The Green Cliff Talks with André Riehl
Transcript of an oral teaching – August 15, 2006
Nidrâ is a Sanskrit term whose main meaning is “sleep”, but the Indian spirit, which cherishes the symbolic as much as the paradox, also associates it with the “gaze”. Of course, it’s not about any kind of sleep, nor any kind of gaze. This sleep is similar to an “awakening” and this gaze has a very concrete action, it creates the world. Both sleep and gaze emanate from a mythical character, an archetypal yogi known as Shiva.
One of the meanings of the word Shiva is the “the one who is dying”; it’s not about someone dying, but rather “the very process of dying”. And precisely, Shiva is traditionally represented as absorbed in the state of Nidrâ. Symbolized by the third eye, his gaze is borrowed from this quality of sleep, clearly indicating that we are no longer situated here in ordinary perceptions, but “inter-ordinary”. In this gaze, we distinguish on the one hand the vision that creates the universe, a creation on which we have no influence, and on the other hand, a vision that could be summed up as “a gaze at the world “, that is to say this ability to modify our environment from a simple point of view. Indeed, this gaze is the one that links to action, which pushes us to act. Very concretely we could explain it this way: this morning we were served tea, some enjoy the tea at breakfast and others do not. This does not change anything in the tea itself, it simply has to do with the gaze, or the point of view of taste, that one brings to it. The consequences of the gaze that we bring to the tea will be various and numerous. If we consume a lot of the tea, tomorrow morning they will prepare more. If we consume a little, tomorrow they will reduce the proportions, which will have, among other things, immediate economic effects. The gaze on the world is a look that modifies it, and for this reason we can relate it to a state of permanent creation. When Shiva chooses to be in the invention of the world, all points of view are revealed. Hinduism has six and one of them is called Yoga. One of the difficulties in Sanskrit is that the word Yoga can mean both objective and means, Yoga the state of union – the objective – and Yoga the tool with which to achieve this state – the means. But let’s go back to Shiva, because he is intimately linked to the birth of Nidrâ Yoga. In the Indian tradition a myth purports that we are a lost unity, lost from sight. Humans, says this tradition, are inhabited by the feeling of having lost something. Something he does not know of any more, but would like to find again. This lost sentiment, in close correspondence with the “conscious gaze”, is what the myth names Shiva. As for the desire to find this state of consciousness, the myth gives it the traits of Shakti. Shakti is the energy through which Shiva will manifest. The two characters thus represent two aspects of reality, and when these two aspects are totally connected, all conflict disappears, separation no longer exists; Indian iconography thus represents them in an indissoluble sexual union. It is in the intimacy of this particular couple that the legend is rooted. The story relates that Shiva and Shakti, who are totally lost within their union, completely forget the universe; they lose their memory to the point that the balance of the world is threatened. The worried men then complain to the gods that Shiva and Shakti have gone too far! A commando operation was immediately decided. Half-terrestrial, half-celestial beings were charged to remove Shakti from the top of the Himalayas, and to hide her at the other end of India at the Cape of the Virgin. Once the operation is over, Shiva slowly gets out of his torpor and in the blink of an eye (the third!) spots his companion. Angry that their union was disturbed, he rejoins her, grabbing her by the hair and quickly dragging her to their Himalayan home. The men who have no desire to see the lovers return to their antics then decide to cut the goddess into pieces that will be scattered all over the country. While Shiva drags her companion, they begin to cut the goddess, first the right hand thumb, then the second finger, the third, etc…
This is exactly like the unfolding of a Nidrâ session, the conscious search for small pieces of energy scattered within oneself. In Tantrism whatever happens at the cosmic level also happens in the body. With the individual being in the image of the totality, he has no other choice than to seek his dispersed energy, because being dispersed man maintains the cosmic dispersion.
Slowly the myth became a practice that originally took place in two stages.
The first stage was to symbolically recover the scattered pieces, and for that to penetrate mentally into each of the different parts of his own body to first locate them, then feel them and finally let them go, which means to offer each of them according to their order of enumeration.
The second stage consisted of a pilgrimage to the places where the pieces of the goddess had fallen and on which temples had been erected. In the past, this pilgrimage seemed to be an integral part of the teachings of the Nidrâ, but nowadays its route has become unclear … Today we are essentially following a shift in the body, but the goal remains the same. What interests us in this approach of Nidrâ is the search for a state. A state very close to the Shiva-Shakti union, a state of non-separation giving us access to this “flavor of lost unity”.
