Last week was spring break so the girls and I joined friends in a river-side cottage for a few days. Lovely. Then, I had some nasty flu that has been going around so I spent two whole days in bed. Less lovely. I share all of this with you because this vacay-illness combo meant I had the luxury of time away from home and then time away from the ability to move due to fever and fatigue. This was time I spent reading a whole book! Cover to cover, I sped through a retelling of the Indian Epic, The Mahabarata by William Buck. The Bhagavad-Gita is sandwiched in the story of the Mahabarata so I’ve been curious about all the people mentioned and the context in which this battle was taking place. Now, this isn’t a strictly yoga discussion because yoga isn’t a religion and doesn’t try to explain where we come from or where we go after we die. But like me, some of you yogis out there like to read the Bhagavad-Gita and maybe even the Mahabarata because it gives you insight into your practice. Along with the insight on yoga, we also get to know larger religious structure of Hinduism. Which means we get some talk of reincarnation.
Reincarnation. I can’t say that I believe that I have a soul that has been in lots of other beings in the past and because of my particular collection of karma, I was fortunate enough to be born into the life of a yogini. I have to admit that I also don’t think it is impossible. Either way, I’m not trying so hard to figure out what happened before life as Amanda or what is going to happen when this body of mine dies because I’m mostly interested in what’s happening here on earth in this body and life right now. That said, when I read all this business about reincarnation, I wonder how to think about it so it is meaningful to me in this life.
So here are some thoughts I had about reincarnation when I was sick with the flu:
1. Reincarnation as allegory—Perhaps the cycles of rebirth can be seen as the repetitive cycles of suffering that we must face again and again until we really do have the wisdom, surrender and humility to relinquish a way of being that isn’t serving our Self.
i.e. Stuff that comes up in one relationship somehow keeps happening in all the other relationships that come along UNTIL I see that maybe there is something I keep doing and I need to let that behavior DIE and be REBORN as a new pattern or way of dealing with stuff.
2. Reincarnation and Einstein, “Energy cannot be created or destroyed, it can only be changed from one form to another.” Is our soul made of energy? Can it keep getting transformed and become the soul of another being? I don’t know. Not a very good follow up to number 1.
3. Reincarnation and Carl Jung. Maybe reincarnation is related to the idea of the collective unconscious and the archetypes that come to the forefront of our consciousness as we move through life. And maybe it isn’t archetypes that are passed down from the whole human race to each baby, but our ancestors, the ones that came before us, the ones that we are connected to, have some influence on how we are in the world — on our soul.
i.e. Have you ever seen a documentary about scientists who taught a mother octopus to go through a very complex maze and then when she had offspring and the offspring went through the maze, they actually mastered the maze much faster than babies from a different octopus mama? I saw this when I was 12 at some science museum and I looked for evidence of this study on the interwebs because it is so crazy-fascinating. I didn’t find it and several sources said that thought-transference doesn’t actually happen with octopuses, but I’m pretty sure I remember it all with great accuracy and it might be related to reincarnation. (thank goodness this is a blog and not a scientific journal.)
4. Reincarnation as a means to deeper compassion. Perhaps the belief that we might come back as a creature or a person who is struggling or someone very fortunate gives us a sense of connection and compassion toward all creatures. If we feel we are a part of the world and the people and the life around us, our behavior will be different than if we see ourselves all alone and separate from.
I think number one is probably the most useful in my life. “Kick the habit” becomes a little more exciting when I think of letting a habit die and be reborn as something more lovely.
I’ve got the Ramayana in the book queue. Hanuman’s story is in that one. He’s the monkey god who leaps over some ocean to help save Sita for his god-friend, Rama. My friend suggested that I might need to put the Indian Lit down for a while because when I saw the photo of my kid in a tiny text message, my first thought was that she was wearing a yoke. She might be right…