Thursday, October 3, 2013

Yoga Topo Maps

I was reading a sample from iTunes of B.K.S. Iyengar's book Light on Life last night and fell in love with these two paragraphs in the introduction:

Yoga is a rule book for playing the game of Life, but in this game no one needs to lose. It is tough, and you need to train hard. It requires the willingness to think for yourself, to observe and correct, and to surmount occasional setbacks. It demands honesty, sustained application, and above all love in your heart. If you are interested to understand what it means to be a human being, placed between earth and sky, if you are interested in where you come from and where you will be able to go, if you want happiness and long for freedom, then you have already begun to take the first steps toward the journey inward.

The rules of nature cannot be bent. They are impersonal and implacable. But we do play with them. By accepting nature's challenge and joining the game, we find ourselves on a windswept and exciting journey that will pay benefits commensurate to the time and effort we put in—the lowest being our ability to tie our shoes when we are eight and the highest being the opportunity to taste the essence of life itself.

Ahhhh.... how sweet those words. And such wonderful benefits. I wonder which i will value more when i'm eighty — being able to tie my own shoes or having tasted the essence of life itself? On the one hand, you can always go without shoes on the inward journey; in fact, most of us usually do. On the other hand, though, no one really knows what the roads will be like on that journey between this life and the next, so shoes that stay on your feet might come in handy?

I don't know if i agree that yoga is a "rule book for playing the game of Life." Rule books tell you what you can and can not do and that's not how i see the spiritual teachings i regularly work with. Rather, i think i tend to look at yoga (as well as Buddhism) as a set of topographical maps. When you're out in unknown territories, the only thing you know about the terrain and what to expect are the topo maps you carry with you.

Topo maps don't tell you what you can and can not do, where you have to go and where you can not go. They simply tell you what to expect if you choose to undertake the walk. They tell you where past explorers have found areas of particular difficulty, maybe even danger. They tell you where travel will be hard, where patience and persistence will be required. They tell you about the high meadows and plateaus, where you can rest and recuperate, places to stop and enjoy the scenery, places where it's good or bad to spend longer periods of time, camping and studying the local environment.

I have always found that it is in those areas where a topo map is the only guide i have, that i am truly human, a true human being. Trusting those that walked these paths before, i leave the worries to them, taking the advice of the maps they provided. Not judging my abilities, not comparing myself to anyone else, not expecting or hoping to find anything other than what the maps tell me i will find.

Walking on these trips is far, far past Meditation 101; it is meditation at the graduate school level. Walking, climbing, exerting when necessary, relaxing when possible, but always being mindful of everything. Not mindful of my body and how it's functioning as well as mindful of the environment, no. On these hikes, there is no me and out there, no inside and outside, no body and environment, no me and no hiking. There is just movement, just breathing, just beauty and exertion being.

If you're a hiker, you may have had days like that. I hope you have. You may have had them on your bicycle as well, another wonderful place for this type of moving yoga, moving meditation. During these special journeys, you can find the same things that you find on a yoga mat or on a zafu. And what is it you find? Those invisible, nonexistent doors — the gaps between your never ending thoughts.

There is something alluring beyond explanation about the peace, the silence, the stillness that is found in those gaps. Those gaps that can be found when you trust the authors of the topo map of your choice. The gaps found with persistent, steady, and sometimes grueling effort along the paths laid down by our predecessors. There is something unimaginably beautiful about the scenery found in those gaps, where everything you see, everything you encounter, is just you, being. Being. And no more.

But, back to where i started — books about yoga. I remember when i first started yoga. I knew nothing about it. Zero. Like many, i assumed the asanas were all there was to it. Being the curious sort, however, i bought and read the famous Autobiography of A Yogi and mentioned it to my teacher. Her response? "Oh, that's a good start."

Good start? I thought that explained everything. Little did i know. :-) So now, 4 years later, several versions of the Bhagavad Gita later, three commentaries on the Gita later, and three commentaries on Patanjali's Yoga Sutras later.... i now know how little i know. But, i would agree, it has been a good start.

If i could only figure out a way to get Dainin Katagiri and Iyengar together to co-write a book. They could title it Light on Each Moment. How very, very nice that would be. It might be the only book ever needed for the rest of my life.

But i think i've said the same thing about the Shōbōgenzō before. ;-)

No comments: