I remember being 5 years old. My family had packed up the egg-shell Pontiac and we headed off to New Mexico to see the ancient Pueblo cave dwellings. It was a hot day.
For a reason I cannot recall, I refused to go on the site visit with my parents and sister, and they wound up leaving me in the car on my own (the shock and horror, but believe it or not it was pretty common back in those days). The window was cracked, I had water to drink…what could go wrong?
About 30 minutes into the wait, I got anxious. I started to fear my parents may never come back; I’d be locked in the car forever! I was hot, I didn’t know how to tell time, and the minutes felt like hours as they ticked by. I was desperate. I clasped my hands and prayed to God.
The only concept of God I knew at that time came from my older cousin whom I shared a room with over the summer; she kneeled each night before her bed with clasped hands and mumbled a mysterious prayer. That, and my babysitter from next door who described heaven in great detail to me as a condo park in the sky. Suffice it to say that at that time my concept of God was not far off from a mix between an elderly man with a beard perched from the sky, Teletubbies-style, and the Wizard of Oz. I do know that at that moment as I bowed my head, I had no better options towards reuniting with my family, and felt with great earnestness that it might just work.
I offered Him up a strong desire to return my parents to the car, and in return I recall vowing to do good things. I got my wish; my family did eventually come back. Despite this, I can firmly say that I have not always done good things in the some 16,000 days that have followed. Somewhere in between, the relationship between me and this Abrahamic hologram dissipated into mush and the intention to offer up my life to Him fell through the cracks.
Despite the agnostic nature of my upbringing and formative years, I was invested enough in this so-called relationship to study Philosophy in university and specialise in religious studies. I tried many versions of God on for size, and when my mentor told me I was free to invent my own, I was at a bit of a loss. Invent my own God? That implied that God was not outside of myself, but a manifestation of my imagination. Was I, or anyone else that powerful? It was a terrifying, and incredibly enticing idea. At the time I did not have enough belief in myself to create anything that compelling, but it was a concept that got my attention and I was drawn towards it again and again.
It wasn’t until I began practicing yoga and the word Īśvara came into my consciousness, that the project of knowing God was reignited, and I was once again invested in delving further into unravelling the mysterious link between myself, the soul, and the Lord. In the yoga sutras of Patanjali, the one sure fire method to attain enlightenment is to offer your life up to God (Īśvarapraṇidhāna).
When I reopened the ancient texts of yoga through practice rather than theory, a new relationship began to unveil itself. For me, it didn’t happen over weeks, or even months. Rather, over several years of practice and introspection, I came to grasp the meaning of God in a different way, and with it, my yoga practice changed, along with my understanding and practice of intention setting.
The God referred to in yogic terms is any form of God that is within your understanding. It might be the Christian, Islamic or Jewish God, but it may also be any other idea of a higher power than the limited, human form of our ‘small’ self. This ‘higher’ self is free from the ego, from pleasure and pain, from being male or female, and is the linking mechanism between our self and all other earthlings, our planet and even universal forces. We all have the spark of the divine within us; the experience of life is about expanding into this potential. Once this is not only understood conceptually, but also embodied, intention setting becomes easy. Every intention becomes about creating goodness for all beings, and with practice, putting this idea into action makes sense, and feels necessary. The mantra Lokah Samantha Sukhino Bhavantu, May all beings be happy, peaceful and free, and may my thoughts, words and actions contribute in some way to that happiness and freedom for all, follows naturally from the sutra from the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, and many other ancient texts of yoga. All beings have a soul, according to these texts, and the soul is Holy, it is not separate from God, but is God.
So how does this play out in real life?
My experience is that it is a process of waking up, becoming honest about what we think, say and do, asking questions of ourselves until we strip away the behaviours that get in the way of living this manifesto. It takes time an being truthful with our self to overlay and integrate the yoga practice into daily life, rather than allowing it to sit alongside our life as a separate entity. It is worth the effort; for without taking this time out to integrate these two aspects of our lives, suffering will continue and we will feel a constant tension between these two aspects of ‘self’.
A relevant place to start is by looking at any resolutions that have been set out for this new year. Are they aligned with the above mantra, or are they self-serving and short lived? How might you curb behaviour that is potentially harmful, hurtful or less than honest to replace it with kind words or actions that could help someone instead of creating negativity? The playing field is so vast that it is a life’s practice to assess and reassess what energy we are putting out in various directions, and what we are calling in to aide us in realising our own divine potential. Once one starts to look, the practice unfolds as becoming more and more granular, until we see clearly the energy we put out, and the energy we put back into our earthly experience. The yoking, or yoga, is when we are immersed with this relationship 24/7.
Like my cry for God as a 5 year old, many people don’t call on a higher power to step in until some selfish need for redemption kicks in, and once life returns to some form of normalcy, the need to relate to divinity diminishes. Life goes back to status quo and I, me, mine behaviour.
Creating a sankalpa, an intention set with the heart and mind, goes beyond these heartfelt desires of the ego, and is channeled through a soulful understanding – when we aim our bow at creating goodness, our deepest desires will be met.
For more on intention setting, join the retreat in West Sussex January 17, 18 and 19th. There is one spot left.