Samadhi: the Eight Limb

Samadhi translates to “Same as the highest” and is the 8th and final limb on the path of yoga. In Samadhi, one reclaims the wholeness that is their birthright. They are united with the universal consciousness, that is, whatever the thing is that you believe in that you would give a capital letter.

There are a few different schools of thought on Samadhi. It’s generally agreed that Samadhi comes about through grace rather than effort, like Dhyana. However, some believe that once Samadhi has happened, you remain enlightened and live from the place of One-ness for the remainder of your mortal years. Others believe that Samadhi is rather capricious. I’m generally inclined to think that any gift of grace comes and goes, but we get better at being a fitting resting place for that grace with practice.

For the sake of simplicity, I’m going to translate Samadhi as happiness, rather than as enlightenment. Etymologically, happiness comes from the Scandinavian root word which means “lucky.” Philosophically, happiness is understood more as having a good life, rather than an ecstatic one (it’s been a long time since my Phil 101 class, so I’m going to say that was Aristotle, but I could be mistaken). Good in this case means more just than unjust, more joyful than sorrowful, more productive than slothful, more faithful than fearful, and probably your favorite food at least once a week. Capiche? Enlightenment is the sort of idea that brings up a feeling of failure if it remains unattained, which is sort of inherently the problem.

This week I’ve had a couple of conversations with friends about what stands between people and the happiness they so ardently pursue. One of those conversations circled around ego and insecurity, and the other around the idea of worthiness. Both were difficult conversations.

Did you know that it’s wildly common to feel unworthy of the things that you want and work for? It’s so easy to hold onto the times that we’ve been made to feel lesser. Everything I remember about growing up are the times I didn’t make the team, didn’t get the part in the play, my crush of the moment didn’t ask me to the dance. I don’t remember all the times my softball team won, but I do remember the times that we lost when it was my fault. Our self-worth is made up of the stories we tell ourselves, not of the actual content of our character.

Which brings me to ego and insecurity. This week, one of my friends told me that I’ve been kind of a jerk lately. I’ve been insecure and pushy about it, demanding a lot of reassurances at the expense of our friendship, at the expense of being present in the way that is so important to a sense of mutual trust. It put the goodness of our friendship in a precarious place. I chose to sacrifice the good for the pleasant. At any given time, there are a dozen things in life to be insecure about. But we can make the choice not to be insecure. We can decide to be brave, to be vulnerable, and to revise the stories we tell ourselves.

If I’m being real, it sucks. It’s so hard to be gentle and kind and brave without ego or bravado. It’s much easier to hide, to try to make other people do the emotional work for you. Being the self that you know you can be, the one you want to be, is always a choice you can make. It’s usually the harder one. Alas. Even now I want to change the topic.

I’m no guru, I can’t begin to understand what it means to be united with the divine in any profound way. But I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the moment I have understood in my bones the depths of my worth and truly unhitched the bullshit of my insecurity and ego, I’ll already be it. Happy. We brush against moments when we feel loved and balanced and fulfilled, of the depth and breadth of our best self. Best, not as in most interesting, sexy, talented, or whatever your ego tells you to be; but as in most good.

I can’t define what it means to be the “same as the highest” in approximately 800 words. I don’t even want to. But there is work one can do now to become it. Happiness is a choice, not necessarily in the emotion of a moment, but in that you can act like the kind of person you want to be. You can be more just than unjust, more joyful than sorrowful, more productive than slothful, more faithful than fearful, and eat your favorite food at least once a week. This is the work of Yoga, to learn which parts of your own inherent goodness chafe your ego and your sense of unworthiness, and sit in them until you can identify and resolve the resistance.

I think one of the hardest things I’m still learning is that it’s much easier to choose the pleasant than the good. Like, when you’re in class and your teacher says you can take the modification if there’s pain, but if there’s discomfort to stay there and breathe into it. All of the good stuff is in the place you want to escape from in your practice. Stay in it, if you’re able. We’ll be ok. And if you can’t, breathe deep & just begin again.

“In Samadhi you enter yourself fully conscious, fully alert. And once you are at the center fully alert, you will never be the same again. Now you will know who you are. Now you will know that your possessions, your actions are just on the periphery; they are just the ripples, not your nature.” ― Osho

“A man cannot be egotistic if he has true knowledge. In other words, in Samadhi man becomes one with God and gets rid of his egotism. True knowledge is impossible without Samadhi. In Samadhi man becomes one with God. Then he can have no egotism.” ― Ramakrishna

“You must continue to go back to the beginning, to the foundation, and question the foundation. Even once you’ve reached Samadhi you must go back so you can create it at will. Samadhi is the beginning of spiritual growth, not the end. You must always be questioning. Enlightenment comes as an accident at first, then you have to learn to recreate it.” ― B.K.S. Iyengar

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