The primary healing function of yoga transmission is the relief from the all-pervading sense of needing to get somewhere or change yourself.

The End of Spiritual Seeking | An Interview with Mark Whitwell

Mark Whitwell | Yoga Teacher at Heart of Yoga

Mark Whitwell
7 min readMar 6, 2023

Q. How do you explain the reason why we get caught up in spiritual seeking?

Mark Whitwell: Seeking is a response to the suffering caused by the “I am separate” conditioning of society. The mind is disturbed because it has been convinced that there is somewhere to get to and it is trying to get us there.

Everybody is innocent in this patterning of “the search.” It’s not even a personal habit, but a social habit we are born into. The idea that God is in future time for us to discover (or enlightenment, freedom) is the idea upon which civilization has been built. Everywhere there is a sense that something is missing from our ordinary life, that we haven’t realised it yet.

The pain of feeling separate drives us to seek within the knowledge of power structures. We become exploitable by knowledge authorities in every field: spirituality, science, religion, politics, who sell us pathways back to a state of connection.

The whole point of a yoga is to recognise that life is a Unity Condition, already. That unity is prior. There has never been and can never be separation. What’s more, anything we do from the psychology of the “I am separate” conditioning is only reinforcing that sense of the separate self. In fact, we are life itself, pure existingness. We are connected. End of story.

If the mind continues to spin with anxiety so be it. Trying to stop the mind with method is anxious activity and only makes it worse. The mind is like a spinning fan and the recognition of the root condition of Unity turns the switch off at the wall. It soon slows down because the presumption of separation is no longer giving it power.

The Yogas of participation are then available to us as our natural and searchless participation in life as it actually is. As we move and breathe in the beautiful easeful patterns of the breath, the body throws out the imposition of culture.

Q. People often come to a yoga class with the sense that there is a problem: mental, physical, emotional. Is trying to reduce pain the same as seeking?

Mark Whitwell: My language around that is that we are simply teachers of moving and breathing. We give that to people in the world who are suffering ill health and stress. Krishnamacharya would say that pain or duhkha is the unavoidable motive of practice. It’s why people come. We feel restricted and so we want to do something about that restriction. This yoga is a truly healing and releasing practice when it is done accurately. So establishing people in their daily breath is our priority.

In the context of giving that practice however, and in the bhav of friendship with your students, there may be some considerations had; for example, of that fact that life ultimately is not a problem to be solved. That ware alive as life. And there are no steps to be taken. The primary healing function of yoga transmission is the relief from the all-pervading sense of needing to get somewhere or change yourself. The practice itself is cream on the coffee.

During our class we use language that enables our friends to flush social programming and trauma out of our systems. Not to cajole anyone into an improved state or to try and realise something, but just to state the facts: the body is the cosmos.

We start with the circumstance of where the student is. This is the meaning of vini. The practice being designed to reduce the pain of the present situation, to enable a person to be with their breath and body, and function in their ordinary life.

Q. How do we relate to our pain?

Mark Whitwell: In yoga there is a statement that everything is Sat — everything is true. The pure vedanta dharma from Krishnamacharya is that there is only God and therefore pain and misery is also the Truth. So within that dharma, Yoga enables us to engage your experience, whatever it is, and be in the relational condition.

Connection to the intrinsic connection to the tangible conditions of life reduces pain, to be in relationship to our actual experience, including pain, allows us to feel the total relationship to the cosmos.

It was Ramanuja of the tenth century — a guru avatar figure of Vedanta — who declared that there must be yoga, there must be the related condition, and the ordinary life must be engaged.

Let’s be clear though that the all-pervading systems of human spiritual thought is that you get away from experience and be the witness. So the mainstream spiritual story that when you feel pain and restriction in the body or the mind that you should meditate and become witness to the troubled mind. In this seeking attempt to not get attached to experience and not to reject it.

Yoga is embrace, total embrace and relationship. A yogi enters into their intrinsic connection to all experience. You embrace body, breath, and relationship in that order. This is tantric activity. And you don’t do it as a method for an outcome, to get somewhere. But as a functioning organism. To be in life as life.

There is no such thing as consciousness separate from objects. It comes out of samkhya: the proposal that there is divine consciousness and then there is a lesser appearance of consciousness that is objects. And the method is to try and get to consciousness. Trying to meditate in your bedroom is that.

Yoga says to embrace all experience, all objects, because consciousness and objects are a unitary movement. All that is happening is the total unity movement of the cosmos. And you separate some aspect of that out. That whole attempt has created a havoc in the human condition.

Q. Is it possible to teach without creating what you described as “the social dynamic of disempowerment” and therefore fuelling the search?

Mark Whitwell: Yoga practice dislodges a person from the social hierarchies of knowledge where everybody is telling everybody else what’s really going on; whether in the field of science, religion, art, politics or spirituality. And the usual life is to be a pawn within those hierarchical systems where there is somebody who knows and the rest who are trying to know. So when people discover their breath they start to feel their own autonomy, perhaps for the first time. They feel their aliveness and the intelligence and peace of the body.

Now, as a teacher, sharing your experience is not the same as positioning yourself in a knowledge-hierarchy. A real teacher is one in whom knowledge has fallen out of their system. You are finished with the game of trying to acquire knowledge. Because human thought and culture is no match for the energy of life itself. The extraordinary power that is every person’s life and body.

In all the plethora of teachers and powerful people, then there was UG, who deconstructed the whole thing.

“Your problem is that you are here,” he said to people when they showed up. “Listen to me, you don’t have a problem. You are unparalleled. There is nobody remotely like you in the universe.” On and on he would speak. “You are tormenting yourself with meditation trying to realise something that the charming power structures have promised to you. But you trying to meditate is disturbing the profound peace that is already there in the body. Leave the body alone.”

All the while he was taking care of his own humble life. When he died he folded up his jacket and put his shoes together at the door. All his affairs were in order. And he then lay there and died without any fanfare or anything. He truly lived what he was trying to communicate. That there is no problem to life.

Q. So what does a yogi look like?

Mark Whitwell: The brahma jnani, the one who is realised, has no particular social character, look, identification, appearance or function. They don’t look like Buddha or Christ but are an ordinary person living an ordinary life. Maybe they are a school teacher, a mother, a health worker, or a wine maker. Such a person recognises that there is only God and continues on in daily life.

The big example in modern times is the hindu sage Nisargadatta who lived in the slums of Mumbai in a poor crowded area. He was a cigarette maker. When his guru told him “You are the Divine Self,” he simply believed his guru. Soon he entered into a state of permanent God realization. But he didn’t change anything about his life! Nisagardatta went back to his apartment and continued to make cigarettes and run a small shop.

The experiences of our beloved Reality Realizers such as Nisargadatta, clarify for humanity the state that we are all already in. The body is teh cosmos; connection, intelligence, harmony, naturalness, peace, is how the body is functioning. So there is no requirement for anything extraordinary to happen. No change of state is required for the recognition that life is a Unity. It is a factual statement that is either true or false, like the sky is blue or two plus two equals four.

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Mark Whitwell

Mark Whitwell has worked as a Yoga teacher around the world for the last 45 years and is the author of 4 books on Yoga. He lives in Fiji with his wife Rosalind.