by Donna Quesada
Entry Two (White Tantric)
The man next to me was snoring during the reclining meditation. Herein lies the difference between regular school and spiritual school, I later considered, after talking with a fellow practitioner. He confided with me his own moment of irritation, when, amid the otherwise remarkable day, he found his neighbors encroaching too closely on his space, resting their feet on his mat during that same meditation.
It was the day of White Tantric Yoga, the ancient technology of self-transformation introduced to the west for the first time in history by Yogi Bhajan, in 1970. It consists of a series of meditations that utilize the diagonal energy produced in the context of a group. The participants’ careful placement creates the conditions necessary for the movement of energy through its course, where it vacillates naturally between the alternating points of positive and negative polarities.
The reality is, something will always bother somebody. As my friend can testify, personal space can be a bothersome issue. And so is smell for a lot of people–whether due to general sensitivity or to genuine allergies. There was an announcement to the order of refraining from the use of essential oils, a reminder which was likely prompted by a complaint. For me, it’s all about sounds. Personal space is no problem. I don’t mind if your legs are touching mine during reclining meditation, or if your feet are on my mat. But, that’s not entirely true either. If you’re a “close-talker” (to use a Seinfeld reference) and you’re also coughing persistently, like, really hacking, then it would probably make me uncomfortable, as the snoring did. For a moment, I had allowed the snorting and sniveling to diminish the transformative power of our fourth meditation. It sounds like the choke on my Dad’s old muscle car, I remember thinking to myself, a negative thought to be sure–one packed with the force of resistance, rather then the ennobling power of acceptance and surrender. Although the moment was a fleeting one, it was a moment I gave away.
All moments are fleeting moments, so how will we spend them? Surrendering to irritation and to the ego’s never-ending list of grievances and grumbles, or by learning to live with the dignity and ease that comes from a balanced mind? Although the idea of spirituality is made esoteric, the essence of a spiritual life is simply to face our struggles with grace.
So, on that warm, Indian Summer autumn day in Los Angeles–in my ongoing quest to battle shadows and demons, I drove up Westwood Blvd., the entryway to UCLA and the host site of White Tantric Meditation.
Although he left his physical body in 2004, Yogi Bhajan’s presence there was tangible. Not merely because this was the original city where he introduced White Tantric, where the maverick yogi broke with the old Indian custom of guarding this sacred technology, but because his now familiar and comforting voice emanated from the large speaker just feet away from me. Facing away from our partners, the crisply enunciated mantra flooded the room: “Har Haray Haree.” The women chanted the heavily aspirated sacred syllables right along with him, and the men chanted the response, “Wahe Guru”.
It was the first of seven meditations. We were lined up in rows and were positioned back to back. As my partner’s vibrating spine pressed against my own, which had started to ache about half-way through, I thought of the Buddha, persisting in the most ardent phase of his meditation for 49 days. Who would I be to wiggle before the first hour was even complete? I wondered. My partner adjusted his back and I rounded mine into the hollow of his. Through our melded spines, I could feel, rather than hear, his voice reverberate the mantra. We continued on in unison, projecting the chant in rapid-fire succession, with the Mahan Tantric.
Every wiggle is escorted by a thought. And not just any thought, since at any moment, our brains are streaming thousands of them, but inevitably a disagreeable one. All forms of meditation reveal what is known as the “monkey mind,” that busy superhighway that sits atop our shoulders where, like a squirming toddler tugging at our pant legs, our incessant thoughts serve as reminders of our every discomfort and annoyance. But, there, while pressed against the back of my new friend, and again later, while “Sat-Nam-ing” in peaceful concentration, I came back to NOW, and reminded myself why I was there.
I was there because of my longtime kundalini yoga teacher, Guru Singh. I was there because of my Zen teacher, who would be happy to know I’m practicing. I was there for my new mentors in the teacher-training program at Yoga West. I was there for Gurmukh, even though I’ve never even met her in physical form–she doesn’t know it, but her loving e-mails were instrumental in my decision not to wait yet one more year. Following the links on the golden chain, I was there for Yogi Bhajan himself. But ultimately, I was there for myself and everyone my life will touch.
As Westwood Blvd. came to an end, and I edged my way closer to the student parking attendants, who were trying to keep traffic moving, one came forward and motioned me to Lot 6. She only needed one look at my white head wrap to know where I was headed. I took a quick peek in the car mirror before gathering my things. Not so bad! I thought. Not like that morning during the first month of training, when at 3:20 AM, I woke up, and, knowing I couldn’t waffle for too long, found myself in the car, wrapping my jammie-shirt around my head. I suspected that one of our teachers was humoring me when she later told me my turban looked fabulous.
Yogi Bhajan has famously said that only one day of White Tantric is equal to 10 years of meditating in a cave day and night. It was during the gazing meditation, that I had no doubt about that. With eyes interlocked and fingers intertwined, my partner and I inhaled our arms up, and then exhaled them down, without breaking contact or connection. Breathing in sync, moving in sync, and never losing focus, we continued on for 31 minutes.
All facets of yoga were revealed in that one powerful kriya. In one meditation, the preeminent eight limbs shone forth. The self-restraint, as part of the yamas, that we willingly and joyfully impose on ourselves as part of our spiritual discipline, was manifested as we resisted the temptation to break our interconnected gaze. If I were to have indulged any of the passing impulses to look at my watch, or to look around and see what others were doing, or even to laugh–out of the sheer strangeness of maintaining eye-contact with a stranger without breaking it–I would have deprived my partner of unknowable benefit. In short, I would have stolen his experience from him.
Next, the niyamas are fulfilled discreetly, by way of the purity of our inner landscape. These private covenants are carried out by the benevolence of our intentions and by finding our own contentment through the noble practice of giving to others. Here they were honored as we penetrated the blocks that would ordinarily keep us from doing exactly the thing we were told to do: stare. It required letting go, in every way, which is at the very heart of all spiritual practice. Consider, for example, the core and crown of Buddha’s teachings, nirvana, to extinguish. By letting go of the profound resistance we have to the act of staring and of the temptation to give in to the certain relief that breaking gaze would have brought, we surrendered to the beauty of communion and were able to reside in that eternal moment where the divide between us disappears. We transcended the commonplace idea of staring as staring and entered into an ambrosial field where ideas, altogether, are left behind.
While maintaining that 31 minute kriya, we continued to climb our way around the eight-limbed tree of yoga. We established focus there, in the familiar arms of asana and pranayama, where postures and breath work, respectively, gave us the space needed to move into the subtler shades of advanced practice, such as pratyahar and dharana. Known as the fifth and sixth limbs, those lofty offshoots gave us sanctuary from the distractions of the senses. And finding stability and calm in unwavering concentration always brings an ineluctable bliss. It is the total absence of aggravation. Through unbroken, eye-to-eye contact, we penetrated into the common soul within, the oneness that binds us to each other, to infinity itself. We delighted in the sweetness of grace.
The eight limbs are the tools in the yogi’s portable carryall, available at anytime. But there, in the company of other sincere practitioners, buoyed up by what Yogi Bhajan referred to as Z energy, we found ourselves expanding more efficiently into heightened levels of awareness–flirting with that longed for eighth branch–samadhi.