Yesterday we began to think about the purushartha which is a model that helps us to engage with our desires. Purushartha literally means ‘the aims of man’ but we can think of it as ‘the aims of human life’. Aims and desires are linked since we achieve nothing without desire. However, the extent of our desire for each of the four elements that make up the purushartha must be appropriate to our need and life circumstances.
In your journal write about what you desired at the different stages of life you have lived so far, starting with babyhood. Consider the times when life has felt fulfilled or balanced and also those when it has not.
In the light of that knowledge write about what you think might be appropriate desires for now and at future stages of life. Use the dharma (duty), artha (prosperity), kama (pleasure), moksha (freedom) concepts to guide your thinking.
You might find that copying out yesterday’s diagram and writing on it or sticking pictures on it aids your reflections.
Desire is the great motivator for human action but it needs channelling towards the right aims. It is in the right ordering of our motivations that we begin to uncover the deeper driving desire of the heart which links us with our true identity. Often we start in the wrong place. We want to know our true identity as a piece of knowledge rather than as a lived experience. In pursuing this ‘identity knowledge’ we run the risk of overlooking much that is good or true or important in life.
The right ordering of our desires and motivations is an ongoing practice. In the Indian tradition the scheme for this is called the ‘purushartha’ and it is designed to guide us towards a meaningful life.
First, we must desire to live a virtuous life and to uphold our responsibilities – dharma
Second, we must desire enough material comfort in order to provide for the fundamental material needs of ourselves and those for whom we are responsible – artha.
Third, we must desire to find pleasure and a sense of delight in life – kama (not karma which means action)
Fourth, we must desire to be free – moksha.
In your journal write your initial responses to these four things. Notice which you feel drawn to, which surprise you and which you push away. What questions do you have about them?
Given the importance of the heart in yoga teaching it might be surprising to know that the word ‘love’ is almost completely absent from the yoga teachings. Yoga does, however, have a lot to say about desire which is seen to be the driver of human behaviour. Without desire nothing would happen yet it is our desires that often get us into trouble. Desire can be either creative or destructive.
Spend today noticing what your senses are drawn to. What do you look at longingly, what tastes do you crave, where does your nose lead you, what skin sensations do you seek, what sounds are you attracted to? Try and notice rather than analyse or judge.
We are going to take a pause today to review our journals but first take the meditation practice from day 3 before looking back or attempting to catch up a bit.
We have considered some important ideas so far so maybe you would like to discern what has been an important insight for you, where you are stuck or confused, where joy has come to the fore and what questions you have about the ground we have covered.
The heart is our hub. It is central to our life. It is where we experience feelings which guide us. However, it takes practice to distinguish the deeper feelings of the heart from the thoughts of the mind.
Our heart is a place of simplicity. We must meet it with simplicity. We must learn to listen to what is being experienced in the heart. This is not easy. Much stands between us and our true nature dwelling in the heart. When we are out of touch with the heart the feeling of anxiety grows. When we are in touch with the heart we approach life with ‘shraddha’. Shraddha is the quality of trusting in life, having confidence in ourself and faith in the future.
In your journal ask yourself what breeds anxiety within you and how you might allow shraddha to develop instead. Please share your thoughts by commenting on this post.
Yesterday’s image (day four) was inspired by an Indian story about a scholarly man who knew a great deal about everything except how to be happy. He sought the advice of a master who explained that people are like wheels with a circumference and spokes. They know a lot about the circumference (which is what rolls through life) and also about the spokes (which provide the necessary structures for life) but they know little about the hub.
This is an interesting story for yoga practitioners since the hub is the central part of the wheel on which the axle rotates. The Sanskrit word for pain is duhkha which means suffering experienced in the heart but which can also be translated literally as an ill-fitting axle. Conversely, the word for a feeling of sweetness in the heart, sukha, also translates as a well- fitting axle. The heart is the hub and knowing what fits with our heart means that the wheel of our life can roll more easily over the differing terrains that come our way.
Describe in your journal a time when your wheel rolled easily and a time when it did not. What was going on in your heart at these times?
Then at the end of today, spend some time reviewing the day and asking yourself when you experienced sukha and when duhkha. What is the self-knowledge that can be gleaned from these differing experiences? How might you do things differently tomorrow?
Take some time with this picture. What is it saying to you? What does it remind you of? What might the different elements represent? What could it become?
Set yourself the task of playing with the image. See if you can move out of linear rational thinking about the image and let a more playful, exploratory side of you come to the fore. Let that side guide your play and see what emerges. You could print out the image and decorate it, write a poem or story or simply free write an unedited stream of consciousness about the image.
Following on from day two, today’s prompt offers a short meditative practice based on Yoga Sutra 3.34 which states that the restless mind can be quelled by meditating on the stable quality of the heart. This practice can be repeated throughout the retreat and beyond. You may want to add a bit more in your journal to yesterday’s entry or make some art after it.
