Meditation has been a consistent practice for me for many years. I have tried many different techniques with varying degrees of success at quieting my mind. I developed the habit of rising quite early in the morning to practice. I have three sons, and learned early on that I would improve my chances of success if I practiced before they woke up.
So it was that I rose at about 5 AM a few days ago. I moved a bit to wake up my body, and then sat on my meditation bench. A few minutes later, one of my cats began to meow. Oh right, I usually feed them before I sit. Feed the cats. Sit. Then noises from the kitchen. My oldest son could not sleep and had decided to make pancakes for himself. Well, at least he’s cooking. Back to the bench. And then very soon a tapping at the door of my meditation space. Seriously? It’s 5 AM! My youngest son had had a nightmare and was frightened . What is a yogini to do? My life would not allow me to renunciate.
There are two great movements in yoga, pravritti and nivritti. In very general terms, pravritti means to turn into the movements of the mind and daily life. Nivritti means to turn away from the same. This is the great debate between the path of renunciates and householders. Renunciates are people who renounce familial life. Householders are the rest of us with families and careers.
“What debate?” you might ask. We all know that true spiritual aspirants are the renunciates off meditating in some sort of metaphorical cave. Patanjali wrote in the Yoga Sutra 1.2, Yogas citta vrtti nirodhah— Yoga is calming the fluctuations of the mind. This is nivritti thought. It is commonly interpreted as willful control of the mind and detachment from the distractions of daily life. It is a powerful path, and is the path most frequently taught.
But is it the only path? The goddess-centered traditions tend to be more for householders. For example, rajanaka yoga teaches that the path of yoga is to engage fully with life. This is pravritti though.
So, what is a yogini to do? I chose to feed the cat, say hello to my pancake making son, and snuggle in bed to hear about the nightmare with my youngest son. Then I put in ear plugs and sat for a brief but powerful meditation session. The meditation continued throughout the day. The sky was bluer, the sun brighter, and people more friendly. I felt completely integrated. Love seemed to ooze from my skin.
There are times when nivritti yoga is appropriate, and times when we are better served with pravritti practices. Of course, the answer is a balance between the two. After all, this is yoga.
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