When I look around me at all the different kinds of people, in completely different places in their lives, I notice my mind judging certain aspects of them. Being a yoga practitioner and firmly on the path of Self Realization, I am often humbled by my mind’s ability to spew some nasty things, contrary to the compassionate goals of yoga. However, the practice comes not from being perfect necessarily but from learning to observe these tendencies and using the practice to continue to cleanse and purify the mind, body and heart.
The practice and teachings of my teacher, Sri Dharma Mittra have changed my life dramatically. He has taught me how to purify the parts of myself that would make your hair curl, and that all of us have, if we just look closely enough. And the more and more aware I become, the amount of work I still need to do becomes ever clearer.
As a Dharma yoga instructor, I practice pranayama, meditation, mantra, asana, concentration, and other spiritual practices every day. These form the bulk of my practice and there is a direct correlation between how steady I’ve been in my practice and my own ability to be compassionate, calm and patient in my daily life. It is literally a never-ending process of cleansing and purifying the places within myself that I would rather not look at. I once read about a teacher whose student asked them if they should practice every day. The teacher replied: “You don’t necessarily have to practice every day but when life gets difficult, you’ll hope you’d been practicing every day.”
The path to Self Realization is not an easy one. It can be very lonely and isolating, not to mention mentally and emotionally trying. However, the payoffs greatly outweigh the costs and eventually all costs go away and become irrelevant as a Self-Realized being. It’s the difference between suffering in my own thoughts and feelings about others (because we’re truly the only ones that suffer when we judge) and allowing others to have their own awakening process. The people surrounding me haven’t changed – I have! So I can walk through the grocery store and either feel the hot anger of judgment and criticism inside my body (which the practice has also helped me connect with) or have a totally peaceful experience. Nothing about my outside surroundings changed – but when I’m connected to myself through the practices of yoga, I hold the power of changing my experience in my hands. Judgment serves as a mirror for our own progress on the path. It’s simply a construct of the mind and when we learn to purify the mind, we’re really learning how to remove obstacles on the Path.
This is why we practice – to shed light on the dark, cob-webby places inside of us that need our attention. Nowhere in the Yoga Sutras did Patanjali say “You must be free of all imperfections.” What he did say was that yoga is the “settling of the mind into silence.” When we silence the mind, the place where the dark, harmful thoughts originate, then we start to experience the peace of our true Self. And the joy that accompanies that supreme knowledge is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced, even if only briefly.