Sraddha: Developing the faith that you are going in the right direction
(sraddha virya smriti samadhi prajna purvaka itaresham)
The Yoga Sutras describe two types of people. There are those who are pretty close to reaching samadhi, or ultimate realization, and are on their last incarnation on this physical plane. And then there are the rest of us mortals, folks like me and maybe you, who are on the nose-to-the-grindstone path to yogic bliss. For us, the Sutras describe five qualities needed in our practice. The first is sraddha, faith.
Our faith is waning. When I started thinking about sraddha, I googled “faith,” just to see what Daniel Webster had to say about it (“complete confidence or trust in someone or something,” for the record). Google also gives a little line graph of the use of the word over time, and faith was at an all-time high in about 1850, and has been declining slowly but steadily ever since. This doesn’t really surprise me.
I didn’t grow up religious, but I had a God phase when I was a teenager. In the stretch of years from about thirteen to seventeen, I took myself to church multiple times a week. I was seeking connection to something larger, some way to make sense of the madness of this world, and the church filled that need. And I truly, deeply believed. But at some point, the incongruencies and hypocrisies of the church started to add up to something I didn’t want to be a part of, and my faith began to splinter. I remember laying on my bed in my boarding school dorm room, weeping with uncertainty. Faith seemed like leaping into the abyss, and I was no longer convinced I’d survive the fall.
Fast forward fifteen years, and I am still not religious, but faith is present in my life. This year I have been surprised by the pull to actively cultivate faith--in my yoga practice, and mostly in my relationship. I’ve been with my partner for three years this week. This is my longest relationship thus far. When we hit about a year and a half, the stage at which I have always ended previous relationships, I totally panicked. In the past, this was about the point when all the reasons this relationship wouldn’t work in the long run started to show themselves, and I’ve prided myself on having the objectivity to see these red flags clearly. But at a certain point, my pragmatism became a liability.
I talked with an old friend, married with a baby, about her relationship. I asked her if she ever thought about what would happen if she and her husband ever divorced. No, she said, surprised. That doesn’t really occur to me. I think about what would happen if he died, though. I was flabbergasted. How, I asked, could it not occur to her that their relationship might end? And she said, I don’t know, I just trust that it won’t. I have faith in us.
Faith is the net we must string from our own hearts to the heart of the world in order to get out of bed in the morning.
So I’ve been cultivating faith. Faith no longer seems like stupidity or denial, but instead seems like the net we must string from ourselves to each other, and from our own hearts to the heart of the world, in order to keep loving each other, in order to keep getting out of bed in the morning. I have faith that my partnership could last into some distant point in the future neither one of us can see yet. Faith that we’ll both keep trying our hardest, and learning, and growing. Faith that our efforts are taking us in the right direction.
P.S. If you want real-life tools for cultivating both pragmatism and possibility, consider my New Year's workshop, HEARTSPARK: Embodied Visions for 2016. I'd love to see you there!