I was inspired to re-delve into the eight limbs from reading a passage of Dogen’s in the collection “Moon in a Dewdrop”. It’s only fitting that in coming to the most popular of the eight limbs – asana – we investigate through Dogen’s lens with an excerpt from the Genjo Koan – Acutalizing the Fundamental Point. (Click here and here to read more about Sthira Sukham Asanam)
“A fish swims in the ocean and no matter how far it swims,
there is no end to the water.
A bird flies in the sky and no matter how far it flies,
there is no end to the air.
However, the bird and the fish have never left their elements”
Which is not to ask; Have you explored outside your comfort zone? But rather; Have you gone past your beneficial boundaries? Have you overextended yourself? Have you spent an inordinate amount of time being your social self, without sinking into your original self?
Yes. We do it all the time. Usually, we are aware only after we’ve returned, when we say things such as, “I feel like myself again.”
So the next question arises; Do you know what nurtures you? What reinforces you being in your element?
When I personally think about things that do – for example, studying with my teachers, it’s not remembering the details. It’s not, per se, their teachings, advice or philosophy. It’s remembering how it feels to be around them, who I am when I’ve been around them, and how that extends out afterwards. It’s a place that holds space for me to both work on myself, and be myself.
Can we allow sthira sukham to be recast from a command to be steady and joyful, to a reminder of who you are when you are steady and joyful, when you’re in your element?
“When their activity is large, their field is large, when their need or activity is small, their field is small”
What is your field? Sometimes it’s the universe of the breath, sometimes the yoga mat, sometimes the neighborhood, sometimes it’s the whole world. At those times, it’s not your office, nor your home. When it is your office or your home, it is not the yoga room.
Sometimes life is huge, and you are called upon to fill it all, and yoga asks you to do so staying in your element. You are party planner, host, mother of two small children, best friend of a friend in need, and wife all at the same evening event. You are a manager of employees, yourself an employee, responsible for the success of a project that is dictated by another, and need to figure out the IT situation preventing the work from being done, all in the same half hour.
How do we fill large fields, or let go into small fields, with sthira and sukham? First – find your element. From there – realize that you act within your field for the sake of that action, with success or failure not mattering either way. The Bhagavad Gita shares this wisdom. But it’s only philosophy until you do it. Until you stand in honest presence before your field, grounded with both feet in your element, and decide the field and the whole way out to the horizon do not depend on what you get, or don’t get.
Try it on the practice field of asana. Internally stand before the pose (field), find your sthira sukham beginning with an exhale (element), and imagine doing the asana perfectly, but invisible. No one will know, you will have no feedback or barometer for how it went. All you will be left with was how you existed in your element, in that field, in that moment.
“Thus the bird and the fish totally covers their full range and totally experiences their life”
Michael Stone says nothing obstructs steadiness and joy (enlightenment) more than believing it is outside of you and your life.
Rumi (2061) says
Give yourself a kiss.
If you live in China, don’t look
somewhere else, in Tibet, or Mongolia.
If you want to hold the beautiful one,
hold yourself to yourself.
When you kiss the Beloved,
touch your own lips with your own fingers.
The beauty of every woman and every man
is your own beauty.
The confusion of your hair
obscures that sometimes.
An artist comes to paint you
and stands with his mouth open.
Your love reveals your beauty,
but all covering would disappear
if only for a moment your holding-back
would sit before your generosity
“Sir, who are you?”
Shams’ life-changing face
gives you a wink.