“We are not going to change the whole world, but we can change ourselves and feel free as birds. We can be serene even in the midst of calamities and, by our serenity, make others more tranquil. Serenity is contagious. If we smile at someone, he or she will smile back. And a smile costs nothing. We should plague everyone with joy. If we are to die in a minute, why not die happily, laughing? (136-137; Sri S. Satchidananda, The Yoga Sutras)
As I spent the last week on the road in a motorhome I was contemplating what I wanted to explore deeper in my next weekend yoga retreat. For me these retreats are an opportunity to dive deeper into the philosophy of yoga; to step off the day to day world & examine who we are & how we want to return into our normal life. They are opportunities to make decisions to change, in small or larger ways.
These maybe the inspiration from the fantastic vegetarian food opening our eyes to improving our diet. It maybe the lack of phone signal taking us away from the constant presence of our phone. The step into beautiful countryside could remind us of our connection to nature & how important it is for mind & body to re connect whatever the weather. Holding these retreats in the Yorkshire Dales has provided us with all weather conditions, each having their own beauty & challenges!! The other thing that the Yorkshire Dales provide us with is less light pollution..so we can admire the vastness of the night sky. The clear nights walking up the road to the yoga, from the main house always re connect me to my smallness & somehow to my connection to others.
In a similar way exploring the South coast in a motorhome reminded me of the amazing beauty of our British countryside. Sitting with my lovely dogs & husband on a hilltop in Devon, looking down on a spectacular Jurassic coastline reminded me of how lucky we are. The trip allowed us the freedom to explore places I did not know existed; from the amusement arcades of Torquay through the remoteness of Dorset across, via the lovely town of Sidmouth with it’s many many public toilets & flowers right across to Brighton. As always with travel it somehow connects to ourselves, to seeing with more objective vision & to reconnecting to ourself. We enjoyed many fish & chip suppers, cream teas & motorhome breakfasts! We also enjoyed planning our future, exploring our dreams & enjoying discussing possibilities & changes that we may choose to make.
So it bought me back to the Yoga Sutra & what yoga has done for me. It has given me the strength & courage to change the things I wanted to change. Giving me the life I have today. It has given me the mindfulness to accept the things I cannot change & the opportunity to develop the inner knowledge to know the difference between the two. This idea may be familiar in the Serenity Prayer embraced by many recovery programmes, but it was here first in the Yoga Sutra. I remember my final class assessment based around the theme of Santosha…loosely defined as contentment, or serenity. I think we get this from three things defined by the Yoga Sutra 2.1 tapaḥ svādhyāy-eśvarapraṇidhānāni kriyā-yogaḥ
Tapas,or inner heat/ determination/ strength. That which gives us the motivation & courage to motivate ourselves into change. I stand firm that I am extremely lucky in life, while accepting the hard work it has taken to be this lucky!!
Svadhyaya, or self study. Mindfulness & self reflection. The really honest look at your own uniqueness.
Ishvara Pranidhanaor surrender to the divine (however you define that…in God or in the vastness of the night sky)
As we make our choices in life we always have options of how to respond to a situation, we can learn to respond not to react. We can work on aligning our thoughts, words & actions with our values. We can learn not to lose ourselves in drama but to live. A simpler life without being trapped by the lows or highs. We can learn to make choices, act with integrity & aim for a life of purpose where we like who we are.
Here is the complete version of the prayer. Please interpret it in a way that takes you forward towards what I consider yoga. Yoga Sutra 1.2 citta vritti nirodha. The quietening of the fluctuations of the mind!
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time;
enjoying one moment at a time;
accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
that I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
forever in the next.