Chapter Overview

Title - Change Me

Chapter 1: Meet Your Spirit

Everything has spirit. The air, rocks, and water have spirits. But these spirits are different from the spirits of birds, animals, and humans. Humans are unique in that we can contemplate the existence of our own Spirit. It is through conscious awareness that your Spirit seeks to communicate with you.

Your false self and your Spirit are at odds. The false self is the gate keeper of consciousness and tries to block your awareness of Spirit. The false self tries to distract you from the spiritual so that you will pursue its own interests which are based on power, pleasure, and status. Your Spirit has to bypass the false self in order to enter into your conscious awareness. In an effort to slip past the false self your Spirit sends you messages through intuition, symbolism, and during moments of spiritual ecstasy.    

Self-realization is the experience of being fully present in the world as Spirit. The most important insight on the path to Self-realization occurs when you experience your Spirit as separate and independent of your conscious mind. You can increase the presence of your Spirit by quieting your mind. As your mind empties of thoughts you will increasingly enter into the present moment. It is on the cusp of present moment awareness that you fully experience your Spirit. The path to Self-realization begins as a quest to discover your Spirit. The irony of this journey is that in the end you will find that your Spirit was there all along and that you are Spirit.

Title - Change Me

Chapter 2: Know Your Ego-self

The purpose of Yoga practice is to reduce unhappiness and bring you closer to your Spirit (Yoga Sutras, Ch. 2-2). According to the Yoga Sutras unhappiness is created by Ignorance or “not seeing things as they are” (Ch. 2-3). The root cause of Ignorance is the mistaken belief that the ego-self is your true identity. The Yoga Sutras state that this belief will inevitably bring you unhappiness, which serves an important purpose – it teaches you that you are a Spirit (Yoga Sutras, Ch. 2-21).

The ego-self is an automated function of your mind. It processes information, draws conclusions, and organizes behavior toward accomplishing goals. The programming of the ego-self is based on seeking pleasure, avoiding pain, and the instinctive drive to survive and reproduce. It uses pleasure to validate its existence and fears anything that threatens its security. Typically the ego-self wants to survive at any cost.

Examining your ego-self is the best way to break the chains that bind you to it. The more you learn about your ego-self the clearer it will be that you are not it. The ego-self can be divided into three major components: the self-schema, consciousness, and I-ness. The self-schema is a map of self-referencing memories. Who you think you are is based on information stored in your self-schema. Consciousness is an experience of self-awareness that is linked to your self-schema. Consciousness is associated with a feeling of “I am aware”. I-ness is a perception of self-existence that arises from the link between consciousness and the self-schema. I-ness is a feeling of having a stable and continuous self-identity.

Self-examination plays an important role on the path to Self-realization, especially in Vendanta Yoga. Vendanta is the oldest form of Yoga and is believed to represent the essence of the Vedas, Hinduism’s most sacred scripture. The practice of self-examination in Vendanta is simple, it involves asking yourself, “Who am I?” The challenge is to cultivate real doubt about your self-identity, to sincerely, and fearlessly look at who and what you are.

Title - Change Me

Chapter 3: Calm your Mind

The ability to maintain a calm mind is a central principle in Yoga practice. Calmness of mind figures prominently in the Yoga Sutras. It is emphasized in the very first sentences. The first verse of the Yoga Sutras is simply an introductory statement. The second and third verses concisely state the Yogic approach to Self-realization:
  • Now the instruction on how to practice Yoga.
  • Yoga is the quieting of consciousness.
  • Then the Spirit stands in its own form.
Hindu psychology frequently uses the analogy of a pond to illustrate Self-realization. When the pond is disturbed its surface becomes choppy with waves. In contrast, when the water is calm its surface is clear and reflective. The same is true of the conscious mind. Consciousness becomes mirror-like when it is clear of thoughts. Self-realization occurs when you look into the emptiness of your mind and see a reflection of yourself as Spirit. Generally it is during meditation that you will have the clearest experience of your Spirit.

A major distraction on the path to Self-realization is emotional suffering, which disturbs quietness of mind. One of the main purposes of Yoga practice is to disarm the causes of suffering for the purpose of attaining Self-realization (Yoga Sutras, Ch. 2-3). The daily practice of calming your mind reduces emotional suffering and increases the presence of Spirit in your life.

Yoga practice is built upon two key principles: Intentional serenity and non-reaction. The essence of these two principles is to calm your mind. Intentional serenity is a commitment to practice calmness of mind in all your daily affairs. It involves avoiding negative thoughts, which are characterized by self-centeredness and the labeling of experiences with rigid categories. Negative thinking leads to negative emotions.

