If you are into yoga, this is the essay to read. The Yoga of Strength is a practice, the same as any other yogic practice. Read down to discover exactly what it means.
“Nature loves courage. You make the commitment and nature will respond to that commitment by removing impossible obstacles. Dream the impossible dream and the world will not grind you under, it will lift you up. This is the trick. This is what all these teachers and philosophers who really counted, who really touched the alchemical gold, this is what they understood. This is the shamanic dance in the waterfall. This is how magic is done. By hurling yourself into the abyss and discovering it's a feather bed.” – Terence McKenna
One of the questions I get all the time is this: what does ‘The Yoga of Strength’ even mean? I’ve addressed ‘yoga’ in my pitch, but to revisit the word: it means to ‘yoke,’ or to ‘unify.’ This is in reference to the three elements that make us up: mind, body, and spirit. The purpose of yoga is to bring them all together into unity. It has religious connotations because it involves the matter of spirit.
The ultimate goal of yoga is Self-realization: an understanding of the indivisible nature of reality. Some people call it God, some people call it Source, some people call it consciousness. Whatever It is, we are all It. I Am That. The notion that “we are all one” is everywhere in religious texts. The golden rule, to treat others as you would want to be treated, is a corollary of this principle. Philosopher Aubrey Marcus prefers the ‘platinum rule’: treat others as you would want to be treated because they are you.
There are different expressions of this idea, from seemingly insignificant gestures like bowing, to gratitude, to sacrificing your time or money for another, all the way up to forgiving someone when they have wronged you. There is a reason Jesus pegged forgiveness high up on the rungs of the spiritual ladder. The bigger the transgression, the bigger the requirement that you put aside your own ego for something greater. The harder it is to forgive, the more wisdom is reaped from the act of doing so. This is because you prove to the universe, to your true Self, that you have seen past the illusion of separateness, past maya (as discussed in my post about honour at https://publishizer.com/the-yoga-of-strength/updates/2/).
Now, it’s all well and good to read that notion on the page, but how do you actually live the idea that we are not separate? That is what yoga is all about. That’s why we say things like meditation, poses (asanas), or gratitude are yogic ‘practices.’ You quiet the mind and you practice the things that will bring you into your inner Truth. To paraphrase the beautiful band Satsang, you can hold the ideas in your head but you need to hold them in your heart. And to do the same with the luminary Nahko and Medicine for the People's illustration of the difficulty of such a task, on the road from the head to the heart, do you think you can survive?
But what is head, what is heart?
Like Andrew Cardiff in The Yoga of Strength, I spent most of my youth stuck in my head. I was an atheist for the majority of my life. I am not going to get into a discussion of all of the reasons why I am not any more, but I will tell you this: forgiving people, forgiving myself – for everything, for all of it – this is what gave my heart some measure of peace. But to actually forgive took courage.
Courage I thought I did not possess.
Courage is a funny thing. The more you practice it, the easier it becomes. When I was younger, I did not have much of it. Like Andrew Cardiff in The Yoga of Strength, I thought I was a coward. I will not tell you all about my life’s story here, but whenever I was faced with a choice, I would be presented with two options. I could listen to the loud voice screaming at me that I should run or be hurt, or I could listen to the barely audible whisper that I should go ahead and see where life takes me. We might call it our conscience. The Quakers call it the “still small voice within.”
I chose the easier path, the loud one, the one that called me to retreat. The path of fear. I was scared to talk to women that I found attractive, for one. I would go to parties and watch shyly from the corner or remain talking to the boys as the hours ticked by and eventually I went home. There were other examples, like not even going to the party in favour of staying in by myself and playing video games. Or quitting my job teaching English in Korea after my undergrad rather than dealing with the discomfort of being away from home.
Choosing this path, the path of fear, will make you hate yourself. Andrew Cardiff is walking this path at the beginning of The Yoga of Strength. You question why you cannot choose to be courageous, why you cannot do the right thing, why you run and hide instead of standing tall. It must be that there is something wrong with you, that you are broken in some way and you are doomed to forever be stuck in a cycle of failure and regret.
At some point, though, I came upon a wall. I had been choosing to be fearful and I simply could not do it anymore. I hit my own version of spiritual rock bottom. I was faced with a choice: I could continue to cower before life or I could draw myself up, pull my shoulders back, and finally face the world.
I did not start off with huge decisions that required a lot of courage (say, writing and releasing a book). I started off with the little stuff, like trying a new restaurant instead of the same old, opening my mouth and saying hello to a cashier at the store, or finally making my way down to that new yoga studio in town. I did eventually work up to the bigger stuff (I love you, honey 😉) but the biggest was forgiving people and letting go of grudges.
I am not going to tell you who I forgave, for what transgressions, or how I did it. That would be disrespectful, dishonourable, and would constitute a huge disservice to them and myself. Suffice it to say that of all of the things I did, forgiving people has been the most difficult.
Forgiving myself – that was the hardest of all.
I was rewarded by having the voice of my conscience get louder. It became easier to follow. A psychologist will tell you that you are extinguishing one habit in favour of another, which is true. But it also means that you blossom.
A beautiful thing happens when you begin to listen to your conscience, when you start to be courageous: you start to develop compassion. Because as surely as night follows day you will see others struggling with the same things that have dogged you. Your heart goes out to them. You start to understand that, “Hey, maybe I am not so different, after all. Maybe I am not “broken.” Maybe we aren’t separated from one another. Maybe we are all connected.”
The inertia starts to lift. The quiet voice deepens. The courageous choice becomes the only choice to make. And life starts to get better: richer, more colourful, more vibrant. Where you started by looking outside of yourself for happiness, you find the fountain that is flowing deep within your heart and it lifts you up like nothing else can.
The Yoga of Strength sees Andrew Cardiff make this very discovery.
You can do it. You just have to listen to that still small voice within. And if you aren’t sure which voice is which, you can learn to listen. Meditation – this will make the voice louder. Asanas will make the voice louder. Anything that slows you down and forces you to focus on the present moment will make the voice louder.
If you still believe it’s you against the world, bet on your Self. Be courageous when the deck looks stacked against you.
Do what the little voice in your head is telling you is the right thing to do. It is singing the song of your heart.
Never lose faith. You will learn that all the divisions that you think exist within and without you are only the figments of your imagination.
Choose the quiet strength of your soul when your mind screams that you are weak: this is The Yoga of Strength.
If you enjoyed this essay, I would ask that you please think about preordering a copy of The Yoga of Strength before August 31. If you have already preordered, I would ask that you share this essay with someone who might appreciate it. The Yoga of Strength is in part an exploration of courage and what it means to let go of the fears that try to hold all of us back.
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Many thanks and much love,