yoga practice with James

What Difference Does it Make?

Jun 3, 2021 | Mythology, Practical Philosophy

This last year teaching online, on many of the courses I have sent out notes to accompany our sessions. Currently, I am enjoying working with the Āditya Hṛdayam hymn to the Sun from the Vālmīki Rāmāyaṇa, one of my favourite recitations. Here is an extract from last week’s notes:

Āditya is a name of the Sun as the offspring of its mother. Lots we can say about this name, but I am reminded of the beautiful idea M mentioned last session, sharing the quote from Bert Hellinger that each of us is the realised dream of our ancestors, that we are the manifestation of our ancestors’ desires.

As it is rendered in Spanish:
Que nadie te haga dudar, cuida tu ‘rareza’ como la flor más preciada de tu arbol. Eres el sueño realizado de todos tus ancestros.

And as I might translate it:
May no one ever make you doubt, take care of your ‘unusualness’ as the most prized flower of your tree. You are the realised dream of your ancestors.

In the Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad it is stated that a human is the sum of her desires. So, thinking on this:

‘I am the culmination of my ancestors’ desires’ – so let me do what they were not able to, let me build on my inheritance. Let me not wallow in it, or see it as a limitation. Rather, let me be grateful for the opportunities I have to further the dream, to further the desire. And considering that we are all related, that we all go back to common progenitors, let me play my part in, to borrow a phrase from Clarissa Pinkola Estés, the making and mending of life. My part may be small, but in the challenges right here, small though they may seem, let me play my part, let me not shirk the chance to render this day more beautiful. Sometimes, we may be confronted by doubt, by the ‘what’s the point?’ thinking, by the ‘what difference will it/does it make?’ idea. We may feel weighed down by the sorrow – śoka – of the past, of the missed chances, of the apparent missteps. We may feel ravaged or overwhelmed by the uncertainty of the future – cintā – and the magnitude of the challenges before us.

In such situations, one of the things that I find useful to remember was a blessing delivered to me by my dear friend Ravi Shankar Mishra. Ravi is a flute player, flute maker, teacher and beautiful human being, and lives a few streets away from my place in Mysore. Ravi got me my harmoniums and introduced me to some basics of Indian music. When we were unpacking my first harmonium, and Ravi showed me some basic scales and voice exercises, he shared something he tells all his flute students (I may stray into paraphrase from time to time here):

‘I tell all my students. If you want to be good at the flute, the first thing you have to do is love the flute… which means to be with it every day, to practice it every day… so with your voice. You like to sing, so love your voice, nurture it, be with it, share with it, like a deep soul friend. Every day. And when you are playing, when you are singing, do it for God! It doesn’t matter if you are playing for a packed house at the Royal Albert Hall, whether you are recording for All India Radio, or whether you are alone in your room. Play, sing, for God! This makes the difference. This is the way…’

And so it is, is it not? Act as if god was watching and how do I act? Give like I am giving to the most dearly beloved and how do I give?

Does it make a difference?

Remember Loren Eisley’s story of the starfish.

It goes a bit like this:

One morning a man was walking along a long deserted beach, with the sands stretching off into the horizon and the tide rolling out to the ocean. Looking into the wind, he sees a figure in the distance, is it another human? It seems to be contracting and expanding… as he gets closer he sees the figure looks almost like a dancer, bending and whirling. Closer still, he sees that indeed, it is another human being, a young man, though he wouldn’t describe his movements quite as dancing. The young man is reaching down to the sand, picking up small objects and throwing them into the ocean.

Intrigued, he draws closer and calls out to the youth: “Good morning! Hello there! May I ask, what are doing?”

The young man paused, he’s thinking, ‘well is it not obvious?’ But he looks up and replies, straightforward, to the somewhat startled older man: “I’m throwing the starfish into the ocean.”
It is not obvious to the older man. “Er, oh… but why?” He asks, “I mean, er, why are you doing that?”

The younger man replied, “The sun is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them back, they’ll die.”

To which the older man commented, looking up and down the beach, “But, wait a minute, young man, there are hundreds, thousands, hundreds and thousands of miles of beach, and hundreds of thousands of starfish… do you really think what you are doing is making any difference?”

The young man looks briefly at the older one, bends down, picks up another and throws it out beyond the surf.

“It made a difference to that one.”

He bends down again, throws another out. The sun glints in his eye,

“It makes a difference to that one too.”

The older man looks on as the youth continues, unabashed. With a starfish in his hand, the youth now looks at the older man before throwing it out towards the deep.

“It makes a difference to this one.”

And then the older man bends down, and joins in the younger man’s humble, simple, joyful effort.

It makes a difference to this one. Play as if god is watching. Walk like I’m walking on sacred ground. Sing, cook, clean like I am tending the temple precincts. Make it an offering to the beloved. Act like it does make a difference, and see what happens. Act as if God is watching and see what grace and beauty is invited to join your party, even if it’s a party of one, crying in the wilderness.

This is part of the practicality of the path of bhakti. Ravi’s advice is not sentimental or fanciful. When I do it for God, I do it better, I give myself a greater chance to make the action its own reward. When I live my day as a Sūrya Namaskāra, as an offering to, and an invitation to the healing rays of vivifying, rousing, nourishing awareness to flood the precincts of my being, well, then my being is irrigated and invigorated with energy of a different vibration. What difference does it make? Maybe it makes more difference than we might sometimes prefer to admit.

Article Photo by Tim Lloyd

James Boag | Whole Life Yoga

The yoga of the whole human being. Practical philosophy, storytelling, movement, inquiry, looking in ways that reach beyond our habitual ways of looking.

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