Here is the practice:
Sit in a comfortable position with your back straight (supported with cushions if that helps). Close your eyes and place the palm of one hand at the centre of the chest and the other on top. Focus your inner gaze at the centre of the chest and repeat the chant ‘hrdaye cittasamvit’ twelve times. (This has been emailed to you and you can play the audio file where it is repeated 12 times until it becomes familiar.) Then sit quietly, remaining focussed at the heart for 2 minutes.
You might like to experiment with voiced and silent chanting.
The quality of our relationships depends on our own connection with all that dwells in the heart. Yet, for myriad reasons, we all have a tendency to ignore the desires of the heart. We mistake the contents of the mind and our intellectual learning as ultimate truth or we value ourselves based on what we have gained rather than who we are and what we are willing to give (up). This is ‘spiritual bypassing’ and while we can survive like this, it is a diminished way of living that feeds our restlessness. In order to be able to discern the difference between the ever-changing mind and the stable qualities of the heart we need to connect deeply into the heart by turning towards it in meditation.* This is hard because the mind will raise many objections that we will have to cut through with perseverance.
*Yoga Sutra-s of Patanjali, 3:34 (hrdaye cittasamvit)
On a page of your journal make 2 columns. Label one column ‘Things that change’ and the other ‘Things that are stable’. Spend 5 minutes thinking of things to put in each column. Write about the result and how this makes you feel. What was surprising and what piqued your curiosity?
Yoga is a word that describes both a process and a goal. Its definition is ‘to link together’. The process is, then, to explore what we are linked to and the goal is to be linked into life in a healthy way. When we think about all the human and nonhuman relationships we are involved in we see that life is a very mixed bag of experiences. However, the practice of yoga helps us to relate better by creating and sustaining the conditions for relationships that are more fulfilling and life-giving.
Spend some time writing down as many of your human and nonhuman relationships as you can think of. You might like to do this by drawing a diagram with yourself at the centre and then add in linking lines to what or who you are in relationship with. Making a collage of photos would be a lovely way of doing this.
Now sit quietly and spend a few minutes with your breath. Breathe in and bring all these relationships into your heart and then breathe out your appreciation for the web of life.
INTRODUCTORY DAY TO: What am I seeking? A personal journaling retreat…..
“Yoga means to prepare” T.K.V. Desikachar
How will you prepare for this journaling retreat?
Maybe you will need a notebook, pens, paints, glue, glitter, old magazines, a camera or voice recorder? How might you record your insights?
We don’t have to use words to capture our wisdom.
The daily prompts are an invitation.
How and when you respond to the prompts are your choice. You may do them all.
Maybe you will stay with one for a few days.
Maybe you will save them for when you are ready. There is no right or wrong way to take the retreat.
May this retreat offer you nourishment and blessing. shanti, shanti, shanti – peace and peace and peace
Welcome to your Summer Yoga Journaling Retreat
Keeping a journal is an act of self-care that leads to deeper self-awareness. It is a reflective process that enables us to examine our life practice. According to TKV Desikachar yoga is meant to be a support for life rather than an escape from life. In other words, life is the main practice and yoga practices offer help in developing our abilities to see more clearly, to discover our path and to adapt to changing circumstances. We call this reflective work ‘svadhyaya’ which means self-study undertaken with the help of a teacher or teaching.
This retreat has been given the title ‘What am I seeking?’ in recognition of the restlessness that characterises the activity of the mind until we discover our true nature. Journaling allows us to express how we really feel and offers a space for all that resides in the heart to come forward so please remember that the prompts are invitations towards exploration and how, when and where you respond is your free choice.
To start the retreat, write ‘What am I seeking?’ on the first page of your journal and find a picture(s) that encapsulates this idea for you.
Helena del Pino, one of our teachers, has offered us a journaling retreat …. Beginning on Monday 23rd March we will be posting one day at a time for anyone to use.
If people wish to discuss this, Helena will be available for a discussion on line and we will let you know how to access this in due course. We invite you to share your experiences and thoughts on the website.
Why not get ready for this by getting yourself a new notebook and pen?
This time of national emergency will mean many of us will experience a much slower and quieter pace of life. There is always light in the darkness and one glimmer of light is that we can use this time wisely to read, meditate, pray and practise. In other words we can take our social distancing or protective isolation as a kind of retreat. I offer with love this retreat, written a couple of years ago, freely to you, your students and anyone else who might benefit. If anyone wants to contact me with comments, insights, questions or musings then please do so.
With love and in peace Helena “
We hope that you can use this time for some personal reflection. If however you are someone who has gone back to work or who is, in whatever way, on the front line we send you courage and above all gratitude.
With love Bea