The first meaning of the Sanskrit word "nidrâ" is "sleep". The archetypical yogi who foreshadows all others is Shiva, whose name means "the dying one", not in the sense of the one who is breathing his last, but of that which is passing away.
Strangely enough, tradition announces that the original and creative nature of that which dies is the so-called awakened state, the state of consciousness in which there is no separation. The very act of perceiving or attempting to perceive non-duality disappears in this state without duality. What remains is a “state” that no longer is one, the origin of all forms manifested. It is called “nidrâ”. Nidrâ is Shiva´s state of “conscious sleep”.
Over time, many great legends have been added to this, the most widespread of which recounts how Nidra is at the origin of the glance from the eye of Shiva. This glance, originating from the state of “awakened sleep”, is supposed to have created the world. In order to distinguish it clearly from common eyesight, tradition depicts it in the form of a third eye.
The idea of a world-creating glance is a twofold concept.
First, it suggests that the way in which we view the world seems to alter it; beholding is an action that transforms.
Secondly, this glance, from which the whole process of creation originates, is a never-ending process. Hence, the moment of creation is followed by a ceaseless renewal of the creative process. The glance from the eye of Shiva, this origin of universal movement, has a name: it is called “darshan”.
The story told in Brahmanism is that an unknowable and non-localized activity dreams the world; we, human beings, are images in this dream. Nidrâ Yoga, while belonging to the tantric world view (the world is not an illusion) invites us to pay attention to dream energy rather than dream imagery, for by focusing on dream energy, we take part in the innermost nature of the Dreamer, i.e. Brahma or Shiva. Therefore, in yoga in general, and in Nidrâ Yoga in particular, dreams are quite rarely analyzed, and dream images are merely regarded as expressions of the restlessness of the mind. Instead, dreamless sleep is focused on, as it seems to offer a more likely access to the very nature of Shiva´s nidrâ, and hence to the Source we want to return to.
Practice comprises two techniques that may seem antagonistic at first sight: relaxation and concentration. However, there is a paradoxical state in which relaxation and concentration are simultaneously present. Let us first treat them separately in order to present an overview of how the exercises are to be done.
First of all, I would like to further specify the term relaxation by qualifying it as “profound relaxation”. This state can be reached by getting aware of all the tensions that are not essential to our being alive. Many tensions are not needed to keep us alive, and I propose to call them all “contractions”. We need not be contracted to be alive!
According to the teachings that have been passed on to me, man is composed of five layers or “koshas”. We are going to relax them, setting out from the outer, densest layer, to tackle gradually the inner, less and less dense layers.
The first layer is called anamaya-kosha , which means “food body”. It represents the physical body and is subdivided into three systems: - the anatomical system: the skin, the muscles, the sinews, and part of the nerves; - the physiological system: the organs, the endocrinal, nervous and lymph system; - the skeleton: flat bones, long bones (containing marrow) and the cartilage
The second layer is called pranayama-kosha, or energy body. The word prana has several meanings; it designates, for instance, breath, energy, and the nature of movement. We are going to treat it as the dynamic force that pervades a network of channels called nadis, or river, not unlike the network of a hydro-electric power plant. The junctions of these nadis, with their different intensities or energy charges, are accumulators and distributors of energy: they are called chakras. The channels and distribution centers are usually cluttered up with residue that jams or blocks the circulation of energy, prana.
The third layer, manomaya-kosha, is thought, not in terms of ideas, but in terms of the functioning of the mind, manas, which includes the association of ideas, memory, creative thinking, logic, and whatever the process of thinking may involve.
The fourth layer, vijnanamaya-kosha, is insight, i.e. not just knowledge of things that can be memorized (belonging to the field of manomaya-kosha), but intuitive knowledge, much like the ability we sometimes have to know things without relying on the usual physical tools, like this flash of insight that has nothing to do with logic, and that does not depend on any accumulated or intellectual knowledge. This intuition is often blocked, contracted, and we are going to try to relax it, to give it some more room.
The fifth and last layer is called anandamaya-kosha, from ananda, meaning joy or bliss. No exercise can be transmitted to train one to be in this state; only by relaxing our intuition completely can we gain access to it. However, even ecstasy can have its hidden tensions! We are also going to try to relax within these ecstatic states in order to enhance them even more.
