Off the Mat: Jnana Yoga

Beyond the mat with the four yogas
Part IV: Jnana
By Nancy B. Loughlin
Published May 5, 2015 in News Press

If you live by your gut, the lunatic is running the asylum.

Your emotions are contaminated by past programming and experience.  An evolved intellect, however, can override this bedlam and then rise above the chaos of your mind. The intellect can differentiate between poison and nectar. Orchestrating this split and becoming an observer of your emotions rather than a participant can be the most challenging practice in yoga.

When you raise the volume of your intellect by practicing jnana yoga, you will get to know your default reactions whether they’re lashing out in anger, withdrawing into depression or taking off into panic.

The intellect recognizes the trappings of ego: conservative, liberal, stylish, rebel, leader, loser, sexy, bookish, oppressed, empowered.  These labels are all illusions.

Your self-concept isn’t you.

Beginning jnana

  1. Start studying. Every morning, commit to daily study of the higher principles of living.

It’s not the time for leisure reading but for contemplative texts, print or video. Choose a small portion of a text, read it (or watch it) and ruminate. The texts don’t have to be directly spiritual or religious in nature, but any text that prompts you not just to question, but to reflect on your relationship to the world, to yourself and to all of your assumptions as to what’s real.

My recommendations:  Bhagavad Gita, The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson, Songs of Innocence and Experience by William Blake, Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman and The Essential Writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Knowledge is information while wisdom is transformation, as yogi Eric Paskel says.  Follow the wisdom path.

  1. Get in the fray. Distance yourself from the beliefs that get you fired up.  Right now, there is no shortage of political debate. Study comment threads on news websites or Facebook, and step in when you are ready.  Practice positive engagement and dialogue with people who hold different beliefs.  Gather information, not ammunition.

Ask clarifying questions as to how they arrived at their points of view, and reflect on how you arrived at yours.  Do you even know why you think what you think?

If the dialogue gets ugly, you are in the thick of your jnana practice.  Can you remain serene, positive and compassionate even when invective flies? If others derail the conversation and insult you or change the subject, remain steady and turn the other cheek.

Know that the moment you turn ugly is the moment you lose your yoga.  Instead, monitor the ride and consider why your beliefs are so wrapped up in your sense of self.

You and your political beliefs are not the same.  After all, you can change what you think.

  1. Be a student. Every year, commit to learning as much as you can about a new subject or skill.  Learn the aesthetics of photography.  Take a wildflower pilgrimage.  Cultivate mushrooms.  Earn another degree. Fix your own car. If you stopped at geometry in high school, teach yourself calculus.

Learn how you learn, and be humble. There is always someone smarter than you.

Recapping the four yogas

As you simultaneously work the paths of bhakti, raja, karma and jnana yoga, expect fear to breathe fire.

You’ll be practicing real love that’s non-selective and boundless. You’ll be calming the fluctuations of your mind so you can heed your authentic spiritual self. You’ll be engaging in service without expecting anything in return. You’ll be strengthening your intellect so your desires and emotions don’t control your life.

This is a wild ride, and the people around you may scratch their heads in confusion. They’ll see you changing, and other people have an interest in your staying the same.

The yoga path is not for the faint of heart.  Stay the course.  Some have farther to travel than others.

 

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