Enough. These few words are enough.
If not these words, this breath.
If not this breath, this sitting here.
This opening to the life
we have refused
again and again
Enough by David Whyte
You wake up in the morning, and no matter how hard you try, the concept of getting out of bed and starting your Yoga practice is something you can’t quite wrap your head around…Or maybe it is after work, but the load of laundry and other chores waiting for you at home make you drive right by your normal class; guilty, but also feeling trapped by the constraints of everyday life.
Yes, the modern world has added a plethora of distractions, but we are not alone in our struggles against this resistance to our practice. As a matter of history, this strange opposition has always been an issue and therefore we cannot blame our modern world on it entirely. This also means that when we do experience resistance to our practice or other facets of our lives we consider to take discipline, we should refrain from carrying guilt about it. Do not misunderstand; there is a monumental difference between guilt and being open and honest with ourselves.
Patanjali was aware of the importance of working through resistance to our practice and how to bring the mind back under our control. There is only one way, according to Patanjali – steadfast, wilful effort in our practice, and nonattachment. Abhyasa (steadfast, wilful effort) and Vairagya (dispassion or nonattachment) are far more than the pathway to a still and focused mind – they are the pathway to Yoga and life itself. How is this possible, especially in light of Abhyasa and Vairagya appearing to be near opposites at first glance?
Abhyasa – steadfast and wilful effort – need not be confused with discipline, and as a matter of fact I’d prefer we thought of discipline as no more than an “end appearance” than anything a Yogini or Yogi need think about or practice. Abhyasa arises naturally once our intention or ‘reason’ for Yoga (or anything else for that matter) becomes clearly focused in our minds and we become committed to it. In order to set our intention clearly in our minds we must take time out of our busy schedules to contemplate our reasons for doing Yoga.
My first intention or reason for starting Yoga was a desire to deepen my spirituality and connectedness with all things. I had hit a wall in my meditation, and felt a more active style of meditation may suit me better. As with all reasons, however, they are subject to change – and change is okay. Take the time to really understand why you do Yoga, and don’t be afraid to change it on a daily basis if necessary, or add to the list.
Make a list!
As a matter of fact, putting a well thought out list with a big bold title on the fridge is a great way to remind yourself of the reasons you practice Yoga, and room to add reasons as you move along. Yesterday and today are fine examples in my own practice: I woke depressed and feeling very ‘heavy’ on both days and had no desire to practice Yoga. In contemplating the reasons I have added to my original reason – that of a deeper connection with Creation – I found I had once written “uplifting myself emotionally and mentally” on my “Why I do Yoga” sheet. I did my Yoga…both days.
What is commitment? When we look at the word ‘commitment’ a little closely, we see it comes from the Latin word meaning to bind together. What do we bind together? We bind our intent with faith. As with almost all of life, we ultimately do the things we have intent to do through faith in our results. We have faith that if we educate ourselves that more opportunities will become available, we have faith the sun will rise tomorrow, and we have faith that our decision to practice Yoga is going to be very good for us. Our intent coupled with faith in the outcome results in the outward appearance of discipline. To the Yogi or Yogini, it is not discipline at all, just a natural result of our intent coupled with faith or belief in what we do.
Vairagya – dispassion or nonattachment – does not seem to be such an opposite now in light of how we have defined Abhyasa. Patanjali describes Vairagya as the state of being where we have no desire for earthly attainment or spiritual accomplishments. This does not mean that we drop everything and run to the nearest cave to spend our lives in an ascetic practice – although to some it may. I myself have spent too many years to count doing exactly that, and achieved great benefits in the process, but still find my return to the Western World a difficult transition.
The true art of Vairagya lies in our ability to acknowledge day to day issues and concerns, to acknowledge our own failures and shortcomings, and to acknowledge life exactly as it is. Let me give you an example from my own life to clarify this important point: I spent roughly twenty years in monasteries, Ashrams, and holy places in fifty countries. In that time, I unwittingly began to refuse to acknowledge the reality of the world we live in and instead developed a Utopian view of what our world should be by now in our human development. I had somehow confused acknowledgement of things exactly as they were for blind acceptance.
Acknowledge the way things are
Vairagya does not mean accepting everything around us, but we do have to acknowledge it exactly as it is. As relates to our practice and our commitment; we do not need to beat ourselves up for a missed day, or a missed week. In the process of acknowledging our failings and weaknesses, we need not accept them. Instead of guilt and harsh thoughts towards ourselves, we can instead acknowledge these failings and from a state of compassion harness the power of both Abhyasa and Vairagya to review our practice, focus our intention on the reason or reasons we practice, and grow more resolute towards it.
As Patanjali indicates in the Yoga Sutras, we need to let go of the fruits of our labours both in the physical and in the spiritual. We acknowledge or face the failings of ourselves and the world around us – not accept it. Blind acceptance of everything leads to a dangerous complacency of spirit a state of denial. I tried to deny my own failings, failed to acknowledge the world as it is and was when I was ‘looking through rose-colored windows’ at the world around me – it doesn’t work.
Compassion for yourself and others
Allow yourself to acknowledge everything – from your own lack of clear intention to life around you and its impact on your practice. You need not accept it; you can change it for yourself, work on making a difference to those around you, or acknowledge it and let it go if it is something that really has no impact on you and causes no harm. Proceed with compassion in your practice and in your life, do not harm yourself by guilt or negative thoughts towards yourself, and you will find that over time your nonattachment and steadfastness will yield true results.
In my personal opinion, I believe that this was a crucial point Patanjali and many other Yogis’ and Yogini’s have tried to make for generations: Our expectation of the results we are looking for often limit us in the results available to us or worse yet – cause us to lose momentum when we do not see the results we had anticipated. Approach all of life through the concepts of Abhyasa and Vairagya, and the true gifts of Yoga and this world will manifest themselves onto you, exceeding any expectation you may have had to start with.
Have faith…Be clear on your reasons for your practice…Namaste.