Everything is Within
by Yogi Amrit Desai • Salt Springs, FL
Before you begin to truly practice yoga, you must recognize that anything that you change outside does not necessarily change you inside.
Any change you make in your life or on the yoga mat completely depends upon internal shifts. You will make external changes in your life, but they must always be for the purpose of internal change. If you do not understand this principle, you will not be able to begin the true practice of yoga.
Most people work very hard to change their lives by changing their possessions: what they own, where they live, who they marry, which job they have. These are all useful external conditions and there is nothing wrong with wanting to live in a nice home or have a good job. The only thing you must remember is that your happiness, your internal experience, does not come from your external conditions. Your internal experience must not be dependent on what you have or don’t have.
Additionally, most people experience life through filters. What they experience in life is derived from the meaning they give to it. Consider how this happens in your own life. Even before an experience comes to you, you give it meaning. You completely alter the reality of every experience through your own perceptions. If you stop and recognize this every time you react to something, you can begin to make the internal shifts that have nothing to do with what occurs externally. Your internal experience is not about what you have or what is happening around you. This is not only the first principle of yoga, it is also the key to the secret of enlightenment.
If this weren’t true, there would be no possibility for enlightenment. An enlightened person lives in the same world as the rest of us. He lives with the same imperfections, the same crimes and the same injustices. So how is it different for him? The reason he can be enlightened in the midst of such chaos and despair is because his perception has changed. It’s not that the world has changed, it is he who has changed deep inside. If you miss this principle, you cannot even begin the path of yoga.
Simply put, you must take responsibility for your life. This does not mean you should feel guilty for what has happened. People use the idea of “being responsible” to punish themselves rather than to use it constructively to empower themselves. The true sense of responsibility is based on our inborn facility to move beyond all the inhibitions and limitations of our lives—whatever we have previously felt unable to do anything about. We have disempowered ourselves because we have assumed that either some person or some experience has made us the way we are, or that there is something inherently wrong with us that prevents us from living the kind of life we seek. And we believe there is nothing we can do about it. The truth is that we can discover our ability to resolve our problems only when we give up blaming somebody else or feeling guilty. Blame, shame, and guilt are what prevent us from finding the true solution to our lives.
Whether you remember the cause or not, everything you experience is the consequence of your own karma—the law of cause and effect. When you understand this, you take responsibility for your life. The truth is that few of us take responsibility for our own life. We blame our parents, we blame our teachers, society, culture, religion--anybody that comes along. What do you do when you are unhappy? You look for who did it. You look around until you find someone. When your children grow up, what are they going to do? You’ve trained them well and they’ll know where to look for the solution. Then you will be the target. But that’s not the way it really works.
Never in this entire universe, has someone had the power to make someone else unhappy. If you continue to hold others responsible for your unhappiness, you are essentially saying that they caused you pain and you have no power to change it. You are giving away your power. There are major atrocities, yes, but when it comes down to just you and everyday living, only you have the power over your own happiness. Someone else may indeed direct negative energy at you. However, if you are free from negativity, you can’t be touched by it and no one can hurt you.
Again, this is why there is the possibility for enlightenment. You can work on yourself to let go of all your past conditioning, which is the filter through which you see life. Because most of us have so much unconscious conditioning, we don't have the freedom to choose our response. Past unresolved experiences are very seductive. They take over our mind and our emotions. They create an experience we don’t even want. Our response to any given experience is automatic. It’s unconscious. It’s conditioned by our past programming. Before we know it, we are miserable. And when we are miserable, there must be someone to blame.
However, when you take responsibility, you are saying: “I cause my own experience. Now I can change my own experience.” This is neither shame nor blame. It is responsibility without fault. You choose to consciously experience what you have previously run from, avoided, ignored or suppressed. Only when you are at the core of your own suffering can you solve it. Responsibility means you have the ability to choose your response to any experience at any given time--pain, pleasure, comfort, discomfort, success, failure. Enlightenment means you can stay balanced, calm, loving and compassionate. Yoga is about removing the filters so that you can make that choice.
The founder of Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, author of many books, originator of Amrit Yoga, Kripalu Yoga and Yoga Nidra techniques, Yogi Desai continues to teach through seminars & programs at the Amrit Yoga Institute, in Salt Springs, Florida. www.amrityoga.org or call 352-685-3001 for program schedule & yoga training info.