Part of the power of the practice of yoga is the cultivation of viveka, or discernment. This is like a fine-tuning of your intuition, a refining of what is right and wrong: not necessarily in a moralistic framework, but in feeling grounded and empowered by the choices you make that are best for you. So often we operate from a place of giving from a willing and joyful heart. Other times, the asks made of us are incessant and draining, deterring us from our own desires and karmic motivations, tapping past our reserves of ojas and burning us out. It is hard to say no, to set boundaries. But we oftentimes wander about lost at sea when we lack the skills to know what our limits truly are and when the bounty of our thresholds are being tested. So what to do? Recently I was discussing with a fellow student and friend a quote that I had just posted onto my Facebook page which reads:
“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” ― Mahatma Gandhi
My friend shared with me that it was also his favorite quote but also encapsulated with the inquiry: does it align to my dharma (life path)? We all have people we want to be there for whenever called upon, but in a world of social media and demanding daily lives, there are times when we reach the tipping point. Many hours of each day are derivative of tasks not aligned to dharma. We never pause to check in or ask the question, until the consistent practice of yoga awakens the teacher within us.
Through Advanced Philosophy studies earlier this winter we worked with Karen Armstrong’s book Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life which features a reference quote from the Bible which says “love thy neighbor as thy self.” This is well-known across all denominations and I would guess about 99% percent of the time, the emphasis of self-study or svadyaya falls upon the principle of the other. So seldom do I think anyone. My neighbor, the idea of casting awareness outward was always top of mind, if not exclusively so. This isn’t a narcissistic “what about me?” whine-fest; just finding the proper balance. Incidentally many people aren’t too crazy about this shift at first but it’s important to keep your neighbor in mind while going inward and creating space for yourself.
It took yoga and meditation and setting up my life around a disciplined yoga practice that I began to see that the best way to love my neighbor is the example of love I provide to myself. I fall from the rails periodically around this ideal but Ms. Armstrong’s book reignited my focus in this area. The hardest thing for me to say is no, but sometimes that serves as a necessary balm, my healing salve. How do you best love yourself when you are sick? When you are sad or yearn to be loved? When you are exhausted and require rest? What about the days you want to go to yoga or be outdoors but someone else’s concerns redirect your focus? Are your needs ever taken into consideration, or do they always remain an afterthought? Do we say no to ourselves in an ego-motivated way to keep others happy and pleased with us? Half the time do we even know or can we identify what triggers are in our body that provide guidance but yoga can help.
Here’s to saying no…with pleasure, so that when we say yes, we are at our optimal best.