I'm drawn to coming-of-age books, and among them my favorite is Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli. Stargirl to this so-called normal world is...well, weird. She is the type of girl who knew everyone's birthday, and if it were yours, she'd come up to you and sing in front of the entire high school. She is so unusual that her peers were both fascinated and put off by her strange behavior. At the height of her popularity, she became a cheerleader. Her school lost a game, and she cheered for the other team. No one understood her. How can she have no sense of school spirit? No sense of loyalty? To her, anyone winning is cause for celebration, no matter who it is. She saw everyone as equals. She is a yogi.
This month's focus is Bhakti or devotion. When we speak about devotion, it usually refers to a power greater than ourselves. Yoga sutra chapter 1 verse 23 talks about devotion: īśvara-pranidhānād vā. The English commentary is: By giving your life and identity to God you attain the identity of God.
God is controversial. Even amongst the people closest to us, when the subject of God comes up and we see things differently, the discussion can get very heated. How can they not get it? I am right. They are wrong. We are like Stargirl's entire high school that thinks we have to show loyalty to our team, stick together, and see other teams as enemies. It is this attachment to our team or form of God that causes separation. It causes wars.
But the sanskrit word īśvara makes no such distinction or bias or judgment. It is the absolute. It manifests in form, and how that form takes shape is up to each one of us. Some of us see the form in Jesus or Krsna or Allah or Buddha or the highest Self or the cosmos or nature. Whatever name we give it, if it is a form that helps us relate to the absolute, then that is what īśvara is to us. The work is not to say that my God is better than your God, or relating to a God is better than not believing in a God, or not believing in a God is better than believing in a God. All of that seeing others as separate does not help us come closer to yoga. It breeds negative emotions and we start to live the opposite of the principles we claim to have.
The real work of bhakti is surrender. Whatever form we choose to relate to, surrender is letting go of our egoic identity and attachment. We let go because we are learning to trust. Many if not all of us who come to yoga practice have trust issues. And while it may not be apparent in other aspects of our lives, we start to notice it when we do asana. We are afraid to fall. We look around to see that we got the verbal cues right. If a mirror is available, we sneak a peak to validate our form. There is a lot of mistrust, and as a consequence, a lot of challenge in coming to a place of surrender.
The yoga sutra is most definitely intimidating at first encounter. Surrender everything? We struggle in a standing balancing pose, completely afraid to fall, and we are being told to surrender everything? The beauty of yoga is that it is a practice. We take one step even if we cannot yet take a leap.
In asana practice, we can start to feel at ease in forward bends where our bodies are in a position of surrender. While here, we can start to commit only to the present moment. Granted, to give up everything all at once may not suit us at this moment. But certainly, to give up everything in this precise moment is manageable. To give up our pride and anger and fear and jealousy and bitterness and judgment only at this precise moment is manageable. To give up our financial worries and emotional challenges and spiritual struggles only at this precise moment is manageable. To give up the strain in our relationships and the distance in our friendships and the conflicts in our community only at this precise moment is manageable. Then we practice a little bit more each time, letting go for longer periods at a time each time. We practice. You see, our intellectual minds and our egos want to be in control. But our bodies feel completely natural when we surrender and let go. Let us listen to our bodies.
The more we surrender our ego identities, the less attached we become to seeing our way as the only way. When we start to get a glimpse of that sense of oneness, the other-ness disappears. At the end of the day, there is no you vs. me, only one cosmic consciousness. And whether we choose to call it liberation or freedom or heaven or nirvana or moksha, we can all practice a little bit of it at a time by surrendering. The day will come when we can be like Stargirl who is at ease with our own strangeness. The day will come when we can cheer for everyone, even if the rest of the world thinks we are weird.
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