Yogic practices

One of the great things about the Camaldolese tradition is its fearlessness to look at practices in other religions and to find where they can be found within our own. There is a long history of Camaldolese-Hindu dialog and so talk of yoga and Hindu philosophies is quite common. I was thinking in terms of my own practices. The Hindu thinkers are very methodical, not only are they careful thinkers, but they are also very much concerned with method. For example they have identified five niyamas, that is, disciplines that the yogi adopts in their relationship with their own self with the goal of reaching liberation. The five are:

  1. Saucha (“When cleanliness is developed, it reveals what needs to be constantly maintained, and what is eternally clean. What decays is the external. What does not is deep within us.” Yoga Sutra)
  2. Santosha (“Being contented brings the greatest of joys.” Yoga Sutra)
  3. Tapas (“Inner ardour or determination perfects the body and senses, and destroys impurities.” Yoga Sutras)
  4. Svadhyaya (“Self-inquiry; any study that helps you understand yourself; the study of sacred texts” Heart of Yoga by TKV Desikachar)
  5. Isvarapranidhana (“If we concentrate more on the quality of our steps along the way than on the goal itself, then we also avoid being disappointed if we perhaps cannot attain the exact goal that we had set for ourselves. Paying more attention to the sprit in which we act and looking less to the results our actions may bring us – this is the meaning of isvarapranidhana.” Heart of Yoga by TKV Desikachar)

I find that these disciplines are easily portable to my Christian practice, especially as that practice is clarified by Paul.

1) Cleanliness
By this I mean what Paul means when he tells Timothy to “keep himself pure.” In fact it is all over the epistles, almost more than anything else.

2) Contentment
Paul has a great line about this: “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. (Phil. 4:11-12).

I tell you how I think of this, it came to me one day as I was driving from work to the cathedral in Phoenix, AZ. You had to leave the freeway and do a little bit of driving through downtown. Inevitably the beggars with signs appeared. Every traffic light there would be one or two. Light after light. And then a passage popped into my head: “Give to the one who asks you” (Matthew 5:42)…give, not inquiry about their motives, see if it is a good investment. But then, the logic goes, where do I stop? there will not be enough money to help all of them! And this is that uncomfortable place where life, real life, exists.

But then there is this other place, where you realize how very little you actually need to live, and live well. And that this place can be reached with little or no change in the current patterns of your life. It does require a tremendous change of heart. The main one, this is the “secret of being content” is to simply stop believing in scarcity. It is a sham and a lie. God’s Kingdom is one of abundance. Nothing is lacking. In fact cups overflow all the time. Once that change is made the practice then becomes to repeatedly and quite deliberately to turn and return to the Kingdom and God’s abundance. Our God is a prodigal God!

3) Perseverance
This discipline is one of not quitting. Jesus talks about it “hand on the plow” (Luke 9:62); Paul (and others) talk about it ad nauseum (Heb 12:1, Phil. 2:16, Gal. 2:2, 5:7, 2 Tim 4:7, 1 Cor 9:24–26, etc). Run the race, don’t stop, don’t quit. My friends who are into exercise talk about “chipping” – that is chipping away one step at a time, one repetition at a time, until the whole set of exercises or the whole race is run. You chip, chip, chip away. Personally I think that is the way to move a mountain into the sea (as Jesus challenges) – one spoonful of dirt at a time – but dealing with Jesus koans is for a different post.

4) Study
This is understood as reading sacred texts for the sake of being changed. Well if this is not a Pauline understanding I do not know what is! “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16 ) Of course, for me the practice of lectio is the best way to achieve this, because lectio is a way of reading which is transformative instead of being informative.

5) Zeal
Perhaps “zeal” is not the best translation, it is closer to “surrender”. I am thinking here of Titus 2:14 which challenges the disciples to become “a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.”

As well the idea of surrendering everything to God. Paul is big on that as well. He says “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:1-2)

I just read a nice prayer which helps me to aspire correctly when engaging in self-inquiry: “Today, Creator of the Universe, we ask that you help us to accept ourselves just the way we are, without judgment. Help us to accept our mind the way it is, with all our emotions, our hopes and dreams, our personality, our unique way of being. Help us to accept our body just the way it is, with all its beauty and perfection. Let the love we have for ourselves be so strong that we never again reject ourselves or sabotage our happiness, freedom, and love.”

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About spaceloom

An urban monk, and an experienced spiritual director with a Masters in Psychology. Married with two children. Want to know me better? Read my thoughts.
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