I recently went on a 10 day silent meditation retreat. It had been about 5 years since I had done this kind of practice. It was time. As my roommate said, “you need to be somewhere where you have no identity or responsibilities for awhile.” I have done 5 & 10 day sits before over the years. They were grueling and at some point I wanted desperately to get up and leave my seat. This time, I contemplated sitting for longer. What shifted?
Y.S.I.14 sa tu dirghakala nairantarya satkara asevitah drdhabhumih
“Long, uninterrupted, alert practice is the firm foundation for restraining the fluctuations.
When the effort is continued in accordance with the yogic principles consistently and for a long time, with earnestness, attention, application and devotion the yogic foundation is firmly established.”
-BKS Iyengar, Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
All the physical “work” I've done to open my hips and strengthen my spine assisted me in finding a comfortable seat (swastikasana, virasana, siddhasana, padmasana). All the mental work I have done to focus my mind helped me to stay with the practice despite the fluctuations that continued to arise: pain, thoughts, anxiety, planning, passion, grief, anger, etc. All the emotional work I have done to break my attachment to “I”, to dedicate myself to the virtues of friendliness, compassion, and joy for others helped me to come out of the self-absorption which we all fall into, particularly when we are sitting alone with ourselves for so long.
If we want to learn to play the piano, or speak French, or run a marathon, we understand that it will take long training; that it won’t always be fun. And, then one day we play an entire piece on the piano without a mistake, without looking at our hands. Or we understand a complete conversation in French without having to look up words. Or, we are running, for the the sheer joy of running. These moments feel like miracles, but really they are the result of the long, uninterrupted training. In my spiritual practice, some part of me expected or wanted some mind-blowing experience like God speaking from the sky, lightening bolts, or a burning bush. But most of the miracles in my practice have felt like they snuck up on me. Like the time I was so immersed in what I was doing that it surprised me to find that a happy cat had climbed into my lap and was purring with abandon.
It’s not that I didn’t have difficulties at this retreat, I absolutely did, but that I was able to stay with them, to hold them and greet them and treat them with care and then eventually let them go. Or, perhaps more accurately, observe them leaving of their own accord when I stopped resisting them. I also realized that my practice which has been such a discipline for so many years has shifted. It no longer feels so much like work. My practice is my life, a refuge in a world that is often difficult to be in. There is no other choice but to practice.
“Discipline is a safety measure. It appears in the beginning as regimentation, but the moment you labour with love, discipline disappears and passion for the ultimate aim sets in. When transformation takes place, discipline suddenly vanishes and you become part and parcel of that object for which you and I are struggling.” -B.K.S. Iyengar
I urge you (yes you!) to develop a spiritual practice with ardour, wonder, humor and discipline in your daily lives. I assure you that the pay-offs are greater than you could ever imagine. Going to class is great. Having a teacher you connect with and trust is essential. But, at the end of the day, it comes down to your practice. There is no time to lose. Start now. The most common excuses I hear:
I don’t have time: Look seriously at where you are spending your time. Are you really spending your time is a beneficial way? Almost everyone can find 20 minutes in their day if they really try.
I’m not flexible: Well how and the hell are you going to get flexible?
I can’t afford it: Home practice is free! All you need is your body and some poses.
Sound familiar? Don’t beat yourself up, don’t judge yourself, laugh and no that you are in good company. Then, atha yoganusasanam, NOW BEGINS the practice of yoga!
Sadhana Practice Immersion over Labor Day
with Cynthia Bates & Heather Haxo Phillips