Often we place particular importance on the yoga postures thinking that this is the path to spiritual enlightenment. Many of us think, “I will be a good yogi or yogini when I have mastered this pose or that practice or I can meditate for this long.” While this may be important in certain instances, this is not the first step on the path to a more enlightened state. A more ‘woke’ state.
“It would be foolish to begin with more advanced subjects before we are familiar with the starting point.” -Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche
So, where do we start? Where can we begin to lay a firm foundation? To establish a beginning every day, and not just on our mat, we can begin experiencing our world through the lens of creating serenity [the state of being calm, peaceful, and untroubled.]. How do we create serenity within? It is only through loving-kindness or friendliness and compassion that can we become serene. Only with loving-kindness and compassion, can we free ourselves from the samskaras [the impressions and dispositions that develop and accumulate deep inside a person, from learned perception, inference, choices, and willful actions] that demand ‘I-ness’. It is only after we become free from reacting out of our samskaras that we can truly connect to a serene state and become a transformer of energy and not a reactor of energy. It is through this process that our path becomes extra-ordinary and mutually beneficial to the Earth.
Through the process of becoming serene we must learn how to connect to ourselves, and how to relate to others? This connection is achieved, according to ancient teachings, by purifying our relationships and cultivating an awakened mind. Ask yourself, “do I cherish myself and place extra importance on my needs and desires?” If this has ever been true, then you know that the opposite is also true. That the ‘other’ in your interaction probably thinks the same, creating a separation between the two where empathy cannot exist. Sympathy can but not empathy. Sympathy is a shared feeling, usually of sorrow, pity or compassion for another person. You show concern for another person when you feel sympathy for them. Empathy is the ability to put yourself in the place of another and understand someone else’s feelings by identifying with them, letting go of your own impression and having the ability to immerse yourself in the other’s place.
To understand this subtle distinction is the first step towards an awakened state. When we become more awakened to the empathy that holds all of us together, we will realize that this delicate bond is our humanity. We begin to see our similarities more than our differences purifying our relationships; one on one, community and collective. Our perception is shifted at the deepest level of the soul. We gain the ability to feel truly happy for those who are happy, even though it may be adverse or disadvantageous to us. Rumi wrote, “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field. I’ll meet you there. When the soul lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about.”
Through reflection, replacing ourselves with others, we will be able to see others as we see ourselves. This does not mean that you should participate in actions or activities that do not promote a whole and healing life for yourself, but through this ability you can become a beacon in the darkness for those who need it. Through empathy you can understand what others need in times of sorrow and in times of fear because there is no separation between you and them. They are you. Through empathy you can cultivate an intimate knowledge and a deep heart-to-heart connection illuminating a path towards change.
The student in me, honors the teacher in you
Brandy Jones, Yogi, E-RYT 500, Owner at Solshine and Yoga Instructor at Clemson University.