In our yogic scope of the world, svadhyaya is the act of self-study or self-reflection. One of the five niyamas, or principles regarding personal conduct, svadhyaya lives under Patanjali’s eightfold path of yoga. These eight limbs allow us to move from the external to the internal, offering us ethics and guides to balanced living, as well as ways towards enlightenment. In light of this, and in spite of it, I offer a query today – how can all of the work we do on the mat and off, that fires our inner selves, be nurtured and subsequently offered back out into the world? How can we channel all that we cultivate and harbor within ourselves towards others, towards our environment, so as to share in the benefits that we have derived from our yogic work, or really whatever our spiritual work may be?
My dance training primed me for a life of sharp analysis and endless exploration and education; my yoga practice has refined my mindfulness and awareness in ways that have contributed hugely to my studying of my self and others. Yet amongst all that studying lies one piece of the puzzle that seems weaker – this link between reflection and action, that which draws us out of static thought towards and hopefully directly into measures that serve our ideas and bring them to fruition.
I’ve been inspired lately by public demonstrations of values and beliefs being converted into action – the People’s Climate March, Emma Watson’s speech on behalf of gender equality and the inception of HeForShe, the protests in Ferguson and the supportive responses organized across the country. There certainly are many more examples. All these events may not have, in themselves, altered laws or immediately changed the face of the issues they confronted, but what they have done – hopefully – is set reform in motion.
As I sit here writing this piece, I wonder if instead of writing, could I, should I be shouting these thoughts I’ve been pondering for weeks in the middle of Times Square? What is one blog post in the expanse of the Internet these days going to engender? But I suppose that is the tricky matter of moving from reflection to action; there must be some interim point where we begin our journey – where we simmer on something and gradually let it take hold of us to the point that we must act. And I suppose the preliminary stages of action must take root deep within us in order to have solid grounding from which our activity can spread. So it makes sense then that our initial acts may be of a smaller scale. Is it even possible to shift from zero to 60 instantaneously?
I don’t necessarily believe we have to act on every one of our impulses; that could be too much. But I do find a tendency within myself – and in others that I’ve come into contact with a trillion times or just once – to get stuck in the reflection, in that svadhyaya mode. There is such beauty to reflection. From it can come greater compassion for self and other; from it can come a recognition of who we are authentically and a fire to behave in a more honest-to-ourselves fashion; from it can come dreams of what could be, whether that be in regards to a career or love or crazy adventure. All of these, I believe, are necessary to our growth as individuals and to our greater planet, as what mills around inside of us does often express itself even in everyday moments. How is it, though, that we can harness this power of self-study and all that comes out of it to better not just ourselves but our world?
I may be spinning in circles in this post, and I don’t really think I have an answer per se. What I can offer is the endeavor that I plan to set out on on my own two feet – this motivation to take all that lives inside me with me throughout my days and to share it more generously and more openly with others. To honestly act on what I believe is right and true. To take greater responsibility for my actions. All of this can seem overly-generalized, so I think it’s important to break larger goals down, to take one step at a time, as much as we can anyway. I’ll never forget when Ethan Nichtern spoke of how he picks up one piece of litter each day; it seems so simple and so small, but think of how much trash he would toss out on behalf of others in a week, a month, a year! It’s little ways of moving forward like this that can lead to incredibly profound results.
As you enter into this next week and into this next season, maybe even into this next school year, how is it that you would like to take action – for yourself, for others, for both? And how are you going to bring those goals to fruition? Do you need to leap to get yourself going, or would tinier steps be more beneficial in the long run for you? Each of us is different. The collisions in the world do come from the clashing of different people’s opinions and choices. But if we just stand back and watch our lives pass by, what happens to the beauty that’s circling within us? Let’s not let the world lose out on what we have to say and what we have to accomplish.
- Liz Beres