August 2016-Subject- Bhagavad Gita, Yoga for When “I Just Can’t” Isn’t Good Enough.



At a local festival the other day, I watched, along with thousands of other music lovers, as one of the featured artists came out on stage and rather than singing, began a rather convoluted, disjointed and extensive rant. To paraphrase, he asked what the bleep was going on, how the fans could even be there at the show supporting entertainment (which he classified as stupid and meaningless) with all that was going on in the world. He questioned the intelligence of those that bought his songs and snapped at those that clapped in response to one point by telling them they should not applaud, to just try listening for once and taking one moment to try to understand what was going on around them. He left the stage after half-heartedly piecing together a couple songs, not staying even half the allotted time, saying “I’m sorry, that’s all I can do today.”  The perplexed crowd stood in a mixed state, some disparaging, some sympathetic and some wondering what just happened. At the heart of it, whether performance art, breakdown or genuine angst, it was an emotional display most of us can relate to these days as the world ignites around us and tension escalates in ourselves. The question becomes, as we are confronted seemingly everyday with news of more violence, hatred and ignorance, how do we find what we need to show up in matters of life, both big and small, when we feel that it’s just too much, we just can’t.

This dilemma is nothing new. Thousands of years ago, the Bhagavad Gita told the story of an archer named Arjuna, who froze on the top of a hill, overwhelmed by the task at hand that was his alone to do and said the very same thing to his charioteer, “I just can’t”. Racked by despair and confusion, and even though thousands were relying on him to act, no action seemed possible in the enormity of what was going on around him. Lost in the endless cycles of a mind steeped in doubt and controlled by fear, he enumerated the reasons eloquently and convincingly as to why he could not do what was needed of him that day.  As it happened, his charioteer in the story is Krishna who, as an avatar of Vishnu, is wisdom and divine love embodied. Krishna listened, and in response to Arjuna’s litany, provided the reasons why “I just can’t” is not good enough when life requires us to act. The teachings in this epic poem have become one of the most renowned works of philosophy in the world, providing the framework for how we can find what is needed to act skillfully and decently in accordance with our dharma and the flow of consciousness under the most difficult of circumstances. The practical applications can be learned as we consider three of the aspects of yoga detailed in the text-  jnana, karma and bhakti yoga.

Jnana yoga is the yoga of knowledge. The ultimate knowledge is understood to be the realization that the universal Self is eternal, unthreatened, unchanging and divine. However as this is not our experience in the messiness of everyday life, we get caught and confused in the constant chatter and urgings of the unchecked mind which always focuses on the “I, me and mine”. How do we step through this self-serving chatter to the strength needed to stand against the ignorance, violence and intolerance that is gaining more of a foothold in the world, especially when those actions require us to look and move outside the comfort of our familiar views of ourselves and the way the world is.

The Bhagavad Gita tells us the most important thing is to be vigilant in watching what our thoughts are telling us when we are despondent, afraid, overwhelmed or feel threatened. We have more than enough to work with here in the current world – watching our thoughts escalate when we see or hear a political viewpoint with which we strongly disagree or agree. Seeing the thoughts behind our different reactions when something tragic happens to someplace or someone with which we identify, as compared to when it seems far removed from our own life. In being vigilant, we can begin to see the tricky ways our own story lines and fears can supersede and obscure any clear and legitimate understanding of what is needed. We may not know immediately what to do, but at least we understand that when we are reactive, we do not have the state of mind necessary to be clear in our next step.

Karma yoga is the yoga of action. We may not always feel we have a divine charioteer to guide our actions, but we do have vast access to knowledge and support. We can educate ourselves about the issues so we know fact from rhetoric. We can connect with those that have made a difference in an area we care about, and ask what we can do to help. We can take one small step outside our comfort zone to act or speak in support of those people that are dismissed or diminished because they are not deemed important enough. Inaction when our action is needed is said in the Gita to have major karmic repercussions, and any effort and action on our part that increases love, justice, decency and unity is never wasted. This becomes our ground, we do not have to succeed in our efforts, but we do have an obligation and karmic responsibility to show up fully and try.

Bhakti yoga is a celebration of selfless service of the divine. It cuts the chatter of the “I””, me and mine” mindset right out of the process. See the divine in anything that you know uplifts the capacity for kindness, justice, equality, and respectful communication in yourself and in the world and orient your actions toward moving closer to and serving that. With a commitment to watching the mind and skillful action, answer the call to move beyond your known comfort zone when it breaks through the chatter. It is often not easy, but you may find what your divine charioteer is guiding you toward if you stay the path. We will never know what we are capable of doing unless we are courageous enough to recognize and step through those mind moments of “I just can’t” and actually try.

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