When I was in yoga teacher training, one of my classsmates, Charlie, became the Yoda to my Luke Skywalker.
At the time, he had been practicing yoga and veganism for 25 years, and I was still relatively new to yoga. We ate lunch together at Whole Foods, every other Saturday for five months. He saw potential in me, and I enjoyed his company.
We talked about his wife, my husband, our new dog, yoga, meditation, and food. Charlie was mild-mannered, and easy to tallk to. Most of the time. Every now and then, Charlie would ask a question that totally rocked my world. Forever.
Like the time he casually looked up from his salad, and asked me, “What is your life?”
My mind fumbled for an answer. I told him that my life was working at my marketing job, spending time with my husband, walking the dog, and practicing yoga.
Without flinching, Charlie said, “That’s your history. What is is your life?”
I could feel my face getting warmer, as I squirmed in my seat. I considered the question again, and finally told him that my life was about helping people heal, and becoming the best person I can be.
He looked at me through his soft gaze, and said, “No, Amber. Your life is not what you did yesterday, or what you hope to do tomorrow. Your life is what is happening now. Right here, at this table. Eating this food, talking to me, this is your life. You can’t change what happened yesterday, and you can’t control what will happen tomorrow. But you can command how you live in each moment. This is you living, right here, right now.”
It took me a couple of days to process what that meant, but once I did, it changed everything I believed about who I was. I realized that I had been clinging to the traumas of my past, and letting them define me.
Charlie’s question taught me that we are not really living, if we are preoccupied with what was, and what might be. It helped me cultivate awareness, and inspired me to seek that feeling of just being in my yoga practice. And the more I learned how to just be on my mat, the sweeter life became off my mat.
This is what the seventh limb of yoga, dhyana, is all about. Practicing the art of living in the moment. It is what happens in meditation, when we are no longer forcing our attention to a single point, and we are being without doing. Our minds are aware of what is happening, but we are not reacting to any of it. We are living in the now, and there is room for God to fill our mind, body and spirit.
The discipline of dhyana helps us live a more full life. It teaches us awareness, and cultivates gratitude. We learn to value stillness. It’s finally ok to just be. And we notice things we have not noticed in the past. The sky is bluer, the flowers smell sweeter, and we feel grateful for the day we have been given.
It is the most peaceful feeling we can experience, to be in the moment, but not of the moment. Thankfully, it doesn’t just have to happen on our yoga mat. We can practice dhyana all day long, by paying attention, and not reacting, to the world around us.
I’ll never forget Charlie’s face, and what a relief it was to realize that I had the power to change my story. By practicing dhayana on my mat, I learned what it means to really live.
What’s your story? Could dhyana make it different?