Recently we’ve been working hard to articulate our sense of intention. We’ve been trying to name the kind of energy we want to move from as we move through the ever changing world. Working with intention like this is a way of articulating the thread that we want to keep ahold of in our lives. It’s a way of keeping what matters most at the forefront of our vision. And so I’ve been asking, over and over again lately, what do you want to remember? As you move through the everyday actions of life, what do you want to remember?
My friend and co-teacher, Marci Becker, recently answered this question in the Yoga Church Community Hub. She said:
I always want to remember who I am. I want to remember that I’m not this body, in sickness or in health. I’m not my circumstances, in good times or bad. I’m not the bad mood I was in the other day, nor the good mood I started this day with. I’m not my bank account. I’m not my house. I’m not my productivity. I’m not my successes or my failures. I want to remember that I am the embodiment of divinity.
Marci’s reflections speak directly to the heart of yogic teachings. It’s not about the bad mood—or the good one. It’s not about the failure—or the success. The Bhagavad Gita tells us:
Do your work established in yoga and abandon attachment. Be impartial to success or failure, for yoga is equanimity. (2.48)
As yogi’s, we’re called to find our identity in something other than the world’s definition of success. We’re called to find the state of stillness—Pure Awareness—that exists prior to every mood. We’re called to find the state of stillness—Unbounded Consciousness—that exists prior to every changing thought. As yogi’s we’re called to remember the Truth of our Being, which is the Truth of Divine Being. In the Chandogya Upanishad we’re told that our Being and the Divine Being are one and the same. We’re told:
The finest essence here – that constitutes the self of this whole world; that is the truth; that is the self. Thou art that. (Tát tvam ási.)
As Marci said, she wants to remember that she is the embodiment of divinity. Tát tvam ási. Thou art that.
This is a beautiful and important teaching. But I know it can feel lofty and abstract in the face of everyday life. It can be hard to remember that our Being and Divine Being are one and the same as we’re plowing through our never ending to-do list and trying to make that really hard, seemingly life changing decision. It can be hard to remember that our Being and Divine Being are one and the same as we try to decide what’s for dinner while the difficult conversation we had last week is playing on a loop in our head.
So while articulating what we want to remember is a crucial first step, it’ll be rendered meaningless unless we can figure out how we’ll actually remember it…
Which brings us to the question of how we do anything. How do we remember our highest truth? How do we change that bad habit we know isn’t good for us? How do we admit the truth of our addictive behaviors? How do we do anything hard?
Our culture has conditioned us to believe that the answer is first and foremost, effort. We’ve been conditioned to believe that we change things through sheer force of will and hard work. And while this is partially true. The practice of yoga teaches us that it’s incomplete. In the first verse of the 2nd chapter of the Yoga Sutras, we’re given the practice of yoga-in-action—the practice of kriya yoga.
This sutra is quite possibly the most practical teaching about what the practice of yoga actually looks like. But before I explain it, I’d like you to visualize a 3-legged stool. What would happen if one of the 3 legs suddenly broke? Could the stool keep standing? … The answer is no. A 3-legged stool is an exercise in balance. The relationship between the 3 legs are crucial for the function and stability of the stool. And it’s no different with kriya yoga. Kriya yoga, or yoga-in-action, has 3 aspects that must be kept in balance with one another.
You might recognize some of the words I’m chanting here from our study of the niyamas because tapas, svadhyaya, and Ishvara pranidhana are all niyamas. Tapas is the purifying heat. Svadhyaya is the reflecting mirror. And Ishvara pranidhana is the refuge. When we put these three together, we have the practice of kriya yoga.
Tapas is self-discipline and self-responsibility. Tapas is the commitment to stay in the pause between a feeling and a reaction. Tapas is the ongoing choice to stick with hard practices that you know support your goals. Tapas in the commitment to stay in the fight for social change. Tapas is the choice to renounce a habit that’s killing you. Tapas is the heat that builds up inside us as we put forth effort toward increasing our capacity to stay with the discomfort of transformative change.
Svadhyaya is the ability to see the truth of ourself. It’s honest self-awareness. The practice of svadhyaya—of moving toward one’s self—is the practice of examining and cutting through ego, attachments, aversions, and fears. The practice of svadhyaya—of studying one’s own self—is the practice of surfacing negative conditioning in order to be free of it. It’s the practice of getting honest about bad habits so that they can be transformed.
Isvhara pranidhana is our sense of dedication. It’s the larger vision of Being that we’re committed to. The teaching of Ishvara pranidhana asks us to step away from our small self—to step away from our ego and personality with its likes, dislikes, attachments, and fears. If we can trustfully surrender to something higher than ourselves, if we can dedicate our lives to something bigger than the limited vision of our ego-self, we might just discover the truth of our highest Self.
The transformative power of kriya yoga lies in the balance of these three practices…
Discipline without self-awareness can be harmful. Effort without a commitment to a larger purpose is a road to burn out.
Self-reflection without action is nothing more than navel gazing. Self-reflection without a connection to something beyond the ego creates self-centeredness.
And devotion without a sense of self-responsibility and a clear vision of the real situation of our daily lives is spiritual bypassing.
Kriya yoga is a 3-legged stool. As my teacher says:
Svadhyaya leads back into tapas on the one hand, and forward into Isvara pranidhana on the other, for in a rightly oriented practice, each of these elements of Kirya Yoga, while independent, is interdependent and mutually supportive.
We always need all three. As you reflect on your own practice, do you see all three aspects of kriya yoga? Or is something missing?
In the context of your daily life and personal practice, where are you established in discipline? Where are you able to take responsibility and put forth consistent effort? This is the practice of tapas.
In the context of your daily life and personal practice, where are you established in honest self-awareness? What helps you see yourself and your actions clearly? This is the practice of svadhyaya.
In the contest of your daily life and personal practice, where are you established in devotion? What’s the larger vision of life that helps you keep things in perspective? This is the practice of Ishvara pranidhana.
Taken together, these three practices constitute kriya yoga—yoga in action.
As you move through the ever changing world, doing your best to meet the demands of everyday life while simultaneously keeping ahold of the deeper truths you want to remember, I invite you to the practice of kriya yoga. Let this 3-legged stool be the ground of your practice. Let it provide you with balance and support.
The Yoga Sutras tell us that yoga in action—kriya yoga—helps us to weaken the causes of suffering in our lives. As we seek to establish ourselves in the balance of discipline, awareness, and devotion, it becomes easier to cut through our misidentifications, our ego, our attachments, and aversions, and fear. As we seek to establish ourselves in the balance of discipline, awareness, and devotion, it becomes easier to remain rooted in the truth of our being.
It becomes easier, as my friend Marci said, to remember that we are the embodiment of divinity.