Non-reaction is the main Yogic technique for calming your mind. Non-reaction involves interrupting the ego-self’s programming, which is based upon the desire for pleasure and the avoidance of pain. This programming disturbs your mind by constantly driving you to chase after objects that please the ego-self, while running from those that threaten it. For the ego-self, pleasure also includes feeling powerful and admired by others. Pain can be physical, but it can also involve the loss of power or social status. The programming of the ego-self is weakened each time you interrupt your reflexive response to grasp after pleasure or withdraw from pain.

Title - Change Me

Chapter 4: Live in Harmony with the World

For most people the term harmony calls forth images of a natural paradise with animals frolicking peacefully in the sunshine. This is a nice ideal, but the real world exists along a continuum between savagery and tranquility. Cultivating harmony in your life requires being fully in the present moment, regardless of the conditions. Living in harmony with the world pertains to both your internal and external relationships. It involves finding balance internally, in particular between your mind, body, and Spirit. To be in harmony with the external world regards your relationships with people, animals, plants, and the physical environment.

Harmonious relationships are characterized by the qualities of balance, non-forcing, and positive resonance. Balance refers to relationships that are fair, equal, or moderate. Non-forcing is characterized by moving with the natural changes inherent in a situation. Positive resonance is an action directed toward creating life affirming relationships.

Yoga involves harmonizing every aspect of your life toward a moment by moment experience of being your Spirit. Yoga practice cultivates harmony between your mind, body, and your relationship with the World. The key to living in harmony with the world is the ability to adapt to change.

A central principle in Eastern philosophy is the belief that the physical world is constantly changing. Everything that is made of matter is in a constant state of change and therefore impermanent. Impermanence is a fundamental belief in Hinduism, Taoism, and Buddhism. In Taoism impermanence is viewed as a dynamic interplay between polar opposite forces of yin and yang.

In Buddhism impermanence is addressed in Buddha’s first sermon (The Four Noble Truths). The first line of the sermon lists four changes that are inevitable in every life: birth, growing old, illness, and death. For Buddhists suffering is created by resisting life’s changes. Liberation from suffering is found by holding loosely to an ever changing world. “According to Buddhism, whatever exists is a stream of becoming; nothing that exists is permanent” (Koller, 1962).

The Yoga Sutras states that it is a mistake to believe that the world has permanence. This mistaken belief arises from Ignorance or “not seeing things as they are”. Believing the world has permanence leads you to make choices that ultimately create your own unhappiness. Adopting a philosophy of impermanence puts you in harmony with the world, which benefits your health and happiness, while bringing your closer to your Spirit.

Title - Change Me

Chapter 5: Open Your Energy Centers

To better understand the relationship between Yoga practice and Self-realization it is helpful to think of your Spirit as a form of energy. According to Hindu scriptures, spiritual energy circulates within your body through a system of channels. Ideally you want these energetic channels to be clear of blockages so that energy can flow freely throughout your body.

Energetic channels become blocked by crimps, clogs, and shrinkage. A crimp occurs when a channel is bent or something physically presses upon it. A clog results when a channel is blocked by impurities, and shrinkage is a form of blockage that develops from atrophy or lack of use. A channel will begin to shrink and narrow if energy does not regularly flow through it.

Opening up your energetic system consists of reducing each form of blockage. To avoid crimps in your energetic channels it is important to have proper alignment of your posture. Clogging can be avoided by eating a healthy diet and flushing out impurities. You can prevent shrinkage by making sure energy is continuously flowing throughout your system. Cultivating a strong flow of spiritual energy in your body increases vitality, promotes healing, and provides you with a joyful attitude.

Title - Change Me

Chapter 6: Meditation

If you want to achieve Self-realization through meditation it is important that you remove distractions, cultivate self-discipline, and sharpen your ability to focus attention. The eight stages of Yoga practice provide an ideal structure towards this end. In the beginning it is likely that your meditation sessions will consist of quiet contemplation or day dreaming. Nevertheless, the simple act of taking time each day to calm your nervous system has emotional and physical benefits. The following is a summary of the eight stages of Yoga practice.

1) Yama
Codes of conduct that foster a practice of living in harmony with the world.

2) Niyama
Self-discipline directed at positive thinking, self-examination, removing impurities, and opening up to your Spirit.

3) Asana
Physical exercises used to develop the capacity to sit for a prolonged period of time in a properly aligned meditative posture.

4) Pranayama
Breathing exercises designed to remove impurities and cultivate spiritual energy.

5) Pratyahara
The turning inward of attention toward the spiritual realm.

6) Dharana
The development of single pointed concentration.

7) Dhyana
The practice of meditation

8) Samadhi
An experiential insight during meditation that results in Self-realization.

Sample Illustrations