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July 2015 - Yoga and The Gold Rush

Dear Yoga Friends,

I recently had the good fortune to spend a week in California's Gold Country, where I logged this journal entry:

I lie on my back on a stone picnic table near the river bank, gazing up at clouds lit by the setting sun. Great gauzy filaments and textured clusters of white drift across my field of view. The sun-warmed stone table feels almost but not quite too hot as a breeze wafts upstream. An aspen tree projects branches into a patch of dark blue sky, its leaves catching the wind in fluttering patterns of light and dark green. A leafless section of the tree rises higher above the green, and a flock of birds roosts on the bare branches. Something startles the birds, their chirping ceases abruptly, and eleven birds fly off, leaving still branches silhouetted against calm blue and white. The sky slowly reddens, and a bright gibbous moon rises over trees to the east. Did things here appear this way five generations before me? Around that time, about a half-mile downstream, a man discovered gold near a lumber mill, and the gold rush was on.

If I learned there were a lump of gold under the table, would I have quickly abandon that special moment to jump down and grab it? Probably. What gives gold its value? Well, it's brightly colored, doesn't rust or tarnish, and is easily shaped. Also it is relatively rare. Could it be that these qualities of gold help connect us with a sense of eternity and immortality, qualities that otherwise elude us? Or do we just want more money so we can own more stuff? Or maybe these desires are related in some way?

In Patanjali's ashtanga yoga, one of the five yamas (practices of restraint which allow us to coexist with one another) is aparigraha, or non-greediness. About this he wrote Sutra II.39 (translation from Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali by B.K.S. Iyengar):

Knowledge of past and future lives unfolds when one is free from greed for possessions.

Why should non-greediness lead to knowledge of past and future lives? Now maybe you believe in reincarnation, or maybe you don't, but in either case, "knowledge of past and future lives" must refer to something very basic about the nature of our existence and the consequences of our behavior. When we begin to be less driven by acquiring possessions or things we don't really need, then perhaps we automatically start becoming more driven to understand our true nature and purpose.

Most of us are wrapped up to some extent in earning money and acquiring things, and life requires us to pay attention to these matters. But in those moments of grace when we let go of that, something else happens, some kind of unfolding along the lines of what Patanjali writes.

I welcome your thoughts as always, but please don't ask me how much gold it would take to get me off the picnic table.



Chad Balch