To do so we will opt for the passages, the openings, the moments when we slide from one state to another, for example from the waking state to the state of reverie, from the state of reverie to the dream state, from dream state to deep sleep, from sleeping to waking. To seize these moments of passage will require of us a great vigilance. In order to elevate our sensitivity and our capacity to listen to the subtle passages between these different states, we will develop our ability to relax and our ability to concentrate. The proposition is to reach a maximum relaxation accompanied simultaneously by a maximum concentration.
To simply allow our thought to accept the possibility of a simultaneous presence of relaxation and concentration, there have been put in place a whole range of methods … At first we will do each exercise separately, first relaxation, and then concentration. Then gradually, we will slowly try to blend them to provoke this paradoxical state where an opening can occur. The observation has been that we are usually more tense than relaxed, and so generally, we first put the emphasis on relaxation.
Deep relaxation is the first pillar on which our building is built. It consists in starting from the search of our tensions, the objective being to release them from where they have been buried. First at the level of the physical body ie muscles, organs and bones, then later at the level of less dense structures, in the mind, in the energetic structure and in two others still that the tradition describes in detail. The mental structure is linked to projections, to memory, to everything that has to do with thought. The energetic structure is linked to an activity that is not apprehensible neither by the physical body nor by the thought. Today we are just beginning to bring it to light with very sophisticated research materials, and if the ancient civilizations mapped it, the “cartographers” did not all agree. In Sanskrit the term for this is called Prana, and it is not a movement in the strict sense of the word, but rather what gives movement to the movement. A dynamic that unfolds through networks called nadis, or rivers. Our body is covered with large and small rivers, crossings, places where energy accumulates and others where it is distributed. According to Nidrâ Yoga, these processes of energy exchange also contain tensions, just as we find in the functioning and organization of thought, and especially in psychological memory. Then we try to relax something even more elusive that is translated in the texts as the “psychic” but which in reality has nothing to do with the notions that generally arise with this word. We could call it the parapsychic, the unknown, the mysterious … When we reach the end of our reasoning capacity, a subtler tool is presented: intuition. Nidrâ Yoga considers that intuition too can contain tensions, from which it is possible to free oneself.
Finally, there remains a fifth and ultimate structure, described as joyous, or sometimes even beatific, where the last slight traces of tension will also be eliminated…
The second pillar is called Dharana, or concentration. This term of concentration does not seem sufficient to me to fully express the quality of this practice; I call it a concentration that is “penetrating and without tension”. It is a process that will first mobilize thought, then the energy of thought, in order to penetrate layers of very deep and generally impersonal resistance, in other words according to certain recent names, the collective unconscious…
At the beginning, therefore, we practice exercises quite comprehensible, where the words refer to identifiable objects. But gradually, we propose exercises of concentration on what we could call concepts, then on processes no longer having any form. The attempt is to use concentration to free oneself from mental forms in order to lead us to a formless concentration; a kind of transparency. The last stage of concentration is a concentration on phenomena that are not understandable by the body, thought, the senses, the energy body or even the ecstatic state. Something totally impalpable. The incursion into this impalpable is very strangely called the great relaxation!
The incursion into a state of very deep relaxation or into a state of penetrating concentration without tension is one and the same thing, whose unique proposition moves towards the perception of the sacred dimension of life. An unidentified and unidentifiable dimension, to any representation of any kind. The only difficulty is to say “yes” to the Imperceptible. This imperceptible being by definition imperceptible, there remains then only one potential possibility, which is to be perceived by oneself. When the result of an intimate marriage between relaxation and concentration gives rise to this paradoxical state, suddenly the understanding emerges that the only obstacle is the self! It is not me who will make an incursion into the impalpable; it is precisely because I left open the space that the incursion could occur. In the end, it is about dying, not in the sense of losing one’s life, but of opening oneself to the process of the deathing, which is, I remind you, one of the profound meanings of the word Shiva!
It’s simply a matter of giving space, surrendering all.
The tradition describes this ultimate letting go as an infinitely vast, silent and joyous state, at the same time specifying that the reality of this state exceeds all understanding. For it is the original state from which life unfolds in all its diversity, while remaining eternally identical to itself and unchanging.
André Riehl © in Revue Yoga Suisse