Georg Feuerstein’s seminal book, The Yoga Tradition, makes brief mention of a concept he names verticalism, a strict soteriology of ascent up and out of the sushumna nadi. Once the granthis (knots that prohibit subtle body energy from completely rising) are dissolved through continuous yoga practice, the esteemed yogin ultimately ascends completely; culminating in a full-on up and-out of the real Self from the decidedly unreal body. Bliss. Peace. Emancipation. Finality.
It’s probably the most common story of liberation out there. Something, well, literally out there.
As in, other than here.
(for my ivory tower friends, yes, i realize that this explanation is drastically simplified… you know, it’s a blog.)
Inherent in Feuerstein’s naming of this verticalist liberation, is the notion that just maybe there exists an alternative version of this ‘full’ realization that’s just as valid as the former… Or, perhaps there are a number of alternatives.
Or even infinite alternatives.
Unfortunately, as far as I’m concerned, this novel conception — that there are many means through which liberation may occur — is an issue that has been largely absent from the current dialogue within modern yoga. Despite the injection of the wordtantra into the philosophical blogosphere (the varying definitions of its revolutionary ideology prevalent in any google search), most contemporary language around yoga perpetuates the same verticalist mentality, flattening the possibility of metaphysical pluralism.
Why have we, for the most part, so easily skimmed Feuerstein and others’ articulate distinctions (of a strict, ascending verticalism juxtaposed with the lived, embodied liberation of tantra) without fully acknowledging and exploring the heavy observation implicit in this distinction itself — that there just might be many methods of spiritual liberation?
((teacher training overwhelm? perhaps.))
In other words, why do we hold ourselves, our lived bodies and ‘promise’ for self-realization so rigidly poised for ascension and ascension alone?
This issue of privileging the ascent of the Self, consciousness, prāṇa, kuṇḍalinī, is one that I have long contemplated, but, frankly, have only recently decided to go public with. Since my vision and embodied experience don’t align with the normative soteriological view, I’ve reserved my public speech on this topic to contemplative hikes and small gatherings with friends, audiences far easier to win over than overwhelming scrutiny of public opinion in general.
But at this point, I’m feeling pretty damn ready to make my heretical Self known.
In fact, I strongly suspect that this exercise in speaking my own radical truth is essential to my personal growth.
And, maybe it is for you too.
The modern yoga-culture privileging of metaphysical ascent oppresses its naturally opposing action, the descent, and immediately rules out any other alternatives — imposing a structure of subjugation that inherently disengages us from a vast portion our embodied existence.
Most importantly, this closed system fails to acknowledge our varied diversity as human beings.
An overemphasis on the hierarchical ascent, the up-and-out as a means for liberation, imposes a system of forcible amputation — exorcising the ‘good’ or ‘highest’ of ourselves from the substantially ‘lowest’, the assumedly unimportant remainder of our psychological and physiological makeup — denies the wisdom that the ‘marginal’ self might posses.
Leaving us isolated, not knowing oneself or ones’ world fully, but rather partially, incompletely.
In the great reflection of the universe, when our language (as teachers and practitioners) simply perpetuates this inequality of methods, especially without exploring the myriad possibilities for ourselves, we’re really only doing a small part of our homework. As we dismember the ‘unworthy’ parts of ourselves, how can we possibly be able to fully serve our students, comrades and friends along the path?
As our language constructs our reality, this oppressive superstructure of linguistic ‘sensibility’ espouses a culture of physical bodies and energetic experiences completely subservient to the hegemonic power of verticalist ideology. We perpetuate this flawed and limited envisioning through our language and how we think liberation is supposed to be.
In my opinion, this is a serious act of violence (himsa). It can be traumatic and so deeply subconscious that it’s difficult to articulate, and through our silence this system only becomes more firmly rooted within our collective modern yoga consciousness.
All are serious warning signs, which for me indicate that this silence around the issue of metaphysical pluralism is not what Yoga (Union) is about.
This normalization of verticalism through our language, either conscious or unconscious, is not an embrace of diversity, equal importance, or holism. Rather, it’s a systematic, self-inflicted power over ourselves and others that just causes further suffering, and leads me to seriously wonder why we’re not talking about it!
So, I’m stepping off the soapbox now because I’m really excited to hear your thoughts and experience on this–
Please share your thoughts in the comment section here:
How have you experienced this imposed systemic verticalism… as a student? As a practitioner? As a teacher?
… What’s it like? And what does it all mean, to you?