The first of the 8 Limbs of Yoga are the Yamas, the conscious restraints of our behaviors, of which there are 5. I find myself, of late, balancing between the second and fifth yamas…satya, truthfulness, and aparigraha, non-possessiveness. The others are ahimsa, non-violence, asteya, non-stealing, and brahmacharya, moderation. In the practice of satya I find myself gravitating towards the element of non-judgement…holding space for those who don’t flow the way I flow, allowing their differences to teach me rather than unsettle me, staying grounded in opposition and finding an even deeper anchor in the steady practice of remaining compassionate.
It is a very human urge to judge. We make judgements all day long, every day, from simple (“I should drink more water right now because I’m thirsty,” to complex, “I should tell my husband he needs to pay more attention to me because I’m beginning to feel detached from the relationship,”). Just because a judgement comes up does not mean it’s fair, correct or appropriate, but it comes up nonetheless. In my practice of satya, which also encompasses being honest and forgiving, I aim to see clearly the thoughts I have and judgements I pass rather than trying to stifle them. I meet them with kindness and love. I examine, dispassionately, their truthfulness and concede that, inevitably, there is always an element of falsity to one’s own judgements.
It is also quite human to be possessive. Possessive of time, possessions, even other people (this is where it has been trickiest for me). It makes me think of the story of the traveling monk. A man meets a monk in an airport. The man is sitting with his humble suitcase, waiting for the plane to arrive. The monk is sitting across from him with nothing, hands folded peacefully in his lap. The man smiles at the monk, and asks him, “Where is all your luggage?” The monk smiles back, “You yourself only have one small suitcase, where is the rest of your luggage?” The man glances at his conservative suitcase, “Oh…I’m just passing through,” the man says with a shrug. A gentle pause, and the monk replies, “So am I.”
Point being…how does a suitcase full (or, let’s be honest, HOUSE full) of possessions really serve us? In many ways we are served by the things we own, we use them daily and are grateful for them. But in many other cases they simply weigh us down, like anchors around our ankles. Keeping us stagnant, keeping us stuck at home paying for the expensive things by which we are surrounded. What I find is worse, in my experience, is being possessive of another human being. We cannot own one another, we cannot even own our own selves. Our spirits, yes, but these bodies and minds are temporarily on lend from God.
The Divine has placed us for a certain amount of time on this planet to — what? To do what? My answer is to BE LOVE. Not to own the world’s finest things, not to own one’s partner or children or dearest friends, not to base one’s self-worth on the accumulation of material goods or even notions…but to be good and do good. To love oneself and one another. To leave a mark on this planet, a jet stream if you will, of truth and love. Of light. Of authenticity. To have lived fully, for one another, humbly and with utmost regard to the phenomenon of this opportunity at human life. To have all that we have, and to have it for the great lengths that we do. The blessing of cognitive reasoning to even have this conversation, to even digest this notion of living more simply so as to open oneself up to love and freedom. Because that is what the 8 Limbs of Yoga are about…leading one in a solo, spiritual, cosmic journey towards liberation. Freedom. I certainly don’t anticipate getting to the 8th limb, which is Samadhi (enlightenment) in this life, and frankly I wouldn’t want to. I have much work to do at the bottom rungs. I have been blessed with the lives preceding this one to know that I have done much work already, and now I am consciously aware of the ladder before me. I start at the very base rung, on the very first yama, and work my way upwards…with integrity, passion, awareness, purposefulness and, above all, gratitude.
This practice of yoga is one that is lifelong, if so we choose (and it’s quite obvious I’ve chosen). There are fierce practices that can last a lifetime embedded in each yama itself, not to mention the intricacies of the other 8 Limbs. This practice will not gift us with immediate relief from the suffering of life. In fact, quite the contrary. The practice will open us up to greater depths of feeling, which can at first cause suffering. But, by always coming back to the yamas, we can ground ourselves in the pulse of our own true nature and not get carried away with self-judgement.
My two chosen yamas for current practice come to mind yet again. Truthfulness – forgiving myself for the urge to judge myself, and embracing my imperfect human tendencies as simply the container for my beyond perfect spirit (all of our spirits are untouchably perfect). Non-possessiveness, being non-attached to the outcome of my practice (a huge challenge) and trusting the process. Practicing diligently, with Grace, and always asking for the guidance of the Divine in the endeavor to stay calm and non-possessive of the very relationship between the tangible self and the God within. I believe that, whether or not one is a yogi, the 8 Limbs are universal. Anyone can practice them. Anybody living out in the world, amongst other human beings, can find a fierce daily practice in these simple yet profound concepts. We are devastatingly beautiful in our humanity…and it is up to us to see and embrace that, as our souls traverse this journey. May we always vow to uplift one another and see our selves in one another, so as to proliferate the most healing energy that could exist…compassion. The work is done on the inside, the effects radiate outward, and the ripples undulate onward…