Back in August when I was applying for yoga certification, I discovered, in my search for our textbooks, the Yoga Sutras by Patanjali, 196 aphorisms. I had no idea what a gem of wisdom they would be, especially the first two pada (sections). No doubt, my reception of them is made possible by the mindful commentary of Reverend Jaganath Carrera, but I have found them to be much needed guidance, lessons that were never articulated to me in quite this way. I’d like to share with you some of the sutras that have most helped me begin moving again.
1.30. Disease, dullness, doubt, carelessness, laziness, sensuality, false perception, failure to reach firm ground, and slipping from the ground gained—these distractions of the mind-stuff are the obstacles.
Yes! Yes! Yes! Unabashedly, this describes a thick slice of my self-narrative. Carrera comments that the obstacles are in order, as if steps to a downfall. I had been wondering before encountering these scriptures where I had gone off-course. I had found myself feeling depressed, anxious, and desperate without a job and a means for independence at 35. I had a Ph.D., but that did not seem to matter in the way I thought it would. I can very much say that after graduating and having been an adjunct for 10 years already, I was feeling dis-ease. I fell into dullness, only applying haphazardly to full-time jobs and then into doubt when nothing positive came back. Once you lose your faith, I’m not sure much can happen. So I began to get careless, forgetting what it was to be a scholar. I felt the job search for the academy was too difficult and became lazy, beginning to look for something easier. This is when I decided to shelve everything and travel around Spain, Germany, and Ireland for as long as I could. It was sensually indulgent for sure. I cannot say I did not have a magical and liberating time. I absolutely did. But I returned after four months only to sink to that place I mentioned in the beginning – the depression and panic. My false perception was what I discussed in my post about “Hard Work without Getting Anywhere” – I realized that I had been so despondent because I had felt I was entitled. Entitled to an easy path to job security and the comfortable life I envisioned. But I hadn’t reached any firm ground. And although I had built up a decade of teaching experience and completed my dissertation, I was quickly slipping from any ground gained. All in all, I had created a world of distractions for myself that didn’t need to be. Patanjali and Carrera: you really get me.
Of course, what would this spiritual guide be if it couldn’t tell me what and how to rise up out of the mire and head somewhere? (Actually it would still be really enlightening.) This leads me to the second sutra I find so helpful:
1.14. Practice becomes firmly grounded when well attended to for a long time, without break, and with enthusiasm.
I have so much gratitude for this life lesson. It suggests that nothing is quick or easy, but it can still be nourishing. I am happy to apply these three elements to my most immediate life goals now. It helps me to become realistic that the road will be long. I may never even get anywhere, but at least I will have had a firmly grounded practice. I feel so grateful for my faith in that. This sutra also provides an ethic of hard work. Perhaps if I would have realized this sooner, I might have managed to pay the yoga tuition and be in the classes that start tomorrow.
The last sutras I will share have to do with the values I want to base my life upon, the yama (social restraints) and niyama (personal observances). Yama and niyama are the first two of the eight limbs of yoga (ashtanga):
2.30. Yama consists of non-violence, truthfulness, non-stealing, continence, and non-greed.
2.32. Niyama consists of purity, contentment, accepting but not causing pain, study, and worship of God (self-surrender).
Carrerra suggests starting a spiritual journal to keep track of one’s practice or to choose one yama and one niyama a week to focus on or particularly think about.
The idea of ahimsa is what I wish for myself and the world. To be non-violent by ceasing war, by how we speak to each other, by how we feel about ourselves. What can we help grow instead of destroy? What can we let be? Satya is liberating because we can remind ourselves to speak even when there might be uncomfortable or unwanted consequences. To be really honest, what would that look like? For me, asteya has much to do with relationship and can be applied to global relations. What do we take from other countries for instance, when we coerce them to create products that sustain everyone else, giving them the burden of industrial pollution and waste removal? A country might look at themselves as relatively peaceful with clean air, but at what cost to the other nations they use? Brahmacarya is usually implied to mean celibacy and abstinence of sex, but I take a more holistic and relative approach to it. It is actually most helpful to me when interpreted as “appropriate use of one’s vital energies.”
Aparigraha translated as non-possession and non-property speaks to my values of how we treat people (I am thinking about how women’s bodies are often considered property) and how our accumulation of material goods affects other people.
The one niyama I have thought most about so far is śauca, purity. While I hesitate to put a great divide between the pure/impure, I interpret this as simply being observant and aware of what I put into my body and expose it to. I guess one can never be very rigid about these things (the middle way, right?), but it is helping me be more mindful in my relationship with food and technology.
LaChelle Schilling, Ph.D., graduated in 2014 from the Women and Religion program at Claremont Graduate University. She teaches composition from a contemplative pedagogical approach at Oklahoma State University. Currently, she is working on a book project titled Minimalism, Mindfulness, and the Middle Way, incorporating wisdom from Buddhist, Hindu, Sufi, and Christian literature. She is also working on certification as a yoga instructor.