I was surprised at the amount of feedback I received from last week’s post. It seems I am not the only one asking where the path lay in the increasingly market oriented, conformist and regulated world of modern yoga. Many of us maintain strong practice, and yet risk getting distracted by hierarchy and structure within the different traditions. Where does this leave us? In an uncomfortably imprecise position: no ground to stand on, no carpet to ride. My sense is that we have to learn to accept the contradictions, and work with our desire to adhere solidly to one particular point of view. How can we expect consistency in an impermanent world?
Gandhi said it best: “My commitment is to truth, not to consistency.” I love this quote found on Richard Freeman’s website this week. It speaks precisely to the shift I feel recently. Truth is twofold. There is relative truth, the reality of the phenomenal world and its laws, such as gravity. Relatively speaking, the material world exists; relative truth is how we relate to it. Practice comes under the domain of relative truth – daily sadhana and our actions in the world. And, by the way, thought is the seed of action and therefore falls under the category of action. Our thoughts affect everyone and everything around us. No action can be performed in isolation. It’s the Butterfly Effect: one small flap of our wings (or more likely, our lips) affects the atmosphere somewhere across the globe.
Relative truth is karma, or as Newton noted: For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Biblical law has it’s own version: Do unto others….And kindergarten wisdom (my favorite) says it plainly: What you say is what you are. Nanny nanny poo poo.
We could say the reason we practice (on the level of relative truth) is to purify our minds of detritus– negativity and afflicting emotions- in order to lessen psychic pollution. So it is in our best interests to watch our minds carefully, to try to develop kinder, gentler, more compassionate and generous thoughts. Not only does it help humanity, but it helps us to transcend the daily insults and injuries of this mundane world gone mad. It’s actually quite selfish.
But then there is absolute truth, which says that, ultimately, it makes no difference how we do this. Initially, we need a method, like asana or meditation practice, to help us train the mind. But if we get attached to the method, then we’re defeating ourselves. The point is to lessen attachment to this relative world. How can we do this if we are attached to a particular version of practice?
Primary series? Great! Sitting meditation? Perfect. Pranayama? My personal favorite. Chanting? Charity? Guru yoga? Tantric sex? Fantastic! But only if we are using these methods for mind purification. If we are walking around advertising our practice or our accomplishments then we might want to take another look at our intention. Ego is subtle; it slips through the cracks.
“The best signs of success [in practice] are a decrease in self-centeredness and the easing of mental afflictions.”
Notice he makes no mention of flexibility or muscle strength. So yes, Ashtanga is my practice, but it may not look the way you think. And you may not find me on the official website as a dues paying member. You will find me practicing regularly and sharing that joy with anyone who cares to explore what it means to grow with a practice that evolves and adapts to the phases of life. Because ultimately, if it’s not leading to joy, then what is the point?