…… and the pitfalls and joys of trying for selfless service.
A continuation of a previous post in a way. I have recently discovered that there are so many blogs on WordPress talking about yoga. Maybe because yoga is like a huge sweetie shop! Not only are there different general forms of yoga such as jnana yoga for those who question deeply, kriya yoga for those who like ‘things to do’ (like me), bhakti yoga for the devotionals… etc., but within the world of ‘meditation’ there are so many approaches and techniques.
(The one everyone calls yoga is ‘hatha’ yoga, physical postures. Usually pranayama, breath-based prana practices, is not included. I personally think it’s very ambitious to sit down to do meditation with focus and ease of body, without first doing some hatha and pranayama. It’s part of a process).
When it comes to the meditation part, often it’s a question of terminology. Because meditation happens when thinking stops and the mind becomes totally focussed, one-pointed, in the definition of the Patanjali eightfold path. So meditation is meditation. Usually people mean what Patanjali calls Pratyahara, sense withdrawal. Here the sweet shop is vast, so many beautiful practices to slow the mind, occupy the mind, bring one to ease and comfort in life, ready for meditation. They are a joy in themselves, especially if one relinquishes the ‘goal’ of meditation, or moksha, or whatever spiritual ambition one has. One of my favourites, ajapa japa (see song of the breath), antar mouna, one I love to really get the focus down ready for concentration is anuloma viloma… and so on and so on. And the myriad techniques of kriya yoga. Beautiful, we’re spoiled for choice.
But I have so much benefitted from teachers. This is a story of a teacher’s advice taking me outside and beyond my relentless quest for wisdom!
Ever since I was at University, I’ve looked for people who tread the yoga path. Visted people of reputation, met people without wisdom, met others who have wisdom. How does one know? Because you know, you feel it. Your heart resonates because they’re in touch with the same stuff that you’re trying to get in touch with.
And although it’s great to bask in the presence of a great soul in silence, I’ve also asked questions. Words are important in finding a direction, a path to travel. I may believe that there are many paths to wisdom, but I still have to choose one and start walking!
I become aware that the relentless pursuit of realisation is in itself a block to achieving that goal. How does the ego agree to it’s demotion from top dog? It’s a trick. My ego wants realisation as another achievement. What a catch 22, because my ego is the only aspect of me that can formulate goals, do things, set about a course of action.
(Obviously adding a layer of ‘spiritual ego’ on that is just going backwards, but I’ve blown it so many times that no-one would believe me if I put on one of those holier-than-thou voices and started talking spiritual blah blah, so the least of my concerns!)
But all is not lost. I have to ‘put in the hours’. Have to practice, and that’s what my ego is about, helping me do that stuff.
But then I see there’s something like ‘grace’. By ‘showing willing’, by wanting surrender in some part of yourself (I guess the part way back that is yearning for it’s true home beyond the false security of the ego), that which I cannot attain starts to approach me. I have to make myself available, that’s all. I guess this is the meaning of surrender. How beautiful, actually. To put it another way, Reality wants only to fill my glass, but first that glass must be empty. A well worn spiritual cliché but only because it’s so profound. For me it’s not always a smooth ride (!!) but then neither is my life when surrender is not my direction.
Some time ago I met someone who deeply lives yoga; I found his presence transformative. So I had to ask questions! Why am I stuck? Where am I stuck? What should I do?
He didn’t give me advice as such. He told me a story; of his teacher asking his teacher a similar question. The reply was to forget his spiritual progress, and go out and serve his fellow human beings. I told Swamiji I had been feeling that imperative strongly and so I had booked a trip to one of the poorest places on Earth, in Africa, to spend time seeing what could unfold by making whatever skills I have available to people who have nothing. And I mean nothing.
And that trip turned out to be more beautiful and transformative than I could have imagined. Largely I think I forgot about myself. Started just doing stuff that needed doing, but more importantly, connected with people from a very very different culture to mine, and found tham to be compassionate, loving fellow humans. I ended up learning from them. Many of them became my friends and still are, and when the layers of complexity of affluent society are absent, it’s much easier to share love in a simple and beautiful way.
So Karma yoga is described far better than I can, in the Bhagavad Gita, but basically to surrender the fruits of one’s action is liberating. It’s also a trap if I think merely by not being paid, I’m doing selfless action. The ego can thrive on that feeling of ‘I’m doing good in the world’ (Welcome to the ‘white knight syndrome’ in the world of ‘voluntourism’). Fortunately most of the time, action is just…. get on with it! And if one’s motivation is pure, then surely that is another way of ‘making oneself available’ as talked of earlier.
And Transformative. As Swamiji suspected it would be for me. It’s so much easier most of the time to do meditation, without thought for the fruits of my action. And because such fruits are a block to going beyond the smaller self, how could this be anything but good?
I continue to feel that imperative. The more I realize that which lies in my heart, the more I see it is a common thread within ALL life. Not a belief but a growing realisation. Therefore pay homage to that oneness not as some spiritual duty, but as a delight.