The more I walk on the path of Yoga, the more I want to learn and apply its teachings to my life. It is like running a life experiment. We all perceive life in different ways, but at some moment in life, not so long ago, I came to a point where I had to question where I was investing my energy and why. I kept pointing my finger out, until, with the guidance of my Yoga teacher, I started studying the principles of Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga as well as Meditation by reading and reflecting on the Bhagavad Gita.
What I like about the teachings of the Bhagavad Gita is that they are applicable to practical life. The adjustments that are required to make in order to reach an independent state of inner peace are internal and they all are my own responsibility.
I like the idea that my well-being is my own responsibility, at the same time as I find it challenging and sometimes overwhelming. In the Gita and following the teachings of Karma Yoga, we are encouraged to engage in the practical world, to play our roles, but with a change in our attitude, perceptions, and expectations. I will elaborate on this in another post.
The Bhakti aspect of Yoga is one that I have been reflecting about in the past months. The teachings in chapter 12 of Bhagavad Gita are inspiring and I can see the liberating aspect in them because as we all know, most of the time, we cannot control what happens around us, but we can with practice and patience control how we act and react in different situations, and this has a direct impact on our well-being.
During the last few days, I have taken the task to read one verse every morning and imagine how it could look like if I put it into practice during my day. I use the verse to set myself an intention and I write a few lines on how I think this could look like in practical life, like a visualization. Here is today’s verse:
18-19 “I love devotees whose attitudes are the same toward friend or foe, who are indifferent to honor or ignominy, heat or cold, praise or criticism—who not only control their talking but are silent within. Also very dear to Me are those generally content with life and unattached to things of the world, even to home. I love those whose sole concern in life is to love Me. Indeed, these and all the others I mentioned are very, very dear to Me.”
So imagine a day where you can skillfully move from task to task, interact with people around you without spending time or energy on judging whether you like or dislike the situation and/or the person you are dealing with. With grace and peace of mind, you deal with what you need to deal, and you move forward to the next task/interaction. Such a liberating idea! You would then “neither be a source of agitation in the world nor agitated by the world” (ch. 12 v.15) You keep your inner peace.
Further, we are encouraged to control our talking and cultivate silence within. This is also a beautiful idea. Through the practice of Yoga and meditation, we learn to let go of thoughts and emotions that do not serve us, we learn to quiet the mind, and thus have clarity of mind. When our mind is clear, we have more control over what comes out of our mouths. By doing so we are “neither a source of agitation in the world nor agitated by the world” (ch12 v.15). This one is often challenging for me because I talk a lot, but I am trying to practice being clear about the intention of my words before I allow them to come out of my mouth. Are these words going to help or am I going to make things worse? I use what some of my colleagues use with our younger students I “THINK” before I speak: is it True? Is it Helpful? Is it Important/Interesting? Is it Necessary? Is it Kind? This way, I also take responsibility for my well-being because I don’t need to go around with either bad conscience for my words or have to deal with people being angry/annoyed at me.
Detachment and contentment are also important principles in the practice of Yoga. Detachment from material things, detachment from habits, from thoughts and emotions and even from people. For an intense person like me, this one is very challenging because I’m often an all or nothing person. The idea is not to leave everything and everyone and go live in a cave. The idea is to engage with the world, enjoy the things we have, the people we interact with, but be aware of the fact that we don’t own any of them. That their nature is ever changing. People change, things deteriorate, things get lost, our perceptions can be modified, etc.
Contentment is something that we have to develop inside ourselves and for ourselves independently of what is happening in the practical world if we want to improve our well-being. When we develop contentment, we gracefully and skillfully deal with whatever is. So, when I am standing in front of a class with a “super” idea of a lesson and my students are not the slightest interested, I can be content with the effort I put to prepare this lesson, acknowledge that it is not working, and grasp the opportunity to move forward together with my students instead of against them.
The last part of this verse talks about the idea of total surrender, total trust in something bigger than us. Instead of expecting some kind of reward from the practical world for setting the mentioned principles as our intention, we dedicate our actions to something bigger than us, whatever we want to call it. I definitely see the liberating aspect of doing my best, giving my best and not expecting anything in return, but I often fall in the trap of becoming a victim, especially when I’m tired. In thinking that it is unfair that I do my best but “the rest of the world” doesn’t. Quite a useless thought and a big waste of energy, but I still get into this space.
It is so easy to go back into old habits, so this is like learning to do something new. I have to keep practicing, and I have to keep reminding myself, and hopefully one day, this will be part of my habits.
If you also would like to cultivate a peaceful inner life, I encourage you to try at least one of the principles in this verse. Set it as an intention for the day, imagine your day and in which situations you would use it. Try this for today, or for some days, or for some months and see what happens.