretary had saved hair that she had cleaned from his comb. Hair is precious; hair contains energy from the crown chakra. Wow, this was no Tupperware bowl! This was the master’s hair from his head, from Yogi Bhajan’s crown chakra! What treasure!
Five of those hairs I carry with me all the time in a silver tube urn memorial pendant that hangs from my neck. Some strands remain on my altar at home, and some strands are buried in the Stupa next to the Dalai Lama’s cloth.
The hair came to me without my intention. The hair came to me as a gift that proved to be treasure beyond my wildest imaginings.
From this, I unlearned the need for always setting intentions. Instead, remain open and receptive. The universe is always communicating with us; if we release an incessant need to set intentions, we simply remain still in the space of receptivity. Teachings will come. Messages will come. Answers will come. Now, remain awake and aware in the cosmic flow.
Having the Master’s hair close to me gives me a sense of his presence and serves as a constant reminder to me that I am here to share teachings supported by an energetic beam, a legacy. There are lots of kriyas and meditations that Yogi Bhajan once taught that have been preserved in books. He taught these in a certain time and in a certain space that was ripe for those particular teachings.
Learning from books is one thing, and learning through intuitive, alert receptivity is another. Since receiving that hair, I have dissolved my whole being into receptivity. Where I might have set an intention before, I am now more sensitive; first, I feel out how setting an intention might be imposing an agenda onto reality. Instead, I prefer to first listen to open up yogic space. When I started to truly sit and receive, I unlearned my habit of setting intentions and making strict lesson plans for teaching. I listen and trust the communication wells up from deep within my heart; trust the universe to come and expresses through intuitive ease.
You see, I had received the bowl out of a sense of longing to keep something that the master had touched. But I received the hairs without any longing on my part; the universe dropped the most precious gift into my open and empty hands. My evolution in unlearning brought me to an understanding that efforts to acquire are less effective than leaning into the divine flow.
My job is to bow and be receptive. Allow the universe to express itself through me. The universe offered me the secret formula for unlearning: Do not prolong the previous thought; do not start the next thought; rest nakedly in the nature of fresh awareness of the present moment.
Perceivsaing reality this way, I contemplate some crucial lessons, skills, instructions or habits that are useful to unlearn these days.
Unlearning is as much a part of the seeker’s journey as learning. We need to strike a balance. We need to unlearn consciously. Let’s unlearn all those lessons that we are taught that make us too competitive with one another. Let’s unlearn all those lessons that teach us that life is about accumulating degrees and certificates and honors and awards. Unlearn that these are the things we need to somehow prove our self-worth. Let’s unlearn lessons that inflate the ego, the superficial “I.”
Next, contemplate this: where does unlearning lead us?
Unlearning leads us into the space of no mind, the space of non-doing. The sages say that non-doing is the only way to reach the realms of higher truth. The Sufis say that we do not learn to swim so that we swim to the other side of the Ocean of Love. Learn to swim, sure. But then when you enter the Ocean of Love, forget how to swim. When you enter the Ocean of Love, simply drown. Drown in the Ocean of Love. Drown to become One with the Ocean of Love.
Why learn anything at all if ultimately it is beneficial to unlearn?
Go ahead and learn, but only as it serves the Guru (illuminated consciousness). Attain knowledge, sure. But then be ready to always surrender all of that learning to the Divine, surrender all that learning to the Guru.
What is at the essence of this unlearning path? The path to un-learn means that we let go of our attachment to our experiences of the past. This helps us to live in the present, to be immersed in the Zen mind, the beginner’s mind. We continually bring a fresh perspective to all we experience. We are pure, like the newborn infant. The world is always new. This is the state of Sat Nam, the state of our changeless identity that is never born and never dies but only witnesses all with the continued remembrance of the One.
What can we unlearn these days? Unlearn the art of seduction, what Yogi Bhajan referred to as “hookery.” This means we should unlearn all agendas. Interact with one another from pure nature, from innocence.
Unlearn artless communication in which we simply speak what’s on our mind. Instead, contemplate; slow down; consider whatever we are about to say; will it serve the highest purpose? Unlearn kriyas, poses, and meditations that have become habits. Instead of practicing yoga out of a sense of gaining something or practicing out of a fear of losing something, make every habit and practice into a devotion to the One.
Unlearn the language of gain and loss, give and take, high and low. Unlearn all duality.
Unlearn the meaning of growing old, and unlearn the art of staying youthful.
Unlearn the attachment to your status and belongings and friends. Unlearn your identity.
Unlearn the names of the constellations. Unlearn division. Let the stars be the light of the Mysterious One without imposing our words onto them.
Unlearn the biorhythms of the body, and beat with the cosmic pulse.
You may still wonder: what does all this unlearning leave us with? A clean slate? A chance for rebirth?
Maybe yes. Maybe no.
Unlearning leaves you with nothing.
And this is the Great Nothing that all the Sufi sages, poets, and saints sing and dance about in ecstatic praise. The Divine is not this. The Divine is not this. The Divine is within all our learning, but the Divine is not our learning and is beyond this learning. The divine is within all this unlearning, but the Divine is not this Unlearning and is beyond all this unlearning. Not this. Not this.
What else can we humble beings perceive in all this?
Let’s take a moment or so to Be with Nothing.
Now Sit. Now Sing. Now Dance.
© Yogi Amandeep Singh