You Are Never Alone In This World
Please consider that this essay contains reference to suicidal ideation before reading.
“Know that you are never alone in this world.” These powerful words are sung during the Maha Mantra on the Bhakti Caravan album, Forest Dwellers. These words can be quite a soothing balm upon the heart when we remember them.
Much of my life I have grappled with deep-seated feelings of alone-ness. I grew up in the beautiful countryside of Missouri with rolling hills, amazing fall colors, and corn, corn, and more corn. School was difficult. I was the easy kid to pick on, and I won’t even get into the agonies of gym class. It wasn’t until I reached high school that I began to develop any real friendships. I often felt all alone in this world. If it wasn’t for my beloved dog Rocky, an angel on my path, I wouldn’t be here today. He walked into the room at just the right moment, looked at me, and I felt needed, not alone. So I’m still here. Thank God.
This world can get quite tough. It can be cruel, and it will probably rip our hearts out repeatedly throughout the course of our lives. Everything that we love and hold dear to us can be wiped away with just the simplest of words or actions. And at the end of our lives, all is taken away regardless. The sea of life constantly seems to lift us up and then crash us right back down on to the rocks.
So how can we navigate these turbulent waters? How can we stay uplifted and drink the divine nectar of life from all the beauty around us when there are so many forces pulling us down? We live in a culture that continually promotes independence and self-reliance, but at what cost? How much do we have to rely on just ourselves? How separated and independent must we be? Yes, we need to be strong, and yes, we need to truly dive deep into the workings of our own minds, and yes, we have to try to heal the wounds that we find hidden in the deep recesses of our own hearts, but we can’t swim this sea alone. It’s too big and it’s too strong; it will just toss us back.
We need a boat. And that boat has a name. Its name is Satsang.
This word Satsang comes from two words in the Sanskrit language, Sat and Sangha. Sat means truth and Sangha means association or community. According to the Sanskrit dictionary, Satsang means association with the good. I prefer to think of it as my tribe, a global community of beings trying to do good for themselves, for others, for all beings seen and unseen.
There was a time when we humans were much more tribal. You can still see this on large portions of the Earth. If you’ve had the opportunity to travel, you may have noticed what I’ve had the chance to see, much poverty and lack, but a glowing sense of belonging. Many of the families and communities I’ve witnessed literally need each other to survive. Each and every person plays a very important role to the survival of the whole. This is how it’s been since humans came into existence. Not much has changed. Although we may try to paint a different picture, and strive for total independence, the Sat, or truth, with a few exceptions here and there is that we are a tribal species. We need the Sangha, the Satsang. It’s been hard-wired into our DNA from the beginning of time.
As Thich Nhat Hanh writes, “When we throw a rock into a river the rock will sink. But if we have a boat, the boat can carry hundreds of pounds of rocks and it will not sink. The same thing is true with our sorrow and pain. If we have a boat, we can carry our pain and sorrow, and we will not sink into the river of suffering. And what is that boat? That boat is, first of all, the energy of mindfulness that you generate by your practice. That boat is also the sangha—the community of practice consisting of brothers and sisters… You allow the sangha to transport you like a boat so that you can cross the ocean of sorrow.”
In 2013 I entered into my first Yoga teacher training at the Sivananda Ashram in the Bahamas. I met a great group of wonderful people from all over the world. We went through life-changing experiences together. I was shifted. Then we completed the training and with much joy and many tears, we each left. I came back to New Orleans and found myself feeling completely and utterly alone. I was in an amazing relationship, yet I felt alone. I had good friends, but still I felt alone. I felt like a stranger in this world, alienated to all those around me. I felt all alone in this world. This feeling of alone-ness became so strong that I decided to leave New Orleans forever. So my partner and I embarked on an indefinite pilgrimage to search and find where we were supposed to be in this world. Half a year later, little did I know that Swan River Yoga would be leading a retreat in the small tropical island of Bali in Southeast Asia at the exact same time we ended up there. We were still searching. Unbeknownst to us we ended up staying in the hotel right next door to where Michelle was leading the retreat. We literally walked next door and all of these beautiful people from New Orleans were there, with us, on the other side of the world! I was home. My tribe literally came and collected me.
A few months later, I began the teacher training at Swan River, and I found something I didn’t know I needed. The piece of the puzzle that I had looked for all over the world was in my backyard. It wasn’t the enlightening words, or the teachings, or the magical space. I needed my tribe, the Satsang. Suddenly I found that New Orleans was full of amazing people trying to uplift themselves and all of those around them. I found I could live here and be healthy and work at becoming a better human, because I found others that were working to do the same. Together we work to better ourselves, and with that support, we make progress on our paths.
