Isolation can be an incredibly difficult process for all living beings. Spending extended periods of time confined in a house, apartment or cage can affect us negatively mentally, physically, and spiritually. This can affect us not only in the short term but can have long-lasting implications if positive actions are not taken to reintegrate. We are social creatures; we thrive when we are around others with whom we can give and receive love, as this is our true nature. While there is something to be said for taking time for ourselves, it is a completely different situation when the choice of being around others is taken away by an unforeseen circumstance.
Modern technology didn’t miss a beat when it came time to fill the void of business meetings and social gatherings. We can now virtually visit with our friends and participate in yoga classes with our favorite instructors around the world, all from the comfort of our own home. For many, this has resulted in a period that allowed for a very deep period of self-study; a deepening of our practice. What a convenience it is to not have to pack our mat, clothing and hop on a bicycle to ride to the yoga studio, arriving early enough to secure our favorite spot. Now, all we need do is reserve a class ahead of time, log on to our chosen application and we are practicing just like before.
Well, maybe not just like before. We all know that feeling of coming to our local studio, seeing the smiles from those who we recognize and meeting those who are new to us. The joy we feel when the teacher walks to the front of the class and our worries from the day start to dissipate, and that unmistakable feeling when we all come together in our shared practice, moving towards yoga. Do you remember that feeling when you become completely absorbed in the class, everyone is moving together and the breath of those around you is inspiring you to release deeper into your own practice? Some things just cannot be replicated through online meetings, no matter how convenient they may be.
Satsang, in Sanskrit sat, meaning truth, or that which does not change and sang, a limb or connection, is a gathering of those who are commonly united in their goal of moving towards the eternal truth of yoga. This truth is the understanding that there is no separation, the state, as Shri Brahmananda Sarasvati said, where you are missing nothing. But in order to attain this state of missing nothing, we must, through the strength of our fellow truth-seekers, move away from attachment. Attachment to the new comfort we may have found through a strictly online practice, attachment to instant online connections, but most importantly, attachment to separation. When we move away from attachment to comfort and come together as a community, we see further attachment that must be released: the attachment of identifying with the body and the mind as who we really are. Once this occurs, we start to identify with the I-Am, being the witness, without any conditions attached to it. When we come together in a room with those who share their desire for satya, the truth, we see that this community cannot be replicated by any online medium. Satya is one of the Yamas, the foundation of the eight-limbs of yoga, and the best way to build a strong foundation is with plenty of support.
Lockdowns will eventually come to an end, and with the proper precautions we will be able to meet in-person with those who we may not have seen for a long time. But many of us may have difficulty in leaving the comfort of our homes and becoming social again. Now, of course, we must take all precautions to ensure that we put our health, and the health of those around us, as the top priority. But we also must remember that being social, being outdoors and leaving our comfort zone is something that contributes greatly to our well-being.
When the time comes and we can safely practice yoga in a group setting again, perhaps this has already happened in your town, will we be able to leave behind the comfort that we are now so used to? Will we be able to leave behind the ability to practice at any time and exchange it for the joy of practicing with other holy beings? Remember, your satsang is there for you. If you feel you need some help along the way, reach out and surely someone will be there to take your hand, even if it is wrapped in latex.
With the knowledge of this confinement in our heads now we must also remember a further truth. That of the countless billions of animals who spend their entire lives in conditions that are far worse than being locked in our apartments. Often without space to stand up or sit down properly, these poor beings spend a lifetime of abuse living in their own waste, exploited for their flesh and secretions. With this small taste of what these creatures go through, we see their truth, and it is our responsibility to bring their plight to public view and try to end their suffering. After all, it was the confinement and mistreatment of these animals that, in the end, lead to our own confinement.
satsaṅgatve nissaṅgatvaṃ nissaṅgatve nirmohatvam
nirmohatve niścalatattvaṃ niścalatattve jīvanmuktiḥ
bhaja govindaṁ bhaja govindaṁ bhaja govindaṁ mūḍha-mate
—Shri Adi Shankaracharya from Carpata-Panjarika
Good and virtuous company gives rise to non-attachment. From non-attachment comes freedom from delusion. With freedom from delusion, one feels the changeless reality. Experiencing that changeless reality, one attains liberation in this life. I-AM is the ocean of awareness. Realizing this, one feels, “I am not the body and mind, although I have a body and mind.” Realize Govinda, realize Govinda, realize Govinda in your heart, O wise one!
—Interpretation by Shri Brahmananda Sarasvati