I hope you are feeling well these days, embracing the inevitable ups and downs of a life with gratitude and equanimity. Easier said than done.. :)
Those of you who have been coming to the monthly Masterclasses know that I often run out of time before getting into all the topics that I planned to cover. In the last Masterclass I wanted to speak a little about a useful concept or emphasis from the yoga tradition which is called "sankalpa". Due to my time management deficiencies, here it is.
This is how Rod Stryker explains sankalpa:
"Kalpa means vow, or “the rule to be followed above all other rules.” San refers to a connection with the highest truth. Sankalpa, then, is a vow and commitment we make to support our highest truth. By definition, a sankalpa should honor the deeper meaning of our life. A sankalpa speaks to the larger arc of our lives, our dharma—our overriding purpose for being here. The sankalpa becomes a statement you can call upon to remind you of your true nature and guide your choices."
It may resemble at first glance something like a new year resolution but it is actually significantly different. New year resolutions tend to have a short shelf life due to their often surface level goals and ambitions, whereas sankalpa is rooted much deeper inside us and has the power to carry us even in hard times when things are difficult.
Practically speaking, we cannot achieve anything of value that requires time, effort and overcoming challenges without a sustainable and steady resolve. It can be quite obvious to many of us, but I actually learned this years ago when I learned how to play the guitar. At the beginning my fingers were hurting, the sounds I was making were clunky and unpleasant, it felt like a climb on a steep mountain. I had to repeat the same movements over and over, go through continuous failures and rare moments of figuring things out. Prior to that I have quit the guitar a few times because there was no resolve or passion for it, but then for some reason in my early 30s I felt a strong urge to go for it whole heartedly. I made a deal with myself to give it a fair chance for at least 2 years, not to give up no matter the obstacle I'm facing. Once I did that I started to progress gradually, very slowly and awkwardly. I couldn't count on moments of success to be my fuel, instead I had to make peace with my incompetence and lack of talent and learned to find joy in facing challenges with lightness, humor and curiosity. Naturally, Things became easier overtime and eventually I started playing more freely, at some point I even felt comfortable enough to jam with others which to my utmost surprise was one of the most enjoyable things I have ever done.
When it comes to a practice like yoga sankalpa might be a little different. It is a tool meant to harness the will and to focus and harmonize mind and body so that we can bring ourselves to the mats or cushion and face the daily challenges of a contemplative practice. At the same time it must not involve any rigid ambition or religious dogma. It has to be mixed with compassion, kindness, infinite patience and mindfulness otherwise it can easily become a goal-oriented pursuit which is counter-productive when it comes to yoga.
One of the biggest disturbances that we face on a contemplative or spiritual path is scepticism and doubt. We obviously need to have a healthy and constructive amount of critical approach so that we stay open to modifications and improvements and make sure that our practice is effective. We also have to have an appropriate discernment so that we avoid falling pray to convincing rhetorics, ineffective or harmful methods, or other negative influences. However, doubt is not that, it is something else and it's considered one of the biggest obstacles both in the Yoga and Buddhist traditions.
Here's a little quote by Jan Martel (life of pi) that can very simply explain why doubt can be detrimental to our practice:
"To choose doubt as a philosophy of life is like choosing immobility as a mode of transportation."
When doubt is dominating us we get stuck and paralyzed, not able to move forward, whereas a healthy critical attitude keeps us searching, exploring and evolving..
To summarize this topic, if we want to make meaningful progress in anything, particularly in yoga, we have to find a strong force, a sankalpa, that comes from deep within us, that almost feels like a life's calling or purpose. And then we have to allow it to manifest and nurture it daily. We also need to make sure we don't become dogmatic and maintain enough space and openness for expanding our knowledge and wisdom..
One last thing. It is very much OK if we are unable to find this force within us! It is not our fault and we are not doing anything wrong. Sankalpa is a force that comes from nature, our nature. Our job is to notice it if it's there and then express it in any way that feels right, but we cannot manufacture it artificially. So if you don't feel a yoga sankalpa within you - be happy, just practice in any capacity that you can, maybe one day it will appear, and maybe not. You may also find other kinds of sankalpas as there are many ways to live life in a meaningful way, yoga is just one of them.
May the sankalpa be with you!
Looking forward to sharing space, breath and yoga with you in March!
With love and gratitude
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