It doesn’t take much to be part of a Satsang. It’s not exclusive. In fact, it’s the first time in my life I’ve found a community that prides itself on including instead of excluding, and polishes the dust off the areas where they find themselves accidentally excluding. Just look around you during your next yoga class. It’s okay: break your Drishti this month and take a look around. You are not alone. Say hi, give a smile, and after class tell someone how awesome they looked in that pose or how beautiful their singing was, or how you felt the same struggle they did. You already enjoy the same thing, so you have an instant topic of conversation. Send the others in the room with your wishes of encouragement and peace, then go ahead and buy them a chai downstairs just for fun. Connect. For in the words of a good friend of mine, “You can find your new best friend wherever you go in the world.” I find this to be true indeed, for this new modern day tribe is much larger than just one or a few yoga studios in town. It’s all over the world and it is the evolution of an outdated spiritual community that can still be exclusive of many beings. Next time you go traveling somewhere new, I encourage you to seek out a yoga studio for just one class and you will discover how you can be instantly connected with beautiful people and engaging conversation. All of a sudden, traveling is not so lonely.
Sharon Gannon writes, “The mind is like a clear crystal. A crystal will take on the color of whatever it is near—it will reflect its surrounding environment. In the same way your mind is colored by what you expose it to.” Sharon is referencing Yoga Sutra 1.41, where Patanjali reminds us that “A tranquil mind is like a crystal – it assumes the color of whatever is in its proximity” (translation Pandit Rajmani Tigunait). In other words, we should choose our tribe carefully, for their qualities are reflected in us. We can’t help but be completely affected by those we are around.
Are the people you surround yourself with nurturing your vitality, or are they draining it? If it’s the latter, maybe it’s time to do some spring-cleaning and make a conscious effort to be in good association or Satsang. Is connection to others something you seek, but like myself are you often afraid to take the step? Sign up for a workshop, or an intensive, and you will make bonds that last a lifetime. Satsangs are wide and varied; they may have different names, they may come from many different spiritual backgrounds, cultures, or intentions of being. Find the community that supports you, and lend your support in return. If where you live, you feel a lack of community, be the spark to ignite one. It can be anywhere, with any community of people that are working to be better humans and by doing so creating a better world, a world of connectivity and stewardship.
Sat-sangatve nissangatvam nissangatve nirmohatvam
Nirmohatve nishchala-tattvam nishchala-tattve jivanmuktih
Bhaja govindam bhaja govindam bhaja govindam mudha-mate
I invite you to read aloud (or sing!) this beautiful mantra that translates as:
Being in the company of Truth (community) sets us free from attachments and ignorance. This Truth reflects to us our Divine nature and the nectar within our hearts, and we become a “Jivanmukta,” an individual soul that is free in this lifetime. Realize Govinda in your heart, oh wise one!
Just like the clear crystal, when we are in the Satsang of our community, we each reflect the divine light of others so that it can be seen. However, we individually must do the work to be patient with each other, to be loving, and to completely accept where another being is in that moment. For all of us come with a suitcase of baggage. In Satsang, we say to bring in that suitcase; don’t leave it at the door. Open it up! We’re here to help you unpack and to ease your troubles. Then when we step back out into the world, we are lighter, more buoyant on the sea and able to feel the sun again. And although we try, we may not always get along. We may not all become best friends, for there are just too many of us to do so. But every time I see you I remember, and I’m uplifted.
I’ve come to realize that I am never alone in this world. Even when I’m at home by myself and that feeling of alone-ness creeps up, it is now never very strong, as all I have to do is remember my Satsang, my tribe all rowing our boat together and I am lifted out of the sea of despair.
Find your boat that will keep you afloat when times are good and bad. There is always room for one more. Find your community, your Sangha, your Satsang. Be part of mine. You need it. It needs you.
Know that you are never alone in this world
Written by Taylor Tidwell
Another great Sanskrit word for this month: Sharanam or refuge.
Sources of Inspiration:
By Thich Nhat Hanh: https://www.lionsroar.com/the-practice-of-sangha/
By Sharon Gannon: https://jivamuktiyoga.com/fotm/satsang/
Bhakti Caravan CD – https://store.cdbaby.com/cd/bhakticaravan
Keith Porteous’ 2nd CD – https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/sound-refuge-2-in-practice/1248626505