By Kendall Goddard
Taking yoga out of the textbook and into my life: how an assignment on the Bhagavad Gita gave me some very practical yogic direction for dealing with the perceived difficulty of an unused wedding dress.
As a life-long raga and vata driven ‘doer’, an avid digester of words, and a shameless seeker of the big ‘E’ (um…that’s ‘E’ for Enlightenment, not Engagement), I was excited to embark on a six week study of the Bhagavad Gita with the sparklingly wise and ever humble Kamala Angel.
The Bhagavad Gita is employed as a philosophical text by yogis, and as a religious text by those of the Hindu faith. It comprises a small section of a greater epic, the Mahabharata, and traces a conversation between the fearless warrior, and nonetheless very human, Arjuna, and his cousin charioteer Krishna. Arjuna is having a pre-battle freak-out and Krishna, an avatar of Lord Vishnu and incarnation of the Divine, reveals the highest teachings or truths to guide Arjuna on his path. It could have all been over by the second chapter if Arjuna had actually understood what Krishna was talking about, however, like many of us (present company not excluded), these teachings had to appear in varied forms, be repeated over and over, and be expounded in ways that this mere mortal could get his head around: some mind-blowing; some terrifying; some astonishingly beautiful; some inconceivably simple; and some completely flying over his head.
Or was that the bouquet?!
Having previously battled sections of this ancient dialogue on my own, and even having quoted shlokas like ready-made vows in some of my classes, I still felt incredibly fuzzy on the precise themes and teachings, and how their significance translated to my life today. It was as though I’d been reading it with a big wad of tulle in front of my face. I felt as though it was one of those texts reserved for more advanced yogis, those who wore orange and sat in caves or ashrams in India. I was enthusiastic but rather lost. A little like Arjuna, you could say.
Thankfully, in our first session, Kamala explained to us that the Bhagavad Gita is inherently and intensely practical in its teachings. That was good news for a yogi more familiar with the tangible, practical elements of yoga such as asana and pranayama. I was actually going to be able to ‘use’ this in my life, ‘do’ something with it. The ‘doer’ in me got very excited and whole-heartedly committed to the ‘doing’. The perfect marriage. Or so I thought.
By the time week 2 came around, Kamala metaphorically hit me right in the third eye when she gave us an assignment to interpret the following verse:
He who sees inaction in action and action in inaction, he is wise among men. He is a Yogi and a performer of all actions.
Inaction? Inaction in action?? Action in Inaction??? Oh dear. The well constructed tiers of my intensely identified self (aka me as the ‘doer’) started to crumble like a wedding cake dropped accidentally on concrete.
Cue Arjuna standing paralysed in the centre of two armies, facing everyone he has ever known, loved or identified with, knowing it is his duty to fight, but gripped by what seems to be an unshakeable belief that he can’t. We both needed help. So as Arjuna settled into the seat of his chariot and I nuzzled into the cushions of my couch, we both listened to Krishna explain how a wise person performs actions without any attachment to the results of the action, being immune to all the reactionary elements of the task. This wise Yogi, practising Karma Yoga, performs actions as selfless service , in Absolute consciousness, devoid of any expectation, attachment, egoic identification, or dualistic notion, and is therefore acting while being actionless because the notion of the ‘doer’ has completely dissolved into the Supreme Self, the Absolute, Atman etc. In short it is merely the body and the senses that carry out the action but the self, the ‘doer’, the ego, is inactive because the person is not identified with it. This, therefore is inaction in action.
The work of a man who is unattached to the modes of material nature and who is fully situated in transcendental knowledge merges entirely into transcendence.
Merging into transcendence? This invitation had a better ring to it than the bondage of the ‘doer to the ‘done’. I seemed to have gently grasped the theory of inaction in action (without necessarily ‘grasping’ if you get my drift). As far as seeing action in inaction goes, I’ll leave this to you to ponder. Especially if you are considering taking this study with Kamala at some point in the future, which I would passionately recommend. Personally, what comes to mind for me is the age-old saying that if you truly love someone then you set them free.
Experiencing the teachings of yoga theoretically is a powerful happening, and a well-travelled path for Jnana yogis, however it was only when I was able to observe this Divine truth on a very practical level in my life, that I was able to ‘know’ it, at a deep level of my consciousness.
