In India, there was a very well-known saint named Ashtavakra. In Sanskrit, the name Ashtavakra means "bent in eight places." When Ashtavakra was still in his mother's belly, his father, who was a very holy man, used to read to him from ancient scriptures. One day, while his father was reading, Ashtavakra interrupted him from his mother's womb (it happens in India) to tell him that his pronunciation was wrong, and asked if he would please correct himself. This made his father so angry that he put a very bad curse on Ashtavakra. He said, "when you are born, you will be deformed and bent in eight places."
The father then went to the king of the land to apply for a job as a holy man in the king's court. King Janaka did not like the father's discourse, so he condemned him to standing neck deep in the sea, practicing mantras and reciting scriptures all day, every day, for the rest of his life.
When Ashtavakra was born, he was indeed very deformed, and yet he was very wise. When he was eight years old, he went to King Janaka to ask for his father's release. Hunched over and limping because of his deformities, Ashtavakra entered the crowded hall of the palace where the king sat surrounded by his five hundred advisors. Peering down his nose doubtfully, one of the king's senior advisors asked, "why have you come here?" Undaunted, Ashtavakra replied, "I've come to talk with the king," as he limped toward King Janaka. The room fell silent as the advisors stared at this crippled, crooked, little boy who could barely drag himself across the room, approaching the great, powerful king with such confidence. One by one, they all began laughing at him until the whole room was resounding like thunder with snickering and jeers. Ashtavakra also began to laugh, at first quietly, and then louder than anyone else in the room. Slowly, the advisors' laughter began to die down. One of them asked, "we know why we are laughing, but why are you also laughing?" Ashtavakra replied, "I am laughing because you all think that I am this body." With that, the room fell back into silence.
After winning a spiritual debate against the king's advisors, Ashtavakra was able to convince the king to release his father. He proved himself to be wiser and much more clever than all of the advisors so King Janaka appointed Ashtavakra to primary counselor, which was the highest position in the King's court.
It is said that Ashtavakra remained deformed for much of his life as a lesson to those who met him that there is more to existence than just the body. Later in his life, he healed his body and it was no longer crooked or bent.
I love this story so much. I love when Ashtavakra replies, "you all think that I am this body."
How often do we identify ourselves by how we look? Or by how our bodies look?
How often do we judge others by how they look? Or how their bodies look?
Why do we do this? How can we stop? How can we look past the cover to open the book and read the pages inside?
You are so much more than just your body.
Close your eyes and feel your hands. How do you know they are there? You can't see them, but you can feel the energy that occupies them. Listen to that energy. That is what you are. Not the hands you see in the mirror, not the face you see in the mirror, but that energy. What separates your body from being a corpse? Vibration -- life! Your thoughts and your body are animated by life force much the way an elaborate costume is animated by the dancer who wears it. When the dancer is gone, the costume is just a pile of fabric. In fifty or a hundred years, your hands and your face of flesh and blood will be nonexistent, but your energy is eternal.
If you were to say, "I'm fat," this is an extremely limiting identification. Is that really what you are? Of course not, but it may be an identity that you've bought into, and the more you buy into it, the more miserable you'll become.
Let it go.
The body may be an element of your experience, but it's definitely not the whole picture, and it won't change easily unless you drop your identification with it. A great yogi once said, "abide as the Self." Abiding as the Self is like viewing your journey through the thick forest from the top of the highest tree. Your experience will be the most blissful if you can live in the simple awareness that you are without marrying your essence to mundane identifications like your shape and size.
In your essence, you are not fat, out of shape, in shape, attractive, or not attractive.
In your essence, you are simply alive.
You are so much more than just your body.
*This post features passages from "Happy Yoga" by Steve Ross
Class theme: February 16, 2015 - February 28, 2015