The Art of Patience

(As published on Elephant Journal)

I am not at all what anyone would – or could – call a patient person by nature. At the age of 17, my ego’s desire for speed, intensity, and ultimately, immediate gratification, led me to New York City: the fastest paced city I have ever lived in, visited, or even heard of. A “New York Minute,” after all, is widely known for being the tiniest measurable length of time in the world. Johnny Carson once explained it as ‘the interval between a Manhattan traffic light turning green and the cab driver behind you honking his horn.’ Everything in my life in New York, from traffic to meetings to meals to time with friends and loved ones could best be described by one word: FAST. Even the Yoga classes I used to attend in New York could be most accurately characterized as both quick and intense. The same practice of Yoga, which was originally designed and intended to help one slow down enough to relax and connect with one’s inner Self, was something I, in part and unknowingly, used to fuel my addiction to speed.

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‘Becoming the Change:’ The Practice of Liberation

Habitual patterns of the mind were a strong theme of the Wednesday meditation session I attended last week. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said,

“Sow a thought and reap an action

Sow an act and reap a habit

Sow a habit and reap a character

Sow a character and reap a destiny.”

The core of the yoga and meditation practices is arguably the work we do to purify and thereby transform what are called samskaras in Sanskrit, or sankaras in Pali (the ancient language of Gautama the Buddha). These samskaras are like habits, in that they constitute the accumulated impressions – scientifically speaking, the neuron patterns – that determine our character, ways of thinking and behaving and overall outlook on and approach to life.

I like Yoga Journal writer and meditation teacher Sally Kempton’s interpretation of samskaras as “some scars.” Kempton describes samskaras as energy patterns in the consciousness, mental grooves that are like rivulets in sand that allow water to run in specific patterns. She often talks about how samskaras create our ‘default’ mental, physical and emotional settings. The thought “I can’t do this” when faced with a new challenge is a negative samskara that can be replaced by the confidence you feel when you finally master something that was initially challenging. Continue reading

The Highest Yoga

I was taking my final exam to qualify as a yoga teacher from the Sivananda Ashram in Kerala, South India. The exam was more or less straightforward, with the exception of one question: “What is the highest yoga?”

The highest yoga? I thought to myself. Well, what are my options? There’s bhakti yoga (yoga of devotion), karma yoga (yoga of selfless service), jnana yoga (yoga of knowledge) and raja yoga (yoga of science)… It’s probably karma yoga, I guessed. The spiritual teachers always emphasize how service is the beginning and the end of the spiritual journey. I thought all the yogas are equal, though! What is this, some kind of trick question?!

Sign at entrance of Sivananda Ashram in Neyyar Dam, Kerala, South India

After some thought, the answer emerged. Continue reading