Which brings me to the very day last week, when I set out to collect my haute couture wedding dress, finally back from production in France, and deliver it to a boutique down south for immediate re-sale. When my mother and I had ordered that dress, we were filled with joy and anticipation of the day that it would signify the union between my then partner and myself. It was not something I had ever really longed for or dreamed about, but it appeared as a divine and rather spontaneous gift from my mother and there was much joy had by all involved in celebrating our deep love for one another. Fast forward 15 months and circumstances had changed. I was now picking up this dress, for a wedding that would no longer take place, owing to a relationship that had ended 5 months prior, and an inability to stop production on the dress at that time. This was not something I was looking forward to at all; this action felt heavily laden with expectation of uncomfortable feelings, attachment, egoic identification and dualistic notions in the form of mental chatter and intense emotional reactions. Clearly, there was not a lot of inaction in my action here!
Coincidentally, I had been asked a few days earlier to write this piece about one of the assignments I had completed during the study of the Bhagavad Gita. In this way, I was drawn back to the teachings and subconsciously applied them to this task. I spoke with one of my spiritual guides prior to the event and she helped me come back to the inner ‘knowing’, the wisdom of this shloka. She is Krishna in the form of an Irish/Australian housewife. Rather than approaching this event with fear about the results, I could re-connect to inner wisdom, and perform the task as selfless service to the Divine as a Karma Yogi would. This was so very easy in theory! But I was willing. After all, I am a seeker. And it is always most helpful to me to have an ideal to reach towards. I wish to continue to reach for the highest, and let go of as much of my ‘self’ as I can along the way. And so off I went.
On the first stop of my adventure, as you can imagine, there were a few reactionary elements to deal with. As I entered the high-end boutique, I spoke about the weather with the generous and mindful sales attendants. All was going rather ideally, according to my mind, until they insisted on carrying the gown to my car, at which point tears started to flow and I was overtaken by an overwhelming urge to grab the garment and rush off down the street towards the vehicle, spluttering and snuffling that I was ‘ok’ and thanking them profusely for their help. After I took a few deep breaths in the vehicle, I said a silent prayer of thanks that Part 1 was complete, and tried to see the situation without my ‘self’ involved. I had merely collected an item from somewhere, and interacted with some divine souls during that process. The rest wasn’t worth entering into!
On the road, I chatted with a close friend briefly, injected some humour into the emotional, dualistic notions of my mind’s perceptions, and started to feel excited at the prospect of arriving at the beach in Cronulla on what had turned out to be a very unseasonal warm, summery day. I enjoyed a meal on the beach front, served by a waitress who seemed to reflect the deep, divine blue of the Krishna-coloured ocean in her eyes, and then dived into that very ocean myself for the first, cleansing swim of the season. Something borrowed, something blue…it dawned on me that the events of this day in my life were rather simple: I was merely acting as a courier: a courier of a beautiful dress from one shop to another shop, from one person to another person; a courier replacing an old life situation for a new one; a courier of the Divine in all its manifestations. My body and senses could continue to do what was required of me that day, without ‘me’ being involved. The ‘doer’ started to dissolve a little as I floated in the waves.
Part 2 was rather enjoyable and effortless. I chatted with the saleswoman and we opened the beautiful black satin zip bag containing the gown, marvelling at its craftsmanship. I felt very clear, and free. The dramatic ‘doer’ had disappeared. As I drove back to Sydney, there was within me a deep acknowledgement of the Absolute consciousness and presence of God in all that had occurred that day and in all the great fabric of situations, individuals and interactions leading up to it. I saw the simplicity of the action, as fuelled by these glimpses of inactivity of my ego. I saw and bowed down to God in my ex-partner; God in our relationship and all its colours; God in my mother, the seamstress, the tears, the meal, the hope, the shop assistants, the road-rager, the devastation, the traffic lights, the ocean; God in myself.
So, although I hadn’t been immune to all the reactionary elements of the task, and hadn’t merged entirely into transcendence (I’ll let you know when this happens!), this particular teaching had come alive in a very tangible and practical way for me. I’m so very grateful to the Bhagavad Gita, Kamala and all my teachers who continue to shed light on this yoga practice that is my life, on and off the mat.