Mysticism for the Modern Skeptic | Cassandra Voices

Mysticism for the Modern Skeptic


Five takeaways from my experience at Sattva Yoga Academy in india: 

  • Have an experience without using words to describe the experience at least once a day.
  • I am much more than my mind.
  • My ego is not the center of me, my heart is.
  • Miracles and mystical experiences happen all the time – be open to them and life will become richer,and more abundant.
  • There are no avocados in India. People ask: was there anything you missed while you were there? Yes, I did. 


One of the most influential lessons I learned from my parents was the value of the question.  Always ask why. I clearly remember learning this in school as well: who, what, when, where, why (and sometimes how). These are the basics of problem solving. When a problem presents itself, ask the questions,answer them and you have your solution.

This thinking was so influential for me that over time these questions became automatic in every interaction I had with others and myself. I didn’t have to consciously ask these questions, my mind just did it. They became a habit, a reaction to every event, stimulus, interaction and emotion.

Asking questions has helped me greatly. This mindset helped me succeed in areas we might consider beneficial and desirable: I got a good education; I have a great job; I have a house of my own; I am healthy; I have many loved ones in my life. Much of that is due to how I frame the world and see people in it. If I lived my entire life without anything else, many, including my parents, would say I did a good job (and I would say they did a good job raising me-thank you mom and dad. I love you.)

And yet, I have questions. Constantly. Because of my conditioning, I feel I don’t have a choice.  These questions encompass most of my thoughts during any given day. So much so that when someone starts talking I immediately start thinking: why? when? who? what? when? As if the only reason people talk to each other is when there is a problem. Even if there isn’t one, I create one to solve in every situation I find myself in.

So I am a seeker.

But I am also a skeptic. I want answers but am only willing to accept them if I am satisfied they meet the criteria of logic, reason, and experience in the database of my mind. Every question, from the mundane to the existential must be answered before I can rest and let it go. Rest easy, knowing that the question is answered for all eternity. And I never have to ask the question again.

And yet I don’t. I keep asking questions. I keep being skeptical of my answers. I must ask questions or I get bored, distracted or worse, become self-destructive.

And so while I have all the things one would want in life, my day to day experience is one of relative suffering. I can’t answer all the questions no matter how much I think. But I must try continually because my conditioned existence demands answers with the end goal that one day I will know them all.

And so I began the practice of yoga. Not to find all the answers, but to stop asking the questions.

I’ve been practicing yoga for ten years now,asana mostly (or the practice of postures or poses). I liked it so much I became a yoga teacher. I always knew that asana was only a small fraction of the tradition of yoga and wanted to learn more. So I went to India to Sattva Yoga Academy, a small yoga center outside of Rishikesh in the foothills of the Himalayas.

In one of our last lectures Anand Ji (the lead teacher at Sattva Yoga Academy) suggested we keep a Wisdom Journal instead of an Emotional Journal because Emotional Journals are just ways to help us believe the lies we tell ourselves. I agree. What is wisdom and what is emotion are not always easy to separate though. So I wrote it all in the moment and left the parceling of Wisdom and Emotion for later

Below is my Wisdom journal from the trip as I see it now. With a little emotion.

Note on the use of “I” and “you” in the Journal entries – we occasionally use these terms as a way to separate ourselves from each other as distinct forms of being when we speak to each other. In written, journal form this changes. Sometimes when I use “you” in a sentence, “you” is really my mind I am addressing and “I” is my intuitive experience or my Self. Sometimes when I use “I” in a sentence I may mean my mind and “you” as my Self. Keep that dynamic in mind when you read these words and let the thoughts you have about “I” and “you” be fluid.

The mind likes to see and then make the world around it static and finite but experience is dynamic and infinite. Consciousness exists within and beyond the boundaries of thought, sense, memory and reason. So, if it helps, let the distance between our distinct forms of being dissolve and let “you” and “I” be One.

April 9th 2022

Plane flight to India. Departure 9:30pm and landed 9pm April 10th

Ate paneer on the plane. Super tasty. I am now a vegetarian

Business class is awesome.

