What Aristotle Taught me about yoga

Aristotle’s Ethical work on friendship is surpassingly subtle, which is saying something given all of his work. The last serious work I did in my previous life teaching and exploring Western Philosophy was in Relationship Ethics and drew heavily from Aristotle’s work.

One of the most subversive things I learned from Aristotle comes up in the Bhagavad Gita, too. Sometimes, and all times with some things, the best way to find something is not to aim for it. It’s to aim for something else, apparently unrelated to the thing you think you want in your heart.

Aristotle thought that all folks want to be happy. The problems are defining it (so we know what we’re aiming for) and how to go about obtaining it. Happiness – Eudaimonia in Greek – means well-being. Turns out, happiness is a state of full functioning plus luck. Since we can’t control luck, we aim for full functioning, which for Aristotle and any good Greek person traversing the agora, was Arete – or virtue. So, to be happy, we need to be good. Kinda disappointing if you were hoping for lolling in the grass being rubbed down by gorgeous babes of whatever persuasion.

In the Gita, Krishna tells Arjuna that happiness comes from doing your duty. In chapter 18, Krishna gives a guna-based breakdown of happiness and then sums it up: Whatever your duty (what you have in front of you, what you must do), do it! Even badly done, this is a better state of affairs than running off to find something else, even something you can do with perfection. So, being happy comes not from trying to be happy, but from being good. Doing what you are called to do.

This insight, while pivotal in my own life, is even more greatly generalizable. Sometimes, the way to find something is to go looking for other things closer to your grasp, more obtainable, and keep your mind free for those miraculous ohhhhhhhhh!s.

About three and half years ago I started thinking and – more importantly – working deeply with Mula Bandha. Well, as deeply as I could. I heard Richard Freeman discuss it from poetic and physiological as well as energetic, emotional, intellectual viewpoints during a series of classes. Wow, I thought, I’d like to go there. So I tried. Frustration ensued. Finally I fell back onto what I knew, worked more or less diligently on many given days. Today, after an intense period of practice, most of it outdoors, in the snow, at sacred places in the middle of “nowhere”, I was driving home, winding along snowblown roads and looking for other hikes and places of beauty. And….there it was!!! I recognized it immediately, not because I was trying for it, but because I’d wrapped the guidebook carefully and deposited it in my heart’s memory and worked where I was at lots of different moments. It was a new and subtle sensation at my tailbone, connecting to the four corners of the pelvic floor and it was accompanied by a small but potent flame standing up in the center of that arena, spontaneously combusted from attention … to what I thought were other things!

Thanks, Aristotle, for putting me on the path of the true, circuitous, subtle, deep and rewarding search for what cannot be found; only courted and loved as a true beloved, with care, respect and some distance illuminating the adoration and gratitude.

I bow to you, reader, in recognition of your true, immanent and illuminating Beauty. Namaste.

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One thought on “What Aristotle Taught me about yoga

  1. Hi Christine -Just wanted to say your website looks awesome!! I like the part about doing what is in front of you, even if done badly. There are ‘things’ that are placed in front of us that need to be addressed. Until we address what is in front of us, we are not able to continue on our path. Finding ‘happiness’ is not static.

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