Satcitānanda is broken down into the three words that construct it: sat = existence, cit = consciousness, and ananda = bliss. It's used to describe the state of total liberation, unification, and freedom that can be obtained by aligning with the yogic principles.
Essentially: it's utter joy. It's that moment when you really understand just how humbling, precious, touching, and incredible life really is. It's that feeling of connection to the universe that you get in moments of absolute bliss.
It doesn't have to be achieved through yoga. Many other facets in life give us that joy. It's a reason we climb mountains, catch waves, volunteer our time, do whatever it is we do that gives us a taste of what yogis like to call "the sweet nectar."
On a rafting trip down the Chama river in northern New Mexico, I paddled an inflatable kayak by myself with my two dogs and a bunch of gear down a 17 mile stretch. The river had become narrow and windy and the rest of my group had fallen back to the point where I couldn't see or hear them. A large, nearly three-foot great blue heron landed roughly ten feet in front of my boat on a branch reaching up from the center of the river. As I paddled up to that branch, the heron took off. But as soon as I rounded the next bend, there he was again, pointing me on my path. He continued this way for the next thirty minutes, waiting for me around each bend. And in that half an hour, the chatter of daily life went away and I felt the same curiosity, awe, and intrigue that a child feels when squatting over an ant hill. It is not often that we allow our minds to be be completely occupied with something that doesn't involve trying to get ahead in life or stressing over daily chores. And in this instance, when you experience even a little bit of satcitānanda, it doesn't take effort to quiet the chatter.
Photo by Gary Hayes
While I haven't experienced full satcitānanda in yoga (and who knows if I will), I believe a piece of it comes when you're able to release or move through something painful.
In class last night, my yoga teacher encouraged us to hang on in uncomfortable postures for a breath longer than we thought we could—to breath through the pain. He said our hesitation is often tied up in emotional pain that we need to let go of. Imagine a flower seed. In order for a flower to grow, the seed must crack—there's no doubt that the crack must be painful. But the beauty that comes out of that pain is undeniable.
After my uncle died last year, I remember a Friday evening yoga class after work where the teacher was playing a soul-wrenching Adele song. I thought of my uncle—also a musical genius—and recognized him for his contributions to this world and how hard it was for him to be alive due to substance abuse. For him, death was a release. His energy was burning too hot, too wild, in his earthly form, to remain. And, so, I let go of my grief and felt peace. I found contentment in a difficult challenge. And in that moment, I had a brush with satcitānanda.