Posts by: Ashley Waddell
love is a royal elephant.
“If you want to know about love, forget all about love, and look for direction.” – G.I. Gurdjieff
I will spend this Valentine’s Day observing a divorce trial for work. And having lunch with my fiance – our first and only V-Day engaged. And teaching a heart-opening, bhakti-focused yoga class. These activities naturally have me wondering about the nature of love – the nature of its nascence, its cultivation, its demise. English is a woefully inadequate language when it comes to expressing the nuances of love – just one word to encompass spiritual devotion, friendship, familial affection, romance, strong preference… But then again, perhaps consolidating all of the different kinds of love into one grand articulation isn’t so bad. Above love’s many sub-genres, there is one theme: love lives in expression. If you want to know love, practice the virtues.
A great teacher once compared love to a royal elephant. Naked, in a state of nature, we cannot tell the difference between a regular elephant and a royal one. Likewise, without the virtues, love is unexpressed, unembodied, beyond our perception. But the elephant dressed in royal garb is immediately recognizable. The virtues of love are patience, respect, compassion, kindness, and on and on. The virtues are expressions of love; sometimes they are spontaneous and easy, like a song escaping from a finely tuned instrument. But often they involve effort, they are strained, like the reluctant notes of an instrument neglected or misused. When we let the virtues slip away, our love becomes unrecognizable. And bad things generally follow.
Bhakti yoga is the yoga of immersing oneself into divine love. Divine Love is not the example of what we should strive for - that unconditional, forever expansive, always present expression of grace. It is the very essence of our hearts, who we are as the embodiment of Divine Love. It is a journey of self-recognition, of sweeping away the clutter that causes us to forget who we are. The Narada Bhakti Sutra is an ancient text that speaks about this journey of love – expressing – forgetting – remembering.
Sutra 53 is a particularly beautiful meditation for Valentine’s Day, and for an asana (hatha yoga) practice. The message of the sutra is that love reveals itself where there is an able vessel. When the vessel is compromised, love is compromised. In this sense, “compromised” also means “unrefined” or “unprepared.” An asana practice is one way to refine ourselves – as we cultivate awareness and stillness in the mind, as we move deeper into the knowledge and experience of our breath and energy, as we align the organs, skeleton, and muscles, releasing tension and freeing up old holding patterns, we refine our vessel. Our work is to tune ourselves – body, mind, soul – and then to enjoy the song that emanates from our hearts. Our greater alignment on the mat allows us to experience the flow of grace – and this experience begins to transform our daily life, off the mat.
Today, I am asking myself, “Is my love recognizable?” ”What can I do to elevate my love?” “What is standing in my way?” I am taking my inquiries to my mat before I take them into my day. I am rededicating myself to the practice of refinement. A real yoga practice is not a selfish pursuit – it is the pursuit of loving better.
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