Reflections on the Four Paths of Yoga, Part II con’t: More on Bhakti Yoga

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Heavy with my own inaction in the face of recent violence in the headlines, I set out for a morning bike ride. Just outside Iowa City, black-eyed susans, cone flowers, thistles and dozens of other grasses and wildflowers whose names I don’t know blossom on the roadside. They create a brilliant buffer between me and vast expanse of corn that stretches to the horizon.

Confronted with the stillness and beauty of the morning, my mood lifts. Another mile and I am fully present and connected to the whole:  corn and wildflowers, road and sky. A Bhakti practice on my bicycle. Soaking in the landscape, I reach for a connection to divine love, seeking the divine in everyone and everything, striving to feel compassion toward all beings. A phrase comes to me. Although I can’t find it later when I look through my files, I believe Shri Yogendraji, founder of The Yoga Institute where I studied in India, said it. “The answer is always love.”

This mantra echoes in my mind in time with the rotations of my pedals. Trayvon Martin. Michael Brown. Philando Castile. The answer is always love. Jeronimo Yanez, the officer who killed Philando Castile. The answer is always love. 5 officers in Dallas, 3 in Baton Rouge. The answer is always love. 49 lives lost in the Orlando Club. The answer is always love. Omar Mateen, the Orlando shooter. The answer is always love. Hillary Clinton. The answer is always love. Donald Trump. The answer is always love. Iraq. Syria. Russia. The answer is always love.

I crest the hill and begin my descent. Flying now, there’s no need to pedal. The black SUV barreling down the gravel road toward the intersection just ahead of me breaks my reverie. I hit my brakes as the SUV grinds to halt a few feet past the stop sign, jutting out into the road. The driver is looking in the other direction. I finally make eye contact, warily maneuver around the vehicle. My heart is pounding, more angry than afraid. I raise my hand and give the driver a “WTF, weren’t you going to stop?” look as I ride by. She smiles and offers a polite wave in return, as if nothing is wrong.

I resume my pedaling. The anger dissipates. The mantra comes back. A reminder that even small, seemingly insignificant moments, are a test. That the answer is never anger, it is always love. That there is a need for action in this world, and love is the place to start.

These reflections were inspired in part by fellow yoga teacher Fannie Hungerford’s July 20, 2016 newsletter, “Waves, Rainbows and Jellyfish” where she describes the value of connecting to nature in these turbulent, uncertain times.

Further reading on Bhakti yoga: The Path of Devotion: Bhakti Yoga and A Seeker’s Guide to Bhakti Yoga.