Our yogic practices are not designed to teach us new things, they are designed to help us remember what we have forgotten: that there is no independent existence, that we are directly linked with a higher power.
For my good friends who are spending the weekend with Sri Dharma Mittra and Krishna Das, and with great reverence (and apologies) to Valmiki and William Buck (whose translation I read again and again), two examples from The Ramayana:
Listen friend, to the story of Hanuman. Hanuman is the son of the Wind God and a monkey. He is also considered an avatar of Lord Shiva. Because of his divine nature, he possesses many great and wonderful powers. He was a good little monkey, and always very curious. Once upon a time, he came upon a group of Brahmins (priests) engaged in their worship. What fun, Hanuman thought to play with these priests. Although he meant no harm, he none the less disrupted the Brahmins’ worship. They were left with a quandary. They understood who Hanuman was, an incarnation of the very god they were worshiping; yet he committed a wrong which must be punished. They decided upon a medium sized curse—Hanuman would forget about his divine powers until someone reminded him.
After befriending Rama, Hanuman, the monkeys, and the bears searched the world over for Rama’s wife Sita, who had been kidnapped by the demon Ravana. The entire world was combed, without success. The last place to look was Lanka, 800 miles across the ocean. Hanuman lamented that they would not be able to cross the ocean and their mission was a failure. Jambavan, King of the Bears, spoke to Hanuman thus: “You are the son of the wind god and the embodiment of faith. Why are you whining, you can cross the ocean in one leap.” “I’ll do it,” replied Hanuman, and taking the name of Rama 3 times, he leapt.
Did Hanuman cross the ocean because he felt the divine hand carrying him? No. He acted in faith. He ACTED in faith. Not waited, not hoped, acted. Hanuman held this ability always within. He just could not remember.
When it came time for Rama to depart the earth, millions had assembled. He gave to Hanuman a bracelet of immeasurable beauty and worth. Hanuman promptly destroyed it. “Monkey, now is not the time for your games,” said Rama. “This bracelet is worthless,” insisted Hanuman. “It does not even bear your name.” Vibhishana, the good demon responded “Then why don’t you destroy your body. Surely it is just a thing like this bracelet.” At that Hanuman clawed the flesh away from his chest. On every bone, every cell of his body was etched the name राम .
Even today, we chant the Hanuman Chalisa (Forty verses in praise of Hanuman) to continually remind Hanuman of his abilities. Because if he can remember them, so can we. If he can hold the name of the Lord (Rama) on every cell of his being, so can we. Even if we can't always see it, it is there. He is our example to follow. All of our contortions, breathing techniques, chanting, meditation, etc, are only to help remind us that we are a small part of something bigger.
Every time we choose to forget that we cannot do the impossible, we grow closer to remembering out true nature.