“Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors where there were only walls.” ~ Joseph Campbell
In Western countries such as the United States, yoga has long been associated with bliss. In fact, it is a common misconception that the ultimate aim of yoga is bliss. Actually, we derive yoga’s definition from the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, the oldest know compilation of specifically yogic teachings. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali consist of 196 sutra (verses) divided into four pada (books). Patanjali defines yoga as “the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind.” In other words, yoga is not bliss, but rather the state where the mind is quiet and one experiences their innate connection to their true essence.
In the Yoga Sutra, Patanjali outlines eight practices knowns as the Eight Limbs of Yoga. They do not go in sequential order. Rather, yoga practitioners continuously practice all eight limbs simultaneously. Samadhi is the eighth limb of yoga. Many people equate samadhi with bliss. Samadhi is complete absorption (in the Divine) and is the culmination of all yoga practices.
Samadhi is an experiential state of being. Therefore, it is challenging to describe what exactly it is. We would not be inaccurate to describe Samadhi as bliss.
Bliss itself is a state of perfect happiness and unconflicted joy. It occurs when one is completely present and fully absorbed in the moment at hand. Psychologists have another word for bliss. It is called “flow state”.
Being in flow.
Contemporary western yoga practitioners are familiar with several of the components of flow state. First of all, there is diminished ego-awareness. Although the word “ego” is loaded with unfortunate, although not entirely undeserving, connotations, our ego is not bad. The ego is a tool through which we interact with the physical world. It can be used in service to the light or the darkness within us.
Our ego is how we project our persona in the world, and as such, how other people view us. When we identify with our ego, we often suffer feelings of self-consciousness, heightened anxiety, and the infamous “imposter syndrome”. When we are in flow-state, our attachment to our ego is reduced because we are more connected to our deeper, more intrinsic self.
Positive emotions are associated with flow state. Although relaxation may occur, it is not the same thing as being in flow. Actually, people most easily access flow state when they are completely engaged in a challenging task. The task must be challenging, but achievable. If the task is too challenging, we become frustrated. If it is too easy, it will not fully engage us. Like yoga’s asana (posture) practice, a delicate balance between ease and difficulty must by struck.
When we enter into a state of flow, time seems to stop. We experience complete presence. We are not passively observing the moment. Rather, we are fully engaged in the moment. We experience bliss. This blissful presence is samadhi.
Sometimes samadhi is mystified to the point that we think that it is only for very advanced yoga practitioners. Actually, samadhi is no more or less special than any of the other limbs of yoga. In fact, samadhi is a very natural state of being. We do not experience it more often because our ego gets involved. We engage in people-pleasing, have feelings of low self-worth and low self-esteem, and we are afraid of what other people will think.
Like the other seven limbs of yoga, samadhi is meant to be practice. We can practice samadhi by regularly engaging in stimulating activities we love. As Joseph Campbell said, by following our bliss.
- Identify some thing or some things you love to do. What brings you joy? What is your bliss?
- Make a point to do this activity regularly; daily if possible, but at least once a week.
- Set realistic goals for this activity that you love. Be practical, but don’t be afraid of challenging yourself!
- Make following your bliss a regular practice. Remember, yoga practices are done regularly, for a long time, and without attachment to the outcome. Some days you may experience samadhi, some days you won’t. That isn’t the point. The only point is to continuously do the practice itself.