The Yoga of Community (Sangha)
The definition of “Yoga” is “Union”. In a traditional sense, it is the seeking of the “re-unification of the individual self with the One Universal Supreme Self”. Yoga is a path of Self-Discovery and self-improvement. There are a wide variety of practices that can benefit us in most any area of our lives when we know what they are and how to apply them.
In another sense, Yoga is really an exploration of our relationship to Self, to others, and to the world. We can come to see our limitations and strengths. We can use it to experience the fruits and rewards of self-discipline. We can observe and celebrate our own progress and growth.
The concept of “Union” also implies that something is being joined together, or “re-joined”. While the ultimate “Union” of Yoga is thought to be the final “union of the individual self with the Supreme Self”, the process of Yoga proceeds along a path of many smaller “union” points along the way.
In Tantra we talk about the re-unification of “Shiva” and “Shakti”. The Masculine and Feminine aspects of the unfolding universe. They are said to live within our own Self also. This isn’t really about gender, so much as it is about a set of principles. Like “yin and yang” from the Chinese philosophy, it points to a set of principles that can seem in opposition to eachother that must be understood, reconciled and re-integrated into an experience of wholeness.
While the final philosophical intention relates to the workings of the Self as “Consciousness”, this principle of Shiva and Shakti, or apparent opposites shows up everywhere in our life. We can understand it to be a metaphor for the Dualistic nature of life with all of its many sets of opposites: hot/cold, light/dark, good/bad, etc.
There is also a set of opposites that becomes quite important in our search. That is the notion of “self and other”. According to Yoga, all of our conflicts, challenges and suffering arise out of this dualistic experience, and especially that of “self and other”. It is our relationships with other aspects of life and other people that create the greatest sources of frustration, heart ache and conflict for most people. Yoga is an invitation to resolve those conflicts within our own Self.
From a young age, our interactions with others begin to teach us by conditioning and habit from our own experience what is “safe” within relationship to others. We may learn that discussing certain topics within our family or community is not acceptable, and thus we learn to avoid those topics, even if they are dear to our hearts. We may learn that it is not safe to express our emotions. We may try to tell someone about our hopes and dreams only to have them mocked, and so we decide they are not worthy of pursuing.
Over time, without even realizing it, we create an internal “monitoring system” that hides parts of us away from being seen by others. Hidden because past experience has shown these parts could be rejected, mocked, or misunderstood. And along with this “locking away” often comes an unconscious feeling that these parts of ourselves are not “good enough” or worthy of being honored. If they were rejected by others, then they must be “bad”.
Clearly everyone’s story is different, but life experience will show that even the most successful and confident people in the world will usually, at least at some point in their lives have some inner places that have been rejected based upon how they imagine others will react.
Because of these common life experiences, many people guard themselves in relationships. Sometimes we become so guarded that even in our closest relationships we can feel that sharing our feelings, hopes, dreams, desires, fantasies, etc is not safe in some or many areas of our inner world. For instance, we may tell others what we think they want to hear instead of being honest about our own thoughts and feelings. We may fail to share some dream we have because we assume it won’t be supported.
Certainly, the guarding makes sense. It was learned at a time when it was truly not safe. It was a proper defense mechanism then. And certainly there are still situations today that it would not be wise to share certain aspects of ourselves with specific people or groups or in specific situations. But sometimes we still feel that we can’t safely be ourselves in any situation. The result is that we aren’t even able to be truly comfortable with our own Self.
Because of this, some people never really know what a truly intimate supportive friendship or relationship can feel like. We become so used to living with things “unsaid”, that we can’t imagine what the freedom of a different type of relationship could offer. When we can find a safe, supportive friend or community, and we can begin to slowly and consciously share our hopes, dreams, fears, self-judgment, past experiences, etc with others and have them be seen, heard, supported and embraced as a part of who we are, a dramatic healing can take place. A renewed sense of self acceptance, confidence and joy can arise.
There is a notion in Yoga called “Sangha”. It originally was a term in Buddhism that referred to a community of Monks or spiritual seekers. A more modern interpretation, however, is a community of people who share any common vision and goal. That goal may simply be “to allow each person to discover and express their deepest Self, and to support and honor each person’s individual desires and needs for happiness and wholeness.”
