One of the definitions of Yoga, and there are several, is simply ‘action’. Breathing is an action, talking is an action, working is an action, eating is an action. In the context of a yogi, it can be defined as ‘right action’. A yogi is a person that acts well, in an appropriate manner.
In the Yoga tradition, there are 3 different kind of actions.
– First, actions we need to avoid. These are the kind of actions we know are detrimental either to ourselves, to other people, or to the environment in general. It could be anything from eating a second peace of chocolate cake, to physically hurting a person or the planet. Although they may bring some kind of basic satisfaction to the person doing them, they also hurt either the person doing the action, another person or the environment. We all know (or if we look deep enough we can easily realize) which actions are the ones we need to avoid.
– Then second kind of actions are the ones that neither hurt myself not the environment, including other people, but they also don’t help one improve, evolve, develop or mature. They are usually self-centered oriented, with no awareness of the needs of others. Much of the actions that come out of the emotions of worry, greed, fear, boredom, etc, like having again a beer with our friends in the pub killing time, watching a silly movie, checking Facebook, worrying about problems, day dreaming, working late hours, etc, etc. (more extreme cases, like heavy drinking, drugs, violence, etc, belong to the first group). The majority of the things we do in our every day life belong to these second group.
– The third kind of actions are the actions that help me grow both psychologically, emotionally and, especially, spiritually.
In Yoga, the third kind of actions are well described and are called The Five Offerings.
1) Worship of God in any form
God is a word which has been misused and abused for too long already and many people feel the need – quite understandable – to put distance from it. For me, this worship of God could be thought of in a traditional religious way, but it does not need to be so. There are many ways to do this, and depending on our upbringing and understanding, we will find our own personal way.
For me, one of these ways is to simply and CLEARLY acknowledge that I am not in charge. No matter what I do, no matter how much effort I may put – or not – into something, in the end, whatever happens with that effort, is not up to me, but up to the total, the universe, the whole…up to God. The clear acknowledgment of this fact – with its obvious companions: the lack of frustration, worry and anxiety that this acknowledgment implies – is a worship. An example of these worship can be found here.
2) Unconditional reverence for one’s parents
Much of our ‘staff’, either positive or negative, comes from our parents. And lots of people spend large amount of time blaming their parents for their negative staff without acknowledging the positive. But in either way, how can we blame them? JUST AS WE DID, they took their staff from their own parents when they were too young to realize what they were doing.
We need to learn to take responsibility for our lives and come into terms with our parents. Reverence for one’s parents is simply (even if for some people may not be so simple) the daily acknowledgment and recognition that they did (and are doing, if they are still alive) the best they could, according to what they knew and the given possibilities they were given.
3) Reverence for truth
We need to dedicate, at least an hour a day, to the study of truth, in whatever form we experience that truth at that particular moment in our life. It may be through the study of scriptures, reading particular books, meditating, etc. This time needs to be distinguish from the time we dedicate to our needs for security and comfort, like reading a book about how to expand our bussiness or how to attract more comfort or love into our lives.
Very often, truth is related to one or more of these questions: Who or what am I? What is life? Is there a God? What is suffering? What is truth?
4) Service to humanity
This does not need to be a big action (although it may be, in same very rare cases). If someone needs something from you, or if you see somebody in need, see if you can give them what they want, assuming it is a reasonable need. It may be as simple as a smile, a hug or a moment of your time. One reason why it is difficult to do this is because we are too lost on our own problems, and we are rarely alert enough to notice other people. Serving others requires considerable mindfulness. Another difficulty with helping others is the sense of identity that may appears: I am helping others…I am especial. This is very common in the ‘saving the world’ type. I have met many people that spend lots of time ‘saving the world’ and at the same time neglecting their own family or their close circle. But nothing is more important than anything else; service to others should be based on the recognition of the essential oneness of all life. We don’t need to save the world. We just need to open our eyes and see where we can be of service, in this moment, right now.
5) Worship of all life
Again, this does not need to be a big action (although it may be, in same very rare cases). Simply take care of your environment, take care of whatever is in your field of action.
Don’t eat as much meat; use less plastic bags and less paper napkins; go green; recycle; don’t hurt other life forms for your own pleasure and satisfaction; make less noise; don’t waste; remember to water your plants, and when you do it, instead of doing it with your mind in your problems, do it as a worship to all life; teach your kids to become responsible for their environment…
A yogi is not a person that is able to bring his leg on top of his head nor twist her body as a pretzel, but is a person that in his/her everyday life brings awareness into his/her actions, avoiding the first class of actions, does not spend all his/her time doing only the second kind of actions and allows the third kind of actions to take priority.
Yoga means action, and we can become every-day yogis by simply acting with awareness, with presence, with love.
(This note is inspired by chapters 4 and 5 of the book ‘The Essence of Enlightenment’ by James Swartz.)