“[Shraddha] is literally “that which is placed in the heart”: all the beliefs we hold so deeply that we never think to question them. It is the set of values, axioms, prejudices, and prepossessions that colors our perceptions, governs our thinking, dictates our responses, and shapes our lives, generally without our even being aware of its presence and power.”
–Eknath Easwaran, Introduction to his translation of the Bhagavad Gita
We all have shraddha. We are made of it. Our system, or structure of beliefs literally creates the multi-dimensional beings that we are. And like breath, we exhale our shraddha, our foundational beliefs, into the space around us. They swirl through space, permeating the atmosphere, and are absorbed into the fabric of our lives. Then we inhale, and we take in the collective shraddha, the beliefs that silently pervade our culture, subliminally, under the radar of waking consciousness.
Below the mental hierarchy of beliefs, with the most fixed and solid at the bottom and the most fluid and loosely held at the top, our emotional being has its own shraddha. Less linear but more intransigent. It wells up through your constructed mental reality like mud between your toes, or like an unstoppable volcano of molten stories – self-reinforcing and too blazing hot to approach, too fused to disentangle. Deeper still lies the shraddha of the sense mind. The rules and laws of material reality filter into us and stamp our consciousness with rigidity, impossibility, death.
Embodied inquiry means facing these layers of shraddha.
First of all, a fixed mental belief that inner, ‘subjective’ reality is illusion stops the inquiry before it starts. The religion of fundamental materialism permeates our culture, reminding and remonstrating that our experiences are false, and only material laws, only collisions between surfaces are real. Consciousness itself is a cosmic mistake, a chance collision, a fluke. The universe is a vast, empty crevasse, waiting to swallow the instant of experience that is my entire self. We spend trillions of dollars and euros and pesos and yen and seconds and friendships and beads of sweat to decipher the rules by which this impossible clock ticks the hour. Meditation, even contemplation is a frivolity, unless it produces something for the machine to senselessly devour.
In order to even attempt a direct inquiry into the nature of self as it manifests in my body, I have to deal with this collective shraddha. Before I can venture inside to sense the quality of consciousness that fills space as lung, touch the spongy fullness and feel it condense, expand, draw in, expel, yearn, weep, pray, hope, and sing its own song of being to the gods, I have to suspend the disbelief in its inherent self-awareness. I have to say, “Hmmm…let’s see what happens if…” And part the curtains and dive in. And to the degree that I keep myself tethered to the shore (which is inevitable at first), my dive will be shallow and rough. But even a surface touch can change everything.
Even brushing against the skin of the lung, the elastic and enervated pleura, can thrill enough to shake the entire towering hegemony of doubt.
Of course doubt conceals its own shraddha, hidden beneath its thin crust of justification. And doubt feeds the spirit of inquiry, as long as it doesn’t choke that free spirit. Either way, doubt dies hard, so the shaking doesn’t topple it. But when we hear the lung’s voice whisper softly, almost imperceptibly (“what was that? …was that it?”), we might feel a sudden shock of freedom, of possibility that becomes a slight but inevitable crack in the windshield. Dawn grows like this. Subtly but persistently, faintly but with an unwavering perseverance.
And in the body, in the lightning flashing through fascia, in the blood pulsing, washing through vessels, kidney, heart, even in the dense compact bones absorbing, shedding, relating through ligament to meat, in the breathing and living body we find another layer of shraddha. Life force and matter dancing in conjugal clasp, movement preserving homeostasis and resisting the constant draw of decay.
The body exists because it believes in its own existence. It persists because it believes in its ability to heal itself. And it dies because it believes in death.
Ultimately, Embodyoga invites us to forget about what we know, or what we’ve heard, the rules and laws that have been chanted like an impenetrable veda by solid matter herself as we emerged from her womb. We are invited to experience directly. Lungs, liver, fascia, pancreas, carotid bodies, psoas. Forget what the textbook and our friends and parents say and go inside, touch these warm, vibrant, living structures. Ask them who they are, and let their essence envelope your consciousness.
And then shraddha widens. It escapes the narrow, rigid, suffocating dungeon and emerges into a spacious air where anything is possible. When shraddha expands, it opens itself to the varied manifestations of the divine, to love, to hope and aspiration, shaking off the shackles of cynicism imposed by fear. And where to we go from there? “Hmmm…let’s see what happens if…”