I didn't think I'd have so much trouble living by this rule! It's not entirely the nature of the guideline that has given me trouble, I just got extremely busy in June (and now July as I finally sit down to write this) and didn't prioritize this project. Because of my time mismanagement, I repeated the month, and even after two months of attempting to at least think about--if not fully live by-- the concepts of Brahmacharya, I've concluded that I am incredibly human and nowhere near close to godly. God and I don't seem to run in the same circles. But lucky for me, Brahmacharya aims to remind me that God is in everyone and everything, myself included, and it's up to me to recognize it. So that's what I tried to do. Sort of.
Brahmacharya is the 'jewel' (as Adele refers to these guidelines) of non-excess. I already try to practice minimalism where I can. The only thing I really like in excess is spiciness in my food, so this should have been an easy month. Many translations of Brahmacharya in action distill it down to celibacy, a severely limited view of a very broad topic. Excess in anything--work, food, exercise, socializing, sex, booze, sleep, shopping--robs the joy from the very thing that we set out to enjoy. Adele says that this "is often the result of forgetting the sacredness of life...It [Brahmacharya] literally means, 'walking with God'''. If we regarded each moment as holy and life-giving, we wouldn't be so susceptible to overdoing anything because we would respect and revere it all so much.
Right. Sounds easy.
The real yogis strive to be always aware of the point of 'enough': "there is a moment of time when we reach the perfect limit of what we are engaged in". Us normal people seem to be getting further and further away from being able to recognize that point of just right--and dip into the side of excess, even if just a tiny bit, wearing away the pleasure we first experienced. For example, having that one more drink that winds up giving us a hangover, or taking a second (or third) helping of a delicious dish that then makes our belly hurt. Or buying a new version of something we already own, using money we can't afford to spend.
Why do we do this? According to Adele, it's because we have tied an emotional fulfillment to a physical need, like eating, that we then may form an addiction-like attachment to, in an effort to recreate or refill that emotional experience or reward.
My translation of Adele's translation: We are bored.
And unfulfilled. And looking for a hit of excitement or a feeling of satisfaction, however brief, because our existence is shallow. A spiritual person would probably say that the cause of this malaise is a lack of spiritual connection.
Or maybe I'm just speaking for myself.
I already recorded my first week of living by Brahmacharya so below are the challenges and results for weeks 2-4.
Week 2 challenges me to live in non-excess, which is something I equally need and don't need to be reminded of. I am to try to do everything I do only to the point of 'just enough', notice when I get to that point, and then stop. I am to live by Japanese Buddhist monk Gensei's words that "The point of life is to know what is enough".
My first attempt at doing this fell while I was still on vacation, which is usually meant for overindulgences in all the things, especially eating, drinking, sleeping, spending money, and being slovenly. And that's what I did that week, for the most part. In my second month of applying this rule, I made a much truer attempt to cut back on coffee and booze, and was quite successful in both areas. I feel much better and it was much easier to cut back my coffee consumption from about 6+ cups a day to 2 or less than I anticipated.
I also said 'no' to a few social engagements, knowing they would result in me feeling worn down and regretful. I am learning when I don't need something: don't need another glass of wine, don't need to go to the gym, don't need to meet up with someone after work, or watch another episode of 90-Day Fiancee, or read another page of a book, or buy another pair of yoga pants. Asking myself if I NEED something has helped me put it in perspective and think about how I'll feel about the decision after the fact. The unfortunate flip side of this reasoning is that when I decide to keep going past the point of enough, I totally beat myself up for it and have regrets disproportionate to the deed.
Week 3 asks me to see god everywhere and notice the beliefs and judgements that limit my ability to see god in all people and things.
