‘The sage who aspires to yoga
Attains it by activity.
One who has already attained it
Maintains it by tranquility’
(Bhagavad Gita, 6,3)
Doing something very particular everyday demands an almost exclusive focus. By this, many other things are not attended to, which is to be a specialist; one who narrows down their lives, devoting it to a single idea. This is a unique and transformative thing to do, it takes one out of the control of the world, whereby every situation and emotion has the power to distract and disrupt; placing the power to decide one’s own course back with the individual.
But, at a point, this tips over to the level of self-indulgence, whereby this discipline and clarity given by an exclusive focus becomes limiting and constrictive. When proficiency has been gained, then it comes down to knowing where to draw the line. Having struggled to make the climb up the mountain, after enjoying the view for a while, the choice has to be made as to whether to climb further from the world and those in it, or come back down and use practically what has been learnt.
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali presents the first view generally, that focus should be applied in taking the aspirant away from the world;
Those who know the True Self
Have fulfilled lifes’ purpose.
For them, the seen world
Ceases to exist,
Although to others
Who share the common mind it does exist (2, 22)
On the other hand, The Bhagavad Gita is almost obsessed with making sure that student of Yoga interacts back again with the world;
Renunciation and karma yoga
Both lead to the highest happiness.
But of the two, Karma Yoga
Is better than renouncing action (5,2).
Indeed, here ‘yoga’ stands for action, showing that it has a broader definition than the simple ‘specialism’ of The Yoga Sutras, in which it is narrowly and consistently defined as only renunciation through restraint of the senses;
In order to prevent
These obstacles from arising (those against achieving the state of yoga)
You should habituate yourself to meditation
Upon a single principle (1,32)
Although, you can find this sentiment also in The Bhagavad Gita (a yogi should train constantly/to become one with the self/in solitude with the mind controlled/without desires or possessions, 6,10), generally, the injunction, put in modern-terms, is to act “in the world, yet, not of it” by developing the quality of detachment;
Your only right is to action,
Never to the fruits of the action,
Never give rise to a motive
But don’t be inactive either (2,47).
For the most part, nowadays then, it seems clear that, unless the choice really is to take the route of narrowing the sphere of life until we draw ourselves out of living completely, an effort must be made to reincorporate the practice of yoga to inform and guide the process of daily living. Otherwise, Yoga is only an escape from life, but not generally the real one intended by Patanjali, instead just a hiding behind the exclusive demands of specialism. One is neither truly alone (as in the idea of aloneness in liberation, kaivalya), nor interactive in the world, simply isolated instead.
This is the very worst result of specialism, one form of which is now seen in the amount of focus give now to yoga-asana practice by many. The way to avoid this is, gradually, just as there needed to be an involution for a time, recognize the importance of an evolution once more. This entails, learning and practicing how to convert the narrow focus of specialism, back into a spreading out towards generalism, without losing oneself, once more, in this process.
To say it in a more simplistic way, there is no point remaining forever at the top of the mountain in isolation, unless this really and truly is the honest aim. However, for most of us, the focus, and all the effort this entails, was done for the sake of living, people, and the world. Therefore, in order for the whole journey has any meaning, whether immediately desirable or not, the specialist, or yoga student here, must come back down the hill and learn to interact with this inner-integrity that was gained from the endeavor for self-control.
For, at first, a rigid mindset and discipline is useful, which is the meaning of practice, or tapas, literally, to heat off the impurities, inconsistencies and contradictions that make us up. In other words, if too many wells are dug, we will never get deep enough to hit that common water. Which, is always and only in the end, oneself, moreover, a kind of Self that is universal;
One who is trained in yoga,
Whose self, subdued, cleansed and conquered.
Has become all beings Self,
Is not defiled even while acting” (bhagavad Gita, 5,7)
Which means that, at a point, to continue the metaphor; once water is hit, there is no need to go deeper and deeper. To do this is to get caught down the blind-alley of self-obsession and narcissism. Evidently, there are happier and more useful places to reside in life, so, to this end, every tool, once learnt, is to be used not for the sake of itself, but, for the ends it suggests. There are many suggestions as to what this is regarding yoga; the most common is that envisaged in The Bhagavad Gita, always circling around the idea of “yoga as equanimity” (2,28). Which is to relate to the world in such a way to promote peace around oneself, leading then to this inner-balance also.
Indeed, there is only so much water one person can drink, before it’s only use is to be given away. After all, isn’t everything to loosen the grip a little of the tightness of a rigid sense of the world, into something gentler, more open and caring? Still, this needs time and training; otherwise, all you have is a flood, and that’s of little us to anyone. On the other side, however, is the absurdity of focusing on the tool rather than its use, which means practically; practice degenerates to being a substitute for life, wherein, instead of opening our mind, yoga actually closes it.
The attempt is, in this way, very subtle; for the yogi is ‘..the one who is disciplined/in eating, in activity, in sleep and being awake’ (6,17), yet, at the same time we are told that; “Those who suffer austerities/Mindlessly torturing the body…See their intent as demonic (17,6). As I envisage it, this is the real journey of yoga, at first a personal one, but then, also one related back to an outward look towards the world. One motivated by the underlying principle of ahimsa at the root of the yoga, where there is flow, rather than the violence of denial, a separation further in identification with the method, that is so often a blind-alley here.