In 1980 our dog gave birth to a litter of seven puppies. Jasmine and her pups were housed in a large cardboard box in the adjoining garage, where they would be safe and easy to look after as they grew. The sides of the box were partially cut away so Jasmine could easily come and go but left with enough height to confine the puppies until they were ready to explore the larger world. The kitchen door opened into the garage and one day, when the door was left open briefly, one of the puppies suddenly appeared at my feet, sitting and gazing steadily up at me. He was the smallest one of the litter, the runt, and he was the first one out of the box.
From that moment until he died three weeks short of reaching his seventeenth birthday, he followed me everywhere. Expecting to sell him along with the other puppies, we gave him a silly nickname. When it became apparent in no uncertain terms that he intended to stay with us, was even destined to do so, at least apparently in his mind, we tried to change his name to a more elegant one. After all, he was by then growing into a very handsome young Doberman. But he would have no part of a more elegant name, refusing to respond to anything other than his “real” one.
One sunny afternoon Jasmine lay on the grass watching her youngsters begin to explore the back yard. I was sitting with them just enjoying their innate curiosity and joyfulness. I suddenly became aware of the way the sunlight was shining on their heads and the little cowlicks in their fur that made tiny swirls in exactly the same spiraling patterns as some of the largest galaxies then known to humankind. Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos” series was then being broadcast weekly on PBS, and in the same instant that I saw the galaxy-like swirls of puppy fur, his words lit up in my hearing memory: “We are all star children.”
I got it. Not only human beings but all creatures, all beings, all manifestations of nature, all planets, all moons, all suns, all solar systems and indeed all that is in manifested form are children of the stars. The very material that we are made of, atoms and their sub-atomic particles (protons, neutrons, electrons) are the remains of dying and dead stars. Mirroring solar systems and interstellar space, our physical bodies which we experience as dense and weighty, are actually at the atomic level of each cell mostly emptiness, space, akasha, charged with waves and particles of radiant energy. We literally embody star bits and we are continually exchanging some of the star bits we have borrowed for a time with other star bits. We cannot exist outside the universe. We are all one with it. It is within, through and all around us all of the time, whether we are a human being or a puppy.
This was a magical moment of epiphany and spiritual realization for me – one that I have never forgotten. We are all star children. We are all One – the concept expressed as “Unity in Diversity.” That day a phrase that was first presented to human consciousness by India became another one of my threads of connection to India.
In 1982 when we moved to Dallas, Jasmine and Scooter came with us. We moved into a nice, comfortable home with a glorious silver maple tree, a climbable mulberry tree, and plenty of room in the back yard for two big dogs. I had finished reading Swami Rama’s book Living with the Himalayan Masters and was inspired to find a yoga class I could attend as soon as possible. I actually chose a class which interestingly was taught by Betty Cosgrove. Betty had almost completed her certification through Swami Rama’s Himalayan Institute’s yoga teacher training program in Honesdale, Pennsylvania. She was one of the best teachers I’ve ever had and remains largely an unknown in the “yoga world.”
Because she was teaching in Dallas, a visiting yogi from the Institute offered a yoga workshop here at some point, and I was able to attend my first of many yoga workshops. The key concept he taught us had to do with learning how to practice yoga asanas in four stages, through a sequential process that takes the student’s skill mastery into consideration. The sequence is based on phases of emphasis of different aspects of asana practice. It goes from the most basic level of skill to the most fully developed, to that level at which yoga, or union is actually experienced:
- Form – the student learns to copy or to position the body in the general form of the asana.
- Alignment – the student develops greater skill by applying the principles of optimal structural alignment of the spine, joints and limbs.
- Observation – once students have a good grasp on the first two principles, they learn to apply the skill of observing the body as a laboratory of physical sensations, breath, etc., bringing more focus to the mind’s participation in the asana.
- Awareness – the stage at which a doing becomes a being, as students work with the challenge of maintaining moment to moment presence within the experience of the asana, yoking the mind to being here now. It is awareness of all skill levels simultaneously, of experiencing both steadiness and effortless ease, and eventually of experiencing oneness with the Self. Within this stage are many challenges and many additional increments of increasing skillfulness. Our Himalayan Institute teacher did not directly teach us this. It is something you realize only after you get to the first step of Awareness.
So the movement proceeds from the purely physical stage, to the stage of linking body and mind through skillful alignment based on applying more specific instructions, to the stage of sharper mental focus based on observational skills that arise from linking body and mind through breath as well as through alignment, to the stage of linking body and mind with spirit, based on the spiritual experience of being Yoga rather than performing or doing the asana.
There are few things I learned almost three decades ago or even one or two decades ago that I can still remember as clearly as I do this man’s teaching. I do remember this because it makes so much sense and because I have used it ever since, in both my own sadhana and in teaching others.
The influence of Swami Rama and the Himalayan masters he wrote about are among my most memorable spiritual gifts of the 1980’s. They weave yet another thread of connection to India and to Yoga.
Get Drishtikone Updates
in your inbox
Subscribe to Drishtikone updates and get interesting stuff and updates to your email inbox.
Thank you for subscribing.
Something went wrong.