The state of the union

Eternal God (for whom who ever dare
Seek new expressions, do the circle square,
And thrust into strait corners of poor wit
Thee, who art cornerless and infinite),
I would but bless thy name, not name thee now;
And thy gifts are as infinite as thou

Upon the Translation of the Psalms by Sir Philip Sidney and the Countess of Pembroke His Sister by John Donne

Any good yogi knows that yoga means ‘union’ and this is usually interpreted as ‘union with the divine’. I might not be a good yogi, but I am a thoughtful yogi and I’ve been thinking on this ‘union’ for a while. Now I’m a fully subscribing member of the school of thought that takes yoga to be more than a physical practice, and I admit I arrogantly abhor anything that equates yoga with fitness or exercise (clearly I have a way to go in non-judgemental tolerance, but that’s another story). Nonetheless I’m finding it difficult to define for myself what this union might be and what it means in my practice.

I’m coming at this from the perspective of a trained Humanities academic, so for me it’s always about getting back to primary texts and analysing their meaning in an historical and intellectual context. But I’m not a Sanskrit scholar and I’m certainly no theologian, so this approach isn’t going to help me in the short term — I simply don’t know enough to offer that kind of interpretation. (Note to self: you’re going to want to learn Sanskrit soon, you just know you are!). I am also a born atheist and I was brought up a-theistically — I mean this literally: I simply never encountered ‘god’ as anything other than a hypothetical construct that existed for other people.

But yoga is experiential (‘less thinking, more doing!’ my teacher tells me), and sometimes what you feel is more important than what you know. So although my academic brain shudders at the idea of some BS-postmodern-‘mort-de-l’auteur’ reading of Patanjali, I guess that spirituality (there, I’ve used the word I’d been hoping to avoid) is almost by definition a construct that takes its meaning from a specific cultural or intellectual context. Maybe how one defines the ‘union’ or what one’s uniting with is always going to be an individualised, personal response.

So, yes, I’m currently reading my Patanjali with the aid of three commentaries no less trying to understanding something of contemporary ideas and philosophy. But I’m also playing with letting go of preconceptions and expectations, and I’m opening up to what I feel in my practice without trying to define it or examine it too closely for the moment. Donne’s cornerless and infinite divinity whispers very, very softly to me, ‘poor wit’ that I am, when I only allow myself to hear it: ishvarapranidhanadva (PYS I.23).

The quote, by the way, I came across in my work recently and I liked it.

Plus I am amused to consider that I probably understand Donne even less than Patanjali.

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