Rowing on glassy water can be mesmerizing. To pull an oar and watch the surface of the water glide by silently can be a very powerful experience. As we move forward in life toward realizing our true selves, today’s lotus and muck can quietly fade into the past.
This week’s posts have been dedicated to starting the new year with an intention. I hope that some of you are sharing with me inspiration to set our course in a positive direction and then pull in precise, rhythmic strokes.
We have the wisdom to refrain from either grasping at the irresistible or pushing away the unpleasant. We let it all slide by and feel the power of practice.
In yoga theory, the process of letting both the lotus and the scum (the pleasant and the unpleasant) slide by is called vairagya. Vairagya comes from the root virya, in which English-speakers will recognize the source of the words vital and vitality, and, yes, even Viagra. The root means strength, and is the same as in virabhadrasana, the yoga pose often called Warrior Pose. Vairagya means the strength we get from being free from anything that weighs us down.
Vairagya is the natural counterpoint to abhyasa, which comes when we make a sankalpa (see previous post) or commitment to living yoga. We commit to practice and let our experience tell us what is good (or not good for us). Abhyasa is the work and vairagya is the wisdom of letting be.
In Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga we have specific instructions for practice, and principles for applying the practice to life. But nobody is telling us “Hey, put down that cheese sandwich” (or cigarette, or whatever). In fact, we cannot be told ‘don’t do this or that’.
If we are true to our practice, listen to our experience, and act on that wisdom, yoga will happen, and the stuff that is not serving us (like maybe late-night television) will naturally fade from our reality.
We can let our practice inform us about choices of diet, entertainment, lifestyle etc. We can let our practice inform us about our success being loving, caring members of family and community. We can follow the example of those whose wisdom may shine in our direction. Practice keeps direction our attention inward, especially when we feel like we want to be told what to do.
In our practice, we observe the thoughts, the sensations, the emotions, the reactions and dialogue. Some students can hear the sound of the cigarette tar as they breath in twists. Some students can smell the previous night’s food and beverage oozing sweat out their pores. And we listen…
We live, learn and let be, knowing that by methodical practice the truth will be revealed. In the act of ‘taking-up’ and ‘keeping-up’ practice, we need not ‘give-up’ on anything.
Vairagya in the modern world can easily be mistaken for ‘not doing’ or ‘giving up’ something (eating meat, telling lies, whatever). ‘Giving up’ is an expression of dvesha (aversion) which gives those very things power over us. These things should naturally fade into the past for earnest practitioners when the time is right.
As yogis we are learning to be at ease with the good and the bad (and, in advanced stages, the ugly too;-). We have positive motivation and inertia that we encourage in ourselves and in others.
Just keep rowing!