The Importance of Vision

Yoga and Life

As we’re in the midst of BeneFIT’s Best Life Ever challenge I can’t help but to think back 16 years ago, this same time of year, to when I was in my Bikram Yoga teacher training. It was really quite a shock for me in many ways as I had only decided to do it so that I’d be in a boot camp doing this yoga twice a day for 9 weeks straight and could get my body back in shape after so many years of neglect. Sure, it was a teacher training and, since I’d be certified to teach, maybe I’d teach a few classes here or there but it had not been my intention to make teaching Bikram Yoga the main focus of my life. However, halfway through the training, all that changed.

A vision that I’d had when I was 18 and an exchange student in Australia (almost 19 years prior) had resurfaced. I had been living at the time with my host family and we were all sitting around the table after dinner talking when someone asked the question, “If you had a million dollars (that would’ve been 1982 Australian dollars), what would you do with your life?”

Now, I’m leaving out quite a bit of the details as to how I’d come to be there with them at that particular dining table (it’d be worth it for you to ask me to share it during class sometime), but clearly the things that led up to that point were instrumental in the vision that rose up in that moment. I guess I wasn’t really any different than any of the 8 others around the table as to how I interpreted that question, which was basically, “if money were no object and I could do whatever I wanted to do, what would that be?”, but a vision came from some place deep inside of me and it was nothing like anyone else’s. It was such an enigma to me that when it came time for me to share I couldn’t speak. Everyone looked at me, waiting for my answer, but I couldn’t open my mouth to say anything. I was dumb.

As I look at it now, my life is pretty close to that vision. I couldn’t describe it at the time and, frankly, at 18 years old, it was scary. I didn’t really understand it and certainly had no idea how it would ever come to be. I’d never done yoga and was only just beginning what I’d now, in looking back, call my long and slow spiritual awakening. With my father being an atheist, Spirit, energy, God, the meaning of life, etc., was just never talked about in my family as it had no importance. I guess that not everyone wonders, “Who am I?” or “Why am I here?” or “What’s the meaning of life?”

But here we are in 2017 and I’ve been promising to share stories and some of the symbolism in the Mahabharata, the source of the Bhagavad Gita — India’s most revered spiritual teaching — as I find it a brilliant depiction of what American philosopher Joseph Campbell called “the hero’s journey.” Some scholars have said the Mahabharata is just a hodgepodge of stories that makes no sense but Bollywood disagrees. In later teacher trainings Bikram forced the trainees to watch the entire TV series, into the wee hours of the night when they needed sleep more than anything else. Under the circumstances, most all of them have total resistance to the story and have no interest in its meaning. Like the stories in the bible, it’s layers thick with symbolism. Have you ever noticed how those stories in the bible don’t always make much sense? But when you incorporate the location, era and understand the meaning behind the symbols involved, they take on great meaning in the wisdom being shared. I’ve thought that maybe all the stories in the bible were from dreams that the authors’ had and they’d simply scribed the dream. I review my dreams upon waking and sometimes write them down to be sure I don’t forget them. They rarely make sense until I consult my dream dictionary and read the meaning of all the symbols that appeared. There’s almost always at least one answer to a question I’ve been pondering.

Now, Bikram didn’t share much from the Mahabharata in my training. He told one story so many times that I was beginning to wonder about his mental state, especially after sitting through so many late night lectures in which he’d start on one topic and wander off through so many tangents completely losing track of the purpose that it felt like everything was for naught. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one wondering this because one day the man who was running the training addressed all 250+ of us with the following, “in case you’re wondering why Bikram has been telling the same story so many times, apparently there is a particular someone in this training who has yet to grasp the meaning of the story.” Interestingly, years later I realized who the person was and why they needed to know it.

Let me just share that the Mahabharata is an epic poem, the longest ever written, that depicts the events leading up to the great war between two factions of a family. The dispute is over who is the rightful ruler of the kingdom, the son of the first born son who was born blind or the son of the second born son. If you’ve ever read many of the stories in the bible or other religious texts you’ll see two common themes right off the bat: 1) What is required to be a good ruler? and 2) the first born versus second born.

So, my friend, do you think that being blind is enough of a reason to be stripped of the right to rule a kingdom? After all, he was the first born. And how does lack of vision, in all its implications, affect one’s ability to effectively rule? Well, the Mahabharata depicts it all but, like every story in the bible, you can interpret it at face value and see it as a story of a family feud, or you could explore more deeply and see that this story is loaded with pearls of wisdom to help you and me make the most of our lives, our hero’s journey, and be best equipped to maneuver our way through our own similar challenges.

I think it was Mark Twain who said, “The two most important days in your life are the day you were born and the day you find out why.” I like this quote because we are, of course, alive but do we realize that it is our life and that we always have choice? Until such time as we have a purpose, a vision for our future, we’ll drift directionless. And without vision we aren’t able to recognize when something is improper or unacceptable and we won’t know when or how to take appropriate action to get back on the right course. With a clear vision and intention, at every step in our journey all we have to do is ask if this step aligns with the vision of our future. If it does we can take it unhesitatingly, if it doesn’t we know not to.

But having that clear vision, a sense of knowing one’s purpose, doesn’t necessarily come right away. There is a process of maturing and gaining life experience before we awaken to who we really are and are fully ready to step into it. It’s this second birth, the birth of the older, wiser, more refined you with an understanding of the role you play in the Grand Overall Design of the Universe and life here on planet earth, that is the rightful heir to the throne that rules the kingdom.

So, my friend, do you have a vision of the kingdom you will rule? What will you be creating for yourself in this lifetime? Do you have a vision yet of the life you would love to live? This is where creation begins. Establishing this will allow everything else to ultimately fall into place. If you’re not yet clear, just start asking yourself the question, “What would I love?” Let that question, “What would I love?”, be the driving force in your life.

And just to be clear, it’s not “What can I do?” or “What do I deserve?” or “What is possible?”, it’s “What would I LOVE?”

What would you love?