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.”