On May 1st, I turned 30 years old. I remember my grandma, Shanta Ma, telling me that no matter how much she aged, she always felt 30 in her heart. My Shanta Ma lived to be 100 years old and passed away the day after Christmas, last December. I miss her dearly, but her many words of wisdom and humor will always be with me. Although I don’t automatically feel any different at this age, when I step outside of myself I can see how I have changed, what I have learned, and how I have set up my life with the intention of future learning. I’ll say here that meditation has been a huge part of this process of producing a bird’s eye view of my own life and offering space for reflection.
Life to this point has not been easy for me, but I see now, life has not been easy for anyone. We have all had struggles, suffering and sadness. Sometimes we feel as though our suffering is greater than those around us, other times we note when those around us are experiencing suffering greater than we can possibly imagine. We cannot ignore that national and world events have been quite a calamity and we have all been witness to a sweeping depression and anxiety among countless of us. These moments often push us to seek answers. We ask ourselves: Who are we? Why are we here? We search for answers that will allow us to move through life with greater joy and understanding. We aim to find happiness. I call this path to happiness, Spirituality or Immateriality, and it starts with the recognition that joy and happiness are objectives beyond the physical reality we face every day.
Spirituality (or Immateriality, if you prefer) comes in many forms, but all stem from the same deep yet basic questions noted above. We may call this path “finding enlightenment”, “realizing god”, “worship/pray” or “experiencing inner peace and joy” and we associate these with specific actions. In following our own path to answer these questions, we often set aside time in our lives to practice these actions. We may do yoga, meditate, go to church, listen to an inspiring or thought-provoking talk, pray, or schedule “quality” time for leisure and those we love. We separate our lives into spiritual life and all other life. However, the practice of yoga as a whole, teaches that spiritual and physical manifestations of our lives cannot be separated if we genuinely wish to find an inner peace, to realize God or come to a genuine self-actualization.
A few months ago, I listened to a lecture by Swami Tyagananda, a monk of the Ramakrishna Order, called “To Labor is to Pray”. In this lecture Swami Tyagananda talks about the importance of de-compartmentalizing our lives from “spiritual” and “non-spiritual” into a life that finds no distinction between the two. ”. He is able to broach this topic in a very poignant way, using poems and practical metaphors that left me feeling inspired and hopeful that I would be able to turn my own work into a spiritual process. I will hope to share some of these ideas with you in my own words and I will attach link of this lecture at the end of the blog.
In Vedantic terms, the practice of turning all your efforts into a spiritual process is Karma Yoga, or the yoga of action or work, one of the four main types of yogas. The other three yogas are known as Jnana yoga (the yoga of knowledge), Raja yoga (the yoga of meditation), and Bhakti yoga (the yoga of devotion/love), each of these blending into the others, balancing and strengthening each other. These yogas are the names of various pillars of spirituality under Vedanta and provide practical areas of focus to help the seeker reach enlightenment and find true happiness. The physical practice of yoga that we find in the West and many other parts of the world, originated from these yogas.
Now we must ask, how does one de-compartmentalize life? How do we find peace and fulfillment in all areas of our life regardless of what we are doing? For starters, we must acknowledge the reality that everything in our lives is inter-connected. We are a tangled web of life and the slightest drop of a pin will have an impact on how the future we know unfolds. Recognizing that everything we do, think, speak, purchase, and create, is an action that will have an impact on the world around us. This is a practice in mindfulness and it forces us to take ownership over our decisions, big and small. Next, we must subscribe to the notion that the only things we have control over in our lives are our efforts. Everything, and I mean everything, else is out of our control. We must acknowledge that when we attach ourselves to the expectations of the results of our actions, we will bring about suffering and loss in our mind. This means that whenever we act, expecting the results of our efforts to provide us with money/a paycheck, health, happiness, awards, good grades, recognition, etc, that we set ourselves up for failure and unhappiness. We have no control in whatever the ultimate result of our actions will be. We must learn to find joy in the act of working itself. Although some things we must do in life do not seem very enjoyable, if we can find a way to do them for a higher purpose, as a steward of this life and this body, we can find joy in them.
In practice Karma yoga can be quite challenging at the start, but with time this practice becomes quite enjoyable. I have been practicing this for a few years now, after the encouragement of my Shanta Ma, who saw me suffer and complain. Often I have struggled, but when I was able to look back and see glimpses of times I felt genuinely happy and grateful, it made it easier to come back. Today, I feel like I am a happier person. I have discovered gratitude for the things I have and an acknowledgement that I cannot have expectations of the future. Sure, I still struggle, but daily practice makes it easier and easier to come back to this place over time. I cherish the time I have with my love, my family, my friends, and myself because I know and I try to practice anticipating nothing beyond the present. As Swami Tyagananda points out, any new habit or change in the mindset is challenging at the start. Things that are unfamiliar take time, but with practice they become easier. Think back to your own experience learning to type, write, drive, cook or any other skill you had to learn and practice that now comes with ease. There is a freedom and a joy that comes with detachment from physical expectations and as scary as it seems, the reward is Happiness, and Happiness is really, truly, worth it.
I would love to hear your thoughts, comments and feedback. Have you read or listened to anything that really inspired or changed your life? For me, daily practices are easier with a community you can reflect with. This was my biggest reason for wanting to open a yoga studio.
Thank you for reading.
Notes: Link to Swami Tyagananda’s lecture “Work and Prayer”: https://itunes.apple.com/podcast/vedanta-and-yoga/id160835381?mt=2
Another book that has been helpful to me in understanding and practicing the ideas expressed above is The Four Agreements by Miguel Ruiz, especially his chapter on the Fourth Agreement: Always do your best