Monday, November 21, 2011

All things in Brahmacharya

Thanksgiving is without a doubt my favorite holiday.  Food and gratitude are two of my favorite things, and I always know I'll be seeing wonderful family and friends.

Last night I had the joy of gathering with a whole bunch of my dearest friends from college who all are living in New York now for our second annual (second of many more to come!) CNU Thanksgiving.  There was turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, cornbread, biscuits, pies, wine - the whole nine yards.  I tried not to go overboard, but it was a Thanksgiving dinner, after all, and by about 8:00 everyone in the room was helplessly slumped against the couch and their chairs, full to bursting with delicious food.  We all never wanted to eat again, but we all wanted third helpings at the same time.

It got me thinking about Rolf Gates's passages in Meditations from the Mat concerning the fourth yama, Brahmacharya.  Now, people mostly equate this yama with celibacy or chastity, but the literal translation is "to walk with God."  Gates (and others who study the sutras) look at brahmacharya as, "a call to practice moderation."

When it comes to talking about food, Ahimsa is most likely the yama that will be brought up when discussing with yogis.  Vegetarian and vegan yogis cite this first yama, meaning "non harming," as a reason for not eating meat.  The subject of a light, moderate diet is also a big conversation point in yoga, but I've never really looked at it through the lens of brahmacharya.  We've all heard the phrase, "Moderation in all things" (often tagged with "especially moderation").  Gates isn't suggesting that brahmacharya is unrelated to sex, he's saying that brahmacharya extends as wide as does the concept of moderation.  Both can be applied to food, sex, drinking, spending money, sleep or lack thereof - the list could go on forever.

As Marc and I get ready for the long trek down to my grandma's house in Florida, where rich, glorious, southern food awaits us, I'll be doing my best to remember these following wise passages from Rolf Gates.  Moderation is not about denying yourself from enjoying the food, wine (if you drink), and company - it's about mindfully keeping your body and therefore your mind and spirit happy, healthy, and comfortably nourished instead of overindulged and overtaxed.  It's about slowing down, savoring every bite, and stopping before you get that too-full feeling.

Gates elaborates:

Brahmacharya...gets a very bad rap in our culture.  Most of us associate moderation with repression.  The hero of the story loves the fair maiden, loves her passionately, and then the repressive forces come in to wreck the day.  No one ever seems to dedicate poems, screenplays, or odes to the joys of moderation or the rewards of passionate balance.  As a species we seem unable to see the forest for the trees.  Despite the staggering amount of evidence that excess destroys our dreams, there appears to be a human blind spot when it comes to the possibility that our most passionate existence might actually be accessed through balance and moderation


As we practice moderation, a wind begins to fill our sails.  We find that the ever-present anxiety that accompanies immoderation evaporates.  We realize that our fear, which grew out of a specific behavior, has contaminated every aspect of our lives.  And as we finally walk away from the food, the sex, the alcohol, the debt, the fill-in-the-blank, we leave our fear behind as well...We are no longer making up excuses for our reality....We find that when we do right, we fear no man.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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