These five layers are presented as limited (or delimited), and by perceiving consciously the existence of each one of them separately, we will notice that in fact, they are interconnected. That which connects these layers, the “connection”, is itself unlimited.
Moving through the koshas inevitably leads to a number of experiences. We shall not focus on them, the purpose of this practice being neither the intensity nor the quantity of the experiences – however amazing they may prove to be – but only to develop the ability to increase our longing for the connection.
Concentration, dharana, is defined here as a “pervading concentration without any tensions”. We will first rely on thought but gradually replace this by using only the energy of thought. The first exercises are fully understandable; the words used refer to known objects. We will have to concentrate on this or that, to visualise simple images and walk down imaginary paths… Later on, we will turn away our concentration from objects with a form, and direct it towards concepts and dynamisms that no longer have any form. We smoothly glide from concentration on forms to concentration without forms. The relationship between a subject, e.g. you, and an object, e.g. a wall or a tree or a person, is situated in what I call “transparency”. Concentration without forms consists of going into this transparency, which sometimes results in the object, or even the subject, disappearing. It is not a method for becoming invisible, but it has the flavor of it. According to the texts, if we make contact with transparency, we may no longer see anything, but we may no longer be seen by anything either. That, however, is not what we are aiming at; let us consider it as a kind of tongue-in-cheek proposal.
The last stage of concentration is concentration on phenomena out of reach for the body and its sense organs, for thought, for the energy body and the ecstatic state. It amounts to entering the impalpable realm of Deep Relaxation, as it is sometimes called. Ultimate concentration is identical to ultimate relaxation.
The basic postulate is that there is a state of unity, of non-separation, that is accessible when thought has come to a standstill. Yoga is the attempt to gain access to that state, to experience it and, if possible, to stay in it forever.
Yoga offers a great variety of paths, roads, highways and motorways leading to this aim, and on his/her long walk, the seeker can follow one that suits his/her own propensities. The ways of walking are also numerous and varied. Some thrust themselves headfirst. Others advance by leaps or walk steadily, and others still walk sideward like crabs. Depending on their abilities and moods, this mishmash of walkers will exert themselves, tie themselves in knots, get out of breath or sprint forward. Stepping aside from this great rush to enlightenment, nidrâ gives an astonishing comment: an approach exists that invites us to stop walking. Nidrâ simply tells us: “lie down quietly, don´t move, relax and let yourself be carried away”. The aim cannot be found at the end of the path; it is under your feet, at the place and time you find yourself in.” The approach is very energy-efficient. Instead of burning it, we let the energy be. When the body lies still and relaxes, the mind, intimately linked to it, becomes motionless and relaxes too. It then suspends its work of ceaseless conflict production. To produce a conflict, it would only have to falsify reality by breaking it up into various aspects, usually into two opposite objects which it will quite maliciously call “complementary”.
One of its favorite operations is to make these objects apparent, i.e. to objectify. Objectifying consists of creating limits, of defining the thing called “me” and distancing it from what is called “the other one”. It consists of defining the thing called “subject” and the other one called “object”, the thing called “observer” and the one called “observed”. When its separating activity is interrupted, objectivity opens up to subjectivity. The approach does not consist in becoming what we already are, i.e. subjective beings, but in recognizing and accepting what we are. Accepting subjectivity is adopting a conception of life to which sensory perception will add a new taste (rasa). In the world of sensory perception, no more cheating is possible because the perceptions are true in an immediate way. All nidrâ exercises are aimed at making us enter into sensory perception in order to let us live fully what we are experiencing, and because, whenever thought objectifies, it distances us from what we are experiencing.
Our daily lives reflect the quarreling inside ourselves. We have noted that changing the outside world is insufficient. Although we have become extremely efficient at changing, and developed a considerable technology to transform the world, we have failed to bring about the end of suffering.
-The approach proposed by nidrâ is not to change anything whatsoever, not even our inner life to begin with-
Change still belongs to the realm of will power, of contraction. The approach simply asks us to “see”, to “observe”, to recognize what, at a deeper level, we have always known. Observing is a passive reconciliation, a passive widening of the boundaries. When the boundaries get blurred, sensitivity awakens and we approach the state of innocence so favorable to the dawning of a confidence without object, a confidence based on nothing. According to tradition, this confidence without foundation is synonymous with wonderment, with pure and infinite bliss. Let´s see!
- André Riehl