Yoga & Relationships

Buddha offered a wonderful insight into True Love.[1] Which for many of us can be a revolutionary way of viewing love and intimacy as well as an immediate way to really carry our practice into our lives. These four aspects can help us to ensure that when we are acting in service, our motivations are as authentic and pure as possible. This level of introspection requires a great deal of honesty as well as self-acceptance and self-understanding for any perceived short-comings. We might not always like what we find, but we can welcome any disjuncture between our ideals and lived reality as an opportunity to get more real with who we are, why we are how we are, and to nurture what Lindsey Wise will call “the beauty way”.

The first aspect of true love is maitri (metta in Pali), the intention and capacity to offer joy and happiness. To develop that capacity, we have to practice looking and listening deeply so that we know what to do and what not to do to make others happy. It is not about forcing our mandate upon any one else, or giving for the sake of giving if what we are sharing is not going to bring joy but perhaps could bring more burden or vulnerability.

The second aspect of true love is karuna, the intention and capacity to relieve and transform suffering and lighten sorrows. Karuna is usually translated as “compassion,” but that is not exactly correct. “Compassion” is composed of com (“together with”) and passion (“to suffer”). But we do not need to suffer to remove suffering from another person. Often we can feel someone’s pain so deeply we feel worse then they do! Our pity can make their rising resilience impotent. The hidden gift of compassion is that it automatically invites you to relate with people because you no longer regard people as a drain on your energy.

The third element of true love is mudita joy. True love always brings joy to ourselves and to the one we love. If our love does not bring joy to both of us, it is not true love. Mudita also includes a real contentment and witnessing someone elses joy. It can be seen as a wonderful antidote to jealously.

The fourth element of true love is upeksha, which means equanimity, nonattachment, nondiscrimination, even-mindedness, or letting go. Upa means “over,” and eksha means “to look.” You climb the mountain to be able to look over the whole situation, not bound by one side or the other. If your love has attachment, discrimination, prejudice, or clinging in it, it is not true love. This is not to say that a certain amount of attachment doesn’t go hand in hand with true love, but we are aware of it, and it doesn’t poison the beauty of the relation.

In the context of Yoga, attachment is often seen as an aliment which needs to be overcome.  However, if it weren’t for attachment you and I would not be here.  It was because of our primary caregivers “attachment” that we literally survived our formative years. It was because of our biological parents sexual intimacy that feminine and masculine came together to birth us. As adults, it is the willingness to be vulnerable in a loving relationship by becoming “attached”, that we are able take off the armor we worked so tirelessly to adorn, in order to remain immune to the inevitable suffering of separation that a cycle of any authentic and loving relationship contains. Chogyam Trunpa Rinpoche taught that our aim was to be simultaneously in samsara and at the same time nirvana – to be here with our feet in the dirt instead of flying away with our white wings of wannabe angels – to hold the sadness and joy of the world in our hearts with equal measure and at the same time, “get on with it and make a good cup of tea.”  Chogyam’s Trunpa’s “crazy wisdom” was that to be on a spiritual path didn’t mean that we must renounce the world and live in a cave, but instead jump in with our whole being, eyes, arms and hearts wide open.  All of this right here is how we begin to really activate yoga.

It is in the giving, loving, supporting one another through life, and through the ups and downs “for better or for worse.” Just like this course has challenged what history, yoga, spirituality, freedom, the mind and even the self is, it becomes clear that nothing is set in stone.  Not even suffering…

The most precious gems hide in the dark

Many of us in the studios talk about freeing ourselves and others from suffering and yet as Buddha rightly observed – just by virtue of having a human body, we are designed to suffer! Of course humans have spent a very long time asking why? The Dalai Lama explains that a human life is indeed so precious because it contains the perfect balance between suffering and beauty. If we were locked into one of the Buddhist hell realms, the suffering there would be so crippling that there would be no chance to help others, learn or love. If we were born into the god realms of perfect bliss we would be denied the treasures hidden in the experience of pain. One of the biggest gifts we can give ourselves is to accept this human experience and to trust it fully.  We don’t have the answers, we don’t know why we are here, if we are radically honest with ourselves, many of us don’t even want to be free from the world. Just as the Dalai Lama explains, it is in the challenges that the strength of what it is to be human is allowed to come through.  Without pain we have no reference for joy, without the ugly we would be unable to appreciate beauty, without difference we would be bored… the list is as endless as the definitions are malleable. One of the most touching quotes I remind myself constantly is by Rumi who writes: “The deeper you allow sorrow to carve into your soul, the more joy you can contain.” In fact, from a Buddhist perspective, suffering is the gateway to compassion. In the words of Joseph Goldstein, “for genuine compassion to arise it is necessary to reverse the conditioned tendency of avoidance and open heartedly experience the full range of our human condition”. The Taoists call this the great willingness to be and be with “the ten thousand joys and the ten thousand sorrows” and to enable our hearts to open in boundless compassion.[2]

This would then question the very validity of the Shantideva’s beautiful work, The Path of the Bodhisattva. However, if we are surrounded by a sea of suffering, we would surely not find peace if we were to climb out and sunbathe on the island of santosha. This often makes me wonder about the wisdom of so many of us leaving our place of birth, our broken families and disintegrating cultures in order to practice or teach Yoga in the comparative paradise of Bali. How responsible is this? Are we really activating Yoga by opting out of the main stream, or could it be that we conversely diluting the very essence of the Balinese culture we purport to be drawn to? The more we listen, the more we hear.

The deeper we are able to relax into our nature state of being, the more quickly our senses enliven to the vibrations of the world around us.  Everything has a lesson to teach. Watching a flower turn to face the sun, or a seed germinate when all of the conditions are “just right”. Observing the falling rain drops gather in a puddle until momentum carries it to the nearest stream. Everything all around us is whispering its own wisdom. In the words of Kabir:

“When the eyes and ears open, even the leaves on the trees teach like pages from the scriptures.”

There are lessons in even the most subtle action, and if we refuse to listen, sure enough the lessons will need to get louder until they are heard. You are consciousness embodied and life is living through you. Realize the parody of both of these. As this life will end and you have the potential to witness it. This awakening to life itself may seem in contradiction to many of the lineages of Ancient India that appear to be warning us of falling prey to our very humanness. As if it were an illness to be cured from.  And this is why it is important to employ discernment when approaching our yoga practice. It is time to reclaim our own practice. This doesn’t mean ignoring the thousands of years of wisdom that continues from the archaic roots of this wisdom tradition. In fact, just as we have done throughout this course, it means putting Yoga in context, looking at where it has come from, what it’s all about, how it has been corrupted throughout time by those who yearn to dominate and dictate, and also how it is not something to necessarily be recited or repeated from habit, but rather Yoga is like the water and the sunlight necessary for a seed to germinate and flower. These teachings, teacher and sangha are all here to direct the tapas at the wisdom within the cave of your heart. There is nothing to buy, nothing to attain, nothing to get better at.

[1] From the first chapter of Teachings on Love, by Thich Nhat Hanh

[2] Joseph Goldstein and Jack Kornfield. Seeking the Heart of Wisdom, p.129