I was personally introduced to the concept of Ubuntu a few years ago by a close friend. It aligned closely, from my perspective, with the Gaia Theory (Gaia being the name of the timber-frame-home design business I started years ago), that we are all connected and can be viewed like a single organism. The word came to mind this weekend when discussing the concept of isvara-pranidhana during our discussion of the Niyamas, and the dedication to the ideal of pure awareness and the interconnectedness of all things.


From drfranklipman.com (Thanks to Christie for sharing this, and to Mike for showing me the way.):

What does Ubuntu mean?

Ubuntu is a Xhosa word which serves as the spiritual foundation of African societies. It basically means what makes us human is the humanity we show each other. It articulates a basic understanding, caring, respect and compassion for others. Ubuntu is a belief in a universal bond of sharing that unites all of humanity – the conviction that no person can be truly full while his neighbor remains hungry. It represents a world-view that sees humanity as a web of family, rather than a mass of individuals. This philosophy affirms that a person is a person through other people, that we are all related, interdependent and connected to each other. This is similar to what we know as compassion, compassion for ourselves, our families, our community, the global community and the earth.

How do you think the practice of Ubuntu effects one’s health?

I think we all tend to get caught up with our own “dramas” which keeps us in our heads and takes up a lot of energy. When we stop focusing on ourselves and when we are sharing or being compassionate to others, we let go of a lot of unnecessary anxiety about our own dilemmas. So we often actually receive more than we give. It is a selfish thing, but if you want to feel better, helping others will probably help you as much if not more than whoever you are helping. Giving without receiving or expecting anything in return is extremely uplifting. I believe what it does physiologically to you is the opposite of the stress response, it stimulates the parasympathetic system. But also when one sees how others are living and they are happy even when they have nothing or very little materially, it often shifts one’s perspective on life and what’s important and how you feel. And often when people learn to give or start volunteering and caring for others, they in turn learn then to care for themselves as well. For many giving to others is easier than giving love to themselves, so it can help people learn self love.

What do you recommend for someone to kindle in them a sense of Ubuntu?

Find something that is meaningful to you, that you can connect with. It needs to be more than just giving money….which is nice but impersonal. When you connect with the person or persons you are giving to, it is probably the best thing you can do for your health. Partly, I think this is because what has happened in our culture today, many of us feel isolated. Whereas in Africa, there is still community, extended families, people feel less isolated, the support systems are usually better. I think what happens is we are so busy trying to survive in this crazy hectic world, we don’t have time to serve others or give back because of time constraints. But it is in our nature, everyone wants to give, we have just been numbed by our culture. That’s why if you look at most “slower” societies, there is more Ubuntu. So I would say, it is in our nature, it is a part of us, let it out.


It was interesting to hear a group of yogis have a rather intense discussion on the word striving recently, often taking issue with the word. I remember a workshop almost a year ago when two of my favorite yoga teachers had the same pointed discussion on the same word. I remember it as being one of the most insightful discussions I had heard at the time; two master teachers, each expressing their unique and sometimes differing perspectives. To me, that is the essence of learning to live a full and joyous life: seeing and paying attention to multiple perspectives, then synthesizing them in a way that gives enhanced personal understanding and a greater sense of inner knowingness.

To me, this process of synthesizing multiple perspectives, engaging in deep personal reflection and learning, then adapting with time to continue to survive happily in the present moment, is the essence of my yoga practice. No judgment, just learning and adapting. Isn’t this what svadhyaya (the second Niyama) is all about? When we look inside with a sense of discovery and wonder, we begin to understand the difference between knowledge and knowingness, information and wisdom. When our sense of awareness is lively, joy arises from within rather than being dependent on outer influences or accomplishments.

I know that when a word or a concept causes a sense of uneasiness, it is worth looking at why and delving deep into the question. Why did the word striving cause such an intense reaction? Hmmm.

For me at least, it might show how deeply we hold on to doing things the way we think they are supposed to be done based on outside influences (job advancement, approval, norms of behavior), rather than letting go of those outside expectations and acting in a manner authentic to our true selves and our own sense of inner wisdom.