There is true power in shared experience within a supportive Community, whether it is sharing the practices on the Yoga Mat, sharing discussions of how yoga benefits your life, or sharing of the deepest parts of our once hidden Self. For a practical purpose, it is also the ability to share with other like-minded people a set of philosophies, practices and goals that other circles of friends and relationships may not fully understand. However it shows up, “Sangha” is the sharing of a journey together within community which both honors and celebrates each individual’s unique expressions and personal goals, while also supporting a greater vision of consciously seeking and supporting the growth and wholeness of the community itself, however that may look for each person.
The “Sangha” by definition is usually a Conscious community where the rules and experience within it often run counter to common culture. It supports the undoing of our fears and allows each person to bring themselves into the light of self-accepting awareness. It allows a supportive environment to practice and explore the principles of more conscious living, healing and personal growth. It allows each person to have others who can celebrate their successes and growth with them. It allows a safe place to have our inner thoughts, feelings, hopes and dreams heard and honored. It allows a conscious community support of learning how to be in healthy, supportive intimate relationships. It gives us the safe space to work through the fears of revealing ourselves more fully. We learn about true intimacy with Self and others, and how to set safe boundaries both within the acceptance of the Community and in the world outside that community.
We learn that our voice does matter. And that there are safe places to be ourselves. That when we share what is going on in us, that others are given a chance to respond in a way that can support us or bring clarification for our confusion. Without your voice being heard others don’t have the information to know what you need or simply to celebrate it with you. We learn that our opinion can matter. We learn that others often can relate to the experiences, thoughts and feelings that we are most afraid to share. We learn we are not alone. We learn that while there are unique things about us, that in many ways we are more similar to others than we realized. And when that happens, everyone can set aside the old game, and just celebrate the unfolding journey together.
Tantra is really much more about creating loving, honoring relationships with Self, others and the world than about “sex”. When we learn to experience the freedom of self-love, and self-acceptance, and have that reflected back to us my a lover, a friend or a community, then the protected places hidden within are given the freedom to come to the surface. When they are finally seen and acknowledged, the fear and the self-judgment can melt away, giving this part of ourselves freedom to open, to move and to express itself. This new movement is then reflected within the energy that we are seeking to cultivate and understand through the Tantric Kundalini practices.
I know for myself, finally having the chance to explore this kind of Conscious community support, where I could literally share anything I was thinking, feeling or had done, where I could safely ask any question that I thought would help me know myself better, and where many of the “superficial” ways of interacting could be set aside allowing for a deeper knowing of others, was an incredibly powerful part of my own healing journey. I learned that more often that not, what I was afraid to share, or the question I was afraid to ask was really about my own self-judgement. To reveal it and see that it was accepted, to feel that I was still honored gave me a reflected experience of the Love I deserved and should be giving my own Self. It was cleansing. And now that I understand the power of Conscious Community, my life is richer for it.
Like much of Yoga, the introduction to being in Conscious community can feel at first like a “practice”. We have to learn by doing it how to open into and navigate within it. But the more we practice, the more natural it becomes. The more it simply becomes reflected as an inner support of Self-Love and Self-acceptance that goes with you everywhere. You know that you are worthy of love, and that who you are is beautiful and should be seen by the world.
It is true that when we first begin to share in this way, that in can feel unsafe. But within a Conscious Community, there is an invitation to begin to push past the fear and, however slowly you need to go, intentionally share your “unedited” Self within the community. It is a healing experience for all involved.
Sometimes when we don’t have a reference for something by our own experience it can be hard to see or understand the value of the benefits, or the “risk to reward” ratio. Instead we just think “I don’t need that”, or “it doesn’t feel safe” or “it’s not for me.” I speak from direct experience to say “It is worth it.”
There is a quote I ran across that I think is true to my experience as well. “Anything I’ve ever done that ultimately was worthwhile… initially scared me to death.” – Betty Bender
I found that quote while trying to remember another quote that came to my mind, but I couldn’t remember the exact phrasing. I will leave you with the original quote that came to mind:
“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” – Anais Nin