April 10th 2022

Mysticism. The words we use to describe a thing say more about us than the thing.  It’s impossible to describe a thing in it’s entirety. The more we try the more we reveal our thoughts about a thing rather than the thing we wish to describe.

No one wears shorts at the airport in India. Except me. I might have packed the wrong clothes.  All I packed were shorts.

The experience speaks for itself in the moment.  Everything else is your reaction from that instant pulled through time.

Lots of cows here.

Lots of Indian tourists white water rafting on the Ganga. It’s sort of like Northern Virginia but with huge shrines and statues of deities at major intersections instead of fast food restaurants. More like Maine. In fact, this is definitely Maine. Only its 99 degrees here.

No one wears black. I may have packed the wrong clothes, all the clothes I own are black

Anand Ji welcomed us during an opening ceremony where we all shared whatever we wanted to share. That was cool. The recovering lawyer phrase I usually use when people ask me to describe myself got laughs. Told them I was a fitness professional and had been leading teacher trainings. Some people are wandering and left their lives wherever they were to go on a journey. I guess I am too. From a variety of countries: Romania, Australia, Philippines, India, Germany, Norway, Sweden, Kuwait, India. The United States has a lot of folks here.

The food is great. Very nourishing and light. I am definitely not going to get enough to eat to sustain my current physical shape. And I’m okay with that.

April 11th

Got 3 hours of hardcore sleep the first night and woke at 2am. Tried reading the Economist and Wikipedia but stopped since it wasn’t helping my mind.

Pretty sure I heard monkeys screaming last night. Better than the fucking crows we have in the States, although I’ll probably want to shoot them after a week or two as well.

I must remember that I came here of my own volition to learn what is offered. It is a much different world here than the one I am used to. I feel like an outsider, a visitor. Hopefully in a week or two I will feel more in tune.

Morning Puja: offering of flowers, food, water and fire. Mantra.

Morning mediation. I hate meditating but I’m pretty sure that’s the main thing that will make my meditation practice awesome.

Everyone talking at morning fruit and juice despite the rule that we must be silent until after breakfast. I wonder if they are making spiritual progress even though they are not following the rules. Then I wonder why I care what they are doing and I stop the judgement. I’m not as hungry after puja and meditation. My mind does seem less cluttered and I am not pressed for time or thought.

I smell like the donkey that hangs out down by the river. I am gonna stink bad after 26 days.

First yoga practice- pranayama. Lots of pranayama. Kundalini yoga with lots of Kriya work.  Pranayama, then kundalini with a few vinyasas. Repeat.

Donkeys wear bells. Unclear what the donkeys do besides drink from the river. I wish I was a donkey sometimes. I probably am most of the time

Breakfast was good. They serve hard boiled eggs. All is not lost. Lots of Chai too- will help me stay alert.

Morning wisdom session, origins of Yoga lecture was amazing. Spent the month prior to this training reading the Tao of Physics. Its main theme is that you can’t reduce mysticism to a single thing just like atoms/quanta and then we spent two hours categorizing yoga in this lecture. Lol.

So much breathing today. I’m utterly exhausted. Can’t remember the last time I had so little sleep.

Evening Asana practice, slow vinyasa class. So many kriyas. So much pranayama. Thought my hips were gonna fall off. They still might. This was only day one.

April 12th

Went to bed at 9pm and woke up at 4am. Dead asleep. I feel much better. My third eye is throbbing. That could also be my prefrontal cortex just not knowing what to do with all this new information. Or jetlag. Probably all of those things.

I have no idea how I am going to use what I am learning here in my classes back home. The practices here are so much different than the usual vinyasa class in DC.

April 13th

Yesterday I felt 100% better. The energy was there and I felt more at ease with the Kriyas and meditation. Especially the Kriyas, I am starting to get it. They induce a type of euphoria that is pleasant for me. The instructors say we are forming new neural pathways (samskaras) with this work and as we tread the path it gets deeper and deeper into our consciousness. This makes sense to m: by forming new habits, we drop old ones. A new habit must contain an element of pleasure for us to pursue it and if not pleasure then a faith in the principles set forth that will lead to a result we seek once the habit is formed as related by those who have tread the path before. This is no different than telling a person new to physical fitness that they need to workout for six weeks to see results: sometimes the workouts will produce endorphins that make us want to return. Other times this won’t happen. The key is to stay on the path.

