Sunday, 22 June 2014

Be a Warrior for Love

"You will learn a lot about yourself if you stretch in the direction of goodness, of bigness, of kindness, of forgiveness, of emotional bravery.  Be a warrior for love."
Cheryl Strayed

We don't always get what we want from life or from our relationships with others. 

I am friends with a man whose father is dying, he only has a few months left to live.  There is so much that has been unsaid between them; the son feels that his father has never really understood him or appreciated him for what he has achieved in his life; there are things he wants to say, but they are angry things and there are things that he wants to explain or to understand, but he doesn't know if now is the time, they have so little of that left, is it worth spending it on going over old slights and hurts and trying to get to the bottom of things?

I am friends with a woman whose relationship is faltering; she doesn't know if she loves her partner any more, or whether or not he can give her the things she needs, the recognition and the support that she feels that she lacks.

These things are difficult.  These stories are significant and the difficulties they present are substantial, but I only use them as examples, because every day and in every relationship, we find ourselves wondering how much we should say if someone hurts us; how much we are allowed to expect from another person; every day we hope to be recognised for who we really are and to be understood.

But if I ask you how well you understand yourself, and if you give me the honest answer, then it is probably that you are just learning to understand yourself and that sometimes you don't understand yourself at all.  I ask you then, how easy you think it must be for someone else, even a loved one or a parent, to understand you.  How well do we truly understand anyone?

Here is what I have found: that if in the face of your very real need for understanding from someone, you reach out and seek to understand them instead, then something inside you will shift, something within you will make way for peace, that in giving what you most require, by some strange chemistry, you get that very thing back. 

When you do this, when you tell someone that which you most need to hear (You did that well, You look wonderful, I love you), you experience an inner softening towards them; you realise that they are as vulnerable as you are.  Sometimes you will discover that the thing you most need to hear is the very thing that they most need to hear; and the one thing they cannot say.

I am suggesting that you always seek to be the bigger person; not because you'll get some reward or recompense, but because you love people and you understand that we are complicated creatures and that nobody has had it easy; because you forgive them. 

I came to this lesson late in life, and not soon enough to mend my broken relationship with my father, whom I haven't seen or heard from in over a decade.  I would have liked to learn this lesson sooner, so that I could have sought to understand him more than I sought for him to understand me.

Loving people more than they appear to love you; giving comfort and cheer to the very person from whom you most expect it; encouraging someone to whom you went for encouragement; this is a very courageous way to live.  It reminds me of the Victor Frankl quote:

"It did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us"

When we approach our human relationships by asking more what we can offer that person and less what we ourselves need, then our relationships are deepened and our hearts are opened to the possibility of love and understanding.  Truly, when we give to others that which we most need, we find those needs of ours transmuted into something much more magnanimous and fulfilling than this little compliment or that symbol of love.

This generosity of spirit, this rising above our own particular requirements, this makes you a warrior for love.

Saturday, 7 June 2014

The Inbetween Times

I was asked a great question this week by a student brand new to yoga: how do we maintain a yoga practice in the time between our yoga class?  It's a good question, particularly as most of us begin yoga with the idea that yoga asana (physical postures) is what it's all about.

Patanjali, of course, has already given us the answer: yoga is not a practice for an hour and a half, twice a week in the studio of your choice with a teacher you love, although you may well find your inspiration there and a sense of community amongst your fellow yogis; no, yoga is a practice for all of your life, on and off your mat, for every age and stage.

That's why the first two limbs of yoga are the Yamas and Niyamas - guidance on how to live well.  Patanjali advises that if we are peaceful, honest, do not steal, have self-restraint and are not greedy, then we will find our burdens lifted and our path cleared of many complications; if we stay healthy, content, commit to our path, study and let go into the mystery, then we'll find ourselves moving forward with faith and living more skilfully.

These tenets provide the basis for all classical yoga practice, and appear in the Yoga Sutras before asana, breathing practice, or meditation.  They are that important.  And we practice them everywhere and all the time.

So, when you move in peace through your day, being grateful for what you have and mindful of how your actions and words impact the world; when you abstain from habits that take you away from feeling your physical best; when you remember all through your week that you are not in control of your life, but feel instead humble before the greatness of a world in which you are just one small part; when you constantly renew your commitment to your faith and its teachings and when you seek to live by those teachings and to delve into their deeper meaning; when you are forever grateful for the things you have in your life; when you take just enough and not one thing more and you consider the impact of everything you buy, consume and do on yourself, your wider community and the environment; when you do all of these things throughout every day, week, year...  Then you are practising yoga and allowing your practice to mature in the fire of everyday life.

Being mindful of the commitment you have made to be your own most generous and vibrant self in the world is something that you can do all of the time, from the moment you get up to the second you fall asleep at night (even while you are asleep). 

A weekly formal practise with your teacher is an opportunity to be stretched, to question, to receive comfort and be reassured - it is a wonderful thing to come together and be reminded of all the good things yoga has to offer.  But in truth, there is nowhere that you need to go to do your practice; it is working its way into your life all of the time, as Patanjali says:

"For those who have an intense urge for Spirit and wisdom, it sits near them, waiting."
Yoga Sutra I:21
Translated by Mukunda Stiles

It's in the inbetween times that the real work is done.