A long time student of mine used to access the heightened experience of seeing colors when she practiced pranayama. After several years of practice, however, she noticed that she no longer saw colors during her pranayama practice. She was concerned that not seeing colors meant that she was not progressing, or had taken a wrong turn in her practice. When she came to me with her worries, I pointed her to Krishna’s practice of Action Yoga from the Bhagavad Gita.
Krishna’s mindset during Action Yoga was to perform those practices that he believed would lead him to freedom but give the results to god. Seeing colors would fit in the category of results to give to god. The reason we are instructed to give them to god is because we do not know what should happen as we move closer to spirit. Moving closer to spirit may manifest as bliss for one person and sadness for another. There may be physical catharsis, or bodily awareness may dissolve into awareness of love and light. We may feel freedom from a burden, or feel the burden more strongly than ever before.
The Bhagavad Gita refers to our unique path back to god as our Swakarma or Swadharma, both of which refer to actions or structures arising from past actions and beliefs. If we are traveling on a path and cannot yet see the path, we can’t tell if we should be going up or down, or if there are stones to trip over. Since we cannot know, Krishna’s brilliant answer is to accept everything we experience on the path without judging it or holding on to it. Rather than dwelling on her sudden inability to see colors, my student needed only to accept this change as part of her spiritual journey.
Swami Kripalu once gave similar advice to one of his renunciate students. The student practiced sincerely and began to have fearful visions in meditation. The visions scared him so much that he came running to Swami Kripalu with tears in his eyes. Swami Kripalu responded by saying, ‘My son, in the great ocean of yoga experience these are only drops.’ His guidance was to experience them but to not be swayed by them into holding or rejecting. As the Bhagavad Gita says,
Physical sensations, truly, Arjuna, causing cold, heat, pleasure, or pain, come and go and are impermanent. So manage to endure them, Arjuna. (B.G. 2.14)
No precise technique is given–just ‘endure them.’ Every situation requires a different response, but the overall goal is to get through it and keep going. Experience them and let them be free to stay or go as they wish.