Some may say It is better to have bees circle around your body than flies.  Bees are attracted to honey and flies are attracted to shit. The flower is only one manifestation of the plant. 90% of the plant is needed to produce that beauty. Beauty which is very fleeting for most plants.  Flies are attracted to the shit in the soil.  Soil that feeds the roots.  Roots that feed the plant that make the flower possible.  So don’t be worried if you attract flies.  Without the shit there is no flower. Start to worry if you never feel like a flower. Or you only attract bees.

April 14th

Skipped Puja today. It now starts at 6:15am. I’m like, 6:30am I can be there. But 6:15am? No way. That’s too early.

Meditation sucked less worse than it usually does. I didn’t look at my watch once. I’m very proud of myself but, strangely, there wasn’t a trophy waiting for me at breakfast.

Then the hippie stuff started. Morning Journey was 45 mins of seated kriya and pranayama.  Then 30 mins of dancing with our eyes closed. Then staring into people’s eyes. Then hugging. Then face holding. Lots of crying. More hugging. More crying. Then singing. Giving up all ego, giving fully to others, creating an energy that is quite literally beyond words and left me speechless. A mystical experience. Which is what I came here for. It was truly lovely. I am a hippie.

I think to myself, the same class probably wouldn’t fly in Washington DC. There’s just too many personal and legal boundaries. But, what the hell, I’ll give it a try anyway.

Morning talk entitled “what is the Self” was a good one. Most of it was stuff I was aware of and had read elsewhere.I it is good to have that validation. I feel a little less like a fraud or at least if felt good hearing it from someone other than a yoga teacher in DC or Bryan Kest or the 30 guests I had on my podcast or a book I read whose author I don’t know. I guess I shouldn’t feel like a fraud after all.

Memory is linked to time in a linear way. And so life can seem linear but it isn’t. That’s just memory. And time is both a way for the ego to distract us and a thing for us to use because without time there is no growth.

April 15th

One week down. Three to go. Time flows differently here, especially in classes. Our morning journey seems to last longer than a 90 min class. Meditation has become a little more enjoyable. I don’t look at my watch every 5 mins anymore.

April 16th

Received a mantra yesterday based on my energy, date of birth, place of birth and time of birth.  I may not have gotten the time right. I wonder if that will make a difference?  Probably not – it was a good faith effort on my part though

Downward facing dog is also upward facing Donkey. Think about it for a second.

Drum circle and fire pit tonight with the full moon out. Dancing and singing mantras. A little taste of home. There was a time when I would have felt pretty awkward dancing and singing but after doing Zumba auditions for the last 8 years nothing is embarrassing.

The people here are super kind, supportive, and loving. I fucking love them.

April 17th

You’ll never find the right answers if you keep asking questions. Sit with the experience and you will gain wisdom. “Learn to be wise instead of right.” – Anand Ji

Chasing the right answer is an intellectual addiction. Like any zealous addiction, it feeds itself and not your Self.

Sometimes the temptation is to “figure it out” and then make a conscious choice to believe or not believe “it.” “figuring it out” may only be building an intellectual outcome you are comfortable with based on your own superimposed structure, your learned behavior. “It” then becomes a product of your mind instead of the observance of reality. And your memory is then one of you instead of the experience.

April 18th

Day off from training. Morning Meditation and Journey and then taxi into Rishikesh.

Lots of shopping. Got scarves for people back home and for myself.  Got white clothes for the closing ceremony.

Lunch at a cafe overlooking the Ganga. Then more shopping.

Aarti in the evening at the Ganga. There’s a elephant that bathes on the other side of the river.

Took off my shirt and went in the Ganga. It was really cold but not so cold that I went numb. Growing up at the New Jersey shore where the water is so cold it makes your testicles crawl up into you stomach comes in handy sometimes.

April 19th

Went back to Puja this morning. 6:15am isn’t so bad after all.

We get angry at ourselves for making mistakes as if we shouldn’t. Without mistakes there is no growth. It is arrogance to think the last mistake will be your last. You’ll come face to face with this arrogance the next time you get angry at yourself for making a mistake.

