Each individual person perceives the same object in a different way, according to their own state of mind and projections. Everything is empty from its own side and appears according to how you see it. (PYS IV.15)
This yoga sutra teaches us about emptiness. The meaning we put upon objects and situations are subjective, based on our biases and predispositions, the way we perceive and interpret things. When we grasp this emptiness, we can have a better understanding of how external reality is connected to our own choices, how we carry the responsibility of this reality, and how we are in a position to change it.
In yoga asana, for example, we may find backbends challenging. But this reality is only subjective. If backbends are objectively difficult, why do other yogis find it easy then, and why is it that our experience of the pose can change over time? The pose itself is empty. Our experience of it as difficult is due to our own lifestyle habits. It could be that we spend all day crouched down in front of a computer, or we are unable to forgive those who have hurt us, or both, such that our body finds it hard to move to the direction of heart-opening. To accept the emptiness of the pose is to embrace that we can change our habits and our experience of the pose through consistent practice.
Our relationships can be the same. We can, through our knee-jerk reaction, think that our parent or partner or boss should change, because they are too much of this or not enough of that. We insist that they must change, thereby consciously or unconsciously thinking that they are flawed while there is nothing to be examined in ourselves. When we put objectivity in these relationships and admit that we have a responsibility in them, we no longer have to feel victimized by the situation. We can make choices to change our response, we can learn how to set boundaries, or we can alter our own perception so we come from a loving place while making changes.
Insisting that our subjective truth is all that there is can lead us to casting blame and judgment. We can conveniently say the rich businesses are so greedy they have wiped out our oceans, or the governments are not doing their jobs in protecting our environment, all the while focused on criticism of others while disowning our own responsibility. To look at situations empty of blame in others means we start to make connections with our own decisions and the realities as we experience them. If we have observed that the oceans are dying and the environment is neglected, are we responsible in some way for this? If we consume fish or other animals, if we make no attempt to reduce waste, then we must accept that it is our choices too that created this reality. But instead of being stuck in blame, we then take our power back. If we are responsible for this reality, then we are also responsible and are in a position to change it.
This concept of emptiness transforms powerlessness to responsibility and hopelessness to freedom. Think of a situation in the world you are not completely satisfied with, and think of what it is that you can do starting today to change it. Consider the attitude and mindset that must go with this change. If you feel that the world oppresses minorities, then can you make the decision to examine your own actions and see where you may have contributed to it, and see where you may change it? What is needed from you, more action, more perseverance? Or is it a change in the way you view the world, to have more compassion, more patience?
The focus of the month this March in Jivamukti is The Reality of the Enlightened Mind. A yogi striving for enlightenment looks at the world that we live in, and instead of focusing their energy on complaining or criticizing, is aware that change must start with oneself. As Gandhi-ji said, we must be the change we wish to see in the world.