Are we bound beings seeking freedom? Or are we free beings seeking boundaries?
This is such a deep and profound contemplation. To fully understand the answer, we need to explore the concept of Svatantrya, one of the eight attributes of the Absolute. Svatantrya is a Sanskrit word that means ultimate freedom.
We are surrounded and suffused by Svatantrya continuously all the time. It’s like being encompassed by a circle of grace. But we’re usually asleep to it.
Most of us are preoccupied with life on the most mundane level just trying to survive, taking care of our basic needs, and then dealing with the onslaught of “thought invasion”. (Thought invasion is what I’m calling the constant commentary or attack of negative thoughts running through the mind at any given time. It’s the mind chatter composed of fear, doubt, shame, unworthiness, regret, resentment, anxiety, etc.)
Due to self-limiting beliefs, karma, and samskaras (impressions from the past and present), we stay asleep living under an avalanche of heaviness.
Yet, inside the circle of grace is infinite possibility, unboundedness, no expectations, no doubt or fear, no anxiety, and no limits. The circle of grace is found in the space between the breaths and between our thoughts. It’s in the gap in meditation where we slip, even if only for just a moment, into an expanded consciousness of freedom. We can’t make this happen; we can only allow it to happen. Yes, our practices help create the environment for it to happen, but any effort, even a trace of effort, will have the opposite effect – no entry.
Even so, if we can bring this type of allowing and open awareness into our lives more often, we would be much happier. But we live most of our lives outside the circle of grace. Outside is where disconnection thrives. Where doubt, fear, and shame live. We long for what’s inside the circle but we somehow can’t seem to gain access to it.
So, what’s the key to getting inside the circle?
In Tantra, you need to bind yourself in order to unbind yourself.
The key to entering is to understand that we are already free and that we are here to learn how to create healthy self-boundaries. Lack of freedom is most often the failure of boundaries. We are free beings seeking boundaries – healthy self-boundaries that is. Because if you don’t bind yourself to what your heart most deeply desires, then something else will bind itself to you and it probably won’t be what you want.
So, get clear about what you desire to bind yourself to.
In Tantra, desire is not seen as a problem. As human beings we have desires. Desire is what the universe did to become you. It desired to be known. So desire is the source of the entire universe. But sometimes when you follow your desires, they get the better of you. In any moment, desire can override discernment. Without the boundary of discernment, it’s easy to stay up too late at night watching a good show, or indulging in behaviors that are pleasurable in the moment but have terrible side effects.
I have a confession to make. Since the Covid pandemic started three years ago, I’ve taken on relaxing in front of Netflix to wind down at night. Although this is very entertaining, it doesn’t really do much for my spiritual growth. I used to feel guilty about it but I’ve accepted myself now and I’m fine with watching or not watching. Lately, I’ve been practicing other ways to wind down at night, including reading, chanting, writing, listening to music, dancing, and listening to meaningful podcasts and lectures, all of which feel more productive in general. Establishing this boundary of sorts, has improved my sleep and usually, but not always, gets me to bed earlier so that I wake up more refreshed. By practicing the boundary of discernment, I make better choices.
Boundary is the key to entering the circle of grace. It’s boundary, not freedom, that sustains and maintains freedom.
Without boundaries, our energy will dissipate. We become ungrounded and tend to overextend ourselves. We give and give and give until there’s nothing left for us. Boundary helps us stay in our lane, to not take on the suffering of others. Boundary teaches us how to have compassion and empathy for others without taking on their pain.
There’s another further definition of Svatantrya that’s very important. Sva means one’s own, and tantrya is the ability to integrate or loom back together the dispersed parts of ourselves into an integrated meaningful matrix of relationship.
Svatantrya is telling us that we have agency. We can lift ourselves up out of the victim role. We can use our past and our traumas to gain wisdom and compassion for self and others. We can transform pain into beauty. We can choose freedom and WE MUST! We must choose to step inside the circle of grace. The irony is that this circle is as close to us as our very own breath. We breathe in and out and in and out in a continuous circle of life. Are we paying attention?
May you use the power of your freedom to elevate your consciousness and bring about more happiness in your life and in the lives of others. May you bind yourself to what your heart most deeply desires and joyously create the appropriate boundaries needed to maintain your freedom.
Contemplation: What’s one boundary you could create today to secure your freedom and bring about a positive change in your life?
I look forward to seeing you on the mat!
Namaste, Todd and the Ashaya Yoga Team