In an effort to balance out my last post, I want to talk about sangha, or community. We come together in group classes, workshops, we build relationships, we look to friends and teachers for examples, support, guidance, and reinforcement. It can be really inspiring, and this is so important!
In some communities, people say Namaste. This translates to "I bow to you." It's a greeting. In the yoga community in the West, we've used this to mean something more: "The divine in me recognizes the divine in you, and we are all one." We are all One. This is a values statement. This changes our orientation to one another in a profound way. If I walked up to you and said, "Sister, I am divine, and you are awesomely divine, and we are ONE!" Some people might think I'm a little coo coo, right? But this is the ground upon which we are to do our work. As corporal beings, embodied spirit, our work is here and now, amongst others who are also on their path. Everyone works differently, and some people are more or less social, but everyone benefits from community. Everyone.
This word sangha is traditionally used to describe a community of buddhists. There is a word with similar etymology, satsung, which in Sanskrit means "a community of highest truth." The group gathers together to either study or work in service in order to fulfill spiritual practices or acts of devotion, and ultimately achieve higher understanding or enlightenment. A lot of cultures, faiths and communities have varying levels of formality around such groups.
Something that I've found so nurturing about the yoga community that I am so fortunate to be a part of here in Chicago, is that there are groups of friends, teachers and students who come together not just around common interest in this system called yoga, but in common interest in the well being and growth of each individual. In June of 2011, when I started the teacher training program at Moksha Yoga Center in Chicago, I met 7 individuals that to this day inspire me and who continue to be incredibly important in my journey. For me, a recovering perfectionist, achiever, with a competitive background, I didn't know what it was like to have a group of people that could come together with absolutely no sense of competition, judgement, personal agenda or expectation. I didn't even really know that was a "thing."
And two years later, here I am writing to share with all of you this concept of sangha, not because I want you to find a community and be a "joiner," but because I want to express to you what a great joy it is to be in relationship, to be in connection, to be vulnerable, to be a mirror, to be in a state of love, without the threat of over-investment, loss of self, or risk of disappointment. So many of us have lots of friends --1000 facebook friends! -- and we still crave authentic connection. We date, maybe we have that special someone, maybe we have a couple close friends or family members, but a lot of us also have baggage around those relationships. Especially spouses or partners, right? Because we rely on them to DO STUFF for us: be financially stable, be the best lover, be the best friend, be EVERYTHING. It doesn't have to be this way, but for a lot of us, it is. It's conditioned, and it's practical, and we think it's going to make life easier. We have expectations, and those expectations can keep us from being present, being the best version of ourselves, and having a truly loving relationship.
So balancing out Sola with Sangha (a funny language mix, but let's flow with it), the connection with your authentic self happens first -- its fundamental. But in community, in connection, we can learn techniques, study the sutras, share wisdom and experiences, and deepen our understanding of what it means to be human. Learning to be present, witnessing your own breath, or witnessing the presence of another being is ultimately the same skill. Learning to love and fully accept yourself and drop your own self-imposed limitations leads to, hopefully, the ability to drop your agenda for others. Then we can witness in complete love the presence of another human being. That's a kind of moksha (freedom!) that's truly excellent.
“And still, after all this time, the Sun has never said to the Earth,
"You owe me."
Look what happens with love like that.
It lights up the sky.”
I participated in a lovely workshop tonight with Jennifer Alexander and Gina Marotta called Redesign and Align. I've been doing this kind of work personally for a while, but that doesn't mean I'm any more advanced than anyone else!
What I heard tonight, and I often hear from my friends, and in my own head, are fears or conditioned ways of thinking, that hold us back and keep us from hearing the wisdom of our hearts or from making courageous heart-driven choices.
The phrase that kept repeating in my head after listening and sharing with this group was this: "You are never going to be any more or less alone than you already are right now." You come in alone, you leave alone. So what's holding you back? You fail. Will you be more or less alone? No. You are wildly successful. More or less alone now? No. If the truth is that you could be working a job you hate or struggling in a stagnant relationship, or doing what your heart/spirit loves, and at the end of the day you still pass from waking to dream time alone (and you always will), then the answer seems pretty simple. Let it go. Move on. Forget about all that stuff that isn't supporting the essence of who you truly are. Opinions, pride, reputation, expectation, obligation - these are all incredibly powerful things. But if it's holding you back from being your best self, shining your light, sharing your love and gifts with the world, what's it good for? Not a whole lot.
So that's my thought for the day. Let's get good at being alone. No thing or person can make you truly happy but yourself. We put so much energy into accomplishing things, getting stuff, checking the list of marriage, family, kids, whatever. And some of us are so uncomfortable - terrified even - of being alone. Guess what - you already are. This is it. It's on you. And that's freeing. You don't need to wait for your "big break," or "Mr or Miss Right," or that perfect amount of cash in the bank to be happy AND you can't blame your spouse or worklife or outside situations for not fulfilling you -- because they can't do that! Only you can do that.
Meditate. Practice asana. Read. Walk. Cook a nice dinner for one. Get good at being alone. Enjoy it! I bet it's homecoming that's long overdue.
Love After Love by Derek Walcott
The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other's welcome,
and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you
all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.
I'll see you on the mat.