Samadhi of Goethe’s Nature and Swami Muktananda’s Feet
Erin Johannesen,M.A., M.D.
Sitting in the Friday morning meditation as Sharon reads from Goethe’s 19th century writing on nature, I’m thinking I’m not in a meditatively useful place for I’m thinking too much. I’m thinking that even in English translation, Goethe’s phrasing, formal and ‘Germanic,’ feels like it distances us, the listeners, from the poet’s desired realm of nature. And yet, despite being caught in the knotted net of my own thoughts, I am already imperceptibly going with Sharon’s words, for without my ‘minding’, the growing greenness of Goethe’s nature comes into being – is already present – emerging within me and around me. I notice it, and yet I’m not thinking about it…I’m just in it.
Co-Emergent Experience of Being And with my eyes gently closed and sitting in meditation, I continue thinking that I’m thinking about Goethe in translation, but I am not, for without wishing it, or willing it, I have come to rest in a place between my thoughts. And it is from this place that I now see, emerging in luminous darkness and walking steadily, slowly toward me, a pair of feet – they belong to a whole person, a man – but my focus is on his feet. I look at them for a long time. They are larger than mine, and the skin is golden brown. These feet are well-cared for; they are clean, well-oiled, and although thick soled, the heels show no deeply etched vertical lines or dry cracks. The toes are wide, straight, and spread apart. While not flat, these feet have only the slightest arch along each sole. I now look up and see the feet belong to Swami Muktananda who is standing here, in the flesh, before me…and then I look again down at his feet; they remain perfectly still. They hold their place so comfortably, so patiently, in the field of surrounding darkness.
I sit in the blackness at the level of Swami Muktananda’s feet and look up at him once more. I see he is wearing an orange, lightweight, cotton robe, I see his rounded nose, and I see his eyes, soft and open, gazing back down and into me. Nothing is said; yet by his stillness, by his remaining motionless standing here in front of me, I feel he is giving me this moment…is giving me this meeting in unveiled time. I look again into his face and see openness, acceptance, and quiet invitation. And so I go…effortlessly, in one movement and beyond thought, I enter through the soles of these golden-brown, well-oiled feet.
I remain as myself, but now I am suddenly and fully within him also. My being within him is so immediate. I feel his being as though it is my own. I can readily feel and experience directly within me within him how he holds his physical body. I feel how he stands – the strength and pull of his muscles, his arms, legs and feet – I feel him as him. I am not him, distinctly not him, yet he is allowing me to experience being him, to feel, with all my senses alive and alert, what it feels like to be in the physical world as him.
The weight of his body rests much more naturally back on his heels than does mine. I balance more on the balls of my feet; Swami Muktananda does not. He rests his weight solidly back on his heels. And as we walk, as I within him walk, I feel his hips moving. I feel how the lower half of the pelvis tilts forward while the top half, the iliac crests (the hip bones) align with his heels. And where my long-legged gait would swing in a straight, linear motion, his gait feels rounded, softer, and more relaxed than my own.
He is wearing sandals, light brown, or a very dark yellow-tan in color, and we (I inside him) walk on dry dirt, strewn with pebbles and small rocks that lie loosely upon the surface of the ground. This place looks like India, feels like India…but I’ve never been to India. The sky is cloudless and light blue, and the sun already feels warm on his skin. Even as it’s happening, I know he is allowing me to feel how it is to be in the world as him. I recognize it as a wonderful gift, and I am filled with unexpected love for this man I’ve never before met.
A breeze blows now, and as I look out through his eyes, I see unexpectedly in my periphery wisps of thin, wavy, somewhat curly, uncombed, black hair brushing lightly against the upper part of his (my) right cheek; my own hair is blonde, yet I experience this dark hair as my own. I feel too (from within me within him) the softness and directness of his eyes, gazing outward, and I feel the love with which he looks out upon the world. And as I (we) look out across the dry landscape, people – men and women I don’t know – are coming toward us. They are Asian-Indian, dressed in native, flowing, variously colored (pale blue…mango), light cotton clothes. He has such love for all who approach him.
These people fade, and I now see Rudy sitting directly across from me here in this room, here in this meditation. My eyes, my own eyes, are open, and yet it is through Swami Muktananda’s eyes looking out through mine that I now gaze. He sees Rudy through my gaze, and instantly I am filled with the flowing, open, and deep love he has for Rudy. It’s so direct. I feel so easily this tremendous love he holds for Rudy.
…Then the room too fades, and we – I within Swami Muktananda – are back in India. I see some of his followers approach with their heads bent in deference to him. While he loves them, I (as he) can feel also how their deference forecloses them…and I feel also how he simultaneously both accepts and is bored with, bored by, their deference. Yet, every once in a while, an individual approaches directly. These individuals are devout followers too, but they arrive without expectation, and their eyes rise to meet his. They do not overtly bow; they smile, and openly meet love with love. He loves this meeting, and I feel his happiness soar within him.
Union of Time and Timelessness While I perceive and feel myself as myself within Swami Muktananda, I am also not me, for I simultaneously perceive and feel as he perceives and feels: As he meets experience, I meet experience with him, within him, as him, yet without loss of myself. Through this co-perception of mutual being, I see firsthand how wonderfully easily he holds time and timelessness. He just is, can just be, with time in timelessness and timelessness in time…he never leaves it. A moment comes when he simply turns, acts, does something here in time – walks toward a hut, or keeps to the day’s schedule. It’s odd because an act, any act, clearly begins; there’s a moment when the action of the act actually starts, but within Swami Muktananda, time doesn’t feel like that…doesn’t feel like it’s something that begins or ends, stops or starts. Within him, I experience the continuity of time as though every moment, whether parceled into past, present, or future, is just one part of the same room.
I experience this continuity already with familiar things, but the conscious experience of the simultaneity of time and timelessness is less familiar to me. And so, when alone (when not within Swami Muktananda), I often experience the ‘room,’ the holding of time in timelessness and timelessness in time, as not accessible…as not felt. I can feel one or the other, but not both at the same time. When I’m within Swami Muktananda, however, I can feel as he feels and so I can know – just know – that the room, the whole room, is always there. And that’s what I feel within him now…that’s what I am experiencing directly through him and within him. Time and timelessness are both present as the place never left, no matter what I’m doing…no matter which part of the room I may see, no matter in which part of the room I may happen to be.
Evenness of View Within him as him, I directly experience this singularity of time, for there is no felt ‘shift’ between time and timelessness. I immediately know, as he knows, that any notion of ‘shift’ irreconcilably misleads, for there’s no real change…no new view. Time doesn’t re-emerge and shift away from timelessness. Rather, with evenness of view, for this moment in time that is now, there is simply a turning of focus from ‘this’ place to ‘that’ place. All, or everything, including time in timelessness and timelessness in time, is always already present, is clearly experienced as present, and so, the ‘shift’ becomes an effortless turning…so easily done. There’s no stopping or starting. And in a newly embodied way, I can feel now, within him as him, an unbroken, unshifting continuity of change – of acting, of doing, of being…of living from a still, abiding, and grounded place where air and space and wind embody freedom in the flesh of skin and light shining through eyes that see into everything at once. It is the great stillness at the center of things…It is the unwavering feet of one who stands so naturally with his weight resting on the back of his heels.
Note: Swami Muktananda (1908-1982), is a root teacher for the co-founders of The Washington Center for Consciousness Studies where the meditation practice mentioned in this essay was held.