We often wish each other prosperity at special occasions that mark new beginnings such weddings or when moving home. But what sort of prosperity are we referring to? We may want someone to succeed in their endeavours, but what are those endeavours and what is it that drives people to achieve them?
Most of us probably secretly wish for some frivolous things. We may desire more money, a fancy car, more fun friends to socialise with, a posher house, a better love life, more power and authority, exotic holidays, sex appeal in spades, more hair, less hair, a wardrobe with all the latest fashions and so on and so on. However, as soon as we gain any of the items listed in our bottomless bucket list of wants, another want is added. We are conditioned to expect some sort of reward when we achieve a goal, we want to be recognised and appreciated for all our gains. Every desire realised promotes another expectation until we find ourselves in an endless cycle of gain and reward, reward and gain.
I live in a small, unkempt house and I have less money than I would like. I often find myself wishing and even praying for more money to get what I want i.e. a posher house and more time to create an impressive, clean, creative, welcoming environment to live in. When I sit still and focus on my breathing, I distinctly notice my cravings which spin around the calm core of my being. My mosquito like thoughts don’t stop buzzing when I sit alert, relaxed and still, but I can see my greed for what it is, and I begin to learn what generates my desires, and in turn, how following any of my stimulated senses leads me towards inevitable dissatisfaction. The thoughts keep buzzing but they don’t settle and suck at my energy when I purposefully sit still. I’m enabled, with this practice of stillness, to start gently changing my thought patterns. It’s a gradual process, but every time I sit consciously with my breath I become grateful for what I have; comfort, shelter, warmth, food, security and priceless companions. I realise that I am fortunate enough to be abundantly wealthy. The kind of wealth I feel at these times cannot be bought with cold cash or financial credit, the greed that falls away from me can’t be sucked out with a machine, but the release of tension that comes from “knowing” how unruly my thoughts are is a free, precious gift. The gift of sitting still allows me to know my “self” (the me that I “Ruth” identify with) and the breath enables me to sense the calm core of the true nature that holds “me”.
Being present is a term which is often used to describe to the calmness that I feel when I’m still. Presence is a concept which always makes me smile because I’ve been absent minded on countless occasions (I still have that tendency). Over the years yoga has trained me to focus my thoughts towards what I’m doing, practicing, learning etc. in a more concentrated way, and this is what I feel that peculiar phrase “being present” is trying to describe. The asanam (physical postures) that we practice in classes are aimed at developing a cooperative relationship between the mind, body and breath in order that stillness can become more achievable, if practiced for appropriately set periods of time. We develop strength and flexibility whilst directing the breath in a rhythm that sustains and maintains us physically and increases our stamina; this in turn switches on our willingness to be calm and train our absent mind to register with the “here and now”. The aim of our yoga practice is to bring us onto a path towards a stable condition that can free us from the need to restrict ourselves with the rigid expectations that our grasping ego generates as it carelessly follows our sensory stimulus experiences.
For some of us the desirous ego is a scape-goat, it can be used as an excuse to explain away ill-judged behaviour. Sometimes our ego is portrayed as being akin to a demonic, satanic figure. Many people blame the ego for regretful actions; I’m tempted to blame my ego for this blog!
Demons are often seen as shadowy figures or seductive creatures that lure us into devilish traps, backing us into blind corners where the only hope of rescue is through an angel or god of some kind. Our ego is seen by some as a maniacal aspect of ourselves which gives rise to the term ego-maniac. We view the ego aspect of ourselves as an enemy. I’ve heard some yoga teachers encouraging me to do battle with and defeat my ego, which sounds very aggressive. It feels as if yoga is being turned into a weapon to defeat our egotistical side. People can be kind, sensitive and compassionate to their friends whilst, conversely, fighting wars within themselves.
Ahimsa is a Sanskrit term which is often translated as non-harming, I take that to mean compassion. Ahimsa does not start outside of ourselves, compassion is seeded within, and as we nurture our inner kindness we create the right conditions for its seeds to grow. Kindness towards ourselves isn’t selfish, shoots of compassion and understanding will start to bear ripe fruit quite naturally until eventually there will be an abundance of fruit, and other like-minded egotistical people can feast on the generous crop.
My ego is wild and easily led by sensory stimulation, but it was this wild side that led me towards the practice of yoga. “I” wanted to remain youthful, “I” wanted to feel vital, and “I” wanted to show off my stretchy hamstrings. In many respects “I” thought that yoga was about getting “my” own way! Thankfully all these bind-weed like ego desires introduced my asmita (I-am-ness) to yoga, and then my asmita planted its first kindness seeds.
To cut a long story short after years of practicing yoga, something started to grow in the compost of my asmita, new little shoots of awareness started to sprout up from the soil, all the years of seeking to maintain youthfulness had nourished my earthy ego to allow the seeds of compassion to reach out for some light. As the shoots grew my ego became a bit of a nuisance, it mistook the many flourishing leaves for weeds that needed to be taken out. Often it would be seduced by the beautiful knot weed flowers into nurturing them with manure.
“I’ve” sometimes sabotaged my kindness seeds, but yoga is a garden for the soul, not a battle ground, so practicing yoga enabled “me” to see the beauty of my flourishing self-compassion, and I stopped seeing kindness towards myself as a flaw. These kindness flowers have lit up my mind, I can now see why I am who I am, and how I have become me; through yoga I’m learning how to cultivate my garden, but I do admit there are lots of weeds that are so stubborn it feels as if it would take a whole, fully equipped, army of super warriors to get shot of them, this causes me to want to revise The Bhagavad Gita which is the story of an outward literal war which describes a metaphorical battle about the inward mental conflict that we often wage between excuses and responsibility. I hope to blog about these inner clashes soon.
Ultimately I am a load of rotting mulch, but from that muck lots of nourishing traits are flourishing, just like carrots in the compost. My ego no longer constantly tries to defeat itself in an epic and destructive battle, instead it wants to do the work (or yoga) needed to prepare the ground for future kindness seeds to bloom.