Thursday, December 19, 2013

Arjuna and December (in which I manage to bring Jesus, Arjuna and Harry Potter into the same blog post)

Well, yogis, it's December, which means a lot of things. Firstly, I will be returning to regular blogging soon since my assignment in East Timor is nearly done! Secondly (and a bit more universal), it's hard for most of us not to notice that Christmas is coming.

Which makes me think about Arjuna. (Oh yes, it's one of those posts).

'Uhhhhhh, what?' I hear you asking. Well, let me explain. It all started last year when my partner and I had Christmas with our five-year old niece. By the end of the holiday, after a week or so of "brush your teeth or you'll be on the naughty list" culminating in a paper-shredding-present-opening-crazy-fest, we felt pretty spiritually disenfranchised. The pop-culture-materialistic version of Christmas, as you may have noticed, is pretty hard to avoid these days, whether you are a Christian (my partner is) or not (I am not). So we reflected a bit on what the deeper meaning of the season is for us, and how we could create new traditions for ourselves that possibly wouldn't involve quite so many plastic toys discarded moments after being torn out of the wrapping paper. We reflected on the transition to a new year, marked by the solstice and the calendar. The commemoration of another year of life on this planet shared with people that we love. The commemoration of the birth of a man who tried to teach those around him the values of love, generosity and a moral life.

Which, ironically, every time I come to the christmas season, feels like more of a battle than usual.

Which is what brings me to Arjuna. For those of you who haven't read the Bhagavad Gita (on which I am no expert), Arjuna is a prince who, on the eve of a terrible battle, has a crisis of faith. Paralysed by the realisation that he must fight against his own uncles and cousins to win back his rightful share of the kingdom, he freezes, confused, and his bow slips from his hand. He calls upon Krishna (who happens to be his charioteer, sweet!) for guidance. Krishna responds by introducing Arjuna to Yoga, a practice for self-realisation. Krishna goes on to say that through Yoga he can gain control of his mind and liberate himself from the 'false reality' of the senses. In this state, the yogi can perform actions without any mental or emotional attachment to their consequences. So he can fight because it's the right thing to do, and not be distraught by the result of his actions.

Now, wait, says Arjuna, surely if I become all enlightened, there is no need to perform action at all? Shouldn't I just withdraw from the world and contemplate it all from a cave somewhere? But Krishna points out that abstaining from action is an action in itself, but not a very constructive one. Better to continue consciously performing actions, because as an enlightened person you can do actions for the good of the world. Krishna tells Arjuna that each person should do his duty according to his nature, performing actions without attachment. This is the Yoga of Action.

There's more to the story, but we've come to my essential point. I remember reading the BG for the first time and struggling immensely, as Arjuna did, with this concept. How could it be right to go to war, to kill his kin for a kingdom? What kind of spiritual teaching is that? And how did this text become an inspiration to Ghandi, the man who led India's peaceful revolution?

But I was missing the key point, which is that it's a story, a metaphor, not to be taken quite so literally. In the story, Arjuna is a warrior. It is what he is born to, it is his destiny, and therefore it is his duty to fight. It is the right thing to do, and nobody else can do it. He's basically your ancient Indian version of Harry Potter (who after all, could have just hopped on a Thestral and flown off to Australia, right?).

What the BG is saying, then, is that yoga is really about is doing what's right, according to our own individual nature. Now I am not a warrior (maybe some of you are, readers, or wizards!). But I am many other things: a friend, a daughter, a sister, a partner, an employee, a teacher. And with each of those 'destinies'  comes a set of 'rights,' a set of choices about how I live my life (horcruxes or hallows?). The path of yoga is the path that leads me to choose my actions wisely, to do the right thing in each set of circumstances not because I am seeking personal gain or seeking to please others, but because it is the right thing to do. Not to put off doing something because it is hard or because I am afraid, but doing it because it is the right thing to do. The right thing according to me, to my true self, to my true nature, not to what others tell me to do or want me to do.

And the practice of yoga, the practice of inquiry in order to gain self-knowledge, of course, is there to help me to make those choices based in true wisdom, free of attachment or ego or self-deception.

So, readers, if you are still with me, that is what I will be reflecting on this December. On who I am, and on doing Right Things For Me because they are Right Things For Me, and not for any other reason. On what my battles (choices) are and how to 'fight' them with wisdom and integrity.

Happy new year everyone!

La Gitane

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