‘It is better to strive in one’s own Dharma than to succeed in the Dharma of another. Nothing is ever lost in following one’s own Dharma.’
Bhagavad Gita: 3,35
The funniest thing I heard this year was “I am keen to get onto the Ayahuasca train.”
There’s a train? I didn’t know there was a train.
I thought it was a sacred ritual, but it’s sounding quite like a tourist attraction. Another box to tick on the ever growing popular ‘spiritual journey’. These ‘ yoga experiences’ are all over the place - living in an ashram, taking psychedelics, sweat lodges and intensive meditation courses. All with the hope of experiencing another level of consciousness - a fun new experience to tell your friends about.
These are all very useful tools to have, to get through life, so is there anything wrong with these growing in popularity in the way that they are? On the other hand, are they being given the sacred devotion expected when doing such deep and often esoteric undertakings?
This same question extends to life. Are we really embodying our experiences in life or are we simply writing a life list and ticking off our achievements as we go. By the end of it, when we take our last breath, would we be truly proud of the life we have led…and at that stage, what difference does it make anyway if we are proud?
This article is not coming from a place of criticism towards others - I’ve done most of these experiences myself. I write this more from a place of self-enquiry. Why am I doing these things? Am I learning more about yoga or perhaps more about myself?
I am appropriately aware of the hypocrisy in yoga. It is probably the worse field for hypocrisy because of the spiritual purity it promotes. The growing proliferation in yoga has attracted people in its droves and there are varying degrees of devotion to this ‘yogic life’. In reality, most people don’t even know what yoga is. As a coping mechanism to life however, whose business is it anyway how much you devote yourself to these practices (even if it is a one off experience)?
The concept of ‘finding yourself’ is obscure. Your true self is already there, buried under social conditioning, other people’s opinion and often misconceptions you drew from your childhood of who you are. These practices are really a sense of exploring your expansion and understanding your true boundaries. Going deep into understanding yourself and releasing emotional blockages you have. Every philosophy or religion reiterates ‘Know thyself’ - this is the best way to make sense of the world in which you live. Everything starts within yourself, so it is worthwhile spending time trying to understand what makes you tick. So perhaps it is less about becoming something and more a case of understanding who you were meant to be in the first place.
The most profound yogic experience I have undertaken was a Vipassana meditation course. I have done this course more than once, and every year it gets harder to be accepted onto the course due to it’s growing popularity. So in a superficial sense, this experience could be put down to ticking a box. But regardless of what brought you to the course, you have to do the work…and it is hard work. Starting your day at 4am and working until 9pm. If someone is willing to complete this course, then hats off to them.
Most of these yoga practices are methods of controlling or understand your mind and therefore learning about yourself. Learning how to control your mind is liberating. But learning this stuff from theory will never provide the insight you need - only practice will. So arguably, these practices are necessary.
I was once told that to live a truly happy life, one should live fully and commit entirely to the life they choose. Sitting in the middle will only cause dissatisfaction and misery. This question is whether opening the door to ‘yoga’ is really worth it in the first place. Ignorance is bliss they say…but going down the proverbial rabbit hole will not only upset the apple cart, it will knock it right over. Is it really possible to live an authentic yogic life, whilst being a householder? The Bhagavad Gita would argue that it is possible. My experience is that it is a constant struggle.
On the other hand, struggle is incredibly inspirational - a time of change and evolution, so long as you view it this way. Perception is everything in this game of life. The magic that we all chase happens when we step into the realm of allowing our path to unfold, rather than approaching life with a sense of force. Certainly, comparing our journey to a socially constructed model or living someone else’s life is a tragedy. When we do this, we abandon our own true path.
So is ayahuasca tourism a helpful endeavour in progressing the participant along their spiritual path, or merely a commercial undertaking that is feeding a growing trend. My view is that it is both. However what you gain from doing this ’spiritual practice’ or indeed any of these ‘yoga practices’ will be a direct result of how you approach it. Westerners often have ideological and romantic perceptions of indigenous healers and exaggerated expectations of their level of healing. These healers are often not self-realised gurus.
Whether it be trying one asana class a week or retiring from the world and living in a cave for the rest of your days, it is a personal exploration. Life is an adventure! But once you have found something that clicks, be mindful of your intuition - this will guide you to creating an honest and true life for yourself. The yogis say life is about learning lessons so that you do not need to keep re-living the same mistakes one life after another. Perhaps exploring these practices is a way to go deeper and learn. Perhaps not…but in the end, you only have yourself to answer to and you know yourself better than anyone else.