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Lessons from the Bhagavad Gita

After studying the Bhagavad Gita, the most profound lesson for me was the dialogue around pain and suffering and how it is the direct result of thinking about the past or about the future. In simple terms, it’s impossible to suffer when present, when still.

Humans suffer because they believe or have come to believe that this life is all it will ever be. That there isn’t any other way or any other option to them; that their course is set and they have to sit idle with it. They spend many days, weeks and years just believing that things will and can never change. We take on an identity from early on and believe in it. But most striking, for me especially as I study yoga and the Gita, is that the older we get, we realize that what we’ve always believed about ourselves, about others and about this world, just might not be what we thought all along. What stories about myself might not be true? We are conditioned to believe certain ‘truths’ about ourselves, but what are these truths? And is what was true for me before still true for me now? Truth, therefore, is a profound theme throughout the Gita with steps and tips toward realizing our own personal wisdom and our own personal truths. Yoga is really about studying ourselves. And the Gita asks us to ponder the mere possibility that what if everything I’ve ever known to be true is no longer true for me now? This can be extremely scary and outside of our comfort zone. But in the same regard, an opportunity to become more aware of how attached we are to the people, things and conditions that have made us who we are up to this critical realization. This is the moment we become still; we are reminded to be present and to examine the source of our suffering.

The passage in Chapter Five, Verse 22 in summary, states the wisest person realizes that joy can never come from the outside. When we depend so heavily on outside things to fill us up with happiness, we are not being honest with ourselves. On the surface we appear fulfilled and content, but there is underlying pain and suffering that we are trying to hide behind. Even if you try with your mind to control and insist on being happy, it’s just not possible. This is because you aren’t really happy in your heart. I like how the passage discusses being happy even when things don’t turn out the way you want. No body promises that things always will. There doesn’t have to be a divine reason for why things turn out the way they do. So why do we exert so much energy in trying to force things and control every moment and all the minutiae? Why do we constantly need answers for all of our questions? Is it possible to lead a more peaceful existent when we just surrender to the past and to the future?

Take pleasure and be grateful for joys and the challenges that the moment offers us. During asana (poses), we experience pure bliss and comfort on our mats but we also might feel challenged and weak when instructed to try something new or get into an unfamiliar pose. The same is true off of our mats. Think about all the ups and downs we experience on a daily basis. How equipped are we to deal with things from one side of the spectrum to the other with grace?

I believe it is a more peaceful way to live my life when I don’t put so much pressure on myself and those around me to constantly fulfill me. But I didn’t always believe this. I feel this is what the Gita emphasizes by teaching us it’s impossible to suffer when present. I realize that on this journey that is life, when I am still, I have all I will ever need. “Be still and know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10.

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