I’d like to share a few thoughts about the practice and our awareness of life as being in an endless state of change, and how the former can help the latter and help us navigate life and better deal with sufferance as an inevitable byproduct of living. Not to leave pleasure – the opposite of an unpleasant experience or sufferance – out of the picture, but because we tend to be more at ease with the latter than with when we suffer. Only when pleasure fades away and pain inevitably comes back are we usually reminded of how they are both linked to each other and how each other is indispensable for the experiencing of both. Change then becomes our first experience of this shift between the two states, and emerges as an everlasting truth. It does not initially feel good, even when we know it’s for the better, as our natural tendency is to avoid it in favor of what we already know and gives us a sense of permanence. Every time there is the change we are reminded of how impermanence is part and parcel of experiencing life, and because seeking permanence is primal to our human experience, we suffer…Seeking permanence is our conscious or unconscious goal, a constant mirage and the elusive truth of our human experience. Permanence is the absence of movement, and life in its very nature is in a state of constant movement – change – so how to reconcile the two and make peace with the uncomfortable truth?
The truth is, the answer does not lie in seeking the exclusion of change in favor of permanence, as our aim in this life is not to avoid change but rather to understand its very nature, its structure and the fabric it is made of, and – possibly -flow with it. Trying to avoid it and remaining ignorant to its creative power can only lead to more sufferance. Understanding, but – more importantly – experiencing and accepting it as the underlying supporter of life, can open up infinite possibilities to the experience of joy. Joy is not exclusive, but rather inclusive of both pleasure and pain as the necessary conditions for the experience of life. Rather that opposing pain, we then remain aware of its true indispensable nature and also keep reminding ourselves that this, too shall pass. A different experience of pleasure and pain will inevitably emerge out of a new relationship with change, and because of it.
Now, what has the practice of ashtanga yoga to do with this all? If practiced correctly and with awareness, it can –as many other tools for awareness – act as a potent reminder of the simple truth of change underlying all of our human experiences and therefore help us to navigate with them better. Used as a tool, and not as an end in itself (especially the third limb – asana) it becomes a powerful instrument for evolution. What we do for 1 or 2 hours when practicing and the attitude we maintain while on the mat is nothing else but a microcosm and mirroring of how we then relate to the world around us during the rest of the day. The relationship we create and nurture with our own practice – like any other relationship in life (be it with a partner, family, friends, acquaintances, strangers and all the way down to enemies), has at its very core the experience of change, in its multiple manifestations. Think about when we started, what happened afterwards, the shape it has all taken up later and how it has all changed so many times…the good times with our body, with our breath, with our mind and focus, the bad times and the injuries, the lack of concentration, instability, patience….how dense the structures of our body feel initially and how light we eventually experience them later, bandhas and no bandhas…progress and no progress, plateaus, heavy breathing as opposed to easy one, flowing and heaviness, how difficult to remember all of the elements initially and how we then start flowing with more ease without even thinking of them…the love and hate connection with the results of our efforts, the attachment and detachment …How to remain aware of these constant variables and therefore avoid frustration, disillusionment, and sufferance? How do we remain open to whatever happens every day on the mat? Sufferance ultimately is nothing else than ignorance of the functioning of the mind and how it relates to our experience of the world around us. If we – with the aid of a formal practice like ashtanga yoga as a potent microcosmic reminder – manage to maintain equality towards all that life is made out of and its infinite manifestations – whatever happens, and falls into its field of awareness – like we try to do with our practice – then we are on the right path to what is called Samadhi. Yes, Samadhi! Who after all has the right to say Samadhi is God knows where in a super distant future, maybe in another few lives or never to happen at all? I am all for the reappropriation of it in this very life, in this very moment and in all of those moments of alertness and all of the epiphanies we experience on and off the mat. One after another after another after another… It has nothing to do with dispassionate cold detachment or avoidance of the sensations of sufferance or happiness, but more to do with an inclusive and engaged attitude of full acceptance and surrender to the workings of life. It is with this very physical body and mind, right here and now and available to anyone, each according to its own possibilities and circumstances.
The practice of ashtanga yoga evolved as a spiritual practice aimed at supporting human beings in their search for truth beyond the transient manifestations of life. Used with awareness it can become our best and always available friend and companion on this path. Let’s keep nurturing this relationship, with all of its ups and downs. They are all part of a bigger design in which our only responsibility is to remain open, surrender and accept all that happens with grace and in a spirit of engaged detachment from the results of our efforts. All will happen in due time if the intention is correct, and this is how I understand Pattabhi Jois’s mantra: Do your practice and all is coming.
Just mind your practice, its constant evolution and your ever changing relationship with it. Leave the rest to God, or the creative intelligence beyond it all. Let the experience of all that happens on the mat spill into your life and into the world around us. Never before the world has been so ready for big healing and transformation. Let us all contribute to it with the bits we can do, each of us with a bit more awareness every day.