Smooth Sailing in a Turbulent Sea

Now that over a week has past since the shooting in Tucson, we may be thinking that things are getting back to normal. Unfortunately, a regularly recurring cycle of senseless violence is normal; it goes on perpetually – if not in Tucson, then certainly somewhere. Some acts of violence make a bigger impact on us than others just as some waves in the ocean are bigger than others, but the ocean is normally full of waves.


yas tu sarvani bhutany  –  atmany evanupasyati /

sarva-bhuteshu catmanam  –  tato na vijugupsate //

“One who sees everything in relation to the Supreme Being, who sees all living entities as parts and parcels of the Supreme, and who sees the Supreme Being within everything never hates anything or any being.”

Sri Isopanisad 6

So how do we understand ‘normal’ when ‘normal’ is so nuts? And if yogic vision means seeing the Supreme Being in everything, how do we see the Supreme Being in a crazy world? An exceptionally devotional person may see everything, even catastrophe, as God’s mercy, but that’s an extraordinary level of spiritual vision; I think most of us would find that concept challenging. In fact, this kind of event often gives people a reason to turn away from the idea of an all knowing, all powerful, all just and merciful Supreme Controller of events.

Turning to yoga philosophy might not make it any easier if you think that people get what’s coming to them according to their karma; sounds too much like blaming the victim. Do bad things happen to good people because they were bad in a previous life? Playing the karmic consequences card can seem like a justification for indifference to suffering; most of us will find that unacceptable, too.

One thing we can learn from such events is that we’re not in control.  We’re forced, under such circumstances, to admit the limits of our power to control things or even to understand them. This is just an acknowledgment of reality, not a judgment of our inadequacies. And this is a healthy thing for our own sanity and for the health of our society. As David Brooks put it in a recent New York Times commentary, “Civility is the natural state for people who know how limited their own individual powers are.”

I agree: civility is the natural state for one who is humble, and humility is the natural state of a person with spiritual vision. Yoga is a practice that’s meant to open our spiritual eyes, so we can assess the quality of our yoga practice by asking ourselves a simple question; do my attitude and behavior indicate that I’m cultivating a mood of humility?

If the answer is no then it might be that you’re just too humble to admit how humble you are.

Humility comes from the Latin word “humus” which means “down to earth”. It means being in touch with reality as opposed to being stupefied by delusions of grandeur. Often mistaken for low self-esteem or meek behavior, humility simply means not being anxious to be honored by others. In fact, real humility empowers us to act very boldly and confidently in service to a cause greater than our selves. A humble yogi can rise to any occasion and perform any task fearlessly in a mood of service when the situation calls for it.

Will the world still be crazy if we seek to serve others without any expectation of recognition for our efforts? Yup. But working in a mood of selfless service tends to affect our vision; we might start to see the Supreme Being in everything, even a crazy world. And that can change our motivation: we may feel inspired to offer our service to that Supreme Being whom we see within the world rather than just to the world itself. This, in turn, has the potential to illuminate our relationship with the Supreme Being, which can then inform and energize our service to the world. By consciously entering into a relationship with the Supreme through the medium of humble service we can experience the mystic potency of devotional yoga: smooth sailing through the tumultuous waves of a crazy world.

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