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Discovering that the Heart of Practice is Each Other

By Scott Johnson

Writing the SYL blog when there is such raw uncertainty in the world is always a challenge for me. I’m aware that you may want to know about yoga related things, but when there are major national and international incidents going on it’s hard to turn away. However, I personally feel that yoga practice and the world are deeply inter-related and that yoga practice has the power to transform how we relate to all of life. From our own internal dilemmas to the dilemmas the wider world has to face.

Connecting in nature

We can use yoga practice to reach deeper into this human life. Our ongoing practical relationships with our physicality, feelings, emotions and ever-more subtle areas of experience mould each of us into a more sensory experiencing individual. We then get to move like this within the framework of all the connections we have with this world. Through practice we can begin to see ourselves as part of an incredibly complex, intimate, yet utterly beautiful pattern of nature. When we connect with this nature in us we can then notice that others have this same innate nature too, and perhaps see that we are a community of people cohabiting on this planet together. Cohabiting with others of the same nature.

We share experiences. We share lives. Yoga practice is as much about our relationship with others’ nature as it is about our own, and practice begins with recognising our own intimate beauty. If we do recognise it we can then see the beauty outside of ourselves, whilst continuing to notice and nurture the beauty within. So how can we develop this? How can we relate in this way?

A meeting of nervous systems

On the recent Spring Gathering in May that I taught with Greg Nardi and Kia Naddermier, a fellow teacher and participant Jess likened teaching yoga to two nervous systems meeting each other. Not people meeting, but nervous systems meeting. I’ve contemplated this since and I feel it has real value. If we can meet each other on this level we can relate to something deeper than character and ego. We can meet each other in natural relationships and perhaps feel something deeper going on. Because it is for us. Connecting on this sensory level allows us to get underneath the stories and viewpoints in our lives and connect as human beings.

Then if we work from the main principle of yoga, ahimsa (do no harm), we can begin to really listen inside and see how we can act in the world. And then how we can integrate with society, culture and politics so that we have choices in how we align our principles with those of others.

Communities without walls

In uncertain times it helps to recognise and establish these ideas and principles. We do relate through politics, society and culture as a national and global community and we should remember we are fortunate to live in a culture in which we have the choice, freedom and liberty to hold these ideals. When anything happens to make us feel vulnerable we naturally hold each other tighter and come together with those we know and recognise in solidarity, perhaps just for a moment. We use our communities to make sense of each other whilst navigating the world beyond the community. But how can we create communities with no walls, so that everyone can be part of the same one? How can we expand communities that are rich, inclusive, adaptable and based on the principles of love or ahimsa?

My dear mindfulness teacher, Cathy Mae Keralse, wrote to our mindfulness community, Clear Mind Institute, last week after the traumatic event in Manchester (which has since been turned into a blog) and she included these words:

“Courage, compassion and community naturally emerge at times of trouble. We seem instinctively charged to want to help alleviate the pain and suffering – the human spirit appears glorious and defies the social constructs that otherwise divide.

While we are in this space, it becomes easier to identify with our brothers and sisters in Syria, Iraq, the Congo and many parts of the world where families are devastated on a daily basis.

Once fear becomes stronger than compassion and our walls go up, we easily revert to ‘selfing’ and ‘othering’.

Our longer-term responses create the world. Is it possible to put in place the conditions that foster inter-being and belonging? Are there ways we can live that creates a different world without denying fear as part of a bodily reaction to feeling threatened?

Atrocities and catastrophes shake up our world and commonly prompt us into action. As part of a longer-term response, one of the things we can do is to educate ourselves. To listen to people who talk about creating a better world for all. To listen to leaders who talk of love. To fathom how we might use our skills and talents through actions that give expression to our thoughts and words, our vision.”

The heart of yoga

I believe the heart of yoga practice, and life, is basic goodness, love and generosity. As they evolve in our lives these are the things that we can share, and the fruits of our practice we can give away in helping others. This is a place we can move from. How can our practice increase the love we have for our own hearts? Our practice needs to be about the evolution of our compassion for ourselves and the world and the ability to hold everyone we meet with the same love and tenderness we would want to be held with ourselves. If we share love in the world, surely that means we want to be loved ourselves in the same way.

With the many many different viewpoints around us, how can we hold ourselves accountable? By continuing to practice in a way that shines our own light. Cultivating our own hearts through ethical conduct, balance and imagination allows us to connect with things in us that shine. This then allows us to connect with the hearts of others, and others with us.

It’s not easy, but it’s possible. With practice.

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