I first heard of the siddhis when I was in college studying the philosophy of yoga. It was also the first time I heard of yoga. In my philosophy course, I learned that one of the side-effects of yogic pursuits was distracting “powers” that seemed to just crop up at a point when the yogi was really getting proficient at the various yogic practices (not necessarily hatha, or physical yoga). I got excited when I heard about them.
Then I was informed that these powers were a distraction because they could keep you from the ultimate goal of yoga, which is union with the divine. They are a by-product of enlightenment and not to be pursued as a goal in themselves. Dang!
What are these distracting powers? Some of them are possessed by a fair number of Edge readers and are at least familiar to most: psychic abilities like clairvoyance, clairsentience, telepathy, etc. Others have a more mythic quality, such as levitation (flying), the ability to control the elements or nullify the power of weapons or poison. Another yogic power, the ability to project your consciousness into the body of an animal or even another person, is shamanic in nature.
These are human powers. There are remarkable individuals in many traditions who display them. Christian saints who levitate. Native American shamans who become wolves or eagles to travel. Ninety-year-old Tai Chi masters who can become as heavy as a mountain so that 19-year-old muscle men cannot push them over.
I admit that in the early years of my meditation practice, psychic ability was a major motivation for me doing it. I couldn’t do tarot readings back then unless I had meditated and prayed before I began. I think it would be easy to be impressed by one’s own abilities once you attain them. The thing is, throughout my whole life I have become bored with new skills once I am able to do them competently. This meant that I got bored with doing psychic readings after I got over being terrified every time I did them.
But I continued to practice yoga and meditate. Somehow they do not bore me. Perhaps it is because they offer continuing opportunities for growth and development. They help me shed layer upon layer of “not me.” I feel a little like a snake shedding its skin and experiencing the freedom to fill out a larger version of myself each time. I find this much more compelling than the glimpses of magical powers that I have experienced through my practice.
Of course, I am grateful that there are those who cheerfully work with the various forms of psychic or healing ability. They can be genuinely valuable to individuals in mental or physical pain.
One of the possible drawbacks of embracing these powers is warned of by the ancients. It is that one might begin to identify with the powers or begin to think of oneself as “special” because one has obtained them.
Some people are born with certain abilities because they have developed them in other lives. Some people experience one power or another as a by-product of giving themselves over to the experience of beauty or being entirely in the moment. Some people choose to give up some habit of being, and by doing so they are opened to magic.
But the magic is available to all of us. If the desire to be able to fly without machines is motivation to meditate, use it for all its worth. If the idea of being able to make yourself infinitely small inspires you to study yoga, that’s wonderful. Be prepared, however, for a more subtle magic: the ability to be at peace no matter what’s happening around you, the ability to be absolutely present to your friends and family, the ability to let go of disappointment and loss, and the ability to be happy. These are powers worth attaining!