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At the root of the practice of Isvara Pranidhana, devotion to the lord, is to see what Gregory Bateson called ‘the pattern that connects’, and that is to see the fundamental interrelationship of everything in existence, unerringly simple yet seemingly vexingly complex.
To practice Isvara pranidhana is to endeavor to live your life from the perspective that everything under the sun shares a benevolent, invisible, cohesive, inescapable connection with everything else. This fundamental sacred connection is what gives integrity to existence, and is what each of us must tap in order to find peace and outgrow the terrifying, lonely, illusory divisions caused by fear and ego. Each of us must find our own way to live from this source if we are to leave behind the aberrant behaviors that are the source of the dangerous imbalances that we continue to create in our world. Part of the healing and restoring of balance is in training your mind onto the awareness that all the ingredients that go into making the ‘stuff’ of the universe are merely Self manifesting as variety. Everything that surrounds you earth, sky, mountains, ocean waves, and everything within you, your bones, organs, and psyche made up of thoughts, yearnings, feelings, fantasies, and projections is part of the large I. You exist as an individual person only in the way that you are an individual cell among billions of other cells that form the body of the Cosmic Person, and thus you are inseparable from this Self.
To experience the spiritual dimension of existence you must look around and see only Self, this calls to mind Sri K Pattabhi Jois’s definition of drsti: ‘everywhere looking only God seeing’. Look anywhere in the cosmos, to the farthest extent in any inward or outward direction, at friend or enemy, feel the antagonist pull of the greatest opposing forces, use your imagination, or apply the most penetrating, concentrated awareness, you will arrive at your origin, you’ll see the grand pattern that connects your essential place in it. And if this knowledge penetrates your being deeply enough, you will feel radically compelled to care for everyone and everything in existence in the ways that you now reserve exclusively for yourself and a small circle of others.
Isvara pranidhana is nothing more or less than the practice of devoting your self to experiencing the Self in everything. Taking up such a serious practice will cause you to grow, to see the traps of your ego, to live your own life less selfishly, to become more devoted to peace, to have more concern for the people, animals, and things around you and to have more compassion for all suffering.
This calls to mind the life and teachings of Peace Pilgrim a woman who became a living saint through her vow to continually walk the earth until there was world peace. Her vow kept her walking for decades with nothing more than the clothes on her back and her message of simplicity and peace through surrender and devotion. Her travel mat was her consciousness and her yoga was her voice that she used to call for peace. And you may ask your self how would I start from where I am and end up as spiritually pointed and alive as Peace Pilgrim?
The answer for most of us is that we can do it in baby steps with patience and persistence. One such baby step is to use isvara pranidhana to come to know and follow your own individual calling. To identify and follow the ‘signs’ that come to you, to learn to trust that there is the potential for a greater significance in what happens to you, especially things that you don’t voluntarily choose. Towards the end of his life and his long time study of consciousness Carl Jung defined God as: “….. the name by which I designate all things which cross my path violently and recklessly, all things which alter my plans and intentions, and change the course of my life, for better or for worse.”
Part of surrendering to the Lord is to trust in the directions that are thrust upon you by life, by forces that are beyond your control. Opportunities to let go and follow such signs are abundant, part of your job as you are faced with them is to grow rich in self reflection, to look for ways to allow what happens to you to continue to lead you meaningfully in the direction that you are being led from within and that you know you must travel.
Another baby step to isvara pranidhana is in fearlessly examining your thoughts as a way of ceasing to identify with the unworthy contents of your mind, a major subject of the yoga sutra’s. In the yoga sutra’s the instruction on Isvara Pranidhana appears in a section of sutra’s about how to arrest the mind, overcome ignorance, and realize your spiritual truth by means of ‘citta vrtti nirodha’, causing thought (vrtti’s) to cease.
Contemplating devotion to god within the context of stopping thought gives you practical and tangible teachings that you can immediately put into practice. Stopping thought involves a patient, persistent screening of thought, an ongoing qualitative assessment of what passes through your mind, and an endeavor to discard and withdraw your energy from thoughts that don’t serve you in developing a mature relationship to your inner life. Your devotion to Self can grow out of such efforts to stop thought and help you in concentrating your mind on what matters to you.
Abhyasa (practice) is defined as the effort to remain ‘there’. ‘There’ refers to the state of experiencing the pattern that connects, seeing Self everywhere. To cause thought to cease is to sort, discard and refine your inner psychic contents to such a degree that you cease to pay attention to and give energy to ‘junk’ thoughts. Peace Pilgrim said ‘I don’t eat junk food and I don’t think junk thoughts’. She did pay attention to the thoughts within her that enabled her to have a effective voice about world’s acute need for inner and outer peace and her life became a vivid example of how to accomplish ‘citta vrtti nirodha’ through isvara pranidhana, and also an example of how to center yourself in what is truly important to you.
When you choose to practice Isvara Pranidhana, you will leap forward in your understanding of what yoga is and how to make best use of its teachings in your life. Sometimes your efforts may seem small, clouded, or difficult to sustain. You may not be able to define precisely what either devotion or God mean to you or how to centralize them in your life. But any effort that you make to become devoted to the self within you will be rewarded, any surrender to what is beyond your little ego world, will remind you that Self is literally everywhere and it is entirely natural for you to express your share of the sacred. The little seed of isvara pranidhana that you plant in your consciousness will eventually sprout and grow into a powerful force within you, leading to action that will yield its transformation, its benevolent, world changing fruits.
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