"Only that day dawns to which we are awake." Henry David Thoreau at Walden Pond
"My inside, listen to me, the greatest spirit,
The Teacher, is near,
Wake up, wake up!
Run to his feet -
He is standing close to your head right now.
You have slept for millions and millions of years,
Why not wake up this morning?"
At critical times through history it has been progressive thinkers, seers, sages and yogis who have asked, "How shall society awaken from darkness and move into a new era of light?" All signs point to the end of the current age of materialism. It has been a long dream-filled night. Now it seems the dawn is fast approaching and we must each take the actions necessary to enliven ourselves and those around us in order to create and move into the new paradigm of holism.
The yogis of the past foresaw these challenging times. The age of materialism was known as Kali Yuga and predicted to end, perhaps dramatically, depending on how people and their leaders are able to adapt. Like every other species, we must adapt or become extinct. While the predicted changes may seem slow from our personal perspectives within society, the insightful seers of the past had a massive perspective on time and space. They described the changing cycles of the eras as if they were just days in a week or month from the expansive viewpoint of eternity.
To wrap our relatively limited minds around these ideas, it helps to translate the prophecies into time frames we can understand easily. If the "end times" are seen as a transition week, then each day holds great importance. We must make our internal changes overnight and work to make the necessary external changes, adapting our psychic and material infrastructures each day. Using a 24 hour linear cycle as the microcosmic model, we can each live each day, sleep each night and awaken to a fresh perspective each morning.
Developing the analogy further, sleep may be seen as a small death. In dying each night, we are able to shed the old, unnecessary baggage and lighten our karmic load for the next day. Death, like sleep, can be governed by the guna (attribute) of tamas (darkness, inertia) or effort can be governed by sattva (light, clarity, consciousness). There are practices of lucid dreaming in yoga, shamanism and psychology. All aim to make the dreamer more aware, able to gain wisdom from the experiences of the mind in sleep. Some yoga masters believe that in conscious sleep, the samskaras or seeds of desire from previous lifetimes can be burnt up, relieving the karmic requirement to live out those pathways.
According to the instructions given by Krishna to Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita, we must cultivate the most positive state of mind possible before succumbing to sleep, in order to flow with some awareness through the night and have a beneficial "rebirth" in the morning. Drawing from that deep pool of ancient yogic wisdom, both Hinduism and the various schools of Buddhism believe that a dying person should be guided to think of the Universal light at the time of death, influenced, if possible, by their spiritual preceptor who can assist them in letting go of any habits of mind that prevent them fully experiencing that Divine state. As Krishna said, "One attains whatever state one thinks about at the last when relinquishing the body, being ever absorbed in the thought thereof." (verse 3, chapter 6).
Hence, the sophisticated science of dhyana or yogic meditation instructs the sadhaka (aspirant) to practise regular absorption into the Cosmic mind, dissolving the small self in an ocean of bliss. This cosmic ideation brings about rapid spiritual development within one lifetime and allows the sadhaka to drop easily into that sublime peace at the time of death. The current Dalai Lama describes similar practices and instructs students of all nationalities to imagine the many deaths that may befall them so as to avoid going into shock or emotional reaction when the time inevitably arrives to leave the body behind. In this way, contemplating one's own death becomes a mindfulness practice and ceases to frighten the seeker of peace and wisdom.
The Eastern doctrines have long fascinated the thinkers, psychologists, writers and activists of the Western countries. The influence of Indian thought on world wide movements cannot be denied, although the terminology may have been adapted to suit the different places, times and cultures it affected.
For example, Henry David Thoreau, an oft quoted writer who lived from 1817 - 1862 seems to speak directly to our time in his writings on natural living, ecology and social activism. Taking himself on a two year retreat to a shack by the Walden Pond, not far from town but quiet enough to contemplate and write uninterrupted, Thoreau reflected on the benefits of simple living in natural surroundings. He was later jailed for refusing to pay taxes which he believed were feeding a corrupt government and promoting the spread of slavery. Thoreau's thoughts influenced the modern environmental movement, as well as great thinkers such as Leo Tolstoy, Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr, who all evolved their own techniques for non violent resistance and social revolution. In his book about his experience in Walden, Thoreau spoke of the debt he owed to Vedic thought directly: "In the morning I bathe my intellect in the stupendous and cosmogonical philosophy of the Bhagavad Gita...the pure Walden water is mingled with the sacred water of the Ganges."
