“Learn to lead a dedicated life. Whatever you do, do it for others…..The entire life is an open book, a scripture. Read it. Learn while digging a pit or chopping some wood or cooking some food. If you can’t learn from your daily activities, how are you going to understand the scriptures?”
This was Sri Swami Satchidananda’s response to his students’ request for him to translate and elaborate on The Yoga Sutras Of Patanjali. Those of you who have been reading my weekly blog posts know that I have been breaking down the Eight Limbs week by week so that you can begin to study and live the wisdom being handed down to us from this holy scripture.
This week, however, I want to focus on Satchidananda’s response I quoted above.
* * *
What I have always found empowering about Eastern philosophies and religions is their emphasis on giving mastery to the disciple. Most of you are asking the same questions that I am about our existence: why are we here, how did we get here, what is my purpose. We then look to the sacred texts and great sages to help us find the answers. Depending on where we look, depends on what kind of approach we will find.
In Buddhism, through the Yoga Sutras and Sufism, the approach to finding out the great universal truths have always been found within yourself. For example, Buddha said, “Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.” Buddha does not claim to have all the answers and does not ask you to follow everything he says strictly. He encourages you to look within yourself to make sense of this life.
Similarly, Rumi, a great Sufi poet, so famously declared, “Everything in the universe is within you. Ask all from yourself.” Again, Rumi claims that the answers to leading a happy and compassionate life already lie within us. Both of these examples clearly tackle our questions about who we truly are in a self-empowering way. We already are powerful beyond our wildest dreams and we hold all the keys to unlocking our greatest potential. With this knowledge, we can then continue to gain a deeper understanding of our true selves.
* * *
Since the beginning of my studies of the Yoga Sutras, I have learned a great deal about myself. If you want to truly understand something, you must become it. Thus, I have been using all facets of yoga to discover who I truly am. Most importantly, I have learned this by doing. I think we can agree that the best way to learn something is to do it yourself. Whether it is playing an instrument or performing surgery, speaking in public or building a house, to fully comprehend how to do or be something, we must be the process and thus, the result. This is learning at its finest.
For almost 2 months now I have been teaching asana (and some pranayama) to someone very near and dear to my heart. I have dedicated my mornings to taking the time to learn about his ailments, his strengths and his weaknesses. In the beginning, I could see he was very typical of a man in his mid 30s: he wasn’t very flexible, but he was strong. With this knowledge, I was able to design an asana flow I thought would best fit his needs and capabilities. And you know what? The more we get on the yoga mat, the more I realize I have so much more to learn–about him, about myself, and about life in general. But that, fellow yogis, that’s the beauty of it. Through mindful practice, both the him and I embark on the perpetual journey of learning and self-growth.
When we give to others, we give to ourselves even more so. This has become so apparent to me through the teaching of him everyday. His progress has been a gift to me as much as it has been a gift for him. Those magic moments when I see him self adjust in a pose to square off his hips, nail his transition from headstand into scorpion forearm stand and reach an inch closer to his toes in forward bend reinforce how transformative our dedication to the practice is.
My heart is full of glee when I see how graceful he moves in and out of Natarajasana (Dancer Pose). I marvel at how quickly he learned Eka Pada Koundinyasana II (Pose dedicated to the Sage Koundinya II). His tenacity toward repeating a pose over and over again and his patience with his limitations bring a huge smile to my face. I applaud him for his diligence toward and zeal for trying something so foreign to him and continuing to embrace it, even on the days he doesn’t feel like it or can’t perform up to his potential.
His experiences on the mat teach me as much as they teach him. It is a reciprocal journey of give and take, a never-ending exchange of mutual respect and love. The dynamic between student and teacher is sacred. It is rewarding on so many levels and I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge that.
Reflecting on this journey has made me so grateful for the opportunity to share the asana practice of yoga with someone new and truly understand the importance of Sri Swami Sathidananda’s words: dedicate yourself to others and use daily activities as one of your greatest tools to becoming aware of the Self. I revel in how significant my gift to him has been for both of us.
Student, I dedicate this supreme mantra to you: “Dedication, dedication, giving, giving, loving, loving.”
I promise to remain dedicated to guiding you through your yoga journey. I promise to give my all to you and to love you as we continue on this path of self-discovery and practice.