Rolf Gates: We Cannot Give What We Do Not Have

On pursuing harmony between our inner and outer practice

My meditation teachers have taught me to think of my yoga as having two interdependent parts: Sitting quietly, the inner work I do to become healthy, happy, and whole. And Sweeping the Garden, the outer work I do to become healthy, happy, and whole. The inner work we do in yoga heals our bodies, hearts, and minds and brings with it the inspiration to share what we have learned. The outer work, or “yoga off the mat,” allows us to combine healthy self-expression with service to our community. To bring these two aspects of our practice into balance is to know true happiness and fulfillment.

This is not rocket science but we tend to get into trouble anyway. Having found something real and beautiful on our mats and our cushions, we head out into brave new gardens. We sweep as we have never swept before knowing that we are sweeping for all of the right reasons. We are living the dream. Then things get hard, and things get strange and we sweep harder. With each new day of sweeping our spiritual batteries get lower, but we come from a culture that is all about the sweeping so if we feel a little low energy we just suck it up and sweep on. Eventually we begin to question ourselves as teachers and healers, the good work that we have dedicated ourselves to has become a burden.

The amount of suffering this dynamic creates in the yoga world is extensive. I believe many great healers and teachers have left the field because they could not sustain themselves and sweep their gardens at the same time. When I teach this I use a simple slogan, first things first. We cannot give what we do not have. We cannot offer others what we are not offering ourselves. This is awesome news. It means that if we wish to serve our communities we must learn to be happy in our own lives first.  Sitting quietly creates the possibility of sweeping the garden.

Photo by Emily Bergquist 

Rolf Gates Rolf Gates, author of the acclaimed book on yogic philosophy Meditations from the Mat: Daily Reflections on the Path of Yoga conducts Vinyasa Intensives, Retreats and 200/500 Teacher Trainings throughout the U.S. and abroad–and now Online!  A former social worker and U.S. Army Airborne Ranger who has practiced meditation for the last 20 years, he brings his eclectic background to his practice and teachings.