Striving can mean our steady work to fulfill our true purposes in life and our acting in a manner according to our deepest intentions and wisdom. It can mean having faith in ourselves and our own unique abilities and acting accordingly. For instance, my striving to build my body and mind, and to be spiritually connected as a result of my honest emotional expressions of love and connection to others, is my way of finding joy in my life. It is me, the wise me, learning through personal discovery and self-study with a sense of awe and wonder, adapting each day to the circumstances of the present situation and experience. It is constantly balanced with a keen awareness of acceptance, respecting my own vulnerabilities, humbly seeing the interdependence of all things around me and the way things are.

But striving can also mean the constant desire to do what other’s think you need to do, to act in a competitive manner to succeed in comparison to others, to become attached to a career identity or a certain status, or to just feel like you are never good enough the way you already are. It can also mean striving to do a yoga posture that isn’t right for your body just because some other guru, living in a different body, said that this is the way this posture should be done.

Personally, I am motivated to learn and to adapt, to strive to live a full expression of my life while accepting honestly and humbly who I already am. I am motivated to strive to see and respect the best in others, showing compassion and sharing honest caring emotions, while accepting that they walk their own path. I strive to be responsible for myself: my health, my happiness, and my actions. I accept that because we are all interconnected and interdependent (and that I am human), my fate is not just up to me.

I look for learning in all interactions and experiences. I strive to respect the perspective of every person, young and old, weak and strong, quiet and loud. I honor other yoga teachers and the long lineage of yoga teachers. But it is up to me to find my own peace and joy in my life, both striving to be me, making effort to practice and learn as my best self, while accepting all that is me and that will always be me… and being aware of the difference.

I enroll in yoga teacher-trainings to be challenged to learn multiple perspectives in order to learn more about myself and my place on this planet; I do not enroll in yoga teacher-trainings in order to strive for outside recognition or to learn to do things in a certain accepted way. It does not impress me when someone tells me that I need to do things a certain way, just because that person has been taught by many big personalities or influential teachers. It is always up to me to synthesize a teacher’s perspectives with respect and an attitude of whole-hearted learning, but then act in an authentic and honest manner according my deep sense of personal inquiry and wisdom. I believe that this is the essence of the Sutras as well as many other spiritually-guided texts.

As a teacher, it is my job to guide and empower others to find their own sense of personal knowingness and wisdom, learn more about their own bodies and minds, their own sense of importance and vulnerability and connectedness, not to encourage them to strive in a certain manner just because it is my own personal perspective or the normal way to do things.

To me, this is how we all learn to live together for the greater good of us all and this planet. It is indeed my perspective that we are innately wired to live this way… but it also my perspective that as a teacher, I’m only striving to help others discover this in their own manner, if indeed it is the way we are intended to be.

To me, this is the essence of being a yogi and a yoga teacher. To me, this is why I absolutely love having engaging and interactive non-judgmental discussion on deep subjects, like on the concept of striving.

And, to me, this is why I absolutely love to sit down, reflect, and write afterwards.

Bobopelli in VC City 2014

The Story of River Sierra: A Story Inspired by the Niyamas

River was almost 40 years old when he married Bluebird Sky, the mother of a 9-year-old son Little Tree, and a 6-year old daughter Little Flower. River had been married once before, too, but had no children of his own. He was happy to start a new life, living with his new family in their rural mountain home.

River knew that there were a series of tragic events a number of years ago that had led to Bluebird Sky’s divorce from Gray Night; he knew his new wife Bluebird worked hard to put their past behind her and start a new life with River by her side.

Through their early years together, River and Bluebird took the kids on many adventures – hiking, skiing, and camping in the wilderness. They lived a healthy lifestyle – eating well, exercising regularly, and living naturally in their mountain community. They tried to cultivate a happy and wholesome new life together. They were able to have a clean start, enjoying a natural, down-to-earth existence (sauca = purification).

A few years later, Gray Night, who had been serving a jail sentence as a result of the tragic events from years before, moved into the local town. Understandably, he wanted to be closer to his two children.

