The Yoga Centre I went to had an American Swami leading it. A tall guy who was full of life and joy. On a weekend retreat I joined, I had a conversation with him about my path and where I had gone, which was towards atheism, and away from religion. I moved to the UK for two gap years between school and university, and was introduced to a much more secular society. When I got back to Cape Town, it was the other extreme. A lot of my fellow students were both very religious, and very evangelical, and I found that difficult in terms of tolerance and allowing for other people’s ways of thinking. It pushed me away and toward a (watered down) Richard Dawkins's “God Delusion” view.
I did a lot of reading and had to unpack my own relationship and history with religion. By the time I got to Yoga, I was resistant to things like singing. I didn’t do the chants. I had stopped saying the Lord’s Prayer and no longer resonated with the church songs I had grown up singing. It was hard to sing words I didn’t literally believe in.
In the conversation with the Swami, he explained the philosophy around different paths. His was a non-combative approach that didn’t claim to understand everything. It is not some truth you are wrestling with, that someone else knows. You are grappling with the vastness. There was a recognition of the human limits of ability to deal with the unfathomable. There were four different paths.
Karma Yoga is the path of action. Where you are able to park your anxiety and focus on contribution through getting stuff that needs doing done. A Bahkti Yogi may find stillness in art, music, creativity, love, relationships and worship. A Raja Yogi targets stilling the waves directly through mental exercises, meditation, and breathwork. The Jnana Yogi is more intellectual with stillness as a cognitive journey coming through study, philosophy, and knowledge. Searching for and finding moments of stillness through and within discussion and reading, in a similar way to what I had been doing in a Christian setting, but without my internal antagonism.
Interestingly, that conversation with the Swami helped me both make peace with my lack of belief, and to re-engage constructively with the Christianity and the community that I had largely walked away from. One with whom I was not in conflict with, but merely using different tools from.