An Ancient Way Out of Fear and Insecurity

Here is a bit from The Wisdom of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras: A New Translation and Guide by Ravi Ravindra, which I am reviewing for Parabola.    These ancient sutras, which were collected by Patanjali more than two thousand years ago from what was already a long-standing tradition, offer a way out the dark little tunnel of thought and emotion that most of us blunder along in most of the time into the light and spacious  that comes with a realization of our interconnection with the whole of life.  The eight limbs of yoga are:  yama (self-restraint), niyama (right observance), asana( right alignment or posture), pranayama (regulation of breath), dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation), and samadhi (free attention).   Patanjali’s ashtanga or eight-limbed yoga, was not just a rigorous physical exercise routine.  It was a deep and subtle practice,  aimed at clearing away all the obstructions and tensions, all the grasping, lying, fighting, and contracting in fear, all the wounded animal behavior,  that stood in the way of a direct and defenseless connection with reality.

Patanjli goes on to explain that the yamas or limbs, the work of  non-violation of others and the planet, of non-grasping,  of coming into proper alignment in the world, inhabiting your space with dignity and grace, it’s always the same for all humans and in all times and places, regardless of birth, time, and circumstance.   We live in scary, uncertain times.   It is revelatory to me lately to realize that the source of true confidence isn’t to be found in outer circumstances but in ourselves.  But it turns out it has nothing to do with the strength or our defenses or the numbers on the bank statement,  it has to do with our capacity to just be open to what is, without picking and choosing conditions, without any buffers at all.  As businessman Michael Carroll recently wrote in Tricycle:  “Trying to make our lives secure by amassing all the goodies and avoiding all the difficulties turns out to be an aggressive game devoid of courage.”

Learning to let go and open up as Patanjali (and other sages) advise us to do turns out to be the sanest investment of our time and energy right now.  It is a way to connect with the reality of our interconnection–a way to confidence, dignity, and joy.    What’s your way?

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