You wake up in the morning each day, and inevitably, you find yourself faced once again with the question of how you're going to live your life and conduct yourself. The question is inescapable. To begin your day at all it must be answered, and even worse, it must be answered in the affirmative and not the negative. One must do something and not nothing - although of course it is possible to do nothing, but even to do nothing is to choose to do nothing, and as such becomes an affirmative choice. And so it is as I said before inescapable. One must do something. It is left to you what it is that you will do.
You find yourself in India. You wake up in the morning and you take practice in the humid air of the morning sunrise. The sweat and breathing of your fellow practitioners creates a palpable, occasionally agreeable atmosphere. The exertion leaves your body tired and your nervous system taxed but sensitive. Later you eat lightly as the climate and the heat allow, then you go of in search of some further attainment, something beyond the mundanity of the street life and the babble of the cafes. You hire a rickshaw and go out along the road, passing the coconut stands and questionable meat sellers on towards the main road. You stop with the rickshaw driver to drink chai, and as you sit, there comes along the road a procession of celebrants carrying in front of themselves a dead man, enthroned on a simple wooden chair placed a palanquin which is adorned with flowers and carried by a litany of strong male relatives. You watch as it passes and the idea of death becomes more immediate, more palpable as you sip the last bit of chai and leave the glass on the counter. Here people do not avoid the question of life and its purpose, but instead they sing and beat drums as it is at an end so as to not lose sight of it.
You go off again, the rickshaw driver racing through the crowded streets past vegetable carts and the odd herd of goats, left unattended to wander, as we all do, through a mysterious life. The rickshaw driver is quite talented, perpetually staying one step ahead of the tangled traffic which threatens to prevent all forward progress. His boldness in fact astounds you at times. At other moments you find it terrifying. In once instance, he turns to you and offers frankly and without sarcasm to cut in front of the governors motorcade as it speeds to the hospital - the governor is in need of some immediate attention of one variety or the other and they have closed the road in places to speed his passage. The rickshaw driver states this as though it were common practice to him. You decline his offer, not needing to speed your progress so badly as he supposes, but regardless of the slight delay you eventually arrive at your destination, which is a granite staircase of thirteen hundred odd steps leading to a large place of pilgrimage atop a local hill. You remove your shoes - not to do so is a profanation - and you begin your upward progress as the bare stones, burning hot in the afternoon sun, scorch your feet. When at last you reach the temple town which sits at the apex of the hill, you go and see the shrines and feel pleased that you have used your time for something. In the face of these obstacles and impediments, you have surmounted a difficult peak and have been duly rewarded with coconuts and bananas which formerly had been offered to the deities there. The on the return trip, you joke with the rickshaw driver to the effect that you should be driving the rickshaw instead of he, and he misunderstands you and begins to pull to the side of the road, offering instead to allow you to drive it. And for a moment you consider it, but, preferring as you do to meet death in some other way and at a different time, you decline and both you and he have a good laugh about it before continuing along as before, back to eat and rest, only to begin again in a similar fashion the following day.
It may seem far away, or impossibly foreign, or a strange reality to you. An abstract visage, lacking in substance, and signifying nothing. A mere amusing diversion I am describing to you. But is it not perhaps the case that your life has exactly the same structure whether or not you're able to recognize its face so directly in the immediate moment which confronts you? All of life is absurd from a certain removed perspective. Illusion and artifice are the same everywhere, changing only their outer character from place to place. The outer reality of life is always changing, allowing you a different moment and scene onto which to project a different struggle, but the structure remains the same. You have always to keep pushing forward beyond each obstacle in turn, over the next hill, on to the next stage of life and the next stage of your own personal evolution. If you don't, what else is there? What is left? You can't stop by the side of the road and wait for fate to come and confront you, because it may well choose not to keep the appointment you have made without its knowledge, and where will you be then? It is only left for you to persevere in every way available to you and attempt to progress. To become greater is all that is left for you.
I haven't said it yet - Yoga. It is the specter haunting this piece. You know it is there and yet you can't see it as of yet. What is it? It contains within its vast body many practices and techniques of many descriptions, and yet it isn't limited to any one of them. They share, of course, once central goal, and a golden thread of philosophy holds together the whole assembly. But this is needlessly vague. Yoga is merely the stage on which you play out consciously and intentionally the rest of these processes. It is the way you master yourself. In the rest of what you do, it may not be so obvious, but here it becomes externally evident even to others. Your attempts to be and to become more are made to be in the flesh, as the saying goes. This week, you can't touch your toe in a certain posture but after concerted effort, you will be able to. last month, you weren't strong enough to hold a certain posture for long, but now, having applied continuous effort over time, you find you are able to do it. You put in that continuous effort and eventually, with enough discipline and non-attachment, the result will come. You can become healthy and you can control your mind. Yoga is both the arena and the tool which will allow you to make these changes. It allows you a method and a space within which to do the necessary work. You can fire and glaze the unfinished pottery of the gross and subtle bodies and make them into something solid, something which holds its shape and which is capable of containing something. Through this work, you can become something more, something greater than, what you currently are. In this life, we are always in that state of climbing and of ascent, and at the same time, we are always in a state of arriving on the ascent already begun even as we arrive. It remains always to continue climbing so as to continue arriving, rising all the time through this effort to greater and greater heights.
So as my teacher is fond of saying, "you come, take practice, and everything is coming."