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Memories & spiritual Practice

It’s time to say goodbye and good riddance to 2020. I hope you’ve found some silver linings in a year that’s offered so little and taken so much – and so many.

The end of a year is a time to look back and think about what made us happy, what made us sad, what we might have done differently, and how what we did brought us closer to – or took us farther from – who we really are.

According to Patañjali’s Yoga-sūtras, memory is one of the five states of mind that may be helpful or hurtful to our practice of yoga. Looking at mental images of our past experiences through the eyes of yoga wisdom can elevate wistful reminiscence to the level of liberating reflection.

When guided by authoritative teachings of the yoga wisdom tradition, this kind of contemplative inquiry is known as svādhyāya, the fourth practice of niyama: spiritual self-care.

When I look back at this year, I see how much time I’ve spent looking much further back, how rummaging around in the distant past has become my comfort zone.

But it’s not a very comforting comfort zone; it’s more of a clinging to what’s been lost, what never was, what could have been, and what was never meant to be. It’s a mashup of mental speculation and mixed emotions nested in a cycle of lamentation that’s bumped my memories into the realm of imagination, just another fluctuation of the mind.

Tapaḥ, austerity, the third practice of spiritual self-care, is the act of making a conscious effort to get out of one’s comfort zone for the sake of personal spiritual growth. Letting go of attachments that hold us back is one kind of austerity.

But, in this case, ‘letting go’ doesn’t mean an artificial renunciation of experiences that have made us what we are. That would just be a kind of spiritual bypassing.

Rather than artificially renouncing our memories, we can bring those impressions on the mind into the present, make reflection a part of our spiritual practice, and reframe our memories in the context of transcendental knowledge.

Yoga is, after all, the art of regaining the memory of our true nature. Integrating what we remember of our younger selves into the pursuit of remembering our eternal selves is a natural strategy for dispelling the darkness of avidyā, ignorance of our true spiritual nature.

Here’s a simple process for integrating our memories into our spiritual practice:

  • Read a verse or a sutra from a traditional yoga wisdom text

  • Stop and allow what you’ve read to evoke a personal memory

  • Look for a connection between what you read and what you remembered

  • Set an intention to integrate the essence of the connection between the memory and the teaching that inspired it into your life

Reflections on past experiences that are informed by transcendental knowledge have the potential to liberate us from the shackles of attachments that can keep us from realizing our full potential for spiritual experience. Letting go of my attachment to sifting through illusory conceptions of what might have been so that I can focus my attention on what I can still become is the austerity I plan to focus on in 2021.

How about you? How far back do you look when you look back? And what are you looking ahead to when you look forward?

Take this method for integrating your memories into your spiritual practice for a test drive and let me know how it works for you.


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