Reflections: The Yoga of Our Lives

The man pulling radishes
Pointed the way
With a radish.

This translation of a haiku by Issa is about more than pulling radishes. For me, it speaks to perception. If you spend your time pulling radishes, radish is what you see, radish is what you have to give, and radish is how you will point the way, what you will share. Radishes become your View. Radishes become the yoga of your life, the ongoing builder of perception – the filters of our personal worldview (all the world is a radish, and all of the men and women merely planting and pulling).

Yoga is a Sanskrit term which means “path to God” (literally to yoke or join – the yoke’s on you). The various yogas can be practiced as living disciplines to link us up with God and the god force. In Hinduism, there are yogas of physical exercise, devotion, and developing insight, to name but a few. Any conscious discipline designed to integrate all our being would be considered a yoga. If we choose to define yoga as “a path to Perception,” then our lives, the conscious and unconscious thoughts, feelings, and activities that make up our daily personal existence become our personal yoga. This slight shift in definition has immense practical value in helping to understand the worldview each of us has achieved and are in the process of achieving through the living of our lives. The yoga of our lives becomes the sum of all the areas to which we give our attention: our occupations, interests, relationships, hobbies, and general lifestyle. These are the activities and attitudes that channel View over time. Calling the aspects and activities of our lives a yoga has the potential of making us more conscious of those activities and their effect. Calling our life a yoga labels the dynamic processes that shape our lives.

To help illustrate, I will briefly describe some of the yogas of my life. The first adult yogas were meditation and karate. While one yoga was physically inactive and the other physically active, both yogas provided a perception of non-attachment, transcendence, and integration. My career as a counselor for mentally handicapped and mentally ill adults nurtured gentleness, patience, and a further understanding of the human condition. When I became a director, the need to accomplish, to get things done, began to compete with patience. Being a director required assertiveness.  I had to guard against the continued expectation that employees must perform in order to maintain the view of patience I had acquired from earlier yogas. Of course, employees should perform. But that is not the primary way I wanted to relate to them as people, or relate to life generally. I felt I needed to balance that view with a practice of mindfulness and compassion.

To further illustrate, let’s take a hypothetical example involving two very different views.

Bob the biologist:
Bob the biologist has spent 10 years in researching functions of the brain. The brain is an amazingly complex organ. After spending most of his intellectual time charting how the brain mediates perception and influences behavior, Bob the biologist has developed a very materialist View. He does not believe in spiritual visions. He believes in mini seizures in the temporal lobe. He does not believe in divine intuition. He believes in nonverbal right brain perception communicated, without a conscious understanding of pathway, to left brain language centers. The more he learns the more there seems to be to learn and the more obvious it seems that organic processes define life. The mysteries of life are those organic processes not yet known to science. His friends and colleagues are also biologists, which further reinforces his View. His study of the brain becomes the basis of his materialist universe.  He feels he finds the evidence for his materialist view in the ongoing science of organic processes in the brain.

Sally psychotherapist:
Let’s contrast that with Sally psychotherapist, a psychologist with Jungian leanings. As a therapist, she is influenced by her own experience.   She has discovered the deep well of a connected collective unconscious: an ability to track information that passes naturally from the subconscious of her client into the collective unconscious, and then up through her personal subconscious as an intuition about the client.  This process has provided therapeutic intuitions again and again which have proved accurate and have helped her in her work with her clients. It’s not just that she can “read” them.  Her intuitions have gone well beyond how a client is feeling in the moment.  As a result of this process, she no longer sees herself as completely separate person, but as an individual part of the collective unconscious of the universe.  In her own life she has experienced a number of peak experiences, the content of which have enriched and even altered her life. The deeper she travels into Spirit, the more obvious it seems that the brain is but a transmitter, and we are all vehicles of something so much larger, an indescribable Sacred: the wholeness of Self.  Her reflex is to be skeptical of all materialistic science.  This bias makes her much less likely to refer her clients to medical model treatments, such as psychiatrists.

Bob the biologist doesn’t line up with intuition, and therefore will not experience or understand it.  As long as he desacrilizes Spirit he will not have a spiritual experience. Sally psychotherapist may reject medical treatments, such as drug therapy for mental illness, that might actually have benefit in specific cases.  Whenever there is bias, there is a potential blindness to the efficacy of a rejected view.

The threads of experience that we embody become the streams of our existence.  These streams of existence provide our View of the world – create perception within the mind.  Under these terms of existence, if someone failed repeatedly to perceive something, it is no longer fair to say: “He doesn’t get it.”  A better description would be: “He can‘t align himself perceptually,” or simply, “He doesn’t line up with it.”

In an expanding universe, the individual views of Bob the biologist and Sally psychotherapist could become integrated into a larger view that held equal reverence for organic processes and spiritual connections. Now it’s possible that both Bob and Sally believe that their personal universe expands through a deeper connection with their View without needing to consider the view of the “other.”  That may even be true.  But there are aspects of the universe they will not see if they fail to perceive the enduring aspects of “other.”  The alchemy of views always discovers an expanding universe. It’s all right, sometimes even desirable, to become experts in the use of a specific tool: a metaphoric radish expert.  Our view expands when we become discriminantly aware of the potential value of a spectrum of tool usage – the radish you can feel with your own hands, and the radish that exists a priori, before conception, as an idea in the mind.

Now, let’s look at a different translation of Issa’s haiku that changes everything:

The man pulling radishes
Pointed my way
With a radish

The single change in this translation (marked with bold text) is the word the to my.  In this translation, Issa the wanderer may be lost.   He finds himself through immersion in the farmer’s View.  The wanderer becomes planted in one place like the radish, completing the traveler’s circle.

Photo from Facebook page Rumi Quotes

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