Welcome to the Yoga Church Sunday Sermons

A few weeks ago, as we celebrated the arrival of spring, I asked you to contemplate your sense of intention. To craft a simple phrase that captured something about the Truth of your Being, something about the energy you try to move from as you move through the world.

Spring is a lovely time (a potent time) to work toward goals. But in order to move toward our goals with integrity, we need clarity on where we’re coming from.

So today, I have a new sermon to support your efforts to articulate your sense of intention. One of my favorite Sanskrit words is bhāvana, which can be translated as cultivate, bring about, or dwell upon.

Having a clear idea of bhāvana is a crucial part of spiritual practice. In order to design an effective practice, you need to know: What are you trying to cultivate in your life? What state of mind are you trying to bring about? What are you trying to dwell upon (what truth are you trying to remember)?

What’s the energy you want to move from as you move through the world?

What energy are your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors rooted in? Are you rooted in the Ground of Being—in the spark of Divine Light that exists within and around you? Or are you rooted in the ego-self and all its deeply conditioned likes and dislikes?

This week’s sermon is designed to help you stay rooted in the spark of Divine Light (rather than the ever demanding desires of the ego-self…).

Bhāvana: to Cultivate, Bring About, and Dwell Upon

REFLECTION QUESTIONS

  • What are the habits that keep you stuck in the ego-self? That keep you from rooting your identity in the Truth of your Being?
  • Rather than trying to forcefully change these habits, what’s a new (an opposite) habit that you can cultivate instead?
  • What’s a small habit that can support your effort to bring about a connection with your highest Self?
  • What symbol helps you stay connected to your highest Self? What practice will help you regularly dwell upon this symbol?

Transcript

In the ever spinning wheel of the year, spring and fall both offer us transitory moments of balance. But their energies are very different, because it matters where we’re coming from. In the fall, we’re quieting down from the fullness of summer, and we celebrate abundance and harvest. In the spring, we’re waking up from the long sleep of winter, so we celebrate rebirth, fertility, and coming alive.

It matters where we’re coming from.

Think about this in the context of your own life and actions. What energy are you coming from? As you move forward in your life, what energy are your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors rooted in? Are you rooted in the Ground of Being—in the spark of Divine Light that exists within and around you? Or are you rooted in the ego-self and all it’s deeply conditioned likes and dislikes?

It matters where we’re coming from. Because whether we mean to or not, all day long we’re plotting out the course of our life. Whether or not we’re doing so with any purpose or vision, we’re constantly making choices and taking action. And every action—including the choice of inaction—is leading us somewhere.

The ancient yogic scriptures teach us that when we’re coming from a place of ego, attachment, aversion, and fear we’ve forgotten who we are—we’ve forgotten the Truth of our Being. And in this state of forgetfulness—the state of ignorance—our actions come from the values of our ego-self. Which can only lead to stuckness—to pain—to the opposite of freedom.

But, and this is important to remember, we’re never truly stuck because one of the fundamentally true things about life is that change is constant. And all we have to do to remember the constancy of change, is go outside and feel the tangible energy of winter giving way to spring.

It’s an inspiring and fertile time of year. And if we pay close attention—if we really watch as the earth begins to bloom around us we can remember that everything we need is innately part of who we already are. The spring chick comes from the stuff of the egg. The tulip comes from the stuff of the bulb. The leaves and buds come from the stuff of the trees. And our ability to shed the false sense of self that keeps us stuck—to shed the ego, attachment, aversion, and fear that keeps the Truth of our Being hidden—comes from the stuff of our soul.

Our actions don’t have to grow out of whatever strong emotion we’re currently experiencing. They don’t have to grow out of our fear. Our way of moving through the world can grow from the Light of our highest Self. This is a potent time of year to ponder what the Light of your heart—what your soul—is ready to bring forth into the world. It’s time for awakening. It’s time for cleaning and planting. It’s time to bring the gestating dreams of winter into reality. Spring calls us toward the practice of cultivation.

Whether we’re cultivating a piece of land, a new relationship, a new habit or skill, a new way of being in the world, or a deeper connection with our True Self—the act of cultivation takes attention, effort, focus, care. The practice of cultivation is the ongoing practice of tending to something.

In Sanskrit the word for cultivation is bhāvana. It shows up four times in the Yoga Sutras. Two times (yoga sutra 2.33 & 34) it speaks directly to the practice of cultivation—specifically telling us that when we feel like our thoughts and emotions are out of control and leading us toward negative behavior, we have to pause and cultivate the opposite. This is the practice of self-responsibility. It’s the practice of choosing to remember that we are not our ego or our fear. It’s the practice of choosing to remember that our life doesn’t have to be driven by our attachments or our aversions. This is the practice of learning to live from the perspective of our highest Self.

Because remember: It matters where we’re coming from.

The sutras (yoga sutra 2.2) also use the word bhāvana to mean ‘bringing about.’ We commit to spiritual practice in order to weaken our false identifications with ego, attachment, aversion, and fear. We do this in order to bring about a unitive state of Being, one in which we remember our soul and move through life in constant connection with our True Self. But in order to let our life be directed by the Light of our soul, we have to cultivate an ability to hear the still, small voice within our heart.

We have to learn to dwell upon that voice. In the sutras we’re told that the mystical symbol of OM represents the Inner Teacher and we are to repeat the sound and contemplate its meaning. The word is again bhāvana, in this instance (yoga sutra 1.28) it means to ‘dwell upon.’ As you work to cultivate a relationship with your higher Self—your Inner Teacher, your soul—what’s the symbol that matters to you? What’s the symbol that inspires you? And how often do you intentionally dwell upon—through mantra, meditation, or other means—this symbol that supports you?

Remember, yoga is a practice of uncovering. We practice in order to wake up from the state of forgetfulness. We practice in order to root ourselves in the Truth of our Being. We practice because in the always changing momentum of life, it matters where we’re coming from.

And in this moment of early spring, we can ignite our practice with the fertile energy of new life.

In the spirit of spring cleaning I invite you to pay attention to the habits that keep you from remembering the truth that all you need is already within you. You just have to get rid of the layers of gunk that keep the Light within you hidden and dull. Your inner Light is never dull. To borrow a word from one of my teacher’s, a Jewish woman named Robin, it’s the shmutz that’s dull! Not your Light!

And in the spirit of spring planting I invite you to choose the seeds you want to nurture and grow this season. Rather than trying to force out an un-useful habit, choose to practice cultivating an opposite habit. Cultivate the habits that can support your effort to bring about a connection with your highest Self. And finally, because we’re so prone to forgetfulness, I invite you to figure out a symbol that will jog your memory and help you move through life from the truth of your soul. Choose a symbol that will help you stay awake to the truth. And then, everyday, take time to actively dwell upon this symbol and contemplate its meaning.

If you don’t yet have a symbol that’s meaningful to you, you can experiment with waking up every morning and looking east. Feel the spring air and the spring time sun on your skin.

In your mind’s eye, dwell upon the warming sun as a symbol of your growing inner commitment to water and fertilize the seeds that lead you deeper and deeper into the Truth of your own Being—into the spark of Divine Light that always and already exists within and around you.

COMMUNITY COMMENTS

We all benefit from the wisdom of spiritual community. And community means more than one voice, so please add yours to the conversation. What did this week’s sermon and reflection questions spark in you?