Let the colours fly! It’s India’s Holi festival! Aside from Diwali, Holi is one of my favourite Hindu festivals….but, I’m a “foreigner”, so what do I really know…they’re probably all wonderful. Holi always arrives with the fullness of the March moon which tonight, is hanging like a silver dollar in the sky….a clear sky, so black it’s the colour of Midnight Blue. And a light so soft and full, everything stands out as if on the Moon itself.
Holi, like other Indian festivals, symbolises the triumph of good over evil, or light over dark. Its significance is shared in a couple of ways, I learned of one on my friend’s front porch in India. He freely shares the beliefs of Hinduism with me when I have a well-full of questions. So, one day after his rooftop yoga class, we sat on his front porch and he told me the story of Holi. He told me of the sister who lured her brother to play, as a means for him to die in a fire. Story goes, their father who was king, was jealous of his son’s love of Lord Vishnu. The daughter had been blessed with the boon of being immune to fire. But, in the end the tables turned and her deception led the daughter to ash, yet the brother remained unscathed.
To fill out this legend, we could equate the lessons we learn from the Yamas, and their prompt toward overcoming our lower selves. Yama means “restraint”, and Holi stems from the word which means “sacrifice”. Though it’s a total mind flip for most people, freedom is gained through restraint, and it does this through refinement of our awareness, which comes through knowledge of self. In this case, the father, if he’d had the restraint of his jealousy, his beloved (and beautiful) daughter wouldn’t have turned to ash. The lesson he would have learned, had he chosen instead to overcoming his jealousy, wouldn’t have felt so good (as none of our lower tendencies do), but the self-restraint would have led him to the freedom gained through self- understanding. This self-knowledge would have liberated him in a way he never could have known…nor would he ever find out, having acted on it rather than restraining it. He assumed that wielding his power to do what he wanted when he wanted, meant he would get what he wanted…but alas, he found out that Life plays the final hand.
Had the father been willing to restrain himself, he would have known more deeply what was appropriate and what wasn’t, through discerning one thing from another. He would have gained the confidence to be a stronger king, which again brings another mind flip: Once he would have gained that confidence, he wouldn’t need to take himself so seriously anymore….his discipline would have led him to know that his “right” isn’t necessarily a universal, all encompassing “right”…he’d have a lot of elbow room to laugh at himself then…to soften those edges around “my way or the highway”, to know he’s done his best, so when “the chips fall where they may” they might not land so hard…he would be better equipped to discern the situation and what it required. It’s a more pleasant life experience all round.
The carefree colours of Holi represent that tuning in to the joy of life, the free expression of the unexpected moments it brings, and living those moments for all they’re worth. We can’t have an awareness of these moments when we’re so caught up in control that we do whatever it takes, at all cost, to be in control. The mirror gets flipped in Holi…having our faces and bodies smeared in colours brings our beauty to a new form…one of freedom. From that particular situation, that first choice of restraint, our freedom grows, it expands into a way of approaching life, which means we meet our life from our own decisions…and this is freedom.--with love, Letters In Yoga www.lettersinyoga.com
image credit: demotivateur and design.junkie
Is everything really wonderful, exciting, and amazing? These words have become daily expressions for describing the way everyone is always feeling, apparently. If I can test the waters here, I would say that these expressions falsely elevate our experience. We get lost in making sure that we inject one of those words into our speech, securing ourselves in the approval rating of the listener…who in turn is mentally preparing to use one of those words in response. When we elevate our experience, our feet are left dangling above the ground, we’ve got nothing to stand on; ironically, this elevation debases our reality.
In this culture of being “nice” and “excited” all the time, we undermine trust and we whittle away any kind of real purpose. And the lack of alignment is exhausting. To be true to anything, we need to know why we’re doing it. Without defining it, we’re lost in murkiness that allows our intention to shift and change according to what we think in the moment. This removes the truth from any purpose in our intention because we’ve become misaligned. We need to know and to define, the intention of our practice, through being aligned in thought, speech, and action.
The practice of Satya brings that clarity of our purpose, and becomes the definition for everything.
Satya (truthfulness) is tied very closely to Sankalpa. In fact, the two words within Sankalpa are: “Sat” being truth, and “Kalpa” being a long period of time. So, a Sankalpa is like making a vow toward that which keeps us on our path (our defined purpose). We cannot do this without the clarity of Satya. When we can deeply feel our Sankalpa, we’re tied to the unchanging truth of it…its unchanging nature is due to its connection to our Dharmic path. Once we can feel that aim, we sense that we must stay true to it, we know that we cannot waiver, and Satya then becomes a natural part of our lives.
We raise our quality of purpose and we raise our quality of life, when we can clearly perceive our Sankalpa, because we make choices that are aligned. We begin to live by reality as is meant for us, and what we want deeply in our lives becomes known to us. The desire to fulfill that means that Satya really becomes quite effortless. We lose that sense of our approval rating and we just stay true to being true…because we know what’s right. This doesn’t mean we are careless in our choices that might impact others; in fact, it’s the opposite. When we make choices aligned by our intention, we gain a sensitivity toward creating as little harm as possible, toward self and others. It is not a carelessness.
And so you see, even though Satya is the second of the Yamas, this external restraint really brings about internal transformation, it links us to our personal path, and it touches an internal depth and awareness. Satya is far deeper than “I cannot tell a lie”, Satya reaches into, “I cannot be misaligned”. It is through Satya that we learn to trust ourselves; and it demonstrates to others that we are trustworthy, that we’re capable of sustaining and holding an authentic space…not only within ourselves but in receiving other people in the same way. Others then know where they stand with us. This is a huge gift to give another. When we gain this confidence of trusting ourselves to be ourselves, we become more generous with who we are…because we don’t fear who we are. That vow to our Dharmic path becomes something we lean in to.--with love, Letters In Yoga www.lettersinyoga.com
*image credits: top: famedubai; bottom: blackswan