If I know a single thing about yoga, it’s that no matter the state of the world or the state of one’s inner landscape, finding any semblance of okayness begins and ends with daily practice. Feeling great? Get on your mat. Feeling sad? Get on your mat. Feeling steady and centered? Take a seat. Feeling distracted or lost? Take a seat. While any one practice taken in isolation may not be especially interesting, provocative, inspirational, calming, steadying, or anything else, there’s a special magic when you add up the cumulative benefits of all of the practices day after day after day.
Do you struggle with keeping a daily practice schedule? I think it’s precisely because a single practice by itself is not always, often or ever all that earth-shattering, making a regular groove difficult to establish. We expect immediate gratification. We want to know that what we’re doing is making a positive difference and we want to see results. We want proof. We want a return on our investment. But the teachings say that even that demand will get in the way of our desires.
Yoga Sūtra 1.14 is one of my favorites and is a guidepost on the matter:
Sa tu dīrgha kāla nairantarya satkāra sevita dhrudabhūmi
If you really want to be still and steady- the essential internal conditions for accessing wisdom, clarity and peace just to name a few- it’s going to take some time. Occasional practice isn’t going to get you there. You must establish consistency over a long period of time. And there’s more. The consistency you cultivate must be uninterrupted, imbued with respect and devotion, and without attachment to the results. Often, the only time you get to see just how much the practice is giving you is when you stop doing it. In other words, no immediate gratification for you. And also no going through the motions.
This sūtra is a reminder that what you bring to the practice matters. Drumming up devotion and non-attachment on a daily basis is part of the work. You must get to the point where you do the practice, no matter what, because it’s just what you do. It isn’t one more thing on your to-do list, it is a non-negotiable essential. What if you were to shift your perspective, and see your practice as the offering you make to yourself, the collective, the One?
If the process of a daily practice is to become more awake and aware (it is) the very next thing we are going for is carrying continuity off the mat. In this way, consistency in daily practice becomes practice for the practice of continuity! While it’s all good and fine to experience moments of clarity and calm on the mat or cushion, it does you little good if you cannot sustain that clear and steady state through the course of your day. We want to be whole, complete, connected through all of life, not just in our quiet moments alone. Considering the state of the world, that’s a tall order. And that’s exactly what is being asked of us. Dhairya sums it up: patience, constancy, fortitude.
And so it is that the goal of practice shifts from getting on the mat and cushion every day, slowly cultivating more awareness and peace, to the ultimate goal: weaving that state of abiding presence into all of life. We want and need to be able to pull up the feeling of wellbeing and connectedness (even when we aren’t feeling all that well or connected) and use that as the lens through which we see others and experience life. There is much to attend to in our world; this is not spiritual bypassing by any means. But until we can see through the veil of duality and all the things we like and don’t like and agree with and disagree with, we are missing the elemental truth that the divine exists in all things. That kind of clear seeing not only brings healing to the wars we wage within, but gives rise to right thought, speech and action to bring healing to our world. Much like the mat and cushion practice, consistency over time is required. It’s turning a daily practice into a life of practice.
As always, this is as much a reminder for me as it is for you. I can hear my teacher’s voice giving the example of a real-life moment of totally losing it, and having the thought “have I ever meditated ever before in my life?” I’ve had plenty of those moments. Just in the past week. The practice must become more than a refuge where we seek shelter from the world. It must be where we go to recharge, refuel and remember who we are, and how we want to be— all of the time.
With reverence, back to the practice we go. With light, into the world we proceed.