Growing up in the South, I was raised as a Christian. I went to church, vacation bible school, and the whole nine-yards. During this time of my youth, I kept hearing the “I Am the I Am” verses of the bible pop up in music, in sermons, and in many “matter-of-fact” conversations that were meant to bring some feeling of peace to a situation that was “in God’s hands”, or out of our control. Even after years of reading these verses and hearing them again and again, I just didn’t quite get what God meant when He said, “I Am”. The way I had been taught, “I Am” referred only to God — He was. And whatever He was did not make sense to me. In fact, it wasn’t until I had left my home and Christianity behind me that it all began to come together.
When I moved to Florida to live at the Amrit Yoga Institute after graduating high school I was introduced to yoga for the first time in my life. It was called “IAM Yoga™”, or the “Integrative Amrit Method of Yoga™”. During my stay as a volunteer I heard a lot of “I Am”s thrown around in morning darshans and satsangs (lectures or teachings on the philosophy of yoga), and even in my seva (volunteer) meetings. From the little knowledge I had then acquired about yoga, I gathered that “I Am” was simply a way of using intention to empower oneself. Anything deeper was still beyond me.
I can’t say that everything “clicked” right then, because it took a whole year for me to consistently attend morning sadhana, our daily yoga practice, willingly. You could say I was a little resistant to wake up at 5 A.M. to stretch around for an hour and a half, but in truth it was really because I did not want to take responsibility for my own health — both physically and spiritually. My unwillingness to dedicate myself to my practice is why I chose to take a break from my life at the ashram to attend college for a year back home.
Back in Georgia, I began university as a philosophy major and signed up for a class titled “Asian Religious Philosophy”. During this class I learned about many different beliefs and religions, but what struck me most was Hinduism. Now free from my perceived pressure to attend sadhana, I began to develop my own practice at home between classes every day and soon became very interested in the philosophy behind what I was practicing. The memories of sitting in morning darshan, listening to our guru speak, returned to me so that I could understand what was being taught during my university classes. And it was then, when we read the Bhagavad Gita, that my life began to change.
Each verse I read was a light to me, illuminating the ignorance and shame surrounding my faith. I could feel God in those words for the first time in years, and the Truth rang so strongly behind the rich metaphors that I cried throughout each of my assigned readings. Finally, I stumbled across it again: “I Am the true Self in the Heart of every creature… and the beginning, middle, and end of their existence” (10:20). That’s when everything my guru had said, everything I heard as a Christian, and everything I had been reading in the Bhagavad Gita began to make sense.
You see, “I Am” does not refer to God as a separate entity; it refers to everything and everyone. All things in existence are a manifestation of the creator, and are likened in the creator’s image. This means that all things that are created also have the power to create. The phrase “I Am” is perhaps the most powerful and creative phrase we can possibly utter, for it is a simultaneous realization of our existence through the process of our creation. This, I believe, is the reason that in biblical scripture, both God and Jesus emphasize the “I Am that I Am”, and “For unless you believe that I am, you will die in your sins” (John 8:24). We cannot allude to The Creator without also alluding to ourselves as the creator. When we realize our creative ability we also release ourselves from the chains of “sin” (in Christianity) or “samskaras” (in yoga), for it is here within the present moment that we actualize our potential to change our actions and create something new. (*Continued)
*For part two of this post, see https://lightlifted.com/2020/05/i-am-pt2/.
To learn more about the Integrative Amrit Method of Yoga Nidra™, visit my website at https://lightlifted.com/services/yoga-nidra, check out the Amrit Yoga Institute at https://amrityoga.org/yoga-nidra, and read Yoga Nidra: The Art of Transformational Sleep, by Kamini Desai, PhD (illustrated by me).