The rain clarifies things. Haze in the air dissipates. The dust rises, then gets pounded back into the ground. Seeds planted too shallow will rise to the surface, and those deep enough get brought into full contact with the moist soil. The mist rises, but it’s different from the heated haze before the rain.
I am collecting my thoughts for a workshop I’m giving this weekend at the Crazy Owl Retreat, just downstream on Long Hungry Creek Farm. It’s been another busy week here and my thoughts keep falling into furrows of freshly turned ground. We had unexpected but delightful company, and they helped us do some big jobs that really needed doing, like mulching the tomatoes. My personal practices have been short and sweet. There hasn’t been time for reflection on much besides the garden and meals.
Times like this bring to mind one of the first of the Yoga Sutras that I learned. Chapter 2, Sadhanapada, translated by some as “Method” or “Practice”, is written for busy people, like most of us.
This is the practical stuff. The first sutra goes like this:
tapah svadhyaya isvarapranidhanani kriya yoga
Kriya translates as activity, or action.
Kriya Yoga is yoga for busy people. To be more precise – for people with busy minds. Personally, I find it hard to have much less than a busy mind when I’m involved in three small family businesses and spend the majority of my daylight hours in the company of an eight and three year old. Their thoughts alone, passing freely from their minds to the mouths, carry me swinging through the (mostly delightful) trees in the grand jungles of the Monkey Mind.
But even outside of the chattering of children, most of us have a hard time keeping our minds still. Modern life is anything but contemplative. All that interesting deep philosophy is great, but to be honest, we don’t always have time to soak it in and digest it, and make it usable. Patanjali wrote Chapter 2 for us.
He describes three pillars of a personal yoga practice. As I’ve rolled them around in my head these sweaty, busy, past couple days, they’ve picked up some garden soil and sprouted some metaphors.
The first pillar is Tapas – this is heat, fervor, discipline, austerities, the hard work of repeated practice, and the purification that accompanies that work. In the modern Western yoga world, this usually refers to asana practice – physical work. In the garden, this is breaking ground, making beds, planting, tending, and especially weeding. As in, “Oh man, we’ve been doing some heavy tapas in the garden this week.”
One thing that must needs be said about tapas is that it isn’t supposed to be easy. If I spend my yoga practice doing only the things that feel good to my body – what good is that really? People with flexible bodies may be able to do all the far out postures with ease, but that would be besides the point. It might feel good, but it will not necessarily lead the yoga practitioner to grow. Make no mistake – yoga is the organic garden of humanity – it’s about deep growing. This is not to say we should do practice that hurts us! It is just to say that doing what is good for us isn’t always the most fun, and that’s OK.
Svadhyaya is next – I was taught to view svadhyaya in terms of self-reflection. It refers to study. Studying books, studying with teachers, and mostly studying ourselves. Practically, this means that I reflect enough recognize if my practice isn’t serving my goals, and make adjustments. So, if you have knee injuries, or back pain, you will adapt your practice so that those conditions are at least not aggravated, and at best ameliorated. In the garden, svadhyaya happens when we get soil tests and balance our amendments, and when we read books and talk to each other and gain inspiration. But it is especially true that we are practicing svadhyaya when we are observant of the garden. There are no books that can teach as much as simple observation.
Isvara pranidhana – is the pillar with a gold lining. Isvara, as explained to me, is akin to the concept of one’s personal Lord and Savior. Pranidhana is one’s devoted and loving connection to that power. The Yoga Sutra is not a theological text, and Patanjali does not presume to tell us who our personal Lord is or should be. But by using this phrase, he suggests that devotion to a Higher Power is a piece of the action. Built into the text is the inference that this is a deeply personal connection, and that by surrendering into that, however it translates in your own experience, you will develop an attitude of acceptance and grow into a healthy detachment from the results of your practice. It won’t be just about you anymore. In Christian churches, the prayer is “Thy will be done.” Buddhist practitioners dedicate the merit of a practice to the “benefit of all beings.” Each of us is a vessel, a vehicle perhaps, and none of us exists in a vacuum. Whether we acknowledge it or not, what we do, what we practice, impacts our world. By taking responsibility for that larger relationship, we are strengthened, and hopefully, our impact can be magnified for the better.
In the garden, this is the harvest. It’s the time when we take up the fruits of our labors and share them, with friends, family, or shareholders. The perfect watermelon will not stand in the field forever. Something will eat it. Maybe you. Maybe your customers. Maybe a deer, or maybe happy flies and worms as it slowly disintegrates, but it will be eaten. Hopefully, it will be enjoyed, and that enjoyment will radiate goodness into the summer air.
Tonight, the mists have risen into a light fog and the darkening air is cool after the soaking rain. I practice yoga because it feels like this for me. Like the settling of a rain on a dry garden after some long work, knowing we’ve done what we could, and received in return. I teach with the aspiration that others might experience that sensation as well. Because it feels that good to grow.