I cherish those devotees who are ever content; who, through meditation, are steady of mind; who control themselves; whose convictions are consistent and strong; and who offer their hearts and minds to me. The Bhagavad Gita ch12 v.14
Since I work as a teacher, I have breaks throughout the school year at the same time as the students. During the last years, it has become a habit that every time I have a break, I spend some time reflecting on the period between the last break and this break. I reflect on how I felt, how I interacted with everyone, and if there were tensions, conflicts or challenges, I reflect on my part in them and try to make the necessary adjustments. Not only in my work but also in my personal life.
When I am on a break, I also have more time to go back to my Yoga studies, and that is why there have been so many posts this week.
Talking and writing are the ways I internalize things and my intention when I post texts is to share my reflections and even invite to a discussion. It doesn’t necessarily mean that my thoughts are “done”, I am in a way, thinking aloud.
Yesterday, I posted a text about perceptions. I had been trying to organize these ideas for some days now because as I wrote before, I’ve noticed how sometimes I am so convinced about my perceptions that I push too hard, spending unnecessary energy in unnecessary things. But one thing was bothering me, the word convictions. I was thinking that all the people in the world that have fought for a good cause had the conviction that they were fighting for something important, going often against the mainstream.
Then, this morning, I read the quote that opens this text from the Bhagavad Gita, and if you see, Krishna mentions the word convictions. This text is a further reflection on the topic of convictions and perceptions.
Perhaps we can say that perceptions are a combination of expectations according to what we imagine is “good” or “bad” and opinions that we have forged through experience.
I have an example. During many years, my birthday was a difficult date for me. I often experienced that day as the proof for people around me not caring enough for me. I had a double set of expectations. Negative expectations as I expected my loved ones to forget or not care, and hopeful expectations as I was hoping to be surprised by the same people with I don’t even know what that would make me feel special and loved. Since I already had a pre-made idea of how everyone was going to behave, whatever happened on that day was a confirmation of the negative expectations and a disappointment related to the blurry hopeful expectations.
Until one day, I decided to stop and reflect a little on this mini-drama. Are things really how I perceive them? What is the real problem here?
If I make a real effort to remember my birthdays as a kid, most of my memories are good. I think that we often went out for dinner somewhere with my family and have a good time. I think I also had some birthday parties like any other kid. Actually, this is even irrelevant, the point is that whatever happened once, or twice in the past is already gone, I have to let go of it.
So perceptions were not allowing me to interact in a skillful way with the practical world since they were distorting my vision of what was happening and how people were showing their care.
The cited verse from the Bhagavad Gita allows me to take this reflection even further. Whose responsibility is how I spend my birthday? I know it’s a pretty banal example, but I’ve realized that my mind operates a lot in this way. At the end of the day, the only person responsible for my well-being is me. Why do I expect others to guess? It is my responsibility to cultivate my own happiness. Ideally, by being satisfied with the fact that I have one more year of life to share with the people I love, and if I really want to feel like a superstar that day, I have no choice but to organize my day and invite the people I love.
Further, Krishna talks about the steadiness of the mind through meditation, and it must not be misunderstood with sitting for some time every day in a specific position and “clearing the mind”. Meditation in the Yoga tradition is much more than that. It is the attitude with which we live our lives, through, among other things, the detachment from fixed and erroneous perceptions.
Then he talks about strong and consistent convictions, but how can I know which convictions I should cultivate? The only answer I can find is those convictions that are based on universal values such as nonviolence, love, and compassion towards every being without exception.
This means that to achieve a steady mind I must make sure that my words, attitudes, and actions are in accordance with these values regardless of how I perceive the practical world.
I am too used to living in a give-and-take system where if I give this, I should receive that. Maybe if I leave aside my expectations and opinions of what it is to “receive” something in exchange for my actions, I will see that I receive much more than I imagine when acting according to these convictions. I receive inner peace and spiritual freedom although the practical result of my actions might not be as I expect it to be.
The last lines of this verse are a subject that I know is difficult for many: faith in something bigger than us. Unfortunately, the idea of God has been distorted by institutions throughout history. For some of us it is hard to believe in the God we imagine based on what we learn from certain religions. I still don’t have a clear way to express this but the only thing I can say here is that, when trying to live a life based on universal values such as love, by setting us the goal to give the best of ourselves independently of the result, it is necessary to offer our thoughts and actions towards something greater than ourselves. We do not need to call this something God, but we can call it the well-being of the whole, or universal love. A form for energy that is there for us and that we have to feed into with same energy.