An Interview with Rod Stryker

Rod Stryker’s new book, The Four Desires, explores the four motivating forces in life and how a steady spiritual practice can bring those to fruition in a way that helps us live happy, healthy and fulfilling lives. He believes that the aim of practice is to remember our wholeness, as well as to rest in peace and healing—inherent qualities with which we all come into life. In the first part of this two-part interview, Rod offers inspiring advice on the benefits of a regular Yoga practice. He expounds on Maharishi Patanjali’s teachings on practice and the essential goal of Yoga.

Integral Yoga Magazine (IYM): How does Patanjali define practice?

Rod Stryker (RS): Patanjali defines practice as abhyasa, which means: to be in the endeavor. That means we are doing something—not that we do it perfectly, but we are endeavoring to do it. The critical term that Patanjali adds to his descripton of abhyasa is “tatra,” which means “there.” So, practice is the endeavor to be there. Before we begin to consider the notion of cultivating a regular practice, we should seriously consider the “there” to which Patanjali refers. Patanjali, the seminal voice of the Yoga tradition, is telling us that practice is the endeavor to be in the state of Yoga. In Book 1, sutra 2, Patanjali defines the state of Yoga as nirodha, referring to a quality of stilling the mind. Therefore, Yoga practice, according to him, is the endeavor to be in that stillness. Moreover, in the next sutra Patanjali says that the “there” of Yoga practice is the experience of Self essence, or what most of us call the higher Self.

If we think about practice as enabling us to rest in that authentic Self and be “there,” what that tells us is that we have the potential of holding in our consciousness, the awareness that—no matter what happens in our lives, whether we are in the midst of great success or great turmoil or even turbulence, disappointment or heartache—there’s a part of us that remains at rest, a part of us that remains always free. This is the very meaning of the word, Purusha—the term Patanjali uses to describe the soul, or that which rests in the city of the body. That is the literal meaning of Purusha (from Puru, city, and sha, to rest).

IYM: In these challenging times, particularly economically, how do we rest in the authentic Self?

RS: It’s true that we all live in a world that’s not completely dedicated to us having security and freedom all the time—we have to seek these things out, and invariably they slip through our fingers. But if we could always be mindful of that part of us that is at rest, that is at ease, which stands on the sands of eternity, then every moment of our lives would be different. We could step back from our busy lives and ask these questions: How much of my happiness is dependent on the outside world? How much of my happiness is circumstantial? For most of us, our happiness is dependent on having more things that we want and fewer things that we don’t want. The moment that changes, so that there are more things in our lives that we don’t want, that’s called unhappiness. Yogis, like most people, need to start developing a certain level of self-mastery over the mind, and that is really the purpose of our practice.

What Yoga holds out to each of us is the promise that we can live and not be dependent on circumstances, where our happiness is completely shaped by the external world. Practice—mindful practice, true yogic practice—that moves us to the quality of stillness, that allows us to rest in the knowledge of the part of us that is never-changing, is one of the few things that humans have ever developed that allows our happiness to flourish unconditionally. It teaches us to rely on internal awareness, a companionship with that part of us that is always free, always at ease and, by its nature, is satchidananda. That is what practice is about. Practice is not an end in itself, it’s a means to take us there. That’s why it’s vital to study scripture, why it’s essential to listen to the satsang of enlightened masters—because the perennial teachings of illumined masters, and the rishis that provided our ancient texts, remind us of what “there” looks like…

Read the rest of this article in the Fall 2011 issue of Integral Yoga Magazine.