Exploring Ishvara Pranidhana: Practicing Dedication to Find Bliss

"Through wholehearted dedication (Ishvara Pranidhana), we become intoxicated with the Divine."

Sutra 11.45 *

Headlines are made by instructions like this. It is encouraging news when we receive such an enticing promise from the Yoga Sutras. Follow the instruction by practicing wholehearted dedication, and you will receive Divine intoxication or bliss. But how do we “practice” wholehearted dedication and to what are we being dedicated?

For our whole heart to come into anything, we must really love it, so this sutra is inviting us to jump into Love with the Divine that is inside us, around us, in everything and everyone, and into the expression of Love that is bigger than our individual understanding, with courage, conviction and the dedication of our whole heart. Big stuff. But with a payoff like intoxication, I guess we should not be surprised.

Inherent in the practice of dedication, or devotion, is an offering. Paramahansa Yogananda writes, “Self surrender is the greatest devotion.” By offering our ‘self’ or ego, we approach the practice of dedication with humility. Go a step further and recognize Love as the primordial energy within all living beings and we begin to see the whole world as Self and allow our hearts to be emptied of all but love.

Depending on religious background and experience, we have different perceptions of what the Divine is. This is good because divinity cannot be quantified into any one definition or image. It is infinite, unlimited Essence and can only be experienced through its unique expression manifesting as each one of us. Think of the Divine as whatever is highest in your heart–call it Inspiration, Source, God, Spirit, Oneness, Creative Force, Love. It doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is that you become so immersed in it that you know yourself as it. Your love simply becomes Love. As Sri Patanjali described, by seeing through the illusion of the limited, human self we come to know ourselves as part and parcel of the great Self or Cosmic Mystery.

First things first

In order to accomplish something this big and this important, we must put first things first.  Silence is a first thing. Without silence we cannot hope to build a life of awareness, dedication and devotion.

Reading this, some will be thinking, “I know, I know. I crave silence.  But where and when can I find silence in a life full of work, responsibility and worldly chaos?” Granted, it is not easy to find silence in a culture addicted to stimulus. Breaking news, entertainment and ceaseless social media flood our society. That is why we must cultivate silence. We will drown in this flood if we do not cling to it with all our might.

In considering silence, others will be feeling uncomfortable, knowing silence as foreign and suspect. What can be found there but emptiness, confusion or voices from the past? Silence forces us to be with ourselves, and often we fear our own company. This is actually not so different from the first viewpoint. Those who want silence but just can’t find the time may discover latent fear as well. If we truly want something, we find or make a way for it to be ours.

Why should we truly want silence?

“Silence is the language of God. All else is poor translation.”

Truth exists in silence. Self-awareness and inspiration come from silence. Understanding, rest, renewal, healing, and peace all emanate from silence. Ultimately the ability to transcend whatever keeps us small and limited lies in silence.

If we spend each day filling our brains with information from the outside, we will never tap into the wealth of true wisdom that lives inside. In our center is clarity, and a still, small voice of knowing that we must silence the world around us in order to hear. There is power, sourced in love, which will never fail us. Our wholehearted dedication brings us to this wellspring of Divine wisdom within.

Dedication is not the same as discipline

We will never achieve a relationship with silence without effort. Through discipline we commit to practices, accomplish goals, and meet deadlines. But discipline without love can be harsh. Discipline combined with the love of devotion springs from the heart. It’s the difference between a parent who lays down the law with kids, “because I said so!” and one who sits with compassion to explain why something needs to be done.

By creating silence in two equally important ways, we blend the committed energy of discipline with the loving energy of dedication. Try this:

First claim outer silence by being so clear in your intention to have quiet time that you carve it out of each day, no matter what whether it's 5 a.m. at home, 11 p.m. at the office, or at noon in the car.  Just be sure to get out of earshot of any possible interruptions. Start with five minutes a day. Be dedicated to it. As you become comfortable with silence, you will want more, for silence becomes a soothing balm to the incessant noise of life.

Creating inner silence is next. Once you have set up your outer silence, a flood of thoughts, emotions, adrenaline, and anxiety is sure to arrive. Meet them gently–the layers of feelings, the irritations, frustrations, tears, rage, tension, fidgets, the million notes to self. Don’t judge them. Give yourself permission to be how and who you are in this moment. Silence is patient. It will still be there when the mind has stopped thrashing about.

The Perfect Combination

Cultivating silence takes dedication and discipline. It doesn’t happen overnight. In fact it may take weeks or months before you can come into silence quickly and comfortably. Like any skill, it takes practice to master.  You can employ meditation techniques like repeating a meaningful mantra, following your breath, or holding a quality such as ‘joy’ in mind. Use what helps, and just keep coming back. When you experience even a moment of inner stillness, you realize that inspiration, renewal and peace are always within reach.

If prayer is more familiar than meditation, then pray to be led into your heart, into an awareness of your true Self and into the ability to dedicate yourself to what is highest and most loving. Pray to surrender your ego, and stand in awe of the Mystery of Life. Pray until all that exists in your heart is love.

By becoming wholeheartedly dedicated to that which is sacred within and around us, we come to know Self and Life as Love and Joy. This is truly intoxicating.

This article is part of an ongoing series on the yamas and niyamas. For the full 10-part series click on each link below:

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