by Jonas Plass.
Not long ago, I was asked about what I thought were the main qualities any great yogi should possess. I was a bit taken by surprise about the question because I had never given it a thought before. And it wasn’t an easy question to answer either, because qualities are relative to context and context is always changing. So, I took my time with it. But after a few weeks of deliberation –and a few heated arguments here and there also– I have managed to come up with what I believe is the recipe for a great yogi. Care to know it? It involves lots of courage, patience, and faith.
I discarded things like ‘wisdom,’ ‘equanimity’ or ‘purity of heart’ from the beginning because, though quite nice sounding, they struck me as a bit secondary –as qualities that could possibly come to any yogi over time. So, I opted for the former in the spirit of their easy access for anyone on the yogic path from day one. And now, please, allow me to detour for a little and explain why.
From darkness into light, from challenge into life
Very often, our encounters with challenge or a crossroads-type-of-situation surface when we need to learn a valuable life lesson. We don’t always like these tests, nor have the capacity to see them as such in the heat of the moment but, good or bad, they help build our character and change us in ways and directions that would be impossible for us otherwise. “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” has always sounded quite like the dramatic phrase to me, but it’s also a statement that carries a great deal of truth within.
Certainly, challenging moments can sometimes come all of a sudden, without a warning. They swipe the earth from under our feet in a matter of seconds and leave us there, hanging –at a loss for how to deal with the consequences. Sometimes, though, clues about a particular challenge or crossroads can be glimpsed before the moment of truth arrives. But we often postpone conscious encounter by pushing these to the margins, in an attempt to deny the reality of the oncoming trial.
Challenges and crossroads are natural components of life, whether we like it or not, and, if it weren’t for them, we would go back after our time on this planet without having learnt a thing. Surely, not all challenges or crossroads are positively inflected or land us in a better place. Sometimes, greater confusion and distress must ensue as necessary rites of passage on their own. Such is the mystery of life and its workings: you can never be too sure about the outcome. And it is precisely because of the uncertainty of life and the need to find a place of balance to better determine the odds of our encounters with challenge, that the practice of faith, courage, and patience –the main highlights for me of any great yogi– is so vital. Though they may seem disparate or unrelated terms at first, close inspection reveals how faith, courage, patience, and yoga are much closer to one another than you would expect.
The holy trinity of yoga: patience, faith, and courage
Indeed, faith isn’t just a religious concept coined to power through (or swallow) the messy bits, the parts one cannot rationally understand. Though many think that faith is a thing for the ‘believers,’ for those who practice some form of institutionalized religion, or regularly pray, the truth is that faith is commonplace; and those of us who take life for granted –and, let me tell you, most of us do– would be more aware of how we resort to it if we did not. For faith is, actually, the ability to trust in life and in ourselves to be able to find whatever we need regardless of the situation, and we do this on the regular.
Any decision we make in life, however big or small, requires a great deal of faith: faith in ourselves and in others, in our chances or our ability to meet the challenges, faith that a better tomorrow is possible, or that greater insight is on its way. Even the most hopeless person on earth must have a remnant of faith to carry on in hopelessness day after day. Still, where faith wavers, courage can come to the rescue; for courage is the ability to give things a try and brave it out in the face of fear, doubt, hesitation, or discomfort.
Sometimes, to really have a chance at getting what you want, you need the courage necessary to actually take a leap of faith. When we fail to be brave to face life’s challenges, we still have to go through them, but we condemn ourselves to do so as the victims of these cyclical encounters, instead of the resourceful and courageous heroes of our intrepid (if uncertain) adventures. It is in this sense, that, for me, yoga is a practice for the faithful, the patient, and the brave.
And so, a great yogi has all three of these qualities speaking up for him/herself. Those of us who live yoga and commit to the rigours of systematic practice do so because, to a large extent, we believe in the possibility for conscious and positive change, in equal reward to equal effort, in human potential, and in the ability of yoga as a method to get us there. We trust that time and commitment will pay off and bring us closer to the answers we crave; and so, we patiently sit down, breathe in and out, and wait. But a great yogi doesn’t turn to her practice daily, either, unless she’s brave; unless he’s courageous enough to face the messy bits, the low moments, the challenging poses and practices, the stubborn mind that pushes back at the new kriyas, or the moments were you would just want to speed things up a little and get to a comfier place. If there is one thing that yoga teaches is patience, the ability to believe and develop trust in your own capacities and those of the universe around you, and to stay calm and centered to be the bravest version of yourself.
So, nothing short of your Marvel superhero, but with more of a stylish choice when it comes to leggins!
An earlier version of this article was published on Jonas’ blog, ACEBE (link: www.acebe.de).