Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Holey Groups

I started Yoga very much a sceptic. At first it was just a way to keep fit indoors, but I was attracted to the focus on psychology and happiness. I was reading books like The Happiness Hypothesis, Stumbling on Happiness, and Mind Tricks at the time. All spoke of the virtues of yoga and meditation. Having distanced myself from self-labelling as part of any religious group, and trying to figure things out myself, I was a little worried about the apparent religious appearance of the Yoga centre I enjoyed. Most Yoga that I had seen adapted itself quite dramatically to western culture and was very much focused on the exercise. While the exercise was appealing to me, I also enjoyed the psychology element. The focus of the Yoga I chose was stilling/ controlling/ understanding/ observing the mind.

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Knowing I was a thorny character in general both at work & in play, I figured that I could 'pull a Bruce Lee' and take the good bits while guarding against anything I thought was silly. This was very much along the 'Mind Tricks' approach Derren Brown (@DerrenBrown) follows. He is a magician/mentalist who tells you upfront that he is going to trick you, then tricks you. If a trick works and is useful, I am of the view that you should try and use it. Hypnosis is a good example. All it really is is a state of intense relaxation and being open to suggestion. You hand over control of decisions to someone else. This brings you closer to being able to do all the things you can do, because you are also handing over the artificial barriers you create. The things you think you can't do, but can. Yoga can be seen as a form of self-hypnosis.

Fortunately for me, I found that my worldview was entirely compatible with the Yoga I chose. Refreshingly, this didn't mean I agreed with everything they said. It meant that part of what they say is that everyone comes at the world from a unique perspective. Many of these perspectives are similar, and it is very unusual to have a unique problem. It is more likely to have a unique set of problems. So we can learn from each other. Broadly, they talk about the four paths of yoga. It is not a stretch to equate this to four paths to happiness.

1. Karma Yoga - Action
Some people will find happiness through finding a task or job that fulfils them. They won't look to read widely, develop lots of relationships, or get too bothered with thoughts bubbling around in there head. 

2. Bhakti Yoga - Devotion or Divine Love
Some people are inherently religious. They think predominantly through emotion. To many prayer, worship and ritual are the way they find happiness. Music and Art can also fall in this category. While creative pursuits may be work (Karma Yoga), sometimes they are done simply to create beauty or lift the spirit.

3. Raja Yoga - Mind 
The chief practice of Raja Yoga is meditation. For some, a life dedicated to controlling their thoughts and being able concentrate their senses can be deeply fulfilling.

4. Jnana Yoga - Knowledge
This path is a focus on knowledge or wisdom. Some will find happiness through reading widely, challenging their thoughts and beliefs and looking for consistency. It involves the study of what others have learnt and helping push our collective understanding forward.

Why I found this framework useful is that it helped me recover from the belief that someone had figured it out already and I just needed to understand. That wasn't the way it worked for me. I had never felt I understood and I had never met someone able to explain things to me in a way that I understood. This system meant that whatever you believed, whether you were Atheist, Catholic, Protestant, Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist or preferred no label - the path to happiness or the path of happiness could be practical. Eat well. Exercise well. Breathe properly. Make time to Relax. Think Positively. Invest in Relationships. Find something Meaningful to do.

The challenge is realising that we all come at it from different perspectives. The great thing is that while we all look at things differently, I have found that most people look at some things the same as me. Most people have an insight into something that I have missed and can help. Listening to peoples stories is a great guide to happiness.

There are great moral leaders and people who have lots to give who are cut off from others because they are defined in a group. Just like borders between countries, sometimes borders between groups aren't helpful. If groups were more holey rather than holy, and we could help each other out - I think we would take big steps forward and fall asleep smiling far more often.

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