Updated: Dec 6, 2020
"If you look at the Earth from another part of the universe, we are celestial beings. It’s just a question of perspective."~ Sadhguru
There is a teaching in yoga that says that the world all around us is an illusion; this illusion is called maya. I can't help but notice all the ways in which this teaching is being revealed in the world around us right now. Actually, I feel like right now in this moment we have an incredible opportunity to truly understand the depth and real meaning of what the ancients were teaching if we are willing to release all of our beliefs about what we think is true. Maya describes the idea that our entire physical world is an illusion; the world in which we perceive we live in is a figment of our collective and individual imagination. It is said that the realization of maya is the key to realizing the non-duality of our existence. We can delve into the realm of quantum physics and read articles from physicists that further the exploration into this same concept; Albert Einstein recognized maya when he said "This delusion is a kind of prison for us; it restricts us to our personal decision and our affections to a few persons nearest us". The yogis and Einstein are not the only ones who speak of the illusory quality of human existence, in fact, there are similar teachings all across the globe; the ancients teach time and again that we can not rely upon our experiences alone to know the Truth. I struggled with embracing this teaching for a very long time. It rocked me to my core and challenged everything I thought was true in my life because I didn't fully understand what was underneath the words written in these ancient texts. I found it even more difficult to wrap my head around this teaching because some new age-y teachers seemed to have a way of presenting Maya as a blockage to a utopian world where the harsh realities we see each day don't exist or a Matrix style conspiracy to keep all of us plugged into the system. I thought of maya as a form of spiritual bypassing and as I began to see my judgements of the teachings, the teachings themselves began to unravel and present themselves in a way that was more clear. My perception of the teachings themselves were part of the illusion. I did not have to give up my belief in gravity or start believing that my husband and children were figments of my imagination. I didn't have to ignore the sadness I felt in my heart when I saw horrible things playing out all over the planet or dismiss the evil in the world because someone said "it is all just a projection of what lives inside". I began to open my eyes and my heart to the way I live in illusion every day, and I see that we are gifted many opportunities to see what the ancient yogis were teaching about.
I came to my own deeper understanding of this teaching simply by recognizing the myriad of ways we as human beings interact with our lives. The same scenarios do not produce the same reactions in all humans and our many past experiences come together to form our current reactions. My world view and the way that I react to my surroundings is made up of all of my stories, experiences, thoughts and feelings, as well as the stories, experiences, thoughts, and feelings of the society I grew up in and the one I choose to live in now. My perception of a situation will most likely not be the exact same as someone else experiencing the same thing.
According to conventional "wisdom" we, as Americans, are all living in the same country, we all have the same president, we all see physical manifestations of what has been unfolding in our government and in our country since January. If we take a moment, we can see that each of us has very unique perspectives of what all of that implies. Some people are feeling threatened, some people are feeling helpless, some people are feeling emboldened, and some people are oblivious to what is going on. We can simplify it even further by acknowledging that standing at the edge of an open airplane door may elicit fear in one person and a tremendous amount of exhilaration in an other. Our mind creates the perceptions that we have based on everything it has learned and experienced thus far and it is this creation of the mind that perpetuates the belief that we are separate from the world. Similarly to how a computer uses a combination of ones and zeros to compute, our mind uses its own binary language of positive and negative judgements to create the illusion of our perception. When this happens we begin to polarize, pass unfair judgement, over-inflate or deflate experiences, and we misrepresent joy as something outside us.
Where are you allowing your perceptions to create separation? Do you allow yourself to recognize that the world is in constant change and allow your perceptions to be fluid?
Another way I find deeper understanding in the teaching of Maya is by looking at the process of projection: Creating a story inside of your head about someone else or an entire group of people that is not rooted in reality. We project when we decide from an observation, a story from a friend, or a limited experience that we know everything we need to know about a person, a group or a situation. Within seconds our mind comes up with possible scenarios, judgements, and expectations then puts all of this together and a story is created. We often fail to develop a relationship deep enough to learn the truth about one another or a situation and many times we don't question why we feel or think a certain way and blindly accept our thoughts as truth. We project on people using the same binary language of the mind that we perceive with, a series of positive and negative judgements that when put in combination with each other project either an overly light or overly dark image of a person, group, or situation and what we end up seeing is rarely the truth.
Where have you either projected onto someone else or been on the receiving end of someone else's projection? What did you learn about yourself from the projection?
Staying enmeshed in maya fuels our egos and keeps us from true freedom. A teacher of mine once said that maya is the spiritual equivalent to a pyramid scheme that drains our capital. Until we withdraw our investments in illusion, we will never find the deep peace we desire; when we stay invested in maya we are invested in the belief that we are small. The good news is that by recognizing where we are "buying in", we can shift it. As we begin to delve into our deeper understanding of ourselves we begin to develop an understanding of our fellow brothers and sisters on the planet. It is by having compassion for our own struggles and illusions that we can recognize the humanity in another and have compassion for theirs.