I have always love spring flowers. As a small child, one year my mother woke me up on my birthday with a flat of pansies to plant. At the time, pansies were my favorite flowers. Now I am a bit partial to dahlias and gerbera daisies which I think might be the most cheerful flowers ever. And I like marigolds for the way they adorn the pujas and murtis so beautifully. But I digress. (Already digressing. Okay, wow--wish me luck actually getting to my point today.)
I planted flowers this year. This is the first spring where I am home enough to water a flower garden and enjoy the blooms. Other years, my travel schedule has been so hectic that the effort to plant anything would not have been worth it at all. And in Texas, once the heat comes, it is hard to keep anything alive in the garden. There is a small window of opportunity in which to plant flowers and enjoy their beauty before the likelihood of them shriveling in the heat becomes quite high. Also, after a busy few years of travel, I thought digging in the dirt this spring might prove therapeutic and grounding, which it did.
Anyway, my flowers have me thinking about faith. One of the directions Patanjali gives in the Yoga Sutras is to pursue practice with faith, enthusiasm, memory, concentration and samadhi. And while those are big concepts full of loaded words, rich with texture and layered with meaning, the first injunction, requirement or recommendation, if you will, is faith.
I don't think this sutra means religious faith, although it might. I do not think it means doctrinal faith, although that is a possibility. I do not think the instructions for the pursuit of practice refer to a rock-solid-never-have-a-doubt-never-ask-a-good-question-and-always-believe-what-you-are-told kind of faith. I think this line simply means that there must be a reasonable amount of trust in the process present to begin, and continue with, a practice. For instance, this year I planted flowers since I figured there was a reasonable chance I could keep them alive. Other years, I knew it would be best not to bother. Today I rolled out a yoga mat, not expecting the angels to descend or the heavens to open up but because I expected to enjoy the process and feel a little better for having done a practice than I would have if I chose another activity instead.
I have spent a lot of time considering the Big Picture of practice and contemplating concepts such as Aim as they relate to my life of practice. (And, for the record, I consider practice to be a body of actions and restraints that help me in my life, not solely my asana practice. Asana practice is part of that body of actions and involves restraint and discipline but asana is only one facet of the diamond.) So, whether my practice is mantra, prayer, puja, meditation, dietary choices, asana, pranayama, communication, compassion, or what have you, the only reason I do said practice is because I have some measure of faith in it. And as much as I have tried over the years to make these actions into a very big, massive picture of meaning, lately, I have to say, that I practice because I have faith in the process of practice. I do not have faith that practice will solve all my problems. I do not have faith that I will be able to do poses tomorrow that I can not do today. I do not have faith that practice will be somehow cure my idiosyncrasies, hang-ups, and hurts although some of that has happened along the way. I do, however, somehow have this notion that the doing of these things that I call "my practice" is simply better than the not doing of them.
Don't get me wrong, there is evidence to suggest that certain actions today will help me with those poses and certain restraints tonight will make for a better morning tomorrow and I am not discounting the practical nature of all that I have learned from experience. I am simply saying that as I go along in practice it is harder and harder to answer the questions about "Why practice?" with any mind-blowing, super-inspiring, misson-based message, other than to answer with "because practice is what I have chosen to do."
It's not like that reads well on a yoga flyer, mind you. "Do Yoga with Christina Sell- Chances are, your life will be better for practicing than if you didn't but maybe not" or "Do Yoga with Christina Sell--You might not get happier but you will know yourself better which many times will make you happier except for the times it doesn't but either way you won't be as asleep anymore and that, I do believe, is better but it might not be" or something like that.
Anyway, I think the scriptures and the testimonies of the Greats are meant to inspire and to educate and yet, all too often, these Teachings get co-opted by our negative self-talk and psychological programming and turned into one more (or twelve more) reasons to prove the ways we are less-than, different-from, and unable-to pursue that path and experience the fruits of practice, which might be nothing more (and nothing less) than the dignity that arises from having ways and means to contact the essential aspects of who we are intelligently, honestly and consistently. In my opinion, we do not need "perfect faith", or #yogaeverydamnday, or fancy poses, or a diet free of every possible thing, or long meditations or exquisite postures, or completely resolved childhoods to engage the process of practice. We simply (and it is not easy but it can be simple) need to believe that engaging the process of practice has a slight advantage over not starting at all and over giving up in the middle of things.
And, ladies and gentlemen, the assumption of "slight advantage" is the bedrock of my faith these days. I think, maybe, just maybe I can keep some flowers alive in the garden. I think maybe, just maybe, who I am when I pray is better than who I am when I don't. I think maybe, just maybe, me as a believer in God, is a better than me than the me when I don't believe. And I know there are inconsistencies galore with a non-dual philosophy and a belief in intercessory prayer because what the hell-- I am nothing other than the ALL THAT IS so who the fuck do I think I am praying to? Yes, I get it and I don't have smart philosophical answers other than my own experience that puja, prayer, praise and worship , are not for the object of the offering but for me, the subject--the one who is making the offering. (Okay, okay, I do have some smart answers but that is not my point here.)
Well, it seems I have caught myself with a bit of a Big Vision after all. There is a paradox at play here, like there so often is in considerations related to yoga, soul-searching and the many glimpses of reality such things offer us. Truth be told, I do not think practice always makes things better and I do not see downward dog as a vital part of my salvation nor do I think pranayama is some kind of karmic get-out-of-jail-free card and yet, I don't want a life without these things because the ways and means of practice- in and of themselves- are valuable to me. Engaging and sustaining the process is its own fruit. The self-awareness, the inner-knowing, the clarity of mind and heart that arises from sustained efforts over time is, in my way of seeing it, preferable than not knowing myself, not befriending my shadows, not celebrating my light and instead, wandering around in a sea of blame and self-pity. (Perhaps there are other options but I am making a point here so black and white seems useful.)
Anyway- more could be said and its a big topic and now the night is getting late. In some ways, it seems to me that all I can do is to be who I am to start where I truly am- not where we think we should be, and to trudge along to the best of my ability, sustaining whatever efforts I can in the midsts of my busy life. I have a lot of faith in that.
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"There is a light that shines beyond all things on Earth, beyond us all, beyond the heaven, beyond the highest, the very highest heavens. This is the light that shines in our heart."