Today, as we near the end of the twentieth century, our business, society and family are on the verge of being re-engineered, as if on a clean sheet of paper. Civilization today is poised on the brink of a great divide between the old way of life which is slowly dying and the new that is being born. Behind us lies the Industrial Age, which has lavished wealth upon us. But it has left a polluted planet, quarrelsome societies and empty lives. Before us lies the Age of Information and all its possibilities. How do we orient ourselves to this new age and use the opportunities it offers us as creatively as possible? What demands will this new era make upon us and how can we meet these? Can yoga help?
Some basic principles do not change no matter what Age we are living in. One of these principles derives from the simple fact that societies are composed of people. It follows that the best way to care for a society is to care for its people. How to do this? First, we need to care for ourselves. We need to believe in ourselves and cultivate a positive and an appropriate self-esteem. We need to practise a discipline like yoga to help us move towards our full potential. At the same time, we need to extend this same kind of care to others.
As we move into the Information Age, let care for people remain as the basic principle of our lives. Let us nurture the creativity of the people we love and work with. Let us believe in people and in their potential, because to believe in someone's potential is to help them release it. As Goethe could have said, Treat a woman as she is and she remains as she is. Treat a woman as she can be and she becomes that. Let us teach people yoga as a way of reaching their highest potential. By caring for people in this way and creating an open, free and trusting atmosphere around us, we are also caring for our society because we are creating an environment where a humane creativity can flourish.
The next requirement for our creative adaptation to the coming Age is to be able to work with vision: to have a vision and to allow that vision to imbue everything that we do. We need to have a big picture of our world and workplace, of where we fit in, and what we are working towards, what we are trying to create.
In a changing world, our vision keeps us on track. Because our vision provides our inspiration, it needs to be accessed from our deepest wisdom and to come from the very best parts of ourselves. It needs to embody our highest aspirations, our care for others and the knowledge of our interrelatedness and essential oneness.
Yoga can definitely help us put these principles into practice. The consistent practice of yoga leads naturally to the kind of perspective we have been discussing: love, care and vision. Yoga teaches us to simplify our lives to focus on the essentials. Karma yoga shows us how to put care into our work and to experience work as love in action. It shows us how to serve others without the expectation of reward. Raja and hatha yoga clean the mind and help it to become one-pointed and spiritualized: we gain inner peace and harmony and our vision becomes clearer.
Jnana yoga expands our wisdom, understanding and intuition. It shows us our place in the world and how to focus on our inner potential. Bhakti yoga leads us to communion with the highest. We realize our oneness with the highest consciousness and we experience the unchanging principles which underlie the changing forms around us. We see things as they are: the new within the old, the old with the new. We recognize the landscape and the task of orienting ourselves within it becomes a lot easier.
To achieve this kind of perspective takes determined and sustained effort in our yoga practice, but it is definitely within the reach of every one of us. It may well be that we women have a bit of a hard start. It seems that women have greater intuitive faculties than men and, as mothers, we have developed enormous patience in the care of our young. Sustained effort is within our experience: it is something we have all learned. So let us turn now and look at women.
In almost all countries the sacred feminine is a growing influence. In bookshops everywhere a huge section is devoted to women's spirituality, celebrating the return of the Mother and the power of the Goddess. We have many more women involved in spiritual, psychological, ecological and political areas of society.
This is not a new phenomenon: on the contrary, it has very respectable antecedents. Archaeology tells us that matri-focal, Goddess-worshipping societies existed at least as long ago as the Neolithic era. Remains of cities show peaceful civilizations that lasted for thousands of years until their destruction around 5,000 years ago by invading patriarchal tribes of war-like nomads. It seems that the Goddess-worshipping societies lived in harmony with nature and enjoyed material abundance with an equitable distribution of wealth, an absence of oppressive hierarchies, equality between men and women, and a rich, earth-centred spirituality that celebrated life, art, sex, pleasure and the richness of creation.
In contrast, look at what we have been bequeathed by 5,000 years of patriarchal religion: a world where we are alienated from the earth and from each other, where spirituality is often linked with suffering and escape from this world, where warfare and ecological destruction is constant and where violence, aggression and oppression of women and minorities is a normal occurrence. It seems as if it is time for the pendulum to swing back the other way. Perhaps the re-establishment of a more female-centred spirituality could bring some welcome changes, and it does seem as if these changes are on their way.
However welcome these changes may be to us, we women should not allow ourselves to become complacent. We still have tasks ahead of us. We women definitely have some outstanding qualities: we are known for our devotion and our whole-hearted willingness to give of ourselves. In contrast, men often seem more selfish and overly intellectual, competitive and sometimes aggressive. However, we women, too, have our weaknesses which we need to face and overcome. We still bear the marks of our centuries of confinement and oppression. One of these is the strong disinterest many of us show for going beyond the boundaries of the personal. Another is the difficulty many of us experience when, in the process of self-transformation, we come up against obstacles or difficult things in ourselves. We often find it hard to be objective and tend to get involved in our emotions, especially if we are suffering from low self-esteem, depression or emotional ups and downs. We lack the kind of objectivity that seems to come easier to men.
What can we do about it? Especially helpful for us women at this point of time are the kinds of yoga practices which require us to witness and to develop the standpoint of the observer. When we practise trataka, one of the simplest and best of the hatha yoga techniques, we find inner peace and quietness. Our objectivity increases. This ability grows as we practise it daily for some time. Swami Niranjan has also emphasized trataka as a way of becoming more one-pointed, and the result is that our self-esteem grows as well.
We could also do well to cultivate the traits which lead to success in whatever we do, as a means of increasing our self-confidence and self-esteem. Cultivating these traits will also help us to open new doors for ourselves and to broaden our horizons. Success requires that we exhibit the following four important traits: