This fall I spent 8 weeks (well…9, including the bonus class) studying the Spanda Kārikās via a tele-class with Christopher Tompkins entitled ‘The Liberating Power of Vibration.’ During this immersion into the Spanda Kārikās (Tantrik Stanzas of Vibration), we literally dove deep into these rich, vibrant teachings on the pulsation of Consciousness. We explored all 52 karikas (stanzas) using the commentary by Shrī Kshemarāja. This revealed teaching emphasizes achieving liberation from ignorance/suffering through the recognition of what really is. That is, during our own peak experiences in life we realize that our true self is pure pulsation of Consciousness. These are the moments in between expansion and contraction that take our breath away, when we feel the most uniquely alive.
Throughout the class, we often invoked the image of the ocean to symbolically describe and study the different stages of awareness. The first stage of consciousness, prameya, is objective awareness. This state of citta-vritti (anxious cycles of thoughts in the mind) can be represented by waves on the surface of the ocean. Each wave appears distinct and different, indicating a sense of duality. In this state, we identify with our senses – what we see, feel, hear…even what we see in our heads. When we are caught up in this state of citta-vritti our true spanda is concealed from us. The second stage, pramana, is witness awareness. This can be described figuratively as descending beneath the waves (the anxious thoughts) into a dreamier state, yet there remains a perception of duality at this stage. In keeping with the ocean analogy, in the pramana stage one would be aware of the surface waves and of the deep blue sea but would not identify with them. Deeper still is the delicious state of pramatyr. In this stage of consciousness the spanda principle draws you into her (as opposed to you deciding to find her). In this stage one is metaphorically invited deeper into the ocean where the perception of surface waves has dissipated. In this peak high, the wave and the ocean are one. Despite its fleeting nature, it offers an expansive experience of tranquility.
Coincidentally, just days after this tele-class series concluded I had the pleasure of going on a dive trip with my husband to Grand Cayman where we did a total of 9 dives over a 3-day period. Who knew that on this dive trip I would have an actual experience of progressing from prameya to pramatyr as I physically descended from the surface ripples of the ocean into the deep blue sea? The analogy became my reality.
On the short boat ride to the dive site, I was filled with anticipation as I put on my dive gear and double-checked the functionality of my equipment. However, after I rolled off the boat and waited at the surface of the water for the rest of my dive team my enthusiasm began to fade. Being on the surface was the least enjoyable part of the diving adventure. Despite having my buoyancy compensator device full so that I could float while waiting for the others, the struggle to remain in place (rather than drift away with the surface current) was a great deal of effort so I decided to hold onto the descent line. As I continued to wait I was smacked in the face with each surface wave. With my feet dangling in the water (tasting the freedom that would soon come to the rest of my body and mind), I just bounced around on the surface – a victim of the physical waves and the citta-vritti in my head (photo 1 above; while the photographer might have been in pramana, I can assure you that I was in prameya). The rocking motion invited such anxious thoughts/questions as “Why again am I doing this? Why can’t we just wait for everyone on the bottom? Ouch! Why do they use fiberglass line instead of something softer? Who wants to hold onto this? Why didn’t I wear my dive gloves anyway? Next time I should plan to exit the boat last so I don’t have to wait. Wow, my hair really gets tangled in this mask strap! Where is my ponytail holder? I must have lost it on the last dive. If one more f-ing wave hits me in the face…” This stage was definitely that of prameya, and citta-vritti was in full force. And then finally the moment we had been waiting for: the hand signal to descend. At this point I could drop below the choppy surface and the chatter of my mind.
As we began our descent I immediately felt more easeful, forgetting about the fiberglass splinter in my hand and my lost ponytail holder (even though my hair was waving in and out of my vision with the gentle flow of the underwater current). One of the cool features about being in this layer was having the ability to look up and see the ripples at the surface (which looked much prettier than how they felt) and look below and see a reef teeming with life underneath me. I was in the state of pramana – a dreamier, quiet phase of awareness. I was aware of the rippling surface waters and knew that I would return to them and all that they represent soon enough, but I embraced the moment of not identifying with them. I peacefully swam through the grottos and along the coral as a witness (photo 2). I observed numerous species of coral, brilliant green and purple sponges, anenome, fish (including parrotfish, squirrel fish, snapper, grunts, trunk fish, big eyes, barracuda, jacks, damsels, grouper), stingray, turtles, lobster, and so many others.
And then (when I least expected it), IT happened! On our seventh dive of the weekend, we did a deep wall dive where 110 ft was supposed to be the maximum depth. It was a coral wall and we swam through a tunnel to get to it. Upon exiting the tunnel, there was a beautiful coral wall to my left. And to my right…wow! Well to my right was the deep blue sea (there is no photograph of this, only the experience imprinted with unimaginable beauty in my memory). It was the most amazing, mesmerizing drop off into the abyss. The ocean, in its entirety, sweetly enveloped me and pulled me into her depths. Breathtaking. Pramatry! This was the most profound high I have ever experienced. In this moment, the ocean, everything in it, and I were one. The surface waves had dissolved and there was nothing but expansive consciousness. That is, until ‘Clank! Clank! Clank!’ – the sound of my dive master banging a wrench on his tank. It took the sound of metal on metal to get my attention and draw me out of this state. I had descended to below 110 ft (we figure I was somewhere between 115-120 ft based on how far underneath my dive master I appeared to be – I don’t know for sure because my analytical mind was not participating and I was therefore not looking at my depth gauge). As my awareness was pulled back to the state of pramana, I realized my dive master was beckoning me to ascend and I dreamily arose to his depth and followed his lead for the rest of the dive (which was actually not that long since the time we can stay under is determined by the maximum depth of the dive – so I effectively cut that time quite short for everyone in our dive team with my deeper descent – oops – sorry guys).
As we ascended, we were required to pause below the surface water to allow for decompression. Holding on to that same fiberglass line, I didn’t even mind its scratchy feeling or notice if I received splinters again. Once on the surface, the waves were just the same but somehow they didn’t bother me this time. The residual tranquility from my pramatyr experience allowed me to access peace despite the surface waves lapping against my face. I also managed to hold onto this state as I was surrounded by a cacophony of voices once I got back onto the boat: “Wow! Did you see this? Did you see that? That was awesome!” Everyone else on the boat was giddy with excitement about their experience and everything they observed. But I remained quiet, still taking it all in, and not wanting to let go. After all, it is this peak experience of pramatyr that my yoga practice seeks to find. I had no idea that it would be 110+ ft under, far away from my yoga mat and meditation seat that I would have such a profound state of awareness.