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Love, or Living Without Regret

If we wish to teach our students life's greatest lesson—that it is only love that really matters—we must start by learning to love the work of teaching.

By Aadil Palkhivala

Once as part of an extensive worldwide study, thousands of people were interviewed. These people were from different cultures, races, religions, beliefs, occupations, and ages. Yet all the interviewees shared one thing in common: they knew they were going to die within a week or two. These people, some of them on their deathbeds, were asked the following questions: "What do you wish you had done in your life? What are your regrets?"

The researchers expected a gamut of answers. They were rather astonished to discover how wrong they were. Nearly all the answers from this cross section of humanity were of the same type, a theme with many variations. The basic answer to these vital questions was, "I wish I had loved more."

Some of the dying people said, "I wish I had loved my wife more," or "I wish I had loved my children more." They said they wished they had loved themselves more, or their God more. But whatever the specifics of the desire, it all boiled down to, "I wish I had lived more in my heart than in my head." When it really counts, when the actions of life are weighed most profoundly and with the ultimate honesty, all our regrets are going to be the same: that we didn't love enough.

No one said, "I wish I had done Kapotasana." No one said, "I wish I had bought a bigger car." No one said they wished they had acquired more toys or become the president of the corporation. In other words, the things we consider to be important in our life are totally worthless when life itself is on the line. Then, the only thing that really matters is how much we love.

It is the heart of yoga that will beat in us long after our ability to do the poses has gone. Let us teach our students the heart of yoga, the way into their own heart. Let us teach them the poses and how to care for the physical body, but let us also help them find and care for their heart. We do not enter life with our mind, we enter with our spirit. We do not leave life with our mind, we leave with our spirit. The babble of the baby and the senility of age both contain the presence of the spirit. It is this spirit that must guide our days, or we will depart life with bitter regret.

Asana practice not really about creating great practitioners of poses. Instead, it is about learning to fully embody our dharma—our life mission—and do it with heart. Asana practice merely enables us to do what we love with more energy and focus. Seen from the perspective of our deathbeds, the greatest practitioners of asana are not those who have accomplished unheard of feats while practicing out of obligation or a fear of death. The greatest practitioners are those who understand how to use asana to enhance their connection with themselves and to open up the heart of love. If we, as yoga teachers, do nothing else but manage to create more loving human beings, we have succeeded. In the final analysis, becoming a great practitioner is important, being strong and able is important, being healthy and free of pain is important, but nothing counts as much as knowing that we have loved. Let us not merely teach the mind and the body of yoga—improving it, refining it, aggrandizing it—while the heart slips into a dire and dreadful darkness.

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