Identity, Sheaths of Being, And Truth (Kosas)
By Leah Kinney, October, 2008
Escape from the black cloud that surrounds you.
Then you will see your own light as radiant as the full moon.
Now enter that silence.
This is the surest way to lose yourself….
What is your life about, anyway?
Nothing but a struggle to be someone,
Nothing but a running from your own silence.”
– Rumi ‘In the Arms of the Beloved’ (Translation by Jonathon Star)
In preparation for writing this month’s focus, I made a list. I wrote down all of my identities, the different roles that I play and identifying characteristics. It was a really long list. A list filled with general personal facts, specific personality traits, accomplishments, possessions, relationships, joys, sorrows, fears and other tidbits that make up “my story.” Reading through that list was an emotional roller coaster taking me from giggles to tears and then back to laughter in mere minutes. After setting the list aside, I sat quietly to pause and feel. What feelings or thoughts would follow such a concentrated dissection of the ego? I am not exactly sure what I felt…my brain simply felt tired but my gut told me that it was something resembling loneliness.
As a whole, we exist in a culture that places great value on the individual, we strive to stand out and declare ourselves unique. We put forth tremendous effort to carve out a specific space for ourselves in this world, a space that tells the universe, “I exist! I matter! I have a reason for being here!” We hold onto our identities for dear life, clutching them to our bosom and hammering them into the armor that guards our hearts. As Pema Chodrun, Colleen, Rodney and many other wonderful teachers tell us; this armor is born out of fear. Fear that perpetuates the myth of duality thus widening the divide between you and me. Rather than seeing the unlimited potential for connection that lies beneath the ego, we perceive a lacking. So we continue to wrap our identities around ourselves to ward off the possibility that we might not be anyone.
Unfortunately, in our increasingly fast-paced and insulated lives, an identity-centric existence is largely devoid of true connection. It is not just the outward connection that we lose but also the connection to the many layers of ourselves. These layers or sheaths are called kosas and the human body is comprised of five; the physical body (annamaya kosa), the energetic body (pranamaya kosa), the mental body (manomaya kosa), the intellectual body (vijnanamaya kosa), and finally the bliss body (anandamaya kosa). As we grow curious about the kosas we discover their profound interconnectedness.
In Light on Life, BKS Iyengar writes that when all five kosas are integrated and in harmony with one another we reflect the clear light of the soul outward onto the world. We investigate the movement between the gross, the subtle and the sublime and we are reminded that while the aim of yoga is to discover our immortal Self, the practice of yoga teaches us to live fully. In order to live fully, we must wake up to the truth of connection, the truth of an unguarded heart. We must slowly loosen our iron grip on our stories and dive into the body, the breath, the mind and the heart. Embedded deep within, we listen for, what Rumi calls, an “inner wakefulness” that will eventually “startle us back to the truth of who we are” and that truth is infinitely greater than any list, no matter how long.