This is where things get sticky for me. The path of yoga is the path to union with the divine, so "god" in whatever form I see it as taking, is inescapable. As a child and up through about 14 years old, I had a tumultuous and overall negative experience with religion and god. So I pretty much stopped thinking about god or even considering whether or not I believed in any god or trying to ascribe qualities to it. Too much of my formative years were spent having god held over my head and in my conscious as a threatening force of punishment, so I haven't been willing to devote any further time or headspace to reformulating my concept of god. But if I'm genuinely trying to walk this path or engage fully in this experiment I've set up for myself, I have to contend with my thoughts and feeling on god; I have to at least start thinking about it again.
However, I am able to separate the concepts of 'god' from things that fall in the realm of 'divine', so this is how I went about this week's challenge. I tried to jump to the conclusion that everyone I encountered was friendly and well-intentioned. And this optimistic approach kept my interactions positive and allowed me to avoid ruminating over a run-in with an annoying or pushy person; I was more easily able to let these interactions go, rather than ruminating on what an asshole everyone is.
This week's challenge also forced me to examine the fact that I say "namaste" (=the god in me recognizes/bows down to the god in you) several times a week and to ask myself if I really mean it when I say it. The answer is 'no' because I can say it to a class only seconds after being totally irritated by the girl in the front doing her own practice and not following the class I'm teaching, or by the ones who came in late or are looking at their Apple watches during class. .I'm not seeing the divine in them at the second that they negatively catch my attention. Turns out it's very hard to retrain my brain to assume the good first in a person's action that annoys me.
What was easy to see god in this week was my son as he continues to explore the world and build his vocabulary to express his feelings and discoveries. It was easy to see god in the ocean and trees that I was lucky enough to visit. It was easy to feel god when on a good run outdoors, or in the air when it's a perfect evening temperature and I'm sitting in my tiny backyard before the mosquitos come out to bite me. It's easy to see god in nature when nature is doing what I want it to do. But can I see god 6 months from now when it's 20 degrees and dark by 4pm? That's the goal.
Week 4 hit me right where I don't want to be hit, by asking me to contemplate my own divinity and ask myself if I'm "willing to be sacred". Adele assigns me to write down three practices that connect me to my passion and sacredness.
So here they are:
1. My yoga practice. It has taken a MAJOR hit since having a kid and having my life hijacked and my time dominated by caring for him. I used to practice at least 5 or 6 times a week between classes and home practice. Nowadays I'm lucky if I get to class more than once a month or practice at home other than prepping for a class, which is more work than practice. I decided to prioritize my own asana practice and it's been going well. In fact, I'm on a yoga retreat as I write this entry.
2. My meditation practice. Also something I'm always trying to solidify, stick to, and prioritize. It's an ongoing battle and writing it down and giving energy to it helps. I've increased my practice by close to 80% or more. Most weeks, anyway.
3. My running. I've been dealing with an injury for almost a year now that has forced me to decrease my miles but has also to some degree decreased my joy for, mostly because it's painful and not as easy as it has been in the past. What I could do is re-vamp my physical therapy treatment and re-prioritize healing the injury so that I can return to the practice that brings me so much satisfaction and connects me to myself and the miracle that is my body.
Although I am genuinely grateful every day for my body and what it can do, I don't always treat it as though it is divine. I put bad stuff in it. I rob it of adequate rest. I don't use all of the resources available to me to help it heal or keep it optimally healthy and safe. I don't always wear a helmet when I bike or scooter. I don't always give it enough nutrients and I sometimes give it too much of things that aren't beneficial. I'm 41 now and I'm only just starting to understand that this young, strong, healthy body is not permanent. It's up to me to take care of it so that it continues to support me in everything I want to do. I can treat my body better, treat it as something sacred and miraculous.
Conclusions on living according to Brahmacharya
I think I am more mindful of recognizing when I've reached the point of 'just right' or 'enough'. I still often go past that point and sometimes hate myself for it, but I would say that scenario has decreased a good amount. It's a constant challenge, but I'm more familiar with it now, and am getting better at being okay with enough and stopping the action before veering into excess.
I have not made any progress on reorganizing my thoughts on god. But I'm more okay with the mystery and with accepting that just my existence may be proof that god is not only a thing, but that it is in all things.