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Have you ever tried lokasamgraha?
No, it’s not some trendy new food you’ve never heard of. It’s a yogic practice—one of the most important, and least understood.
In the third book of the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna explains to Arjuna that a yogi’s duty is to act in the spirit of lokasamgraha. In Sanskrit, loka means “world,” and samgraha means “work that holds together.” So lokasamgraha means acting in a way that holds the world together:
If only so the world can hold
Together, you should work (3.20, trans. Majmudar, Godsong, p. 29)
A yogi is not obsessed with what others think about them. The yogi does not act for fame or renown, to become wealthy or popular. The yogi does what is good, because it is good, because it is necessary, because it holds the world together, because it creates the conditions that allow us—all of us—to flourish.
Seems simple enough. But how do we know what it means to hold the world together?
Look to Thanksgiving, I say! And, in particular, to that often dreaded ritual, the Thanksgiving meal.
The Thanksgiving experiment
In addition to being a yoga and meditation teacher, I am a professor of communication. My students often come to me for help with their most stressful speaking situations. Every year, Thanksgiving dinner is near the top of the list. What is it about this ritual—ostensibly a time for gratitude and giving thanks—that turns the dinner table into a cage match, and that brings out our pointed resentments to be wielded like knives?
Happily, not everyone who practices the Thanksgiving ritual of a shared feast endures such hell. But I’ve heard enough stories and I know enough people who dread it, to recognize that the challenge is real.
My advice for students of yoga is to turn the Thanksgiving meal into an experiment. It is the perfect opportunity to practice a lokasamgraha meditation.
Communication as yoga
As I teach it, the lokasamgraha meditation involves three steps. The key is that this is not and cannot be a solitary practice; it must be done in conversation with others. Think of this as a chance to practice communication as yoga.
Step 1: “Grateful Talk”
Choose one person at the table to begin. For two minutes, this person speaks from the heart about what makes them feel grateful. Everyone else listens with their full attention. After two minutes, a timekeeper rings a bell or a chime to signify that the speaker should wrap up. Then the next person speaks. And so on, until everyone gathered has had a turn.
Once everyone has spoken, take a few minutes to discuss what people shared. Are there gratitudes common to your table? Maybe it’s the trees in your favorite forest where you like to stroll, or your morning coffee, or your pets. Whatever it is, take note, and allow this common gratefulness to deepen your connection and set the table for conversation.
Step 2: “Remember the House”
My favorite poet, Walt Whitman, asks, “Shall I make my list of things in the house and skip the house that supports them?” Now it is time to consider the things that support the things you are grateful for. How did those things you are grateful for come to be? You may consider the earth we stand on, the air that is our breath, the water that flows through our veins, the sun and the moon that shine in our eyes, the plants that give us life.
Choose one example of gratitude shared by the table. Collectively brainstorm everything that is necessary for your grateful object to exist. Someone make a list. And as that list grows, allow your sense of the world to grow, too. Nothing is self-made or self-existent. Everything is interconnected. Noticing these connections is yoga.
Step 3: “Stand Up, Arjuna”
To conclude your discussion, brainstorm at least 10 ways that you and your Thanksgiving crew can act to preserve the things you are grateful for. What work can you do to hold your world together—the things you are grateful for, and the things that make the things you are grateful for possible? Think from the ground up, be creative, be realistic, and remember the house. For yoga practitioners, this might mean meditating on the five elements—earth, water, fire, wind, and space—to better connect us to this beautiful earth we call home.
This is the vital intellectual work of yoga—of karma yoga, the yoga of worldly action, the yoga that seeks to hold the world together and defend what is good. This is the work of lokasamgraha. And it’s best done together, in community.
In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna invites us to consider the possibility that everything we are grateful for—everything we consider to be good in the world—could be lost, if we are not courageous enough to work in its defense. That is why he repeatedly urges Arjuna to “stand up.” He knows that Arjuna is frightened and weary. But if he doesn’t stand up, the world that is good and beautiful might be destroyed.
Your inner warrior
Few of us consider ourselves mighty warriors like Arjuna. But Krishna’s words are a message to all of us. He empowers each of us to recognize that there are things we can do to hold the world together and to create an environment in which we can all flourish. Some actions might not seem like much—a kind word, a pat on the back, an out-of-the-box hello that blossoms into an unexpected friendship. Others are more deliberate and life-altering. No matter how powerless we might feel, when it comes to the good, none of us are powerless, especially when we act together as a community.
You can do this lokasamgraha meditation anytime you gather with others. However, Thanksgiving dinner seems like a particularly auspicious moment. I’ve had many students try this meditation out over the years, and they’ve reported that it went well, making for a memorable—and in a couple of cases, life-changing—conversation. I hope that this practice transforms any dread you might feel about Thanksgiving dinner into delight and wonder, and that it brings you closer together, too.
About our contributor
Jeremy David Engels is an author, yoga and mindfulness teacher, college professor at Penn State University, and one of the co-founders of Yoga Lab in State College. He can be found at @yoga.professor.