When we allow love to transform us through Yoga, the first thing it begins to affect is our vision and thus our relationships. In this article, Catherine Schweig reflects on the ingredients needed for success in relationships. Essentially, Yoga is a practice of the heart. Schweig illuminates how this is the message of one of Yoga’s most important texts—the Bhagavad Gita. According to the Gita, love is the most powerful light in countering darkness and the transformative power behind achieving Yoga’s goal.
We are all connected. Honoring the interdependent relationships we all share in the world, sensitive yogis tap into the very essence of Yoga: connection. They ask themselves: What is the quality of my connections with others? And how do I choose to act within those relationships?
Most practitioners of Yoga will reply that they wish to act lovingly and peacefully in their relationships with others. It is easy to act loving and peaceful when nothing is challenging us. But how good are we at loving when all our buttons are getting pushed and our feathers ruffled? How deep does our love really go: Is it authentic? Or is it just a superficial display of how we think yogis are supposed to act? Is it consistent? Or does it evaporate the minute we’re being confronted with our own weaknesses or those of others?
When we are inconsistent in feeling loving and peaceful under all circumstances, we become like Arjuna in the Gita: conflicted about how to act in response to the great tension building up around us and within us. Is our state of being a loving and peaceful one we can access all the time? How about when we are in the middle of an imminent battle within those relationships that matter to us most in life? Can we exercise our love then?
In Graham Schweig’s translation of the Bhagavad Gita, the first verse is identified as the bija, or seed verse, which anticipates the focus of the entire text. The first line of the Gita’s bija verse, presents us with a powerful juxtaposition of dark vs. light forces: dharma-ksetre kuru-ksetre. Dharma represents the light and kuru the dark. Ksetre is “the field” upon which we move in our lives. And, according to the Gita, the field is not a very friendly one! Two armies line up to fight upon it. Yoga is about remaining focused on love even when everything surrounding you is inviting you to fight.
How do we avoid battles? The Gita tells us that battles will find us in life no matter what! We cannot pretend they don’t exist. We cannot skirt around them and avoid facing them. And we certainly don’t want to feed them. But, as Arjuna did, we still need to bravely move through them. Most of the battles we’ll face in our lives are already occurring within us. Our exchanges with others only activate them.
For this reason the Gita wants to know how we will act when this happens: when the outside world triggers our own internal fears, and doubts, and insecurities. This is when our behavior counts the most and when it is hardest to act lovingly and peacefully. The Gita’s first verse is therefore a question that highlights the power we all have to choose how to act at any given moment in our lives, upon our own battlefields.
Perhaps the most challenging part of practicing Yoga occurs when we are feeling tension within relationships. Yoga is identifying with the most permanent part of ourselves even while our relationships with others are constantly changing. Much of Arjuna’s anxiety in the Gita stems from his fear that his actions on the battlefield would destroy the already established relationships he had with many of the warriors on the field. Arjuna wanted to be true to himself, and yet also to society’s expectations of him. Because the two seemed to contradict, Arjuna became deeply conflicted.
What a powerful way for the Gita to open! Instantly it highlights how easy it is for humans to feel torn between their fears and their hearts, or between a superficial, material view of success and a deeper, spiritual one. Setting Arjuna’s conundrum on a battlefield—of all places—takes our interactions with other human beings to the ultimate extreme: that of life and death. It’s as if the Gita were dramatically reminding us that our interactions with others could either increase the quality of our lives or kill us. Toxic relationships are a reality. Identifying them is part of Yoga.
Perhaps the best way to test how deeply absorbed we are in Yoga is to test how loving and peaceful we can remain while faced with conflicts and tensions within relationships. In Chapter 7 of the Gita, Krishna describes one such person as “exceptional” and characterizes them as possessing both knowledge, or jnana, and the ability to offer love unconditionally. This “offering of love”—as Graham Schweig translates it—or bhakti, is what the Gita tells us is the secret formula for navigating through the tensions in our relationships gracefully. Where there is love and light, fear and doubt dissipate. This is a successful stance to take in relation to any challenge we may encounter in our practice.
