April 15, 2012

How sacrifice & renunciation pave the pathway to love. (Yoga in the Gita Series)

Welcome to our Yoga In The Gita Sunday series!

Last Sunday, Catherine Ghosh led us into the third phase of our Yoga in the Gita series on the subject of Sacrifice & Renunciation with Time To Let Go.

A lot but can be said about those two words, sacrifice and renunciation. But hey, we’re not taking vows, we’re not entering a religious order, or a convent on a mountain top observing vows of silence, or a monastery. We’re speaking about what yoga in the Gita means, how yoga is an integrated life practice, how it winds its way through our daily lives.

As I wrote in The Ultimate Guide to Love, we can “choose” to integrate the spiritual foundations of yoga into our asana practice or not. But if “or not” is your choice, then it’s kind of like licking the outside of the honey jar and trying to get a taste. Why? Actually Catherine said it beautifully:

Yoga is about the relationship between our inner and outer worlds.

In short, we don’t “do” yoga. I personally have a bit of an aversion to that term, “doing yoga.” And I’m pretty happy watching 2012 unfold and with it, the maturation and changing face of yoga in the west. We know it, we’ve heard it, we’re all learning it at different levels: yoga is not exercise, a health routine, an old-age prevention measure, a pain management system, a wellness regime.

Yoga is about the relationship between our inner and outer worlds.

The Gita walks us through every level we need to go through, to address, to view through clear eyes, eyes anointed first with knowledge and then with love. It’s not a bought-and-paid-for mantra, it’s not some unattainable realm of dread-locked yogis, it’s not a religion, it’s not Indian, Roman Catholic, Jewish, Christian, or Islamic. It’s simply life!

I’m in the Himalayas right now on a yoga retreat, and my teacher — whose lifelong spiritual practice and 40 year Iyengar practice make him something of a yogic philosophers’ stone — often says that yoga is not about doing, but about undoing. And like Catherine wrote last week, it’s about moving through life without clinging, without holding onto expectations.

So what do these two things I’ve mentioned — this week’s title of “Sacrifice & Renunciation,” and the repeated reference to love — have to do with us, right now, today, in yoga, on the mat and off, in our minds, hearts, bodies, yoga studios, houses…wherever we are?

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Yoga is a complete science that integrates spirit, body, & mind, on an emotional, cellular, physical, and ultimately on a transcendental level.

Sacrifice and renunciation means, simply, understanding what it is we need to do to live in a state of loving consciousness. This isn’t some new-agey concept of feel-good, love-the-world, just-add-water hocus pocus. It’s a integrated process of understanding, of give and take, of conscious living: it’s reality.

And when we speak of sacrificing or renouncing when our goal is love, then it quickly becomes obvious that we’re speaking of giving up those things that are the obstacles to love: ego, pride, arrogance, anger, frustration, violence, cruelty, selfishness, ignorance, and so on. In other words, all those obvious qualities that block us from acting and living at our full potential: a potential built by, fuelled by, and whose goal is, love.

Right here, this is how sacrifice & renunciation pave the pathway to love…they’re not some vague or foreign lifestyle choices, but are actually part of the holistic science of love

And this is one of the lessons Krishna is teaching Arjuna in the Gita. In chapter 2, Arjuna asks Krishna, “what are the symptoms of one whose consciousness is thus merged in transcendence? How does he speak, and what is his language? How does he sit, and how does he walk?” In other words, “What does this whole thing look like?”

Krishna tells Arjuna straight up: “It means a person who can control their mind and senses.” He speaks about a peaceful mind, how the mind, when controlled, is reined in like a tortoise withdrawing its limbs. I experience this in pranayama, in meditation, in moments when I’m absorbed in my spiritual or yoga practices — no doubt we have all relished the withdrawal of mind and senses during our practices.

Being conscious of the Gita’s teachings while practicing yoga is putting it into a realm of reality. It becomes, then, what we’re aspiring for in our practice: a result that we can tangibly relate to.

Again, Krishna explains it so beautifully and artfully, with a simple little 3 word Sanskrit phrase that is one of my favorites: param drstva nivartate, which means, “experiencing a higher taste.”

We’ve all heard that old joke, “Giving up smoking is easy: I’ve done it hundreds of times!” And it is: giving up anything is easy. But as Krishna so eloquently says, it can’t be “given up,” but must be replaced with something that gives a higher taste, that satisfies the mind and senses…those limbs that keep sneaking out of the shell…

This whole process of Yoga In The Gita and yoga in our lives — the integrated practice of the external and the internal — takes maturity, wisdom, and years of practice to turn into a second nature, and then into an art form. We can begin by being conscious in our practice — our yoga practice and life practice.

In time, we’ll stop differentiating between “yoga practice” and “life practice.” Why? Because there is no difference…

But can we be a bit kinder to ourselves, to each other? We’re still on chapter 2 of the Gita — there’s 16 to go! As my teacher keeps saying up here in the beautiful cool studio in the foothills of the Himalayas, it’s about undoing as much as it is doing. And like Catherine says, it’s time to let go. Not that we give up, but we give it up — the clinging demands, the mind impositions, the unruly senses.

I’ll leave you with this to digest throughout the week:

Sacrifice and renunciation are not the harsh punishments they might sound like, but rather, they are gateways to real freedom…to love.

To keep track of all the articles on this series, go to Yoga In The Gita ~ Catherine Ghosh & Braja Sorensen

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