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Complementary practices in yoga and Celtic spirituality
by Danielle Arin
At the time of my life when there is a natural call for solitude and an urge to come closer to nature, when there is a recurrent need to enter my own hermitage and to observe the recluse within myself, I find great inspiration in the Celtic way of intuiting the world and in the Yogic attitude towards life.
* At the end of the XIXth century while travelling through the Scottish highlands and Western islands of Scotland, Alexander Carmichael gathered many Celtic hymns, prayers and blessings that he transcribed in Camina Gadelica.
Amongst their many gifts and teachings, the Celtic and Yogic traditions have shown me that everything is one. They have taught me to develop a special sense in finding the wealth and hidden language of my environment, whether outside me or inside me, to appreciate the value of opposites while seeking to balance them, and to savour silence and solitude.
Both the Yogic and Celtic ways of seeing creation have taught me to see the interdependence of every thing and also their unity. Let us consider first the Celtic way of apprehending the world.
One does not need to be part of any Celtic tradition to discover the connection between the human world and the created world, to read the signs of the invisible in the visible, of the divine in the human. You just have to listen to the echo of the “Deer’s Cry”:
I arise to-day
Through the strength of heaven:
Light of sun,
Radiance of moon,
Splendour of fire,
Speed of lighting,
Swiftness of wind,
Depth of sea,
Stability of earth,
Firmness of rock.
I arise to-day
Through God’s strength to pilot me,
God’s might to uphold me,
God’s hand to guard me,
God’s shield to protect me ... (Irish prayer)
Nature, however hard it might appear, is a friend and source of inspiration revered in the daily prayers of Celtic men and women. They know in their heart that they possess within themselves the whole of creation: sun, moon, stars, minerals, plants, animals, seasons ...
The eye of the great God,
The eye of the God of glory,
the eye of the King of hosts,
The eye of the King of the livings
Pouring upon us
At each time and season...
Glory to thee
Thou glorious sun
Glory to thee, thou sun,
Face of God of life. (Carmina Gadelica *)
Constantly inspired by nature, I have acquired the ability to hear the voice of the wind with the same ear as I would listen to the voice of my body in yoga practice. In the same way that one’s relationship with the world transcends the Celtic tradition, one does not need to be on traditional Yogic territory to see the link between the permanent and the transient. As Krishna says to Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita **:
When one sees Eternity in things that pass away and Infinity in finite things, then one has pure knowledge.
This ability to hold things together, so dear to the Celtic people as to the Yogi, is translated in my yoga practice whenever my limbs move harmoniously in a deep search for the core of my being and for a unity that relies on opposite forces and movements for its existence.
Dwelling within the two worlds, Yogic and Celtic, and being inspired by both, I observe within myself the sometimes confusing movements from darkness into light and the unavoidable journey from life into death and from death into eternity. Assailed by doubt and confusion, despair and joy, faith and enlightenment, I acknowledge however the importance of the passage from ignorance to knowing, and welcome it into my yoga practice. I hear then deep within me the voice of the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad *** imploring:
From delusion lead me to Truth.
From darkness lead me to Light.
From death lead me to Immortality.
The three-fold force of the trinity encountered in both the Celtic and the Yogic world leaves me in awe. I am struck by its reality in the life of the Celtic people; it shines through them and colours all of their existence. It is expressed in beautiful and touching words in Carmina Gadelica:
The Sacred Three
My fortress be
Come and be round
My heart and my home.
Likewise, the three-fold energy is an essential constituent of a sensitive yoga practice. The so-called three Gunas represent the ever-present forces of nature. They are: tamas (stillness), rajas (active movement) and sattva (the pure and balancing element between tamas and rajas).
I am convinced that the aim of a harmonious and complete life (and yoga practice) is to balance the Gunas and to create action out of non-action and to behold stillness between the two.
This three-fold harmony is called pure when it is practised with supreme faith with no desire for reward and with oneness of soul. (Bhagavad Gita)
During my yoga practice and throughout the course of my life, I have at times got a glimpse of the interrelatedness between the energy of the Yogic Gunas and the Celtic guiding force of the Trinity. This system of belief never fails to be for me a source of hope and strength which finds expression in my yoga practice.
If I can, in the sacred space of my soul, hold the three-fold commendation to the “Sacred Three”, I know that I have been blessed with a “three-fold harmony” that has no desire for reward but that requires my total immersion and surrender to it.
In both the Celtic and the Yogic traditions, the path to self-knowledge is translated through silence and solitude. In Celtic spirituality they are part of a long tradition of native learning and practices. They are the way to access not only body and soul, but also the mysteries of nature. Likewise, the best and most fruitful yoga practices are conducted in silence and solitude. When a silent body and a quiet heart meet, this is the start of a profound dialogue between them; the doors to creativity open and the presence of the soul is revealed:
The man who in his work finds silence, and who sees that silence is work, this man in truth sees the Light and in all his work finds peace. (Bhagavad Gita)
I have received with immense gratitude and humility the rich gifts from both Celtic spirituality and Yogic practices. Yet, with great disquiet, I cannot help feeling that to cling to the offerings that have been presented to me during my life will never satisfy my search for knowledge, but will instead create an everlasting hunger. To hold tight onto anything is to kill it, and therefore I have learnt over many years that a conscious detachment is one of the best gift that I can give life and the world.
When I reflect on Celtic spirituality and Yogic practices, when I compare the two, I find that both are an essential constituent of my being. Integrated into my life are all the complementary beliefs of both traditions.
** The Bhagavad Gita (500 B.C.) is the glory of the Sanskrit literature narrating the dialogues between Krishna and Arjuna.
*** The Upanishads (as early as 800 to 400 B.C.) represent the cornerstone of Hindu philosophy from which yoga stems.