Lose The Narrative: My Ashtanga talk with Eddie Stern.
Locked in the sleepy suburbs of Detroit, I unbound myself last Friday night to attend a puja initiated by certified Ashtanga teacher, Eddie Stern.
As I started to drive towards the city, torrential rain was invited in as a potential obstacle. There were moments I could not see what was in front of me and simply put on the brakes.
Arriving at the puja, we plucked flowers off of the stems and arranged fruit for Ganesha. Eddie Stern chanted and then we responded. He reiterated that as a collective, we rarely listen to each other anymore. In chanting, we could finally talk to each other in pure sacred sounds. The language of Sanskrit brought me back home.
The record high of 99 degrees de-escalated to a soothing 74 degrees and the downpour pacified a steamy mid-July day by the end of the puja. We chanted to Ganesha, the remover of obstacles. Om Gam Ganapataye Namaha. I had blogged a few nights before about pure ashtanga as I saw there were new Pure Ashtanga Michigan t-shirts available.
The sky opened up on the way home as clarity and transparency became real within and without, as the atman and the brahman. Life was crisp and clear. A guru was in town for the very first time visiting Michigan, just three days after Guru Purnima. This was only the beginning of his tour as he will begin to enlighten the rest of the world into 2020.
During Mysore Ashtanga practice the following morning, I faced the adorned Ganesha and saw the clouds ahead with gates embedded in them, ladders to climb into the next realm. It made me ponder all I wrote in my first book PurgeAtory: You Can Purge Your Karma.
After practice Saturday morning, I had the great fortune of chatting with Eddie Stern. I asked him about what age he ventured out of New York and took his pilgrimage to India. I wanted to know what drove him to discover more.
He told me a bit about his youth and said he was done with the punk-rock, mushroom-ingesting former self within a year or two. Shortly thereafter, he took a pilgrimage to India and sweated those rebellious truth-seeking vibes out into a kid-size Gatorade bottle. He lost his narrative and stepped into an inward path. Eddie then said the most brilliant words, “We are not special, we were born this way.”
We forget who we are and become distracted within the stories the kleshas present to us. I told him I wasn’t attached to my old narrative and that it was weighing me down. Purgeatory, a chapbook I wrote in 2016 was, in fact, the story of who I thought I was. A subjective story, I was caught up in asmita, creating a story or narrative about who we think we are.
Next, in a lecture setting, Eddie brought up the five kleshas. All of the kleshas overlap. Avidya is not knowing who we truly are. As a result, many of us get caught up in our stories, lost in the brilliance-loving creatures that we are. Then we become attached to the pleasure of the narrative.
For example, “I am” a yogi and therefore I take pleasure (raga) in being a yogi rather than my former punky self. All these I-ism’s then create aversions (dvesha) for the former self. Example: I must have been bad as a badass punk or psychedelic-dropping hippie. Now I hate all counterculture.
No, we are essentially the same person underneath as we are one continuum seeking the truth in different ways. Finally, there is the ultimate fear of death (abhinivesha) or extinction, which means we are afraid our story will be lost and never found again.
Eddie mentioned that when he started yoga he was afraid he’d become lost in the void he dropped into during savasana and nobody would ever wake him up. Therefore, he was afraid to practice alone for a while without that first teacher for fear of dying or losing himself.
In “One Simple Thing,” Eddie takes a scientific approach and even mentions that the kleshas have a psychological location within our nervous systems. He’s spent over four years lecturing about the nervous system from Western and Eastern points of view. He wrote “One Simple Thing” in just six months.
According to the Vedas (Eastern point of view), we never become extinct, and of course in the West non-Vedic point of view, we just die.
Transitioning out of my first decade of ashtanga and into almost into my fourth decade of life, as a truth-seeker, this was the answer I had been looking for. All these traps and obstacles were temporarily removed and I felt free, but knew I had a lifetime of practice to continue removing the kleshas and remembering “we were born this way.”
We are born into a continuum between life and death. We have all perished before and come alive. Losing the narrative that I told myself was not who I was as identifying with ego and I-ism’s, that egoism is a hindrance to spiritual growth.
Shadow Side Practice
As the kleshas obstruct us and we become distracted by one of five, how do we learn to practice with our shadow self? Truly, yoga is not all about being happy all the time, because even if we hold on to happiness, that causes suffering. Teal Scott says, “To make the darkness conscious is to turn the shadow into light.” Carl Jung also aligns with that thinking.
Becoming self-aware of the unconscious darkness through spiritual practice is a process. Turning darkness into light is a daily practice. As Carl Jung says, “Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.”
What happens if there is too much negativity for us to comprehend? Stern advises “to invite our shadow in, to let it be present with us, while we practice. Picking up pieces of how others act positively and ingraining those actions into our own nervous system.”
In the ocean of the non-dual Vedanta, we are all pure consciousness, and instead of identities roaming around, we are a combination of every action we’ve ever performed.
Simply Science and Spirituality
Stern is a perfect karmic balance of spirituality and science. He explained that there are 330 million devas. Devas means beings of light. He compared the devas to the idea of waveform in physics, that exists everywhere equally, and that when you observe it, it becomes a particle, and exists in measurable form. The waveform, existing everywhere, has a non-local existence.
He explained that a deva is similar to an angel in the Christian tradition, beings that act as cosmic forces holding order in the universe. He even incorporated a physicist and a doctor into the discussion to explain if a ray of light as a goddess was quantifiable.
One attendee asked how there could be so many goddesses. Durga, one Hindu goddess, is part of Kali. In fact, Kali was part of Durga’s third eye that was brought out to fight demons. Thoughts can be demons too. He reminded us that the weight of our thoughts, especially when out of control can turn into our worst demons.
During the past month, prior to seeing Eddie, I had been struggling through reading the Mahabharata, but after the workshop, I felt I had some clarification on some key points. This was my first real puja, and I felt alive as my yoga self again, rather than an identity I was caught up in.
Being born continues the process of being born again. We are living between two poles: birth and death. There is no extinction to one’s personal narrative in yoga, only the causal or karmic effects of one’s actions carrying over into another body or shifting in one’s lifetime. Vyasa, in the Mahabharata, experienced death and birth, and living.
If he claims the body perishes and the soul continues, is this a subjective narrative or in the domain of causal reality? Eddie Stern lets us ponder these questions as they become part of our practice, never pushing his own narrative or agenda upon ours. Are our true selves eternal, taking form as humans only to get lost and find ourselves again?
Brieanne Tanner has been practicing yoga for 12 years, and writing since she was a child. She’s been rebelling since she was 17. Additionally, she’s a registered yoga teacher with Yoga Alliance since 2010, a strict vegetarian for 11 years, and a dharma mama of one. Brieanne writes poetry and practices yoga daily. She has a couple of degrees, but tries to not take her self too seriously. In 2016, she published her first book, PurgeAtory.