Limits and freedom

Question:  Some of the yogic meditations on detachment seem to me ridiculous; they are quite unreal, and nothing to do with life. We are told, for instance, to meditate that we set fire to our home and sit in the middle of the fire, watching everything burn, and finally ourselves too. Well, that situation simply doesn’t arise in life. I can see the value of learning to be detached, but wouldn’t it be better to take some definite object of attachment which one might in practice lose, and then try to be detached from that. The other simply has no relation to life.

Answer:  In one of the eastern traditional systems for promoting vitality, there is an exercise which could be translated as Tall-As-You-Can. You all stand up and stretch your arms up, up and up until, as the instructor says, “You are putting them through the roof”. He can tell when the stretch is not absolutely to the fullest extent, and shouts at you: “You are holding back! Push your finger-tips right through the roof!” In the end he can get a little bit of extra stretch out of most of the class.

Then there is Wide-As-You-Can, where you stand with the feet well apart, and push the finger-tips through the walls. The vivid visualisation enables the class to get that extra bit of stretch.

Then there is Small-As-You-Can and Ball, where you have to squat down on the heels, wrap the arms round the shins, tuck in the head, and then roll vigorously about the floor like a ball.

These exercises are practised at home every morning.

Now when you walk down the main street, you do not practise Tall-As-You-Can or Wide-As-You-Can. But the fact of having practised them regularly for some time means that your walk is more brisk and free-moving. And when you go into a restaurant, you do not practise Small-As-You-Can, or roll about like a ball. But the practice of them means that you have a good appetite for the food, and can digest it well when you have eaten it.

In something of the same way, the yogic meditations on the limits are not meant to be practised outside that period , but the practice of them does give a certain freedom and ease in meeting the stresses, real or imaginary, that are supposed to confront one in life.

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