Yoga is a fearless, loving movement through the most challenging parts of our relationships with others. What is love according to the Gita? Interestingly, the first time the word bhakti appears in the Gita as a noun, “offering of love,” in Chapter 7, verse 17, it makes its grand debut in the chapter on realized knowledge. This places love on a whole new level: a deeper, more authentic one.
Love is not mere sentimentality that can often obscure the way we see ourselves, and others. Neither is it superficial and full of platitudes that often avoid deep connecting. Instead, love is deeply illuminating, like realized knowledge. And, according to the Gita, true love is not fleeting. It holds us in its continual absorption. It connects us to what is real. The question is this: What are we choosing to connect with?
We want to connect with what makes us feel good, and we want to escape experiences that make us uncomfortable. On a very primal level, all human beings are programmed to seek out pleasure and recoil from pain. Death, or impermanence, makes human beings most uncomfortable. This is a reoccurring theme in the Gita. Yoga is a willingness to face the uncomfortable as a means to finding our own loving, peaceful core, one that continues to shine even while surrounded by dark battles brought on by selfish definitions of success. Success at the expense of others, according to Yoga’s interconnectedness principle, is no success at all.
Endings in life can feel most unsuccessful to us: the ending of our youth or health, the ending of a marriage or long friendship, or a great career, or the death of a loved one— the ending of something from which we derived great pleasure. Yet every time we are forced to face the ending of something, we are also forced to face the parts of us that cling to it. This can give us great insights into what we each define as success. Do we regard our success as dependent on something or someone outside of us?
According to the Gita’s second chapter, in this world, most views of success and lack of success are fed by our attachments. When we are unaffected by the many material gains and losses, apparent successes and apparent failures that will inevitably flood our lives, then we will have reached real success: a steady Yoga practice. Such a practice exists without depending on anything exterior, yet simultaneously draws fuel from anything the world presents, especially people.
Relationships constantly test our dedication to maintaining a steady Yoga practice. As occurred with Arjuna in the Gita, attachments to the ways we think things should be often derail us. We idealize the way we’d like our relationships to be and then, when they are not, like Arjuna, we may decide to withdraw our participation. Non-participation, however counters the very nature of the soul, which is to be active—including in our relationships with others. The question is how? How do we move forward when we feel so discouraged? As the battlefield initially did to Arjuna, moving through tensions in relationships can bewilder us to the point of deep depression.
Bewilderment, however, is not meant to discourage us in Yoga, but rather, to inspire us to go deeper. In releasing our minds from the stagnant definitions of success that cloud our views of ourselves and others, seasoned yogis move their practice into more dynamic dimensions than ever. And the answer how to do that is tucked into the Gita’s very first bija verse, which presents light side by side with darkness.
Prematurely running away from the uncomfortable—including in relationships—also deprives us of the light they can shine upon our hearts. It is, after all, the brightest light that casts the darkest shadow. The Gita therefore reminds us to absorb ourselves in Yoga, in Krishna’s reassuring words that the very “power of Yoga” (yoga-bala) is stronger than anything that may bewilder our minds and hearts, no matter how dark and painful.
“Knowing these two paths (of light and shadow), the yogi is not bewildered in any way. Therefore, at all times, be absorbed in Yoga, by means of Yoga, O Arjuna.” (8.27)
The means that Yoga employs in relationships are means of love. If we chose to exercise love, even when feeling bewildered in the midst of discord and tension, within the relationships that matter most to us in life, then we can connect with the peace that Yoga brings us anywhere and with anyone. And, according to the Gita, this inner peace is a clear indicator of a successful Yoga practice.
About the Author:
Catherine L. Schweig, RYT, was introduced to Yoga when she was only two years old. In her mid-teens, she formerly took up the practice of meditational and devotional Yoga with teachers in India as well as the West. Catherine, also known as Krishna Kanta Dasi, traveled to India several times, visiting holy places, meeting teachers and deepening her passion for the study of Bhakti Yoga and Eastern philosophy. Together with Graham M. Schweig, PhD, she develops workshops on “The Secret Yoga.” For more information please visit: www.secretyoga.com.