The Sky by Night

Doesn’t it seem that sometimes there are periods of time when a particular image crops up in our lives over and over again? In my case, at this moment, that image is the sky by night.  From a Star Trek marathon several weeks ago, to the release of the book A Court of Wings and Ruin—which featured the night sky as a motif—on May 2, to the full moon hanging overhead just last week, I’ve between preoccupied by the thought of what lies beyond the blue marble we call home. It’s a universal, almost primal image—humans have likely been fascinated by the stars since we climbed down from the trees—but it has taken over my mind in full force.

I’m reminded of a night at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory several years ago, when I saw the arm of the Milky Way galaxy for the first time. Having grown up on the east coast of the U.S., surrounded by light pollution, I had never understood how numerous the visible stars really were. That night in Colorado was clear and frigid, and I was 9500 ft above sea level, miles away from the nearest town, and the entire sky looked like an image taken by the Hubble Telescope.

Beneath the Milky Way

Image from the European Southern Observatory in the Chilean Desert. The view in Colorado was almost identical to this. Photo by ESO/Luis Calçada/Herbert Zodet (http://www.eso.org/public/images/potw1613a/) [CC BY 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

In the context of yoga, this memory makes me think of the philosophical idea of the malas (with a short “a”—mala with a long “a” is a meditation tool), and I taught a class around this concept last week. The malas are thought of as cloaks or veils that prevent us from perceiving our fullest self. They’re like a layer of dust obscuring the lens of a camera, or the clouds and light pollution that prevent us from seeing the stars.

The first of these is Anava mala, which refers to the illusion of being limited or unworthy. When we feel insecure and incomplete, self-doubting and ashamed, we’re experiencing anava mala.

The second is Mayiya mala, the illusion of being different, separate from the rest of the world. Mayiya mala gives rise to feelings of isolation, anger, or jealousy.

The third is Karma mala, which relates to action. When we experience Karma mala, we feel “stuck” or stagnant, unable to act.

Yogic philosophy teaches that these malas are part of the fabric of existence; they are something we all experience, and as long as we live, the malas will arise. As such, we should recognize them for what they are: cloaks and illusions, not our true, highest self.

Live long and prosper, my friends.

P.S. This afternoon, one of my favorite authors, Neil Gaiman, posted an anecdote about imposter syndrome. Not only does it relate to the night sky, I feel it beautifully illustrates the importance of recognizing the malas when they arise. It’s a brief read; you can find it here.

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