Yoga is the practice of perfecting the attitude of empathy.
The grand lexicon of classical yoga describes a well-paved but hard-to-navigate road leading toward the cultivation of wholeness.
It draws a map to help humanity find its way into a utopia characterized by a deeply felt connection to ourselves, the natural world and all beings within it. The path ends in the place which gives birth to the fundamental feeling that everything is always full.
As human beings we recognize a simple pattern supporting our well-being or lack thereof: the ability to relate to others. When we can see deeply into the heart of another person, or even a circumstance or event or organization…and really grasp a strong apprehension of where they’re coming from, where they’re headed and why, we feel connected.
Connection is the currency of ease, joy and purpose.
On the other hand, when that apprehension fails to unfold, the disillusionment that underlies all angst begins to rise. When we feel unhappy, insecure or unsure, beneath the surface there is always a lack of connection between the sense of self and other.
Each day our professional and personal lives scratch at the one wound we all share: our inability to see the thread that ties us together in the fabric of the whole. Often we simply don’t understand why people do the things they do. We look for solace in labeling the uncomfortable people and phenomenon around us as idiotic.
But pushing away what we cannot relate to is a fundamental detriment in the process of navigating the slippery slope of life. Each time we exclude something from our heart, we lose that feeling of being a part of something bigger than ourselves.
Yoga is the antidote for disconnection. Tangibly experienced, it is finding one’s place in the collective and finding the collective energy within one’s self. Not by touting our ideals, goals, opinions and endeavors as more important, valid or pious than others’…but by dutifully working to see how all the pieces fit together and support each other.
Through taking the perspective of another person. Through the appreciation of the common denominator that supports us all.
Pioneering yoga teacher B.K.S. Iyengar describes the state poetically,
“As water takes the shape of its container, the mind when it contemplates an object is transformed into the shape of that object.”
Samadhi is the last step on the eight-limbed path of classical yoga. It is a state birthed out of simple fascination. An enraptured quality that, for short flashes, helps us forget about ourselves so that we may fully relate to something…anything.
The eight-limbed path of Patanjali’s Yoga Sūtra is hierarchical, formulaic and grounded in the contention that step one leads to and prepares us for step two, which then clears the trail to step three and so on. Hence the attainment of realization is a clear set of stages.
But tucked away, hiding in one shining verse in the second chapter of theYoga Sūtra is a shortcut.
Shortcuts almost never exist in yoga. When one pops up, we must therefore take heed. The only such lapse in the stepwise hierarchy of classical yoga is the message at the very heart of yoga itself.
Samādhi = The one goal. A dissolution of boundaries. A penetrating gaze where our sense of self is rightly realized as inextricably wound with everything else that exists. Enlightenment.
Siddhir = Perfection of.
Iśvara-pranidānāt = Devotion to the lord, or to that which is indivisible.
Enlightenment is perfecting the act of giving one’s self to something greater than the individual.
Samādhi is traditionally thought to come only through the long effort of morality, physical and energetic purification, and meditation. But hiding within the strenuous difficulty of these steps lies one task which trumps all others. Iśvara-pranidānāt. The concept of ‘lord’ within the yogic vocabulary is a slippery one. Iśvara can be identified as the perfection which lives deep inside beneath fear, self-protection and ignorance. It is the teeming wealth and freedom at the core of all things.
What follows is quite simple. In order to succeed in yoga (which is the same thing as succeeding in life) we must look deeply and compassionately into the heart of things. Not in order to judge people, situations or even businesses as meritorious or idiotic but to see ourselves within them. Instead of flailing to maintain a distance from things we don’t understand, we dive into them with a profound acceptance.
Then we can see, hopefully with increasing frequency, that the perplexing, annoying and even enraging aspects of humanity are born from the same background which embraces our own victories and faults and our own insights and neuroses.
It’s hardly easy but in every situation there lies an invitation to devote ourselves to loving others. In doing so we foster an ability to honestly relate to things seemingly outside of ourselves. By actively holding other beings inside our own heart we cultivate an unshakable contentment…and a genuine and celebratory connection to the whole. This is why we cry at weddings..!
Yoga is the practice of perfecting the attitude of empathy. When we truly see into any one thing, we realize its intimate link to everything else.
The blatantly unhelpful clerk at the airport feels like she’s drowning. Your asshole boss is under a lot of pressure. The ignoramus screaming into his cell phone is actually really sad and lost. The friction that we encounter and navigate every day is full of opportunities to transform heat into love. Not to condone negativity, but to dissolve our divisions through relationship. This is iśvara-pranidānāt…the one thing which eclipses all other steps toward realization.
You and I are the same.
We are born crying, we learn to laugh and we continuously attempt to solidify ourselves in the world. We ache for the invisible to become visible and we create things out of no-things. We grow and then we die.
If we love all along the way, then in our wake we leave a great gift to the world.
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Assist Ed: Judith Andersson/Ed: Sara Crolick