The lovely and wise Jaganath Carrera recently said that it was important not to mistake the cup for the elixir. It was such a simple statement and yet so profound on many levels. His words and their implications have continued to resonate in me since I heard him speak of this relationship. So I ask myself the following questions: what is the elixir here? What is the cup? Where does one end and the other begin? What is this relationship?
As a teacher and practitioner of Yoga, and more specifically Iyengar Yoga, I have found myself living this question on a daily basis. Some deeper aspects of the question engage me: what is consciousness? And is the mind more than the brain? And am I more than the sum of my parts? Are we more than the sum of our parts? What is that which connects us? The cup, the elixir, the space between? All these questions not withstanding...what is this cup? Is there really an elixir?
Containers are important. They hold things. Fluid things, solid things, disparate things. And nothing at all. Containers focus the eye and create a frame, a frame of reference. They give form to what feels formless and make things appear solid that aren't solid at all. They can be calming and comforting, or constricting and confining. It is a relationship. And it is temporary. The vessels are temporary. But what about the elixir? Is it too temporary? Can it evaporate and never become rain again?
My experience in the microcosm of teaching a particular style of Yoga, is that though the cup serves a purpose, and an important one, it can easily create a sense of exclusivity, of separateness. And this can be an unfortunate consequence of relationship. When we get caught up in the cup, we get caught up in that which separates rather than joins. This sense of exclusivity isolates and diminishes, and we loose sight of our potential to open, accept and expand. To include.
Some of the most important experiences that I have had as a teacher have involved sharing a cup, and its contents, with those who are not as familiar with the cup that I hold. Especially students and teachers from different styles, who have insight into and have experienced the elixir, even though it is held by a different cup. These relationships have helped me examine the relationship of cup and elixir. In the act of sharing the contents, attempting to discover this elixir with others, as we drink from the same cup, or different cups, there is a connection and a realization that that which nourishes, quenches, and sustains us, is not the cup at all. The cup is a vessel. The communion, the connection, the relationship is the elixir.
I have learned more about yoga, and myself, and the elixir, by living these questions with students and practitioners who may have sipped from a different cup. I have learned more about my own cup, my lineage, my body, heart and mind by venturing out and into the world of relationship because relationship provides another type of cup or container. This means I have learned to approach, rather than withdraw, from that with which I am unfamiliar, the different container, the unusual cup. It can be challenging, but makes all the difference. Because this is, of course, about our inner realm as well. In a sense there is little difference. The elixir may appear to be contained by the cup, but it is more than the cup.
Whatever the cup is, ultimately, it seems it must be open enough, flexible enough, generous enough to contain (if only temporarily) something as vast and immeasurable as this mysterious elixir. Or perhaps it is fine just as it is, because the elixir is such that it cannot be contained by only one cup. It is in the cup but beyond the cup. Of the cup but more than the cup.
In order to discover that which is greater that the sum of its parts, in order for the elixir to flow like a river from one limited vessel into even greater and greater containers of relationship, it seems as if these questions of form and function, container and contents are to be lived and reflected upon. With affection and appreciation, again and again.