As I near the completion of two decades of yoga practice it is abundantly clear to me that the most important aspect of my journey at this point is gratitude. The action and attitude of gratitude did not come easy to me. Years of effort to heal and move beyond the obstacles that prevented me from connecting with my true self were necessary. There are many obstacles in our lives that create suffering. These vary in degree and may be amplified or lessened depending on what's going on at a given time in our lives.
Yoga and tantra offer us technologies to move beyond our obstacles to self awareness and spiritual growth. Thank God! When I began studying with Yogarupa Rod Stryker I remember one quote he referenced that was so powerful for me: "Gratitude is the soil from which our intentions grow." Wow! What does this look like? How could I make gratitude a part of my journey in an authentic way, I wondered. It is one thing to know intellectually and it is another to feel and embody gratitude.
As has always been the case in my journey the universe helped answer my own questions. One evening I awoke in the middle of the night with such clarity about gratitude that I was profoundly moved. I knew in that moment and from then on that gratitude is simply a connection to the Divine. And for me gratitude involves acknowledging this connection in my sadhana but also in my heart in every waking moment. She dwells within.
When we begin the study of Tantra we learn a lot about the Divine and Her presence: that life is a sea of ambrosia; that this gift we call life is rich and beautiful; that life is steeped in resplendence and joy. In the early days it may seem like wishful thinking to arrive at this state given the complexities of our lives and all the nasty stuff that we see. But my experience, and that of the great teachers who have tread this path before, is through our commitment to practice and growth our inner light begins to shine. The darkness of obstacles begin to fade as we get brighter and lighter. We cast our inner light over the darkness so that it does not drive us and our daily decisions.
It is hard to be grateful when there is pain. But we have choices. One of the most important choices to be made on the path of yoga is to find a teacher and work with her/him. This person should be someone whose experience and depth of study combine in such a way that their guru shakti is like fire; through their presence and capacity to transmit the teachings they awaken you to your Self. The teacher plays a significant role in a student's journey. It is a unique relationship unlike any other. It is a relationship that happens only when the student is ready. It is not an intellectual pursuit nor is it an exercise in popularity and ego. When the teacher steps onto your path you know; your inner teacher tells you this is the one.
Guided through study and practice gratitude for the teacher spontaneously flourishes. It is a natural progression. Through this being the teachings are transmitted and your awakening is facilitated.
Many in our modern individualist and egoist western society have a do-it-yourself approach to yoga. With DIY-yoga we see various forms and styles of modern yoga exercise being branded and packaged with practitioners bouncing around to the one that feels best at a given time. Most of these have little or no connection to the tradition of yoga as they are steeped in modern postural yoga. Most poses have only been created in the last hundred years of so. It is not about tradition, nor is it about the tradition of a teacher-student relationship.
Given this, how would most modern day practitioners even know about having a teacher and the deeper journey that it portends? Perhaps it is just that we are largely lacking in the humility to see the role that a teacher may play. A teacher based in lineage leads us to never-imagined places and possibilities. That is their job. Their life is one of dedication to sadhana. The student's path is one of discipline, surrender and respect. We are all students of yoga and we honour our teachers and time-tested teachings they present us with.
Devotion is an aspect of yoga that is often overlooked. There are some yoga systems today that do it through their use of kirtan, chanting and celebration. But most body-based yoga miss it. Devotion flourishes when practice consists of a range of techniques involving the mind, senses, body, breath and includes such things as mantra, yantra, visualization, and meditation. These begin to break down the wall the separates the individual and the Divine, breaking down our false impression that the internal and external reality are mutually exclusive. All of this is experiential; one can't experience this by reading about it. The techniques are shared through the teacher. The teachings are understood through practicing them.
I am grateful for my teacher and the teachers who came before him in the lineage. They have done the work of which I am a beneficiary. I'm indebted to them for that. My job is to share, disseminate and empower students with these same teachings. Every new practice that I receive takes me closer to my soul, to my unfoldment. Every day gives me the opportunity to express gratitude for this amazing life I am living.
If you are seeking a simple way to bring more gratitude and devotion into your practice and life I recommend something very simple: Before settling into sleep at night take a moment to express gratitude for your amazing life, for all the events that give you opportunities to grow and flourish, and for your body - the vessel of your soul. A second powerful thing is to offer up the fruits of your practice to the Divine. Some of us may be accustomed to asking of the Divine. Try giving back. It's powerful.
Happy Thanksgiving my fellow beings. May light and love fill you today and everyday.