Fire of Love by Aadhil Palkhivala
Book Review by Marcus J Freed www.bibliyoga.com
‘instruct your students to go deep into their heart center and look into the light within themselves to discover their inner reasons for living…” (40)
Aadhil Palhkivala’s treatise on yoga, Fire of Love, is a comprehensive resource that is helpful for both teaching and practicing yoga. It begins with a description of the accident that he underwent and charts his subsequent path to healing. The key to wellness is yoga and he takes the reader on a powerful journey through the course of the book.
What I found particularly meaningful was Aadhil’s continual exploration of the mind-body connection through his yoga practice, and the idea that yoga brings healing and balance to the individual practitioner when they take self-responsibility. Aadhil’s approach to yoga is far more sensitive than many contemporary systems. He continually urges students to recognise their own sensibilities, strengths and weaknesses, and to consider what practice will be the best for them on any one day or at any particular point during their life (e.g. yoga for depression, anxiety, restlessness, grief and so forth).
“When we realise our life’s mission, we finally see that all the twists and turns in our path have brought s into the present moment” (Fire of Love, 26).
Aadhil’s words are inspiring and healing from anyone who has healed from a longstanding physical injury. He had the benefit of being a direct student of BKS Iyengar which meant that he was the recipient of much of the great guru’s wisdom, but the Purna Yoga system has done much to codify and empower others with this knowledge and how to apply it.
In today’s world, possibly more than ever before, we find an emphasis on the quest for personal meaning. This was always the heart of philosophical enquiry, indeed Victor Frank’s 1946 book Man’s Search for Meaning asks the same question in the light of a Holocaust survivor. Fire of Love, however, places this within a yogic context.
Dharma: ‘my unique mission, the intention of my individual spirit, my soul’s purpose for choosing my body The passage to dharma requires three steps: exploration, discovery and fulfilment” (p21)
As I read it, and through the process of the Purna Yoga teacher training, I find myself asking precisely these questions and using Aadhil’s words as a guide. How can I explore my purpose more deeply? How can I discover the clearest path for my soul whilst on earth? How can I bring fulfilment to others?
Of course the passage to illumination rarely runs smooth, which is why the author’s later words help guide the process through possible potholes.
‘if you are not clear about your dharma, keep exploring, try different things, look deeper into yourself…exploring your dharma is your dharma…’ (p23)
How can we find our purpose on earth when we are stuck in potential conflict? Aadhil suggests some ways of moving through personal blocks:
‘what if there is an apparent conflict in dharma? The key word here is apparent. There cannot be conflict in dharma. There can only be dharma versus a false sense of duty, dharma versus that which is seemingly correct or expected by society, dharma versus the norm….whether it takes days or years for our decision to manifest itself, we must balance our relentless march toward dharma with both non-violence and contentment’ (p29)
It is clear that at root there is no conflict. There is just attachment, ignorance and ego. Our own attachment to how we want to practice asana, our ignorance of the correct and most appropriate ways of completing that practice, and our egos that insists on doing things a certain way. On occasion the internal frustration spills over, manifesting as impatience and anger, and this too is a learning process. Learning to become free from attachment, learning to practice ahimsa and ensuring that I am non-violent in my thoughts and actions. As Aadhil says, there is no conflict in dharma, only a false sense of duty.
The lesson I loved most of all was Aahil’s chapter on bliss. The whole story about the ‘truly happy man’ was very moving,, as was the lesson that stated ‘All illness is a function of the loss of the inner smile’ (p201). This approach to mind-body healing, the idea that ‘hidden deep within the veiled recesses of the Heart Center is a smile that emerges from a sense of connectedness with all things. This unifying feeling is true love, far removed from the physical…Bliss is the connection with the heart, and is not to be confused with excitement. Most of us equate bliss with a thrill, and that is part of the problem. Bliss is a calm inner state, the manifestation of inner connectedness, while excitement is merely a passing fever” (p201-202).
What do we all want, ultimately? Happiness. This is Freud wrote about in ‘The Pleasure Principle’ (Freud Penguin library, Vol 4) and what King David alluded to in the psalm that said ‘serve God with Joy’. It was the centre focus of the Hasidic movement (‘Simcha’) and indeed much of tantra.
Aadhil’s lesson, however, is much deeper. Not that it is nice to experience joy, but that it is essential. We can only achieve deeper body-soul healing if we are able to reach this place, and we can only truly hela if we are able to experience this inner smile and find this balance.
The ‘Teaching Bliss’ pointers are helpful for both teaching and practice:
“REMIND TO RE-HEART
RELIEF OF GRIEF
TEACHING WITH JOY
GRATITUDE FOR OUR VOCATION
GRATITUDE FOR OUR STUDENTS
THE CYCLE OF BLISS”
The process of gratitude as a path to bliss is a helpful one, and this is the lesson that I will be taking and putting into practice in my own work.
Palhivala writes with such heart and clarity that it will be an extremely helpful and transformative resource to all students and teachers of yoga.