The longer I wait to write this post on Saturday morning, the shorter the shadows get in the back of the house which faces west. The Sun, slowly ascending towards its peaking of the day, on this day when daylight reach its ascendancy over darkness in the northern hemisphere, I contemplate union and unity.
A tiny baby dragonfly in resplendent blue with translucent wings lands in the center of the rainbow colored hula hoop encrusted with silvery highlights lying on the floor of the deck. An orange winged blackbird lands on the wrought iron post holding the bird feeder, squawks loudly as it departs without partaking, as if to say that I need to fill it again. The two boys on their swings across the lake have been going back and forth for the past half hour, unassisted, as they have surely mastered their art of Joy. The lake glistens and ripples as it often does in the harmony of the slight breeze and the low angle of the Sun’s light from the East. My cup of tea is empty but I am too enamored by it all to move off of the deck, lest I miss something vital.
Where was I? Ah, yes. Union and Unity. In the 5th century BC, the Indian sage Patanjali, compiled a treatise called The Yoga Sutras. It is said to be the collation of the knowledge and practices of the lives of the practitioners of Yoga of the time. Patanjali wrote about Yoga as a thread of aphorisms explaining the relationship between the natural world, the inner spirit of humans, and the unity between them.
The practice of Yoga can be simply described as any practice which leads to union between the external and the internal. Yoga is the manifestation of the unity that we often intrinsically seek in the paradox of living in the transient external world while seeking the permanent within.
Swami Vivekananda describes this striving for union in the form of four paths of Yoga, all emerging from One as we move outward on them, and then converging into One as we return home. These four paths are the path of work and action, the path of knowledge, the path of devotion and the royal path of meditation. Why do we need four paths? Why not just one?
Perhaps because all humans, like the colors of the rainbow, have different propensities and inclinations that they bring into their physical existence. So, the offering of four distinct and yet non-exclusive and equal paths of Yoga, invites the practitioners of love to practice love in the way that they may be most attracted towards in their current state of life. Very often, a human may practice all four paths simultaneously, with different levels of intensity at different times of the day and night.
The Yoga of action may dominate during the day, knowledge path may prevail during reading or observing nature, devotion may take over during prayer, meditation may subsume one at dawn or dusk or other times. Yes, we are all practitioners of multiple paths, whether we are aware or conscious of the particular path, or even the goal, for that matter.
And the goal? One goal is to manifest the unity of the four paths into the realization that our true state is where the states of permanence, knowledge, and bliss, unite us in our union with the One.
A sense of unity often precedes Union. However, we know that unity cannot be decreed by a constitution or any number of bills of rights or legislatures or courts or executives and their orders. It is just like a rainbow cannot be decreed to appear or be perceived — the sun and the rain drops and a number of other conditions have to come together to create it with harmony. The rainbow appears when human nature recognizes that the union of colors, while maintaining their independence and their right to individually exist as equals, can only enhance the beauty of the world for all who set their eyes upon such a union.
How does union and unity manifest? We can observe union in father-children relationships, in a bride and groom’s joyfulness on their wedding day, in a decision to be aware of and celebrate all the physical light steaming upon us during summer solstice. Perhaps the greatest manifestation of unity and union is in an individual’s decision to work towards their union with the divine through the path of Yoga of their choice.
To be friendly towards those friendly towards us, to be joyous for them in their joy, to be empathetic towards those suffering, and to be indifferent without attitude towards those with evil intent – these four practices of maitri, mudita, karuna and upeksha – are considered to central to Patanjali’s definition of Yoga.
As I finish writing this, a baby sparrow has arrived on the deck and is loudly tweeting in a sliver of shade by the bird feeder. It is as if she’s asking me to get off the couch stat and do my Dad Yoga of re-filling the feeder. Such is the life of a householder- to stay unified in the heart while performing the actions related to the feeding of the world around me.
Now where did I put away that 50 pound bag of bird seed anyway?
P.S. Join me and the #SpiritChat community in our weekly twitter gathering on Sunday, June 21 at 9amET/ 630pm India. We will integrate Fathers Day (US), International Day of Yoga, Summer Solstice and the kickoff of four days of online and offline events for my niece’s wedding in India… Namaste – @AjmaniK