Whether or not one believes in an uber-creator, such belief is no excuse to abdicate one’s own need to be conscious of how individuals are part of the whole fabric of being and our duty (dharma) to act in recognition of that interrelationship. Taking responsibility for our own lives and relationship to others and our place in the ecosystem is an essential part of aligning with the ideal of the divine.
It is reasonable and perfectly appropriate to practice to enhance our own peace, joy, and well-being. Equally important is that the practices lead us to live with more mindfulness and compassion.
Doing the practices without ever refining how we are in the world is not, as some claim, enough to serve as a grand contribution to making the world a better place, though if we are happier and healthier we are likely to be more pleasant to be around.
Peace and light, E — Posted with WordPress for BlackBerry.
I saw this water main break while I was walking to work this morning. Several people walked past it without a glance–could they really not have noticed? It looked relatively recent because the puddle was still modest and had not started freezing. I paused, took out my mobile device and telephoned the mayor’s city-wide call center (in DC “311”–whoever answers will transfer you to the right place; in this instance, “water emergencies”). A couple of people who saw me calling looked at me as if it must have been my fault or else why would I be calling,
I thought about what it was that moved me to call. I saw harm to the environment (colossal waste of water while we are in a drought if the leak was allowed to continue without the earliest possible intervention) and potential danger to people from spreading icy water that will turn into ice late this afternoon. What is it, though, that leads one to take action to change or fix something that is technically not one’s business. What makes it part of one’s duty or responsibility when it is not directly related to one’s individual property or person? At some levels, it is just social contract. By choosing to live together in closely proximate society, it is in all of our self-interest to take care of shared areas, though the ubiquitously unshoveled sidewalks leads me to believe that most people haven’t been taught or grasped the principle that if we all contribute “our share” the whole place and our own lives would be far more enjoyable.
These thoughts led me to think of the application of the yamas and niyams in Patajali’s Yoga Sutras and in particular, the principle of brahmacharya, which is one of the five yamas on the first level of the eight-fold path of yoga in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras.
Brahmacharya literally means being like Brahma, but it is often translated as celibacy. Brahmacharya, from a less socio-morally result-driven interpretation, could also be thought of as aligning with the divine. Before we are enlightened, though, how do we know what will help us align with the divine? I once heard Professor Douglas Brooks say, in a lecture I attended a number of years ago, that the yamas and niyamas, the ethical precepts that lay a foundation for the practice of yoga are for the goal of the individual reaching enlightenment. I was a bit taken aback by the statement at the time. It sounded as though the yoga precept was that the purpose of ethical behavior was self-interest, and was not because ethics was summum bonum. I am less troubled by the idea after much contemplation. What is the harm of the goal enlightenment serving to motivate and shape our behavior? The methodology that includes the yamas and niyamas would have us engage in certain ways of living and practices in order that we can change our karma by shifting the patterns (samskaras) that take us away from spirit rather than lead us toward spirit.
To me, this means acting in away that not only does not harm (ahimsa–the first of the yamas), but seeks to expand the possibility of fostering the collective good, including the good of the earth. In this sense, to the extent that brahmacharya is a precursor to enlightenment–the merging of the individual self with the greater “Self” or spirit, acting from a placed of enlightened self-interest can be seen as helping us to find the true Self (as long as we are not attached to a particular good or outcome, but that is a whole other topic).
What if we were to cease to think of discipline as constraint, as punishment, as something confining and unattainably rigorous, something satisfying only in having suffered for gain? What if we were to understand it, as Swami Chidvilasananda, suggests as discipleship, a cleaving to the path out of the exquisitely blissful yearning for the light? Such discipline is, I think, what is the true practice of brahmacharya — aligning with the divine.
It was such a beautiful day that I spent as much time as possible walking in the neighborhood. That walking is “good for me” was just an incidental benefit.
When I googled (that should not be a verb) “holiday madness” this morning, I got one million three hundred thousand hits. Yikes! Most relevant websites are about surviving shopping, over-eating, family, and travel. Madness in such a situation is a choice. We can choose what to consume, how much, when, and with whom. It is a choice whether “celebration” requires consumption beyond what our financial, physical, and emotional means permit.
The yamas and niyamas as revealed by Patanjali provide beautiful structure for thinking about the holidays.
Ahimsa–non-harming. Don’t consume more than is harmful to yourself, those who have created what you are consuming, and the earth.
Satya — truthfulness. Be honest with yourself about what is right for you to celebrate and observe and what brings meaning to you as a holiday celebration.
Asteya — non-stealing. Consuming beyond your means, especially financially, is a form of stealing (look at what generated the recession).
Brahmacharya — moderation (aligning with Brahma). Enjoy the offerings of the earth in a way that uplifts rather than sickens or detracts from spirit and self.
Aparigraha — non-greediness; non-covetousness. Enjoy what you have without coveting or trying in a detrimental way to have what others have and you do not.
Sauca — cleanliness, purity. Consume in a way that is healthy for yourself and the planet, that does not create illness, refuse, and waste.
Samtosha — contentment. Wherever you are, whatever you have, whatever is going on in your work and family life, think of that for which you are grateful, that which brings you happiness, and focus on what you have. Contentment is a practice.
Tapas — fire, ardor. Be on fire to practice, to shift, to make this a life-fulfilling year of generosity and compassion.
Svadyaya — study of text, self-study. Take the holidays as an opportunity to deepen your understanding of yourself, society, and your spiritual beliefs and how they interrelate.
Ishvara pranadhana — surrender, recognition of the spirit. Let go a little. Surrender to a sense of fullness. Allow the abundance and recognize it as a wondrous gift. Remember the word “holiday” is really two words: “holy day.” Make this time holy, whether or not you observe a particular religious tradition at this time of year or any other.
Yesterday afternoon when I came home from teaching I wanted to be out for a walk in the neighborhood more than I wanted to be alone in the garden, but I also wanted to be serving the garden. I combined the two by walking the ten blocks to Gingko Gardens — our wonderful Capitol Hill nursery. It is a little more expensive than some of the nurseries out in the burbs, but I know the owner and have friends in common, I always bump into neighbors when I am shopping there, and they are experts in what grows and works in our little urban gardens. I was thrilled when they opened a number of years ago and want them to continue to thrive, so I make a point of shopping there. I bought some seeds and some planting medium for starting seeds indoors and ordered a few containers and organic potting soil for delivery.
In addition, after having done a bunch of research on rain barrels over the week, I also asked whether Gingko would deliver and install rain barrels from Aqua Barrel, which is located in Gaithersburg. Answer, “yes.” (For those of you in the suburbs, Amicus Green also carries and installs them). It took me a long time to assess what style barrel would work for me and where it should be placed. I was hoping to support a local manufacturer to cut down on wasteful transportation. I also know that given my circumstances it is critical that it be installed correctly with a good diverter system. It is good for me to do the research but then bring in a professional to make sure it is right. I made an appointment and am looking forward to being able to align a little better with nature (by using rain water run-off instead of scarce, potable water for the garden) and to support the neighborhood (by buying locally and hiring resident professionals). And I bumped into a fellow yogi and gardener while I was shopping; inspired by the chat, she, too, made an appointment to discuss rain barrel installation.
To me, this is one way of bringing yoga off the mat. One of the key principles in Patanjali’s yoga sutras is the practice of brahmacharya, which literally means aligning with Brahma. The classical translation is celibacy. Many modern translators substitute “moderation.” This way of living, is of course, moderate. It is living a western lifestyle on the grid, but choosing to consume in a way that supports friends, neighbors, and manufacturers who use recycled materials to create products that will help us all to be a little kinder to the environment, while nurturing my home and self.