Thoreau's interest in yogic cosmology was no doubt sparked by the social movement around him. In the early 1840s, prior to the "Walden years" of 1845 - 1847, Thoreau was introduced by Ralph Waldo Emerson to Margaret Fuller. Fuller was the editor of a periodical called The Dial and, as a fledgling author, Emerson encouraged her to publish some of Thoreau's work. This began a fruitful friendship among a group of like-minded artists, writers, musicians and thinkers in New England. Margaret Fuller was influential in popularising Transcendentalism, a movement with its roots in Eastern philosophy.
Margaret Fuller's grandnephew Buckminster (Bucky) Fuller later became known for his unconventional thinking and insightful inventions such as the geodesic dome. After bitter disappointments and failed projects plagued his life until his mid thirties, Bucky Fuller took on a mental challenge. He chose to imagine that he had died and remade his life as if he had been reborn. He imagined his new existence to be like reincarnation, but keeping the same body. It was in his reborn state that Fuller began to find success with his inventions. His career took off and he went on to influence science, environmentalism and humanistic psychology. This awakening to full potential is similar to the psychological state of self actualisation described by Abraham Maslow, who was himself part of a progressive movement in 1930s Europe.
The similarities between Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs and the journey of the kundalini up the chakras in yoga philosophy are uncanny. Maslow's research found the lower needs of physical survival and safety must be met before the human being can seek love, esteem and eventual enlightenment or self actualisation. Yoga teaches that the basic desires for safety and survival are at the root of our development and, as those needs are met, the seeds for higher desires can be watered. The chakra system describes a journey through pleasure seeking, to overcoming lower instincts and seeking connection from the heart, to states of creativity, a balanced mind and spiritual development, culminating in the blissful union of lower and higher selves. Maslow's descriptions of self actualised people are very much like wise people in any culture and clearly resemble the self realised yogis.
Yogis call the early morning hours the Brahma Muhurtta, meaning divine period. It is considered the best time for spiritual practices. If the prophecies are accurate and the cosmic alarm will soon ring, best to wake up early and start your practice now to ensure you are truly awake when the windows of opportunity for evolution are open. The Indian yoga teacher Prabhat Rainjan Sarkar said that 45 minutes before dawn, the sun emits a wave that removes psychic negativity and increases positivity in the minds of humans. Sarkar encouraged his students to "Allow your existence to shine, to be resplendent with the joy of being alive."
Following the advice of so many wise teachers, it seems prudent to make a discipline of regular sadhana or spiritual practice. Some yoga techniques will make the sleep sentient or more conscious by focusing the mind on the highest thoughts possible before falling asleep. Following your own innate sensibilities, try to visualise an uplifting image before sleep. You may like to think of Kabir's poem and imagine the lotus feet of an enlightened master at the end of your bed. Feel that you are lying down to rest in front of them. Your sleep may be dream-filled or dreamless, but as soon as you awaken, preferably in that sacred time before dawn, sit up and visualise again your teacher in front of you. Offer your sweetest most heartfelt devotion to them, cultivating a close and loving relationship that will permeate your day. If your sadhana involves seated meditation or asana, carry that mindful awareness with you throughout the practice.
Surya namaskar, the salute to the sun, is perfectly suited to a morning asana practice. If you have a window that allows you to see the sunrise, that will be an ideal place to practice. Wherever you lay your mat you can visualise the morning sun, particularly as you lift your arms to the sky, open your heart and turn your face up in Urdva Hastasana, the upward facing pose. Feel your body filled with warmth and your mind uplifted by the radiant effulgence of the dawning consciousness within you. Celebrate the new day and its unlimited potential. Move your body through the vinyasa (flow) as if you are composing a poem to the divine light. Just as the poet Kabir entreats you to wake up wake up after a sleep of a million years, feel that you are waking up fresh, that you are your own best teacher, humble before the Universal teachings, yet empowered to live your dharma, your true and righteous path, no matter what has come before.
In answer to the question of how shall society awaken, let it begin with you. Practise diligently, keeping your goal in mind, your awareness in the present, your actions, words and thoughts in keeping with your highest ideals. In this way, you will find yourself keeping good company and moving forward collectively. With your sangha (like-minded community) walking beside you, you form a potent movement towards the new day. Who knows, perhaps one day our descendants will look upon this time as the Brahma Muhurrta, the divine period of awakening.
Chandrika Gibson is a holistic yoga teacher and naturopath.