The Gift Of An Open Heart
The winter holiday season—whether you celebrate Christmas,
Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or solstice—is a celebration of light within darkness. It’s
a time of year associated with friendship, abundance, gifting, and other joys.
Tragically, the darkness within that light has come to include seasonal
depression, family drama, and even violence, from a mall in Oregon to an
elementary school in Connecticut.
In the wake of this most recent tragedy, we are left with many questions. We ask ourselves how and where violence arises (derangement?
disconnect? unmet expectations?), but even if we examine
the causes of suffering, we may not be comforted. More important is how we
will respond. There will be those who say we should arm ourselves. And even the
most peace-loving among us may experience the impulse to armor in the
metaphoric sense—to contract or withdraw, to harden our defenses to protect
ourselves from harm. In the Bhagavad Gita,
Arjuna’s inner battle begins with the impulse to withdraw.
Krishna counsels Arjuna to step onto the battlefield, to
engage in life, and his lessons are the basis of the Gita. In his beautiful
commentary and translation, Ecknath Easwaran presents the Gita as a
how-to manual for ending suffering through the practice of yoga.
Of the yogic methods outlined in the Bhagavad Gita, perhaps
the most relevant during the holiday season is Bhakti Yoga, the yoga of
Yoga incorporates several practices, including kirtan (singing), selfless
service, remembrance of the Divine, and making offerings. We perform all of
these actions at Christmas, from singing hymns to lighting candles, but the key
to Bhakti lies within the niyama (observance) of ishvara pranidhana, surrender
to the Divine. This surrender isn’t “giving up.” Whether your sense of the
Divine is a higher power or the higher Self within, this form of surrender
requires engagement rather than contraction, softening rather than armoring,
giving to (offering) rather than giving in (withdrawing).
Any action, from preparing a meal to performing an asana,
can be imbued with the spirit of Bhakti and offering. In Virabhadrasana
II (Warrior Pose), for example, when we open and offer our hearts in a
physical sense (by breathing fully and uplifting the torso), the body teaches
us to surrender in the metaphysical sense, to become spiritual warriors by surrendering
our actions, thoughts, and heart to the divine. No gift is greater than the
gift of one’s deepest self.
However you approach this holiday season, your yoga practice
can be a touchstone. Be the spiritual warrior who steps onto the field in spite
of fear. Surrender the armor of your ego (the part that sees separation by
measuring or judging or limiting). Open your heart and shine, like the light in
the darkness. There is risk in becoming soft and open, but engaging with life
and surrendering the self—to each other, to one’s Ishta
Devata—is how we become stronger. As D. H. Lawrence wrote, “We’ve got to
live, no matter how many skies have fallen.”
How will you give of yourself this holiday season? How will you open your heart and respond to the recent tragedy?