There are limits to what you can know if you are only using your mind.

April 20th

Meditation continues to be a challenge. There is much resistance from my mind which is not surprising- I have spent a lot of time making my mind fit a certain pattern that sustains me.  Unfortunately that pattern hasn’t brought me peace. So meditation it is!

A group of cows came down the path this morning by the river. One of them ate the apple core out of my hand. When I went into the river to clear trash out of the small dam, another cow drank my Chai.

During class today I rolled my eyes further than I ever have in Agni Mudra. Felt like I was looking into my brain. How can the brain look at the brain through the eyes? Like placing a mirror in front of another mirror?

When you ask a question are you inviting an opinion or an experience? If an opinion, can you let that pass and accept or do you feel the need to argue? If you argue what is your goal? If you want an experience can you let that pass without judgement? If so, you’ll finally be listening.

April 21st

Started the day off with a hike to a waterfall. We walked up a mountain and I never felt out of breath. Sat under the waterfall and after someone said it looked like I was being baptized. It was an apt observation.

I asked Anand Ji a question during our session on the Koshas.

“How do we know the difference between reaction from learned behavior and insight? How do we know we aren’t manifesting deep learned behavior?”

Answer: “insight comes from stillness and conditioned activity comes from a place of disturbance.”


My follow up question was “how does this relate to Dharma?”

Answer: “Dharma is to live a life of spontaneous right action”

Which fits nicely: if you have stillness Dharma will flow because insight will always lead to right action.

April 22nd

A Pundit is a learned person or keeper of knowledge and they are usually advisors to leaders in India. Ironic that we call experts on television who yell at each other Pundits. I haven’t seen a Pundit do that here.

April 23rd

Meditation isn’t getting any easier to do. My mantra brings up certain images that are repetitive. My mind goes elsewhere to avoid the images and when I bring my mind back to my mantra, I see the images again. I will try to see past the images until they no longer arise in my mind.

“I think, therefore I am” is taking on new meaning for me. I have always understood the phrase to mean, to think is to exist as a human. It has been interpreted that rational thought derived from the mind makes us human and separates us from other life forms. And Descartes may have indeed meant the saying as meaning: we have rational thought, therefore we are human. It has been acted on frequently as a rejection of any action that isn’t logical or rational. But I can  recognize the mind and so as an observer of that intuition, I must be more.  I think therefore I am becomes the whole of the human, not just the mind, I experience, therefore I am.

What they teach here is- when you have an experience you can’t explain, don’t try just because your mind needs to put the experience into words Wait until you have more insight/knowledge. Know that you don’t know and let that be okay until you do KNOW instead of rejecting the experience or putting the experience in a box limited by your current knowledge. Grow from the experience – evolve.

It’s quite liberating actually. We always want to know the answer Now. And if we don’t have the answer now, we just go with reacting with what we know. We put words to experience that frame the experience with our accumulated knowledge. We put the experience in a box before letting the experience settle. When we do that we stagnate. To grow and understand we sometimes need to let experience settle.

Growth (and understanding) take time to happen. A tree doesn’t grow in a day. I always knew that, now I know that.

At least that’s what I’m experiencing. Try this: if you want to teach a baby language, you need to show them meaning. You can’t explain English by using baby language. The baby has to accept that arm means arm. You have to accept the new learning on its own terms, not on the reference points you have in your current conditioning. If you never do that, then there is a limit to what you can know because language is a crude (and artificial) way to describe experience. For example: how do you describe subatomic particles like electrons?  As a wave?  As a particle? It’s both actually. But if you only accept waves and particles, then you’ll never know what an electron actually is.

Of course, you don’t have to accept that subatomic Quanta are waves and particles. That’s your choice.

And a baby can go through life just babbling. But it doesn’t. So why are you?

April 25th

There are some who walk up the stairs and trip on the first step because they aren’t looking directly ahead of them. There are some who put the first foot down successfully but trip as they place the second foot on the first step because they are only looking ahead and don’t know what is behind. There are some who look ahead AND know what’s behind and realize that you need to do both without tripping. That is being present.

