I would like to dedicate this blog to my mother who taught me how to love selflessly and the freedom and joy those small acts brought me during our time together in her later years.
At the end of November 2022, I boarded a train to Salisbury to participate in a long weekend of retreat at Sarum College, and was feeling extremely grateful I was actually on my way.
The previous few weeks had been challenging. As well as teaching my classes, my 13-month-old grandson was now in my care one day a week overnight, my sister-in-law was recovering from foot surgery and needed help, and my husband was working long hours, needing some nurturing and good food at the end of the day. I was recovering from a chest infection and feeling general malaise. I was doubting whether I was going to make it - maybe I should stay home and rest? Needless to say, my mind was running all these scenarios, and it was making a case for me to bail out, stay home, watch Netflix and eat some indulgent food!
I called my tutor1 and explained my dilemma and his wise words came back: “It sounds like you really need this retreat Jacqui”.
So as the train pulled away, I began to think about all the obstacles that Patanjali lists in 1-30, “Disease, dullness, doubt, carelessness, laziness, false perception, and the distractions of the mind” and acknowledged that I had experienced a few of these when trying to practice of late, and I needed some faith (sraddha) that all would be well when I arrived at the retreat. I decided to turn off my phone and felt very empowered knowing all at home was well, withdrawing from those externals that had required my help.
I arrived at the College early to be directed to the Refectory, from where lovely smells and freshly cooked food was being served and met up with my fellow yoginis for breakfast. It occurred to me how living with others in a community, there may be a communal kitchen, releasing the responsibility of one person having to source recipes for vegetarian and meat-eating households (mine is), go to the supermarket, plan recipes for the week and ensure families are well nourished around the busy commutes with early starts and late finishes in some homes.
I checked the timetable for the weekend and the meetings were well structured, starting early with practice, talks, meditation throughout the day. I found my room – single bed, simply furnished, basic necessities, overlooking the Cathedral and acknowledged I was in exactly the right place. I took a deep breath and wondered how it would be to live this way in an Ashram or Monastery, with no worldly distractions, with time to practice, focus and be with other like-minded people in the search for Truth?
In his talks on Karma Yoga 1894 Swami Vivekananda discusses the dharma (responsibility) of a Sannyasin, like himself and that of a householder: someone who lives within the world with all the responsibilities of a family. The word Karma is derived from the Sanskrit Kri, to do, action or as he refers to consistently, the term work. It can also mean the effects of our past actions. Karma Yoga involves dedication of all work as an offering, with no thought of personal reward. Selfless actions can challenge our vasana, (unconscious desires) and their outcomes challenge our avidya (ignorance). Caring for others, selflessly with no expectation of a reward, can help us to act from vidya, spiritual knowledge.
How many of us have experienced this when caring for a sick child or aging parent within our own families and communities? From experience I can say spending time with my mother as she prepared to pass was incredibly painful, but there was also a deep knowing that this was my dharma, my duty to be with her as she took her last breath, with no expectation of reward, just pure love.
In Chapter 2 of Karma Yoga, Swami Vivekananda goes into great detail of the duties of the Householder as opposed to the Sannyasin (the man who has renounced the world).
The life of every individual, according to the Hindu scripture, has duties. The life of the married man is quite as great as the celibate who has devoted his life to religious work.
2The householder should be devoted to God; the knowledge of God should be his goal of life. Yet he must work constantly, perform all his duties; he must give up the fruits of his actions to God. It is the most difficult thing in this world to work and not care for the result, to help a man and never think that he ought to be grateful, to do some good work and at the same time never look to see whether it brings you name or fame, or nothing at all. Even the most arrant coward becomes brave when the world praises him. A fool can do heroic deeds when the approbation of society is upon him, but for a man to constantly do good without caring for the approbation of his fellow men is indeed the highest sacrifice man can perform.
So how is life for the person who steps away from life as a Householder? Is their work more important? What are the challenges of leading a Monastic life? There are similar renunciates in other religions across the world – whose duties may be different depending on their beliefs and cultures, but vows of chastity, poverty and obedience are commonplace. A Monk or a Nun may be expected to work or help others in their Communities, selflessly caring for others who are not direct family. Is the practice of Karma Yoga easier when the externals are reduced, more structured time to meditate, study and focus?
Swami Vivekananda helps us:
If a man retires from the world to worship God, he must not think that those who live in the world and work for the good of the world are not worshiping God; neither must those who live in this world, for wife and children, think that those who give up the world are low vagabonds. Each is great in his own place.
As the weekend came to an end, there was an opportunity to attend Evensong at Salisbury Cathedral during a period of silence. A few of us found ourselves listening to the choir in that beautiful holy place with tears in our eyes, where many before us would have asked the same questions. All seekers of The Truth, trying to make sense of ourselves, asking for guidance from Spirit, looking for the light. It was a beautiful moment full of joy and love for something inexplicable.
We said our goodbyes, all feeling uplifted, revitalised and renewed with curiosity. I reluctantly turned on my phone expecting the usual barrage of texts and messages. The first one a picture of my Grandson crawling for the first time! The second one from my husband proudly announcing he had cooked dinner and not to worry. Netflix and chocolate just might be on the agenda after all…!
The success of Yoga does not lie in
the ability to perform postures but
how positively changes the way we live our life and our relationships.
~T K V DESIKACHAR
to Michael Hutchinson, Two Birds Yoga who continues to support me in study, and providing retreats.
 Maha Nirvana Tantra
Jacqui Morris contact : https://www.abfabyoga.com/
©Jacqui Morris , May 2023
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