a life of learning

reflect, record & recognize with the divine

swami radhananda

What do you remember? Do you remember the good or the bad? How do you build a foundation on the things that you have done well and the things you learned? How do you recognize that Divine Mother has been with you every step of the way?

I’ve been asking myself these questions as I gather material to write a book. I’m going through my journals and my memories: all the things I’ve learned in my life, all the experiences I have had, the interactions and teachings, the people and the places. Looking back, I can see how it all fits together—from my experiences as a child to first discovering yoga to where I am today. I can see my life as a path that was started and traveled on.

Self-reflection is such an important part of yoga. It is said that consciousness knows everything but the mind can’t hold all of that knowledge. It just gets little glimpses. So you need to put the glimpses together, keep gathering up the clues. Writing down your experiences helps you train the mind to concentrate and observe, and it creates a record of your own personal wisdom.

A lot of people are used to writing essays but they are not used to writing in order to explore themselves. Or perhaps you keep a journal and want to find a way for writing to be a part of your yoga practice. A powerful way to start a spiritual reflection practice is to create a dialogue or a conversation with a deity, a god or goddess you feel connected to. For me, it was Divine Mother. I would ask a question and she would respond, or I would write to her, knowing she was listening. The intention of having a divine conversation makes the act of writing much more intimate and meaningful than just sitting down and writing the details of your day.

Instead of just writing what happened in your day, ask: What is important for me to remember about today? What did I learn? What did I observe? How did She appear? What was Divine Mother doing today in my life?

By using an image or creating a feeling of being with Divine Mother as you write, you help cultivate that wise, compassionate part of yourself. You write with an awareness that life is not all about the things you haven’t done right but about what you’ve learned and the wisdom that is gained. There is a part of you that has collected what you need to know. There is something that is always working in us to build the foundation so we can take the next step. And sometimes you don’t appreciate your own efforts—you feel guilty about something, or angry, or you say, “I can’t do that because…” or “I can’t say that about myself.” Divine Mother is very accepting. She will respond from her point of view, from the point of view within you that knows—what you’ve done and what you haven’t done and what you could still do.

You can also bring writing into your Hatha, mantra or meditation practice. There is some powerful reason why you do a practice, otherwise you wouldn’t keep on doing it. You are responding in some way to what it gives you, so collect that and make it evident to yourself. You can then start to see your whole journey laid out and be able to appreciate how precious your life is.

Writing is a tool that takes you to yourself more and more deeply. Language brings in another dimension. Often a spiritual experience is more than the words can convey, but words still carry your experience and nourish you. By capturing something in words, you begin to see that they may have more meaning than you think.

If you are observing, concentrating, absorbed in something, you will remember that time and what you learned. Memory and learning are closely connected. It is a process of watching the mind and seeing how it works. As you work with reflection, you begin to see your life with a new kind of perspective—not what you’ve done wrong but what you are learning. And if you can remember that, it makes you more independent and strong. A sense of gratitude arises for all you have been given, and this feeling encourages and inspires you to keep going.

We want to be able to go through a life of learning. How do you preserve what you have learned from this life, maybe even to the next life? What do you want to take? What is the most valuable thing? The most precious things are in your mind, all those things that you have learned. Through writing, you take a pause, and store your learning. Just turn inward and see where that wisdom is.

Swami Radhananda is president and spiritual director of Yasodhara Ashram in British Columbia, Canada.

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