Building a good vessel

These days my practice is the study of vessels: mine, yours, ours. I like the image of a ship. How can I make my vessel sea-worthy, strong enough to hold me on course when storms come and I grow faint of heart, yet roomy enough for me to grow and to let others in? 

In my yoga sutra study group, we’ve been contemplating the three pillars of practice. The first is called tapas, literally the fire that burns through resistance. It is the practice of showing up, of having the patience or discipline to stick it out. The second, svadyaya, is the practice of study: the study of texts and teachings, the study of our biases and fears and clingings and strengths; it is also the practice of studying the nature of the mind itself and our interconnection. The third pillar, isvara pranidan, is devotion to a higher ideal, the practice of surrendering the illusion that we can control the world around us. It is the cultivation of faith in a deeper wisdom, free from the fearful self-conscious mind.

When I make the commitment to showing up for practice—or to be of service to others even when I don’t feel like it—I am building the walls of my ship; I develop strength in my mind and body. I also develop faith. I can trust myself, and when I trust myself I have less fear. I know that I can meet whatever storms might arise.

Cultivating curiosity creates a spacious and buoyant mind. And when I am less fearful, I can actively value true learning without having a stake in what I will find. I can make acommitment to becoming less ignorant of the consequences of my choices and of my interdependence with others. When I show up and really look, I begin to see the biases in myself that I might not have noticed before or might not have had the strength to see. I see the defensive and reactive habits that cause me and others harm. And I can also see beyond my negative self-talk to my own goodness. Not the good-enough- ness that I look for in others’ approval, but true unchanging goodness. What in Buddhism is called our inner golden buddha. Pure abiding love. We all are made of it.

And when I have strength of body and mind and curiosity without fear, I can relax into that space. I don’t have to work so hard to figure out what my next move is. Actually, I can beguided by the deep love within me. That becomes my rudder. My vessel is sturdy and buoyant and can carry me through both storm and calm. I don’t have to blow into the sails of my ship to move forward: the wind will do that. I don’t have to hold its huge hull in my little arms: the ocean will do that. And I don’t need google maps to tell me how to get to the other shore. My heart will do that.