May 13, 2012

Relationships: “Feel the Fear & Do It Anyway.” (Yoga in the Gita Series)

Welcome to this week’s Yoga in the Gita series, where we continue from Catherine’s post last week on the Gita’s artful wisdom on “Relationships….”


….which quite often resemble being tossed around by the waves of the ocean. But we have a life-raft: the Gita is, as we’ve already said, the ultimate guide to love. By default, that means it’s the ultimate guide to relationships: how can it claim to teach love or lead to love if it doesn’t address the inherent qualities that a relationship must both acquire and avoid?

And apart from being the ultimate guide to love and relationships, the Gita is also the ultimate conflict resolution guide: a dialog that took place on a battlefield, the site of a war, the ultimate conflict. Let’s face it:

There’s not one amongst us who can claim to bear anything like the burden of conflict resolution and relationship issues that Arjuna was facing on that battlefield.

Fortunate man that he was, Arjuna had as his friend the most qualified person in the world, in person, right next to him, to help deal with his doubts and fears: Krishna. For us, there’s the Gita–and pretty much nothing else. You might object that there’s a world of so-called information and self-help books out there that claim to be authoritative. But they rarely address the real issue of relationships, the bottom line, the inherent “bacteria,” if you will, that sits within each of us and contaminates our every relationship. This subject is brought up by Krishna very early in the Gita, and he wastes no time in telling Arjuna: it is fear.

Sometimes we over-invest in one relationship because we fear another. Arjuna did–and he was a warrior, a prince. Why wouldn’t lesser mortals do the same?


Arjuna surveyed the battlefield, his relatives, his guru even, all before him, and decided to take what appeared to be the “higher road:” he said he could not go against dharma and kill these people. And so he backed out, he sat down, gave up, and refused to go on.

Most of us would consider that the higher road, for sure: compassionate, respectful, all those things that sound like a higher consciousness is driving us. But it’s not really the truth of what lies beneath…

It’s the most challenging thing in the world to step up to the plate in terms of relationships and face them head on. It’s so much easier to withdraw and hide behind a facade of any one of a million reasons (even the really “good” reasons Arjuna had); or to blame the other party for the inability to develop, resolve, or even leave a relationship, rather than take responsibility for the problems ourselves.

All of these things are driven by our fear of relationships, of personalism. But what is that fear all about? We touched on this earlier in the series, when Arjuna asks Krishna what it actually looks like when a person is actually practicing the principles of yoga, when they’re actually living in spiritual consciousness. At that time we were focusing on controlling the mind, but we go further into Krishna’s instruction and see that he mentions something else:

“One who is not disturbed in mind even amidst the threefold miseries or elated when there is happiness, and who is free from attachment, fear and anger, is called a sage of steady mind.”

One who is free of fear can have a steady mind, Krishna says. Last week Catherine asked the question, can we be in a loving consciousness at all times, even when we’re in the midst of our own battles? This is what Krishna is teaching Arjuna, and he says the answer is yes, we can: if we actually know what love is. And in this respect, Bhaktivedanta Swami writes in chapter 4 (verse 10 purport) that to be able to call what we’re doing “spiritual,” or if we want to speak of “love,” we must free ourselves from the three stages of the material concept of life: negligence of spiritual life, fear of a spiritual personal identity, and the conception of void that arises from frustration in life.

How? Well that’s what we’re talking about here, Yoga in the Gita, so of course his answer is concise: “This yoga process helps one become free from all kinds of fear and anger.”

Yoga is the process that teaches us there is nothing to fear in learning who we are, understanding our own identity; nothing to fear in our relationships with others; most importantly, nothing to fear from confrontations of the heart.

Remember: this entire dialog was borne from Arjuna’s fear. He was afraid to enter battle and face his relatives, afraid to kill them, afraid to dishonor his seniors, afraid of the consequences. And his fears seemed valid: he was thinking about millions of people, about an entire nation, about the detrimental effects on generations, of the dharmic consequences of his actions.  Who amongst us can claim we have as much to lose as Arjuna did?

Yet still the fear is there in our relationships, and it is destroying them, it is destroying us: it stealing from us the basic need we have, which is to love and be loved.

And that’s just on a material level. Are we ready to delve into the personal spiritual realm of relationships? Because yoga isn’t about making one’s life better materially, or about physical health, or osteo- or ortho- or cardio-preventions or cures: yoga is the path, the process, to spiritual life. And are we able–or even ready–to connect both the negative and the positive aspects of relationships with the yoga process?

The Gita’s dialog is about the process of yoga. This series you’re reading is about the process of yoga. We’re speaking of the Gita as the ultimate guide to love, and now as ultimate guide to relationships. Understanding how our yoga practice connects to all this is the key. And that’s what Bhaktivedanta Swami means when he writes in chapter 5, as mentioned above:

“This yoga process helps one become free from all kinds of fear and anger.”


Think about your relationships. Most especially, think about those that give you the most trouble, and it is guaranteed that the reason they give you that trouble is because they are imbued with either fear or anger, or both–small-scale or large, it doesn’t matter. Fear and anger are the two most destructive elements that can be present in any relationship: parental, friendship, employee/service, lovers, family–all relationships.

The Gita is remarkable: we begin with a battle, we see a warrior bewildered and refusing to fight; we see his friend and mentor exposing his fear, challenging his so-called right to abandon his duty; we see the dialog unfold in an exposition of love and duty and relationships, and conclude with Krishna’s words, ma sucah: “do not fear.”

And in the midst of it all is a description of the process of yoga that will lead us out of material concepts of life, out of the lower qualities, raise our consciousness to a level of purity and knowledge, and ultimately to love.

I don’t want to give the plot away, as in the coming weeks we discuss “fearlessness” in depth. But as for our relationships? We need to rid them of the qualities that weigh them down, and that means ridding ourselves of those qualities. We cannot inflict on others what we are not disturbed by. Modern-speak calls it “projection,” but there is an ancient Sanskrit saying, atmavan manyate jagat, that one sees the world (jagat) just as he sees himself (atmavan); “as I am thinking (manyate), so the whole world is thinking.” In other words, we project our own fear and anger onto others, our own lacking, our own lower qualities.

Lost & Found in India

But it’s not all negative. We are also drawn to others because they have qualities that we respect, admire, and want to develop ourselves. Thus the concept of association is explained later in the Gita: how to identify the right association, how to cultivate it, and how to make it work for us. In other words, the Gita is a manual for human relationships.

As we wind through the Gita, so much wisdom and depth is discussed between Krishna and Arjuna, as they reveal the secrets of life, the truth of the world, and the way to attain pure yoga.

And let’s not be sentimental: we’re not talking about some self-created philosophies by some armchair wanna-be who films themselves speaking, uploads it on their site, and pontificates about how the world turns; nor are we speaking of some individual’s random idea of what love is or what yoga is or how they should look, some concocted market-savvy modern branding of a product that everyone is seeking. We’re speaking about real love, real yoga. Learn it, live it, and what you’re calling “yoga” and “relationships” and “love,” do properly, really do them, live them. Don’t fake it or pretend or wish: it’s all there, how to identify the real thing, how to attain it, how to engage in the process of yoga in the Gita.

Every relationship can be scary: but like Susan Jeffers said, “feel the fear and do it anyway.”

For earlier posts in this series, see the Elephant Journal author pages for Catherine Ghosh & Braja Sorensen
For continued posts in the series, see Yoga in the Gita.

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