Welcome to part nine of our Yoga In The Gita Sunday series!
Last week Braja Sorensen showed us how “Love is Found Through Balance.” Today, we explore relationships as a most powerful place in which to practice yoga:
The entire universe revolves around relationships. From the interactions between atoms to the ones between planetary orbs, everything around us is connected. Energies and organisms that relate to each other surround us every day. Links are made between nations and between individual hearts.
Yoga is a conscious awareness of this interconnectedness between us all.
By increasing our awareness of the interdependent relationships we all share in the world, we learn how to best honor them. It is an approach to living that supports harmonious co-existence between all species everywhere, equally. Being conscious of how we are all connected is a critical part of any healthy yoga practice, as it reflects its very essence: connection.
The Gita invites us to ask: What is the quality of our connections with others? And how do we choose to act within those relationships?
Most practitioners of yoga will reply that they wish to act lovingly and peacefully in their relationships with others. It is easy to act loving and peaceful when nothing is challenging us. But how good are we at loving when all our buttons are getting pushed and our feathers ruffled?
Last week, Braja Sorensen challenged us to look at how deep our love and peace really goes: Is it authentic? Or is it just a superficial display of how we think yogis are supposed to act? Is it consistent? Or does it evaporate the minute we’re being confronted with our own weaknesses or those of others?
When we are inconsistent in feeling loving and peaceful under all circumstances, we become like Arjuna in the Gita: conflicted about how to act in response to the great tension building up around us, and within us.
Is our state of being loving and peaceful one we can access all the time? How about when we are in the middle of an imminent battle within those relationships that matter to us most in life? Can we exercise our love then?
In yoga texts, the first verse is often understood as the bija, or seed verse, and typically anticipates the focus of the entire text. In Graham M. Schweig’s translation of the Gita, he illuminates the way the first line of the Gita’s bija verse, presents us with a powerful juxtaposition of dark vs. light forces: dharma-ksetre kuru-ksetre. Dharma represents the light and kuru the dark. Ksetre is “the field” upon which we move in our lives. And, according to the Gita, the field is not a very friendly one! It is one upon which two armies are lined up to fight.
Yoga is remaining focused on love, even when everything around and within us is inviting us to fight.
How do we avoid battles? The Gita tells us that battles will find us in life no matter what! We cannot pretend they don’t exist. We cannot skirt around them and avoid facing them. And we certainly don’t want to feed them. But, as Arjuna did, we still need to bravely move through them.
Most of the battles we’ll face in our lives are already occurring within us. Our exchanges with others only activate them.
For this reason the Gita wants to know how we will act when this happens: when the outside world triggers our own internal fears, and doubts, and insecurities. This is when our behavior counts the most, and when it is hardest to act in ways that engage love and peace.
The Gita’s first verse, or seed verse, is therefore a question that highlights the power we all have to choose how to act at any given moment in our lives, upon our own battlefields.
The most challenging part of practicing yoga occurs when we are feeling tensions within relationships.
Yoga is identifying with the most permanent parts of our self while our relationships with others are constantly changing.
Much of Arjuna’s anxiety in the Gita stems from his fear that his actions on the battlefield would destroy the already established relationships he had with many of the warriors on the field. Arjuna wanted to be true to himself, and yet also to society’s expectations of him. Because the two seemed to contradict, Arjuna became deeply conflicted.
What a powerful way for the Gita to open! Instantly highlighting how easily it is for humans to feel torn between their hearts and their fears. And setting Arjuna’s conundrum on a battlefield (of all places!), takes our interactions with other human beings to the ultimate extreme: those of life and death.
It’s as if the Gita were dramatically reminding us that our interactions with others could either increase the quality of our lives, or kill us! How does the flower of our consciousness blossom within relationships that feel like concrete?
Perhaps the best way to test how deeply absorbed in yoga we are is to test how loving and peaceful we can remain while faced with conflicts and tensions within relationships.
In chapter seven of the Gita, Krishna describes one such person as “exceptional,” and characterizes them as possessing both knowledge, or jnani, and the ability to offer love unconditionally. This “offering of love”—as Graham Schweig translates it, or bhakti, is what the Gita tells us is the secret formula for navigating through the tensions in our relationships gracefully. Where there is love and light, fear and doubt dissipate.
Yoga is a fearless, loving movement through the most challenging parts of our relationships with others.
What is love according to the Gita? Interestingly, the first time the word bhakti appears in the Gita as a noun, “offering of love,” in chapter seven verse seventeen, it makes its grand debut in the chapter on realized knowledge. Harkening back to Braja’s article last week, this places love on a whole new level: A deeper, more authentic one.
Love is not mere sentimentality that can often obscure the way we see ourselves, and others. Instead, love is deeply illuminating, like realized knowledge. And, according to the Gita, true love is not fleeting. It holds us in its continual absorption. It connects us to what is true.
The question is this: What are we choosing to connect with?
We want to connect with what makes us feel good, and we want to escape experiences that make us uncomfortable. On a very primal level, all human beings are programmed to seek out pleasure and recoil from pain. Death, or impermanence makes human beings most uncomfortable. This is a reoccurring theme in the Gita.
Yoga is a willingness to face the unavoidable discomforts in life as a means to finding our own loving, peaceful core.
Endings in life can be most unpleasant: the ending of our youth, the ending of a marriage, the ending of a friendship, the ending of something we derived great pleasure from, and the ending of the life of a loved one, or our own life.
Every time we are forced to face the ending of something, we are also forced to face the parts of us that are clinging onto it.
We are asked to look at our human tendency to identify with what’s impermanent, and examine how our investment in it cripples our own progress. This happens to all of us most powerfully within our relationships with others.
Sometimes the end of a relationship can feel like the end of our very life. And when it’s taken from us, we feel as if our shelter from life’s storms has been pulled out from over us.
In chapter eight of the Gita, Krishna defines yoga as that by which we move beyond our clinginess to the impermanent. Whether it’s a relationship, or our own life (as in the time of death), the eighth chapter of the Gita describes two passages through which we can move through it: one of darkness and one of light.
The path of light is dynamic and represents growth, evolution and progress. Darkness represents stagnation and returns us to relive the same experiences over and over again. This becomes most obvious to us in relationships, when we see ourselves stuck in repetitive patterns with others. How to break out of this cycle can be bewildering.
Yoga is the ability to release our mind and hearts from stagnant cycles and relationships in our lives.
The Gita’s psychological portrayal of humankind, when faced with difficult choices, is that of bewilderment. Like Arjuna, we become bewildered when faced with all kinds of imminent deaths before us. This is human nature.
Krishna reassures us in the Gita, however, that the very “power of yoga” (yoga-bala) is stronger than anything that may bewilder our minds and hearts, no matter how dark and painful. Like the Gita’s bija verse says: there is light and there is darkness. Which force will you choose to align your actions with?
“Knowing these two paths, the yogi is not bewildered in any way. Therefore, at all times, be absorbed in yoga, O Arjuna.” (Graham M.Schweig translation 8.27)
Relationships are therefore one of the main fields in our lives that test our dedication to our yoga practice. If we can exercise love, even when feeling bewildered before imminent, unavoidable deaths, in the midst of discord and tension, within the relationships that matter most to us in life, then we can connect with the peace that yoga brings us anywhere!