People have long asked themselves, how should we live, to be happy, healthy, wealthy and wise? Should we seek to create a utopia, an ideal that we know in our hearts can never be realised? Or should we capitulate to a realisation, within the coordinates of what is possible, that we are reactionary beings, urged purely by survival to grasp and grab the nearest opiate?
The way of Yoga offers a manner of interaction with experience that requires an attitude of compassion, humility and forgiveness. These urges are not evil: they are simply the combined threads of our interwoven past and present, distant and immediate, bringing us into our current relationship. None of us set out to harm ourselves or others, or if we do, it is because we have managed to succumb to the delusions that there is an elsewhere, where all things are different, and all will be forgiven. There is not. And the only one to ask forgiveness of is yourself: can you forgive yourself for that mean act, that deliberate ignoring, that manipulation? You must both learn to, and be determined to learn how to open the space between reaction and response so that you don’t have to ask yourself forgiveness again, and again (although, inevitably, you will have to keep asking yourself for forgiveness, as you become more and more sensitive to your involvement in relationships that are detrimental, that create and recreate suffering).
I practice realisation – not well. I am not in a state of permanent enlightenment. I have a moment, here and there, of deep appreciation when it seems that the attitude I find most helpful, the attitude of complete compassion, swells to encompass all the relationships I’m in and then it is effortless to act in ways that allow all activity and information to flow freely. However, I am also liable to falter, sneer, argue, scream and rage against the conditions I find myself in. I’m no guru.
Nevertheless, I’m much more liable to extricate myself from the self-satisfaction of deep disgust with myself and the world that used to hold me in its thrall, not least during nearly thirty years of bulimia. I’ve overcome that prison, and the prison of guilt and shame associated with childhood abuse at a boarding school. And the practice of Yoga and, for me, its heart, which is meditation (that I now practice in the Zen style as zazen) has been the gate, the path, and the moment by moment awakening into radical acceptance, forgiveness, and compassion.
In all, therefore, I’m like most people, although my experience of my life has been of somewhat extreme dips and precipices. Keeping open and alert to the shifts and interchanges of everyday existence feeds my need for drama: there is plenty going on, still. Yet, it is less repetitive now. The unique nature of each interaction keeps surprising me with its unexpectedness. The way of Yoga is definitely not for the fainthearted. But it is most certainly a way for those who seek to understand their experience and develop healthier relationships through that understanding.
Before I lived here, I was a researcher in a refugee camp in Kenya; before that, I was a researcher in Oxford, and a therapeutic practitioner, a volunteer in various countries of the global South, and a long time before that, a ‘monitrice de ski’!