We all, to some extent, hold ourselves back. Be it through self judgement, social expectation and conditioning, or just plain simple fear. Many of us have an inner saboteur, but we often don’t realise this. It’s easy to become contracted and smaller than we truly are because we’re worried what other people might say, or because we want to impress someone or prove something to them.
We then wonder why things aren’t progressing as rapidly as we’d like, that feeling of not getting anywhere. Sound familiar? For sure external events, other people’s prejudices, systemic prejudice, and life circumstances play a big part or barrier in creating a fulfilling, rich life. But so often we overlook the ways our own old habits and ways of thinking are holding us back. Particularly when we consider just how much of our lives we spend doing things for the empty, temporary need for approval from others.
“How hard you work just so someone will say something good about you”, I remember when I first heard these words in my early years of meditation. They hit me hard. It was a wakeup call. At once it revealed the driving motivation for almost everything I was doing in my life, and at the same time highlighted its blistering ridiculousness and futility. Framed this way, how do we choose to live our lives? And if we were to completely do away with seeking other people’s approval, then how else might we live?
There is a story in the history of the yoga tradition that emphasises the power of such a liberating new worldview. There are many versions of the story, but the one I have always heard goes as follows:
In the 14th century in Kashmir, lived a young woman named Lal Ded. Tradition has it that she was married off when she was 12 years old, and was sent to live with her husband and her mother in law. She was abused and mistreated by both of them, humiliated daily and hardly fed by them. But every day, when she was sent to collect water from a nearby river, she would secretly cross the river to the far bank and visit a temple dedicated to the deity Siva, where she worshipped. She cultivated her devotion to the divine in secret, and patiently endured her abusive home life. Over time, her new family become suspicious of her, thinking she was committing infidelity as she was gone so long each day collecting water. Her devotion was slowly transforming her though, liberating her from the inside out.
She returned home one day, as always, carrying a large earthenware pot full of fresh water on her head. Her husband in a jealous rage threw a stone at the jar and it shattered. However, so the story goes, the shape of the water remained intact on her head, still forming the shape of the pot even though it had shattered and fallen around her. Her husband gasped in shock at the miraculous power Lal Ded seemed to hold. Over time, more miracles occurred, and her reputation spread. She eventually left her husband in her early twenties and became a disciple of a respected saint, Sidh Srikanth. Over time, Lal Ded saw through the conventions of family life, through the opinions of other, of societal rules and what was expected of her as a woman.
She began to travel the land sharing wisdom and devotional poetry in the form of verses called Vakhs. Eventually she decided to do away with all her possessions, including even her clothes and began to walk completely naked wherever she went. Some people praised her, some people ridiculed her. But it did not matter. She was fully liberated through her practice of devotion to something greater than herself. She saw the truth clearly.
If we seek this kind of radical liberation, to be truly free and expansive, we then have to ask ourselves, how do these practices of yoga and meditation serve to liberate us? It’s less important even what we are practicing rather than how or why. Practicing for a purely physical result - to achieve a certain body or a certain pose is absolutely fine if that’s all you want. But is that all you want?
Yoga has the potential to move us towards a deeper awareness of who we really are - beneath the conditioning of society, beneath the need for approval from other; but we need to practice with this aspiration at the forefront of our hearts. Yoga at its essence, to me, is about liberation - moksha. Through diligent practice, patience, and devotion to these higher aims, we may free ourselves from the baggage other people put in our hands and have the capacity to reach out with open palms to that which is our true calling.
This awesome article was written for Warrior Adiict by our fantastic Brand Warrior, James Rafael. For more about James, click here