Sadhviji (Sahvi Bhagawati Saraswati)  from Parmarth Niketan came to speak to us yesterday at Sattva.  She gave the speech about Earth Day at Arti last week. She has a grace and vibration about her that I could feel very strongly. I asked her: why do toxic people seem to be rewarded for their behavior and do not suffer. A topic I wrote a little about in my Article- Compassion for Trump. Her answer was that they may be rewarded financially but not spiritually. They are not happy: “when you feel joy you make others happy. When you feel toxic you make others around you toxic.” I feel the truth of that statement. I’ve been there

April 26th

I realize now I can only help others if they ask. It isn’t up to me to decide that someone needs help. I can no longer assume that everyone I see with a problem wants my help in solving it.  And I can no longer accept responsibility for the solution. I can give advice and support but I can’t make someone else’s problem go away with the force of my will.  Will has limits

May 3rd

200 hour YTTs graduated today. Was delightful to see everyone so happy and full of wonder.  The spiritual path is a river, always there in the Self. Every once in a while, no matter who you are, your mind becomes aware that it is swimming against the current of Self. When your mind awakens to the spiritual path your mind struggles even more to stop the struggle because it does not know how to stop and doesn’t have the courage to learn how. As You become fully aware that the mind struggles and not the Self there is an even greater awakening. The struggle with the mind ceases and you feel the flow of the river. You let it take you downstream. Flowing downstream, you make adjustments to your Self so that the river doesn’t overwhelm you. The mind is now your ally. You make ever more refined movements with the mind that lead to stillness without effort as you float. Every once in a while you will need to readjust and regain the flow. But you never feel the need to turn around and start struggling again. That is yoga.

May 5th

Pointing out that someone is a hypocrite is like going to a baseball game and filling out the scorecard and then bringing that scorecard to the next game and getting pissed off when the teams don’t play the same exact game as they did the day before. The teams have the same names, the players have the same names, the rules are the same but everything else has changed from the day before:the weather, the line up of the teams, the individuals who make up the teams, and most importantly, you have changed (whether you admit it or not). All those changes result in a totally different game that is played by others and perceived by you.  It’s the reason we go to games, to see the unexpected, to be an active participant in the unexpected. Not to be an observer from afar who judges every action. If we go expecting the same game as the day before we are deluding ourselves and playing the role of an all-knowing God, which we are not.

If a person says they believe or act in one way on Saturday and then don’t act the same way on Monday, from your point of view, they are a hypocrite but from their point of view they may be acting or believing based on a new set of circumstances that you are unaware of. Who are you to keep score of their lives? Are they just part of a game in your mind for your entertainment?  If they did care that you are keeping score then don’t you become the master of their future actions? To approve what they do based on your scorecard? Why would a person want that? Why would you want that? That’s an awful lot to keep track of. And who keeps your scorecard? You?  If so, maybe you should pay more attention to yourself and keep score. If someone else, then be prepared to give up your own agency to that person. If that is God then great. But who are you to be God for someone else? They didnt authorize you to be that for them so you have no right to take on that role from their point of view.

You could spend your entire day keeping the scorecard for other people and then making sure they aren’t hypocrites tomorrow. But you would only be an observer and never a true participant. Going to the game but never being a part of it. Where’s the joy in that?

May 6th

I can here not knowing what to expect but trusting in every way. I wouldn’t have believed a future me who came back in time and tried to tell me what would happen. I guess that’s what a Journey is: an experience beyond what you could have predicted then when you look back. Evolution is the Journey in the present moment. Flight home. A little over half way through the 15 hour flight dawn started. And for the next seven hours it stayed dawn until we landed. The most amazing thing. I’ve never seen dawn last that long.

After flying for 14 hours at 30,000 feet The most comforting thing in the world is seeing the ocean at 1000 feet. a grey, early morning where the Sea is tinted dark green, blue and white- the lights on the container ships, the fishing boats, the white caps framed by low lying clouds complete the tapestry entitled “Welcome Home.”

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About Author

Chris Parkison is a Yoga Teacher and former attorney. He is the creator and host of the DC Yoga Podcast and director of a 200-hour Yoga Alliance Yoga School. He resides in Washington DC.

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