Who Are You?
You are a function of what the whole universe is doing in the same way that a wave is a function of what the whole ocean is doing.
– Alan Watts
Who we are is generally a product of who we think we are. The ego is a conditioned construct of the mind. It has been conditioned by our parents, families, teachers, peers, religious institutions, mass media and so on. As young children we absorb the messages given us uncritically. We accept them as the truth, even though we are sometimes caught in a double-bind by contradictory messages.
If we are raised in a secure and nurturing environment we tend to have a healthy, confident, optimistic sense of self. Raised in a chaotic, critical or abusive environment, our self is wounded, doubting, distrusting and prone to anxiety and depression. However, even the sane and secure ego is a limited self-definition. Our true self is beyond thoughts, beliefs or definitions.
It is pure awareness; pure luminescence. You are the embodiment of unconditional love. You are never separate from that source of love. In fact, you are it and it is you. To know this is what is meant by enlightenment. This isn’t some exalted state or status but the awareness of one’s innermost connection to the universe. One’s connection with the power of love.
In The Universe Has Your Back, Gabrielle Bernstein writes, “Your purpose is to be joyful. Your purpose is to live with ease. Your purpose is to surrender to the love of the Universe so you can live a happy life. Accept the purpose of love, and your life will radically change this instant.” I think this is what we all long for. In our heart’s we remember our connection to this Cosmic love and power, however, often our deep mental conditioning keeps us trapped in the ego’s clutches.
The ego is based in fear. Despite intelligence, socialization, education, etc. our ego-consciousness is rooted in the amygdala; the primitive part of our brain devoted to survival. It can easily hijack the higher functions of the brain when there is perceived threat. It sees anything unfamiliar as a potential threat.
Thus, it is hard to change, hard to let go of outmoded ways of being in the world. They seem safe and secure even though they might be destroying us. Our subconscious conditioning is meant to protect us but might end up killing us.
Namasté. My name is Michael. I am also known as Swami Turiyananda, a spiritual name I received from Swami Satyananda Saraswati in 1983. “Turiya” refers to the fourth state of consciousness beyond the three ordinary states of waking, dreaming and dreamless sleep. It is a transcendent state of meditation. “Ananda” means joy; the joy that arises when we realize our innate unity and perfection. Our true nature is Love-Consciousness-Joy. So, my spiritual title was given to me as an impetus to spiritual practice realize our essential being.
I completed Yoga Teacher Training in 1981 and undertook further training in India at the Bihar School of Yoga in 1983 – 84. This was an amazing period in my life. Ashram life was simple and centered around spiritual yoga practice. We rose before dawn for hatha yoga, mantra chanting and meditation. We gathered on the lawn for breakfast, lunch, tea and dinner. We spent the days either attending classes or engaging in karma yoga: fulfilling various tasks in the ashram. In the evening we gathered for kirtan, chanting sacred mantras.
I thought I wanted to stay there forever, but that wasn’t my destiny. I ended up returning to Southern California and working on a master’s degree in psychology. I developed a fascination for C.G. Jung and his system of psychology involving the collective unconscious. I also realized that many of us engaged in spiritual paths were attempting to use it for “spiritual by-passing”, a term coined by John Welwood, Ph.D. to describe the tendency to use spirituality to avoid working on psychological wounds.
Psychological work and spiritual awakening go hand in hand. However, most mainstream mental health practitioners ignore the spiritual dimension, or give cursory “lip service.” The spiritual dimension is the most important aspect of ourselves. Spiritual teachers, on the other hand, don’t address personal psychological suffering but point to the impersonal or transpersonal. The spiritual dimension is the dimension of freedom, however, if we have not addressed psychological issues, they will continue to pull us back into their traps.
Spiritual practice and awakening give a higher perspective beyond the ego; beyond the limited sense of an isolated and alienated individual body/mind confronting an indifferent universe. Spiritual practice, primarily meditation, goes beyond religious belief. It gives us an inner experience of higher dimensions of being. It is a means of connecting with higher power, wisdom, love and awareness.
Psychotherapy, in general, operates from a limited perspective. Despite new theoretical advances, research outcomes, even the incorporation of mindfulness, its primary motivation is to help us adjust, cope and attend to a consensus reality that, from a higher perspective, is an illusion, if not a nightmare.