However, Bluebird Sky got very sick. She became overwhelmed with fear, being reminded of the earlier events in their lives. She struggled and struggled to put the past feelings behind her, but she couldn’t. The panic and fear was held deep in her body, and it took over her ability to live a normal life. She struggled and struggled each day to be the mom her children expected, but that expectation was quickly becoming impossible for her to satisfy.

River remained by her side – determined to be a strong husband, working hard to be there in support of the whole family, trying steadfastly to get through each day, one day at a time, practicing the healthy behaviors he had come to know, doing the best he could. He sold many personal belongings and withdrew savings in order to pay hospital bills. He had to remain focused on his wife’s care, trying to find peace within the chaotic circumstances, being content with what was most important – daily survival (santosa = contentment).

River was a disciplined and loyal man. He got up each morning, exercised privately, got the kids off to school, took care of his wife, and tried to find time to do his job’s work and research for his wife’s care. He was reminded during this time of his own personal resolve and resiliency, having tested himself as a youth with the unpopular decision not to drink or try drugs, to dedicate himself to learning and excellence in schoolwork, and to pedal his bicycle hundreds of miles at a time (tapas = discipline).

Many of his days were spent just breathing with his wife, practicing a breath they had learned years before while studying yoga together, reading poems that reminded them to have faith, and listening to calming music to get through the days between doctor and hospital visits. When possible, they would often go for quiet, therapeutic hikes in the woods with their pet dog, Jackson Moose. When able, they would practice yoga asana, moving their bodies with their breath. During these practices, they would find some moments of peacefulness.

Each day, they did what they needed to do to get through the day, struggling and struggling to get through the fear and panic associated with their lives slowly slipping away, fighting bravely to be well-intentioned parents for their kids. However, the constant reminder of the past events due to the proximity of Gray Night largely left Bluebird trapped in her house, sick, panicking, and full of fear. The protective and caring nature of River kept him isolated in their home, afraid to leave Bluebird alone.

Eventually, River’s research and study went from seeking medical-related advice from doctors and reading literature written by others, to listening more closely to his own intuition and trusting his own instincts (svadhyaya = self-study or spiritual exploration).

One day, he realized that he was holding on too closely to a vision that he had of the way he hoped his marriage would be like. As he listened more closely to his inner knowingness, surrendering himself to his more Divine nature and his faith in the Universe, he realized that he had to let go of expectations of the way he thought his wife should be, how his future would be, and trust that things would unfold in their lives in a healthy way if he listened without judgment, loved without condition, and trusted without question (isvara-pranidhana = dedication to ideal of pure awareness or surrender to the Divine).

Things shifted.

Within days, they found new care. New doctors understood the previous trauma and cleansed Bluebird’s body of the toxic medications prescribed by previous doctor after doctor. Bluebird started to find her light again. She realized that she would be okay if she let go of the suffering from the past, practiced a new way of living mindfully each day, and didn’t worry about how the future might turn out. She took responsibility for this new practice of mindful living, learning to maintain a wise perspective, and day by day, she got better.

Gray Night moved away.

Years later, Bluebird Sky’s experiences would lead her to a simpler life of healing. She created a heart-centered, community-building wellness center, shining her light again brightly in the support of others, feeling abundance in the love of others, and utilizing her personal experiences with new inspiration. There were multiple steps along the way, yes, but each step allowed a new perspective. Today, she practices to maintain a bird’s-eye view, remembering to rejoice in the spirit of the present moment.

Little Tree and Little Flower would grow up quickly, graduate from colleges, and begin resilient young lives in thriving cities, leaving their rural roots in the mountains, at least for today.

River Sierra would learn to flow with life again as himself, letting go somewhat of the day-to-day responsibility of keeping his family alive and healthy, exploring new work possibilities with a clearer and wiser perspective, and knowing deep inside that his gift had always been to see the beauty in others even when they didn’t see it themselves… And to convey instinctively a sense of safety and faith. For him, sometimes all that would mean would be to be there when the time was right, to plant seeds, feed them, and happily watch them grow.

Sometimes, all that it would mean would be to just be content with the way things are.

Letting go, River flows naturally again.