As you navigate through life, you will inevitably share your journey with others. You do so in forms that range from romantic to platonic relationships, familial to professional bonds, and casual to work acquaintances. Regardless of how many relationships you have in life, however, and even though your birth required other peoples’ bodies to occur, and your death will most likely impact even one other person, you will walk your life’s journey alone. You entered the physical world alone. You will exit the physical world alone. Your aloneness, however, is obviously not simplistic, nor is it lonely by any stretch of the imagination.
In Yoga, although your life’s journey/Eightfold Path is individual and unique in every way, and your own evolution is inevitably in your hands, you will always come to understand an equally important and seemingly contradictory truth about your connection to others.
You are alone on your life’s journey, but paradoxically, you are also connected with everyone and everything else at the same time. Most importantly, however, you are always eternally connected to the Source that binds you to all things in the one constantly evolving unit called the universe through the unique individual expression you call “you.”
As your unique expression/form grows in the world, you develop and dissolve bonds with others over time, falling in and out of love and conflict, attempting to understand and be understood by others (whether simply through your communication or on deeper levels of your being), and you find ways to be “together” with seemingly distinct others in the world to varying degrees (from physical proximity to collectively in groups and societies), all while intrinsically already being connected to everyone else through the original, eternal, and unchanging Source that goes far beyond most basic human comprehension.
And your connection is not just applicable to others in your species either. Everything on Earth, from a worm to an acre-wide factory, is a part of the same whole, even while being/seeming distinct and separate from everything and everyone else. Each and everything, and each and everyone, has a place in the world that has an impact in one way or another, from bees that pollinate flowers that provide all plant-eaters and oxygen breathers with the materials that they need to survive, to wood and stones that build homes and provide means for humans to create and exchange value and express who they are and what/whom they love in life.
But how often do you (honestly and without judgment) consciously acknowledge and live by the truth of this connection?
How often do you remember, as you look out at another human being who is a stranger, or a “foreigner” to you, or even out into the eyes of your loved ones, at a plant, at your pet, or even at yourself in the mirror, and acknowledge/feel your connection to everything beyond the superficial level of physical proximity or even emotional closeness?
Without judging yourself, but answering honestly: how often do you feel with, as opposed to for, or feel nothing at all toward, others’ suffering? Can you refrain from judgment beyond the simple acknowledgment of any harm that has been committed by another? Can you neutrally see the need for correction and atonement when a mistake is made without solidifying your perspective of another person, or yourself, as “bad,” as opposed to acknowledging a behavior as “bad” and requiring an appropriate response? How often do you see others’ accomplishments, no matter how big or small, internal or external, as something to be celebrated even when it has nothing directly to do with you?
Furthermore, what does any of this even mean to and for you on a practical level in your Yoga practice? The bottom line question here is: Why does this even matter?
Well, Sutra 33 of The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali states, simply, that “[b]y cultivating attitudes of friendliness toward the happy, compassion for the unhappy, delight in the virtuous and disregard toward the wicked, the mind-stuff retains its undisturbed calmness.” Yes. It is as simple as that. These attitudes matter because they help you to maintain your peace of mind.
But the question still remains: why is this important? What does having peace of mind really do for you in your Yoga practice?