Seasons of Life and Giving Thanks
I watched as a bright golden leaf framed by a clear blue sky floated lightly to earth. My mind was transfixed on the leaf that marked the advent of autumn and the cycles of seasons within life.
I was reminded of a quote by the great poet of India, Rabindranath Tagore, "Let life be beautiful like summer flowers and death like autumn leaves."
What a wonderful way to view the seasons of life! Birth and the beginning of life in spring and the activity peaks of life’s summers are a prelude to the closing of a cycle in autumn.
Fall is a favorite time for many people, as its cold crisp air pierces the ripple of late summer winds, and I wonder if it is possible to make these transitions from the early years to the later years in life without mourning the passing of time? Is it possible to make the transitions from one era of life to another without clinging to what was? Is it possible to let go if we can’t perceive what is yet to be? Or is it possible to live in a suspended state of fearless expectancy of what is yet to be revealed?
As the golden leaf lingers in the crisp morning air, my thoughts travel to those affected by loss and tragedy in our country, and around the world, those forced into life’s changes with little warning. I hold all beings everywhere in my heart, and want to see them transcend the pain of the past and move into the transformative unfolding of the future. The leaf that was once the bud of spring now is a beautiful reminder of its lovely past in a future that is yet invisible to its own transcendence.
And always, Yoga offers us flexibility in body, which represents the agility in mind that makes us bend with the winds, whether chilly or warm. It helps us make these transitions through the seasons of our lives, not with a sense of failure or foreboding, but with joyful expectancy of faith in the Divine loving hand that is guiding us from one place to another in the fulfillment of our life’s destiny.
The Thanksgiving holiday is a reminder that it is far greater than simply a gathering to share a meal based on age-old tradition. It is a time to truly give thanks from our hearts for all that has graced our lives, rather than dwelling on what has been lost. What a great opportunity this coming holiday is for forgiving the past and releasing hardened places in our hearts! Thanksgiving is not only once a year but also an attitude of appreciation that we can practice every day of the year. As we transcend our own tears, we can see and feel the tears of others.
One great Bhakti (devotional) teacher who was a living saint from India once said to me, “Be thankful for judgments and criticism…through them, you will have greater compassion for others.”
During this holiday, and each day we can send love and healing to those whose lives have radically changed and those who have experienced losses in our country and all countries of the world. The healing power of giving thanks can silently radiate out from Self, to community and our world.
The Yoga of Political Action
Rama Jyoti Vernon
Many people of good will are overwhelmed by what we see going on around us these days. Now, we mourn victims of the shootings in the Pittsburgh Tree of Life Synagogue, and those in the Tallahassee Hot Yoga studio, along with victims of seemingly endless mass shootings, and gun-related tragedies too numerous to mention here. My heart goes out to all who are affected directly and indirectly…family, friends, and colleagues. I cannot help but think how this might magnify the already prevalent fear and lack of trust throughout this country.
I often ponder how the timeless teachings of the Yoga Sutras emphasize the ways we can remain true to ourselves and our values, through Yoga. Instead of losing heart during turbulent times, now more than ever, we can truly practice the tenants of Yoga. We can rise above the fray of polarization to remain in discrimination, which in the Yoga Sutras is called viveka.
Viveka is one of the first words Patanjali, the father of Yoga, gives in the first chapter of the Yoga Sutras as a way to “still the turbulent waves of the mind.” Discrimination in ancient times was another word given to describe the function of the Buddhi mind. Buddhi is from the Sanskrit root verb bodh meaning to know. It is known as the “over” or “higher” mind. This part of our mind sees differences but does not compare the differences, as "This is good, that is bad. This is right and that is wrong.” The Buddhi mind is like standing on a mountaintop where we can get a 360-degree view of the valleys and lands far beyond.
This is a challenging time for Yogins to leap to an ethereal vision and hold it for the highest and best of all humankind. It is so easy to be pulled into the fray of what Patanjali calls the alternating state (vichinna) where one emotion overwhelms another and then later reverses itself. Vichinna is a state of mind where we struggle to rise above painful contractive thoughts of the past. My husband, a Unity Minister calls this alternating state “wrestling with Angels.” At one point in our life we may forgive a past hurt and injury to rise above it and feel only love and understanding. Then one morning we may wake up and find that the wave of forgiveness and love is overpowered by the old emotions of hurt, anger, and an inability to forgive.
At this time in our country’s history, our anger and disillusionment may be directed to our political leaders, because these emotions can arise from feelings of powerlessness to make needed changes in a democracy that is supposed to be based upon transparency and honesty. I have been wrestling with angels in this alternating state of emotion, related to our political leaders. At times, I feel my consciousness lift above the polarities where divisions converge beyond the clouds of illusion. But at other times, I am caught in the valley of the play of this world where I cannot access the Buddhi mind. At times, I lose my discrimination where I don’t just objectively observe differences; I begin to compare those differences, which is more of an element of the ahamkara, the ego mind.
As I wrestle with my angels of discrimination and ego, I keep thinking about an ancient saying in the scriptures of Yoga, “When we focus on another persons defects…we take on those defects.” In the Yoga Sutras, there are brief passages that say if we send good thoughts to others, we will grow stronger. It is also believed that when we send out negative thoughts towards another, we may lose strength and grow weaker.
This seems to be a time that requires more discrimination of the Buddhi mind than ever before. Can we see the bigger picture by ascending the rarefied peaks of consciousness? Or are there times when we are pulled from the higher and more expansive views into the valleys of deception where our greater vision is obstructed by our own lack of true discrimination?
I don’t know about you but I am pulled from my journey of ascension into the pit of sadness when the wheels of injustice continue to roll over what may be perceived as the powerless. But, at the same time, it is incredible watching how people are now taking back their own power and standing up to what we perceive as injustice. Could this also be Yoga? After all, we do our standing posture to strengthen us, not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually as well. The standing poses give us the resolve not to rely on others for support, and the independence to stand alone when needed. We no longer are influenced by the opinion of others as we dive deep into the central core of our being and our psyche to find stability and what is true and just, and what actions (or inactions) are right for us.
This seems to be a time in our country’s history when, as Yogins we can make a decision to involve ourselves in society. Some people may perceive the teachings of Yoga to guide us towards inaction within the material world. But indeed, they could be to move us deeper into action. We can do this while holding the greater picture, like the image of one of our hands reaching up and connecting to the heavens while extending our other hand to the earth plane in the service of humanity. Could this be the Yoga of this millennium? Is it possible to remember "the union of Yoga that already is" while integrating our growing strength through our practice into the service (seva) of the needs in our world today?
“If our desire is to serve humanity, we will be crushed and broken-hearted. But if our desire is to serve God, no amount of ingratitude can keep us from serving our fellow (sic) human beings.”