Isvarapranidhana: What is Isvara and what does it mean for me?
Two weeks back I lost my eighty-five-year-old Grandmother who was living with me for the past twenty-five years. Even though her health was deteriorating at a rapid pace and she did not have too much time at hand, the day she perished was indeed difficult. But the subsequent few days were tougher when the void at home was larger than expected. So much so, that even finding my own breath became a challenge with exhales being shallow and hard. Of course, I grieved and mourned for the loss, but I still needed a space where I could just grieve without people telling me to be ‘strong and brave’ and ‘not cry’, well of course I also needed a space where I could safely put across a lot of guilt, anger and regret that came up inside of me because I was in no mood to process it or intellectualize it. Because of my state of mind and conditioning; any action that I undertook would in fact backfire rather than help me, so I took no chances with that.
I sat on my mat hoping to do a practice, but I was so shaken that my body and breath were not in sync. I could not even breathe, let alone move. What could I do? Intuitively my body bent down in a balAsana with my arms outstretched on the mat. The only thing I did was to reach out to iSvara in a balAsana and surrender with my body going limp. iSvrapranidhAnA or surrender to the higher powers. Isvara is any higher power or the highest divine power as many would say and is present in every one of us. He/she is the first teacher and a source of help and support always; in tough and easy situations. I saw iSvara as someone who sees and understand me and my context very clearly without a colored lens that most of us carry. Being omniscient and untouched by avidyA, s/he always has a clarity in their answers and knows exactly what needs to be done, when it needs to be done and how it needs to be done. They also can see the ‘now’, beyond and the past to tie a whole lot of threads together to make a necklace especially when you are too close or too far away or have simply put blinkers.
I simply surrendered my guilt, anger and frustration with myself on all the things I said or did and/or ought to have said or done with respect to my Grandmother because I could not make out head or tail as to what I ought to do with this guilt and anger and how do I process it. In normal situations I would take help of my body, mind and breath to help me, but my mind, body and breath were too full of memories, grievances, sadness and sorrows to make space for processing guilt and anger. Yes, I needed help! I accepted the need for a teacher and higher source of energy to help me deal with this myriad of emotions, feelings and expectations. I just needed a space to simply be in whatever state I was and give me a shoulder to pour myself out.
I started off by simply chanting OM during my exhales to empty myself out. The beej mantra was the easiest way to connect with the source. With each OM there was a sensation of relief that swept through my body as though I was supported from all sides. With each OM I felt I connected with someone who knew all the answers to the why’s and how’s and simply acknowledged my feelings without judgement or interpretation. I found someone who could simply listen to your stories and even your silence. How did I realize all this? It was not a mind game or stories I was filling my head with, there were multiple moments when I could connect with OM and everything around me felt still. The sthiram amidst all the cacophony and cries was much desired and needed. The goal of iSvarapranidhanA is to bring you back to shAntam or equanimity so that you can move forward. Actions that arises from a state of shAntam is most desirable always.
The quietness made me see my whole drama being played out in front of me with many pieces strewn all over and a sense of responsibility that came over me simply reminding me that whenever you are ready, it is time to gather those pieces and make it yours because they only belong to you and no one else. The mere owning up to these pieces itself solves half your problems. When we do not own up that is when we feel incomplete and torn in our lives. The practice of iSvarapranidhana reminds you about this, only if you choose to listen though. If all this sounds to abstract, then as luck would have it, right after the practice one of my teachers called me up, talked to me and simply did the work of the higher power to listen and support. The mere belief and trust on the higher power manifests itself in the most surprising way. The power of manifestation and the path opening for you is also the work of the viSesa purusha as Patanjali put it. The path would always be shown to you if you ask for it.
A lot of people would call this mumbo-jumbo or ‘ridiculous blind faith’ etc. I was also one of them with such an attitude much before I started learning yOga. But in yOga the most important niyAmas is isvarapranidhana. It may not develop immediately, but as one practices the concept of an isvAra as a higher source of energy is mostly understood; the change is inevitable on the path of yOga. It was two or three months into my practice and while healing had started but I was still very restless about the questions I had and the lack of any direction on how do I search for answers? It is only then that my teacher introduced me to the concept of iSvara. One can only introduce such concepts when the person in front of you is ready to listen and has openness to do so. It is always easier to depend on an external support or objects to get you the solutions but real problems, dharmAsankatAs and questions do not have quick fixes nor clear cut answers. One cannot force oneself to move when there is no space to move. Any attempt to transform, work with or improve oneself requires something extra and a different kind of devotion on the path. The key is to realize that the answers and foremost teacher is within you, all you need to do is to connect with the source whenever you want. The rituals of puja or going to the temples to concentrate on any of the murtis or even your asana/pranayama are all directed towards touching the divine within. Even when you touch the divine for a moment there is an anandaM and a whole new space created in the mind devoid of any rAga(attraction)/dvesha(aversion). This is the quiet space from where new ideas, creativity and real freedom sprouts. The actions that eventually stem from this space is truly dharmic and satisfying. yOga merely helps you experience these to understand and comprehend the meaning of the iSvara or the divine.
Touching the divine space within is not only for removing obstacles from your path but it is also the highest form of expression-:
In sound through music
In the body through dance
In words through poetry
In space through architecture
In form through sculpture
In thought through math
The devotee touches the divine
Some of the best pieces of art or literature created or flowed when the artist or musician or sculptor touched the divine space within themselves to create, it was sometimes unbelievable even for the artist to fathom how did he/she create? This of course is evident in our rich cultural heritage of shastras, temple architecture, sculptures etc. which are still marveled even today and many of them are called the works of an ‘extra-terrestrial being’
So how does one walk on this path? It always starts with a question or that intent that you are carrying around with you. What is it that you seek? What should the path lead to? As strange as it may sound, but the sometimes the helplessness or setbacks are actually a great way to start connecting deeper to the source. My setbacks and duhkhas were the trigger to look for a higher source of energy hoping that it would get me past my sorrows. One can then take up any sadhana as one wishes to; whether it is a yOga sadhana or even as simple as writing, making art or even acting in a theater play! All of these have immense potential to help you step back from the chakravyuh that one has created and quieten. Just as still waters run deep, the quiet meditative space is where you can go deeper and deeper inwards. And voila! You realize something extraordinary and strengthening that you have touched. Of course, there is no guarantee on the timelines, it may take you a day or even a year to get your head around any of this. The key is to be patient and resilient and not give up on this path. Sometimes it is easy to express in words and sometimes not!
While we are bombarded with quick fix solutions to all our problems and there are numerous possibilities to get out of one. The real and consistent ones that give you satisfying results invariably involve in trusting your intent, questions and dilemmas to the higher source. Our ancestors and great scholars in every field whether it be Mathematics, architecture, Ayurveda or dance have relied on the guidance of the higher source of energy to help them accomplish extraordinary feats with their exemplary actions. The action that stems from the iSvara is the purest and surest.
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