When I walk barefoot through the grass and throw the ball for our dogs I feel free. When I am at my girlfriend’s farm, sitting on the tractor I feel free. When I’m immersed in service to others or “forget myself” absorbed in the details of a yoga pose I taste freedom.
I realise that this freedom doesn’t have to do with where I am, with whom I’m with or what I own. It really is a momentary freedom of unity that is a gift of the present that comes from within. These spontaneous feelings of freedom are not arranged, they happen like the state of meditation; it cannot be learned. However, through Tapas (discipline) and Sadhana (daily practice), we actually have a chance to “set the stage” for freedom to happen, to experience – to set ourselves free.
B.K.S. Iyengar says: “Yoga allows you to find a new kind of freedom that you may not have known even existed. To a yogi, freedom implies not being battered by the dualities of life.”
Yoga is a tool, a path to attain freedom – freedom from what? The monkey mind, the decision making, the chase, the wants, the aversions, the doing, the looking good in front of others, to be successful, to be accepted…
So how does yoga help me here and what tools does it give me?
In my personal search I came upon four words:
Vairagya (non-attachment), Sadhana (daily spiritual practice), Tapas (discipline) and Samadhi (ultimate freedom). Of course there are many more concepts and pathways but this where I start for now for this month and that already is more than a handful – yeah enlightenment? .. just around the corner, no actually right here – in that morning breakfast burrito.
Or non-attachment, is one approach that is outlined in the Upanishads as well as in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. We have a plan, a need, we want something, we want this love to last, that car to drive, the harvest to be good this year, the test results to be positive, the boyfriend responding to my text message and then … suddenly everything turns out differently, and at times the world seems to collapse around us as we didn’t get what we want, what we expected. The holiday that we were waiting for all winter, was awful and it rained every day.
When we realize that our happiness is not dependent on what we want and need, and who likes me and how my family is doing, I practice non-attachment, The happiness comes from the connection to what is, what is given in that present moment, even if is different to what we expect. A connection to something higher than us, some call it God, in yoga we call it Atman (the individual soul) that i connected to Bhrahman (the universal soul) – a place weher we are always complete, good enough, relaxed – not dependent on outside circumstances. This is where the practice of vairagya ultimately leads us. An inner knowing, an inner peace. When we release attachment to things outside, we stop looking for pleasure externally and turn inward, the only place where lasting happiness resides.
Non-attachment doesn’t mean you stop caring or stop working to get the things that matter. It’s simply about seeing the impermanence of the physical world. It is about enjoying what life has to offer without becoming identified with it or its results or attached to it.
The teaching of vairagya is well outlined in the Bhagavad Gita. Standing on the battlefield of life, Krishna advises Arjuna to learn to be alike in victory and defeat, meaning to live and give freely with no attachment to the result. This teaching is a reminder that whether a situation goes your way or turns your life upside down, your ship is steadied by the connection to your higher self. This is what will allow you to continue moving forward along your path without becoming stuck on something positive or negative that comes your way.
Sadhana is the path of a daily spiritual practice, in the Yoga Sutras it is also called Abhyasa – to have that determination to do the work for it not just wait for the miracle to happen, to get into action. For me this Sadhana is to create an altar (doesn’t have to be goddess statue with incense); it can be a little table with flowers and the pic of your pet, but a place where you turn to every day to become still or mediate, to be grateful, to set intentions, to do your prayers, to come back to your breath, to write into your journal and to roll out your yoga mat. This practice will lead you back what’s most important, to yourself; deep inside and what do you find?
Tapes is that gentle whip to get you to do abhyasa and sadhana every day, it is that fire that burns inside you to keep your passions and intentions going; to continue to be of service for others, to find new creative ways to clean this planet, to get up at 5 in the morning to do the sunrise meditation – it is discipline that feels like constricting you at first but that ultimately gives you the freedom – to feel good! It seems like a paradox but it is the way to go. Like children who find freedom in the structure of the day. And for us to go to the yoga studio 3 times a week and the aches of arthritis are suddenly not that hurtful as they were! My mother whose hands had so much pain from arthritis said to me once: “Yoga is so painful for me; to do the dog with my hands is excruciating but you know what even more painful? not doing it” – that pain is her way to freedom!
as B.K.S Iyengar says: “Yoga teaches us to cure what need not be endured and endure what cannot be cured.”
in the 8th fold path as outlined by Patanjali, Samadhi is the last step, the goal of yoga, the ultimate freedom. One of my teachers, Manos Manouso calls it “absorption” – to feel not separated anymore, from you, from the tree, from the girlfriend who owns the Porsche while you sit in the tram. When jealousy stops and compassion starts; when isolation discontinues and selfless service blossoms and when you realize that in the service to others and in equanimity, your freedom lies. When the ego lurks from behind the bushes, and kindness for that ant crawling by surges. When we find satisfaction in just sitting and watching the trees. In samadhi what some call enlightenment we feel one with all and everything. Separation has ceased.
In summary, as Viktor Frankl says just as in Patanjali Yoga Sutras, modern times merging with ancient texts, that it’s really your attitude, your mind that gives you the freedom, your inner state; in case of Viktor Frankl even in such a horror place as a concentration camp, which is really the worst option a human can be placed in, you still have a choice:
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” ― Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning