The Love of Practice

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The Love of Practice

By Sahajananda 

“I’ll hit Shiva in the chest with my arrows:
Devotion and spiritual practice,
Fired from my victorious bow of knowledge.
As soon as I’ve shot Him,
I’ll run and grab those feet, my head bowed to touch them. 
That treasure will free me: no more fear of death.”
–Raghunath Das

Spiritual practice is the actualization of the longing of the soul; it’s the shining diamond cutting through layers of illusions. It’s a yogi’s treasure. We may feel limited, constricted, and disempowered, yet the miracle of freedom happens through conscious practice. 

Devotion in Yoga

“Tara Ma, devotion is the only fruit of spiritual practice that’s worth anything.” –Nilmani Patumi

Sadhana, spiritual practice, is not a duty but a privilege—a divine chance to reveal our essence. 

Patanjali defined practice as an effort oriented toward gaining stability in a state in which the fluctuations of the mind cease. Thus, we reveal the Seer, the Witness Consciousness. Therefore, no matter how sophisticated our techniques or asanas may be, following ego-rooted strategies can’t, by definition, be considered yoga practice. 

When Self-Inquiry touches our profound nature, the quality of our spiritual practice changes. We enter a state of grace where time and ego gradually dissolve, where there is no longer a “me” to be bored, no “I” to be impatient. 

Thus, a miracle happens—we discover our love for yoga. Practice transcends mere discipline and turns into an act of devotion. It becomes like an offering, a prayer without words, whispered in the silent, vibrant language of the soul. Eventually, it becomes a consecration of our entire being to the Divine. 

How does Bhakti Yoga relate to the love of practice? We start feeling devotion not necessarily to a deity but to the divine radiance within, to who we are, the light of Consciousness. 

The love that animates the Universe is the same love that calls us to awaken to the Truth. When we realize this, practice is no longer just a mechanical effort or a means to a personal goal but simply a relevant expression of this love. Meaningful, conscious spiritual practice naturally unifies the journey with the destination, the path with the homecoming.

Our life is a love affair with the Divine, with the Supreme Self; spiritual practice actualizes and makes palpable this utmost intimacy through blissful moments.

Imagine your heart wide open and your soul aflame with love. How will your practice be transformed by such a background? Moments of stillness, asanas, the subtle sound (nada), Self-remembrance (“Who am I?”), and, ultimately, every breath starts echoing the uplifting qualities of the soul—practice becomes a mutual embrace with the Beloved.

Khalil Gibran said, “Work is love made visible.” This is particularly true for spiritual work. Our practice, which is a form of love, becomes the bridge between personality, the pure “I”-feeling, and the Supreme Self.

And in this wonderment, a question echoes: “Who am I?”

Heart-Centered Yoga Practice

Often, we look to be grounded. We may decide to eat more food, engage in more physical activities, or be involved in worldly aims. But, since Consciousness, not matter, is the ultimate “ground” of existence, it is there, in the Spiritual Heart, the Witness Consciousness, that we become the real axis of ourselves and the world. When we become pilgrims on the journey towards Hridaya, the Center, the soul unfolds like a lotus in the sunlight of Awareness. It starts being grounded not in the fleeting but in the eternal; not in the outer, but in the inner; not in illusions, but in Truth.

The path of Hridaya Yoga is to tread in freedom with the enthusiasm and purity of an infant and with the wisdom and dedication of a sage. Such a journey may start with the physicality of asanas, but becoming more and more refined, it turns into an odyssey into the depths of the Supreme Spirit. 

And in this wonderment, a question echoes: “Who am I?”

Moving Beyond Success or Failure

To be truly grounded means that our inner state remains unshaken in the face of what the world calls success or failure. The wellspring of serenity and faith radiates from the Heart. There, the flower of practice thrives in the rich soil of pure intention, trust, and unconditional love, untouched by the confusing games of the doubting mind.

We tend to carry with us the baggage of worldly ambitions, the conditioned reflex to measure our lives in terms of achievements and failures. Because of this, even in spiritual practice, we continue to be bound to the chaotic dance of emotions, to the tyranny of the mind’s judgments and reactions to circumstances. The journey into the Heart is of a different nature. There, the contradictions and struggles dissolve into the vastness of the Eternal Now.

This realization brings so much freedom. Released from the burden of expectation, we embrace practice with joy, detachment, and an open heart. Practice becomes like floating across an ocean without a shore—expansiveness, excitement, and surrender. 

What used to be seen as failure becomes a teacher, a friend disguised in the appearance of a challenge, inviting us to refine our understanding, witness the situation and our reactions to it, and cultivate resilience and compassion for others and ourselves. Equally, what we used to perceive as success becomes not a cause for egoic pride but a humble offering to the altar of the ineffable, a confirmation that encourages us to continue with even more enthusiasm, gratitude, and wonder.

There are no thoughts or concerns in authentic practice since the mind wanders less into the worries of time and circumstances—how long, how much, how good… Such questions become insignificant when we start feeling that every moment wholeheartedly devoted to practice is a step closer to the Beloved, to the very essence of love, of life itself.

Further, the actual fruits of our endeavors are not for us to determine or judge. We are just happy to practice for the sake of the practice itself, with pure intention and humbleness, in the spirit of Karma Yoga, where each act is an offering free of any attachment to the fruits it may bear.

This does not mean that we abandon the aspiration to transcend limits or the discipline of meditation. Rather, we constantly realign our efforts with fresh, deeper insights from the Heart through Self-Inquiry. 

The relative measures of worldly achievements or hindrances cannot quantify the domain of the Spiritual Heart. 

A fruitful practice lies in our capacity to be present and Self-aware, to discover the sacred within the mundane, and to embrace the present moment as a gift.

Embodying Naturalness

When our practice sheds any pretense or effort to be something other than what we truly are—Pure Presence—we embody naturalness, sahaja.

Then, we peacefully surrender to the mysterious unfolding of our destiny, with the inner intuition and total faith that we are guided by a grace beyond rational comprehension. Surrender brings the freedom to be ourselves, to truly practice while fearlessly celebrating the boundless beauty of existence.

Tapas

Tapas is the fervent heat of spiritual ardor through which the soul is uplifted and purified.

In any passionate endeavor, there is not only effort but grace since this fire is in itself the spirit. Shiva Sutra (1:5) says, “Udyamo bhairavah”—this impetus, this longing is Shiva, the Supreme; whenever we feel that pure, intense ardor in our heart—that is God. The fierce yearning to merge with the Beloved, the passion that fuels our practice, is in itself the Supreme Universal Essence.

We experience the fire of tapas when we sit for meditation and the Heart is fully alive and vibrates intensely, when our whole being thrums with enthusiasm and joy, when our hair stands on end in spiritual keenness, when we feel that no obstacle could ever impede this trust and blissful union…

This sacred flame within can also be cultivated. It is kindled by humble persistence, by a deep love and commitment to practice itself. This fire ignites the mysterious union between the seeker and the sought, the question and the answer. When we decisively ask the “Who am I?” question, warmth melts away the illusions that veil our True Nature.

In the Sufi tradition, the seeker is compared to a moth drawn irresistibly to a flame. We are pulled toward the light of Awareness, happily willing to be consumed by the fire of divine Love. The only way to know the light is to become the light.

Wholeheartedness

Authentic acts of tapas are not about the severity of asceticism but the purity of intention and devotion. This means to meditate with the joy of a child entering a garden of wonders, which brings wholeheartedness to practice.

How can the ticking of a clock measure the time spent in the embrace of the Eternal? Wholeheartedness happens when we recognize our True Nature, and the endeavor is all-embracing. What is Self-awareness? It is the Heart knowing itself wholeheartedly. 

Abhyasa and Vairagya

Abhyasa is the dedication and commitment to return to practice, to meditation with a heart craving to open, to know itself, and to embrace Stillness.

Vairagya is the art of non-attachment, the grace of surrendering to the flow of existence with the trust of a leaf in a stream. 

Vairagya doesn’t profess a detachment from things but from false values. 

In Hridaya Yoga, through abhyasa, the steadfast practice of Self-awareness, we start having glimpses of eternal perfection, of the sacredness that we are, the Supreme Self. Further, in order to deepen and stabilize our faith in the new revelations that arise in meditation, vairagya, detachment, is needed to unroot old paradigms, fears, and subconscious identifications.

Abhyasa is like the constant flow of a spring, finding its path to the ocean for the first time. The spring doesn’t even know of the existence of the ocean, but it trusts the call of the valley; vairagya is like the wisdom of learning from obstacles and avoiding misleading directions. They are the twin stars that illuminate the spiritual quest. 

The soul finds its genuine rhythm in their synergy and delicate balance, beating in harmony with the universal song.

Eventually, we discover that practice and non-attachment are not tasks to be performed but effortless expressions of the same recognition, a sort of spiritual common sense.

The true essence of yoga transcends the boundaries of formal practice. The Heart starts radiating love and faith in Oneness, radically changing the way we see ourselves and our daily lives. When every act is a gesture of love, every word a whisper of kindness, this is an all-embracing spiritual practice. 

And in this wonderment, a question echoes: “Who am I?”

Practical Advice 

Practice should never be a mechanical act. It should always start with a consecration or by setting the purity of your intention. Further, you should contemplate:

  1. The meaning of the practice itself, and 
  2. Who you are in relation to that practice. 

Always try to discover your practice’s deeper, archetypal, cosmic meaning; you are embarking on a spiritual journey precisely to remember, and not to forget, the Spiritual Heart and the Witnessing Attitude. When you sit for meditation, it is not a body that meditates, but this very Awareness. 

As Dogen said, when meditating, you enter a flow of pure, continuous practice, transcending the opposition of myself and others. Such archetypal practice that goes on forever is realization itself…

Cultivating Gratitude 

Practice that lacks a sense of gratitude is not yet ripened and cannot be uplifting. Lack of gratitude shows that our only reliance is on the ego or its unfulfilled expectations. Gratitude for the practice itself is the characteristic of a person who is Self-aware and therefore fulfilled with themself, no matter how difficult or challenging the circumstances may seem. 

Frequently feeling unsatisfied is self-sabotaging; it’s like pouring poison into the soul, suggesting to ourselves how unfulfilling, painful, and restricted our lives can be. On the contrary, gratitude is a potent remedy for our limitations. Gratitude can and should be cultivated. It becomes like the soil from which our practice grows deeper. Each moment spent in communion with the Divine is celebrated as a gift, a grace bestowed. Meditation is not a task to be completed, but sincere gratefulness for this sacred taste of recognizing ourselves. Genuine Self-awareness feels like a blissful immersion in an ocean of nectar, amrita, since bliss is a very sip of our True Nature. 

For Self-awareness, at this moment, we are so grateful. Now. No worries, no mind, just Self-awareness… And how do we express such gratitude? Through an ever-deepening longing for Self-awareness, “Who am I?”

Sahajananda is the founder of Hridaya. You can read more of his contemplations here.

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