My husband and I are celebrating our 30th wedding anniversary this month! I’ve been thinking about how we’ve changed and grown over these many years together. We’ve consistently returned to yoga and its guiding principles our whole marriage. Our common yoga training was marked with reminders to be aware of our thoughts, our actions and our speech, and to carefully monitor their qualities. As a result we endeavor to be aware of and control our effect on each other and the world around us every day.
In my last article, August 2016, I talked about the jnanendriyas, or the five “wisdom senses” through which we take in information: smelling, tasting, feeling, seeing and hearing. Humans also send out information via the five actions called the karmendriyas. This word translates literally as “active senses.” Where the jnanendriyas passively receive information, the karmendriyas actively produce and send information out via activities. According to Samkhya philosophy, the organs of action include the anus, sex organs, legs, hands, and mouth. They are the primary organs by which we express ourselves.
The karmendriyas explained lightly: We release what we no longer need and create waste via the anus; we convey emotions and recreate via the sexual organs; we walk about the earth via legs and demonstrate body language via our gait; we use hands to touch, show affection and create many things; and we communicate words and speech, facial expressions and kisses via the mouth.
Samkhya philosophy further expounds that these activities create karma. Karma is the Sanskrit word for action. If we’re proficient and conduct our actions carefully, we create harmony in the world. Otherwise, if we’re careless, we create re-actions or residual “bad” karma. Examples: Sexual activity should always be expressed consensually. The hands can exhibit kindness by touch or they can demonstrate much stronger emotions.
“For we are made for co-operation, like feet, like hands, like eyelids,
like the rows of the upper and lower teeth.
To act against one another then is contrary to nature.”
The Meditations, Marcus Aurelius, (Trans. by George Long)
Much of life is learning about living together, cooperating and relating to others. The five active senses deserve serious consideration for those working consciously in this life. Evermore we strive to reduce the strong aspects of ego, but never to the point of self-condemnation. We attempt to control our output to the benefit, not the detriment, of self and others. The path of yoga emphasizes regular self-awareness and commitment to an examined life.
“The life which is unexamined is not worth living.”
Several years ago, we went on retreat with the sage Mahamandaleshwara Swami Veda Bharati. Our first instruction was to relax our foreheads during conversations with one another. As a couple, we spend a lot of time together. While talking, we learned to gently feed back the facial expressions we saw on the other’s face. I realized I should smile more and frown less otherwise I might be misunderstood. Words are one thing; facial expressions can detract from or add to the intention!
“The thoughts in their heads,
Manifest on their brow
Like bad scars from ill feelings
They themselves arouse.”
The Light That Has Lighted The World, George Harrison
We quickly acknowledged this activity was quite a challenge! It required measured speech and, very importantly, it required that we learn to say the unpleasant in a pleasant manner. We still practice this. Such self-awareness translates as increased understanding in our conversations and life together.
The goal of yoga is to realize our connection to the inner Truth. The Yoga Sutras teach ahimsa and satya as the first aphorisms toward that goal. Respectively, to “do no harm” and “truth,” these are important lessons in all human relationships. Ahimsa is the first principle (see article Kindness, October 2014) and satya is second because kindness is more important than honesty. That is, the truth can hurt sometimes, so yogis learn to say difficult things gently so as not to cause undo stress or bad karma.
Swami Veda also said, “The most beautiful thing is a couple meditating together.” Spiritual relationships, marriage or otherwise, grow during such intimacy. Indeed, it’s some of our favorite pastimes, sitting silently together. Together we access the happiness that lies within.
Ishvara Pranidhana is the yogic aphorism from the Yoga Sutras that teaches us to practice the presence of god right with you. We trust that, if there is a god, the dwelling place is within each human heart. We try to recognize that divinity within each other. We find this makes it easier to uphold the other person’s dignity in all situations. And our mutual support for one other is a foundation as service to god in all people.
Our yoga training also taught us to work together, to strengthen the body, quiet the mind, to adjust to one another and to cultivate santosha, contentment. We have broken old patterns and forged new habits to cultivate the relationship we want. Humans are wealthy in the ability to recognize and deliberately shape our own lives.
Our yoga mentors consistently emphasized that “life means relationship,” that we need to “find our purpose in life,” and that marriage is an excellent platform for mutual growth. Our purpose in this relationship is to continue to grow spiritually, to the best of our ability, and help each other to that end.
And we hope to continue at least another 30 years!
Photo taken in Ireland at New Grange, 2016 copyright Cynthia Riley Gran