Whenever I feel lost or stuck in my practice and there isn’t a peer or a teacher around to talk with I return back to the ancient handbook on yoga practice; Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. It is a non-dogmatic text and doesn’t say that we must practice particular poses and sequences. In fact, the sutras incorporate many suggestions on possible approaches and focusses as well as the option to choose your own inquiry. As long as what you are doing moves you towards your True Nature. Not away from it. It describes a path of self-development and what is described is more of a container for qualities and attitudes we might apply that create the right conditions for self-development. The advice given in the Sutras for staying committed is described as requiring 3 main elements:
Tapas – the discipline that is required to reduce the physical and mental impurities
Svadyaya – our capacity for self-examination and study to make the unconscious conscious
Ishvarapranidhana – our ability to surrender and helps us to understand that in the final analysis, we are not the masters of everything we do.
Imagine the Yoga journey as a hike up a mountain.
There are many paths but they all lead to the same summit. The summit is the destination – Ishvarapranidhana – where the earth and rock of the mountain meets space. The 360 degree view that represents freedom and a higher Awareness.
It’s going to require Tapas to get there. There needs to be the burning desire to go up the mountain. The thing to remember is that no one is forcing us to go on this hike – it’s a self-chosen trip and we need to be concerned for our own welfare and safety. We make sure we have a backpack with all the resources in it that will support us in the form of food, appropriate clothing, a survival kit. We also make a plan, tell others where we are going, and maybe invite a friend or two along for the company!
Svadhyaya could be seen as the map that we take with us so that when we reach a particular point on the path we can pause, study the map, and depending on the conditions and the time we are making decide to go left or right, reroute, return or sit down and have a snack. This is a skill that develops over time and many hiking trips.
Whilst we are sitting down and taking a pause we look at the view and catch a glimpse of what is a variation on what we might see at the summit! So the freedom of Pure Awareness can be glimpsed at anywhere along the way. But we’ll need to pause to see it.
I grew up in Switzerland with a continual view of the Alps so the mountain metaphor works well for me.
When I use the example of climbing a mountain, I’m not talking about the masculine approach of ‘knocking the bastard off’ and being the first person on top pf the mountain or even getting there at all.
I’m more influenced by the Scottish climber and writer Nan Shephard who in her book ‘The Living Mountain’ wrote about her explorations of the Cairngorm hills during the 1940’s and 50’s. In that time of a male dominated writers in the mountain adventuring genre she wrote from the feminine approach of just being on the mountain. None of her chapters are about the summit itself but about the elements and her senses and her observations of the flora and fauna and how that makes her feel. She spent years just exploring the same territory in minute detail and it rewarded her with a deep sense of satisfaction, belonging and self-agency.
What her book really describes is the process of a sustainable, inquiry based practice that I see as containing the following qualities:
- A feminine approach
- An interior process based on one’s own perceptions
Her book ends with this:
“ I believe that I now understand in some small measure why the Buddhist goes on pilgrimage to a mountain. The journey is itself part of the technique by which the god is sought. It is a journey into Being; for as I penetrate more deeply into the mountains life, I penetrate also into my own. For an hour I am beyond desire. It is not ecstasy, that leap out of the self that makes man like god. I am not out of myself, but in myself. I am. To know Being, this is the final grace accorded from the mountain.”
So I leave you with this question to ponder:
How do you equip yourself for the mountain hike of your own Yoga Journey?