Part of me does want to live in a hut in the woods.
Somewhere quiet, green, and “away” from everything distracting or conflicting.
Somewhere that I can joyfully meditate on nature and the universe all day long.
A bigger part of me is pretty darn ok with the modern conveniences of life and the crazy rat race.
I, almost surely like you, am what the old yoga texts refer to as a “house dweller.” A yoga practitioner for whom complete renunciation of social living (solitary hut in the woods) is not an option nor a desire. Thus, sutras 3.51 and 3.52 (in some translations, 3.50 + 3.51) don’t seem to apply to you and me:
Sutra 3.51: Only by totally renouncing even this is the root-cause of bondage destroyed and liberation attained.
Translation by Kofi Busia
Sutra 3.51: When there is no craving or attraction even for such supremacy and for such omniscience, all of which suggest a division in consciousness, and when the sense of duality which is the seed for imperfection, impurity, or conditioned existence ceases, there is total freedom and a direct realisation of the indivisibility and hence the independence of intelligence.
Translation by Swami Venkatesananda
Sutra 3.52: When these high powers tempt, satisfaction in what has been achieved should be avoided as there is still always the possibility of once again coming into contact with undesirable things.
Translation by Kofi Busia
And truly, the literal meaning of these and most other sutras in chapter three are beyond my practice level, but nonetheless I see in them a response to a concern or, better put, a fear that I have experienced in my meditation practice.
The concern is how does one –or can one– attain “liberation” from the rajas and tamas, the back and forth of “the monkey mind” (borrowing a term from the Bhuddists) AND be part of the so-called rat race? Because even though we’ve given the drive for living an unpleasant metaphor, most of us want to be part of it.
Participating in the drive of life inherently includes collaboration (we aren’t solitary creatures!) and competition (living is tough!). This seems inherently at odds with moving ourselves into sattva guna, into an attitude of balance and peace, to a mindset from which we’re able to “let things be” and not attach (or cling) to any aspect of our existence.
How can we commit to the mind-altering practice of meditation and not, as Dan puts it, “lose our edge,” the one that let’s us participate fully and successfully in living?
Some would say you can’t. You have to choose, because at some point either yoga or life will pull on you more heavily.
I say pshaw. Dan Harris says pshaw (but more eloquently). Tantrikas the world over say pshaw. Choosing is a cop out from the hard work of recognizing the potential yoga in everything.
See, the Tantric yogis believe(d) that any experience can be an avenue to yoga or, for lack of a better term, spirit. And it is out of their experimentation that yoga for the householder has become as serious an endeavor as that of the ascetics (but more joyful, perhaps!).
I believe that through meditation, we get to know the nature of our mind and more easily realize what is ego, what is monkey, and what is truth. We gain the ability to see the big picture, not just our own perspective.
We gain the ability to see the big picture and our part in it, which means we can keep playing (or racing) without feeling (as) caught up in it, without feeling desperate or hopeless or attached to our particular outcome. It is but one of many.
Meditation lets you live the life you want to live, all the while full of awareness of the universe of which you are part.
hari om tat sat!
An earlier version of this post first appeared on the Yoga 216 blog.