A forager is defined as “one who wanders in search of provisions; one who seeks, rummages, and hunts.” We are all foragers in a sense. And within the yoga practice is this complex and exciting task we are given of searching out who we are and why we are here. This is the tradition that lives within us and connects us – our hunt for meaning.
When I was growing up, every summer my friends and I would get buckets and go into the woods to pick blackberries. We would spend hours, wandering around looking for wild patches – often without success.
But sometimes we would hit it just right. And on those afternoons, more berries would make it to our mouths than in our buckets. We’d return home, lips stained in purple, carrying what little remained after our gorging.
To this day, I look for opportunities to get outside and hunt for what’s in season. Though I must admit, it’s a good thing I don’t have to live off what I find because I’d starve! But for me, there’s something deeply gratifying in the search itself.
Foraging is a practice rooted deep within our ancestry. And in fact, it’s the only way early humans lived, survived, and actually thrived.
According to the book, Sapiens, early foragers had superb mental abilities with wider, deeper, and more varied knowledge. They had amazing dexterity and agility and were not just masters of the outside world but their own inner workings.
It occurred to me that this may be why I am always finding an excuse to go gathering. Because it nourishes me in another way, allowing me to fully engage with the nature I inhabit. I learn to be more observant and aware, taking particular note of the shapes of leaves, neighboring plants, and signs of bears who are ALSO out looking for berries!
For me, foraging is less about finding and much more about looking. Much the way I believe the practice of yoga is intended.
And I know I’m not alone. We all come to the mat as seekers of knowledge – whether physically, mentally, spiritually, or relationally, we come with a longing and a yearning to know more about ourselves and the world around us.
So we are all foragers in a sense. And it is this innate discontent, our search for more, that both sustains us and drives us. A hunger that motivates us towards greatness – and yet can easily allows us to settle as well.
Keepers of Land
In the hunting and gathering way of life, the whole territory of a given group is fairly equally experienced by everyone. – Gary Snyder
As the world’s population grew, foraging ceased to be a viable way of life. Agriculture took over and rather than roaming the land in search for food, people settled into one place and began to grow what they needed.
This provided a certain guarantee for food – but not really. It simply allowed for more people in one place.
So too has yoga evolved to accommodate (or produce?) the masses. Once all belonged to the same tribe. There was no Iyengar yoga, no Ashtanga yoga series, no Bikram, and certainly no goats. But as our population grew, we too began to stake out land and grow our special kind of practice.
No doubt, it’s made it a bit easier for us students. Instead of having to learn every way there is to practice yoga – we just have to learn one way and make it ours.
Simple? Definitely. But better? Not necessarily.
Life on the farm can be limiting, making us much more vulnerable to sickness and disasters. For example, the more heavily and densely populated, the more rapid a disease (like a cult) can spread. Plus, one of the benefits of foraging was a varied diet (or varied movement) which is not possible when options are restricted.
And so successful farming depends on cooperation and sharing amongst communities.
Yet in yoga, we’ve adopted this belief that once we have found what works for us, what we can grow best, that we no longer need to look anywhere else. We forget about the search and quickly buy into someone else’s perfectly-designed method to save us.
The hunt is over. And we stick to the farm.
Which is exactly what happens when we become too attached to one particular party, religion, lineage, or guru. For it is not the politicians, priests, or gurus who lead us astray but our impulse to adopt and rely on them rather than do our own foraging – within.
A Traditional Practice
Within the yoga practice is this complex and exciting task we are given of searching out who we are and why we are here.
There was a time I was embarrassed to admit how many different teachers I’ve had over the years, how many varied styles and techniques I’ve learned. As if (within Ashtanga) this would make me somehow less pure, less devoted, less disciplined.
Yet, twenty some years later – I’m still practicing. I’m still waking up each morning to begin my hunt for meaning. I’m still watching for bears while gathering berries.
And what’s wonderful is there is still so much territory to explore! Still so much land for us to cultivate and grow, along with others to share with and learn from. You don’t have to sell the farm.
But do take down the fences.
Remember, you and I come from a long line of foragers and crop-sharers. This tradition of seeking is rooted deep within our DNA.
We are a congregation of seekers. A party of independents. This is our lineage. These are our roots.
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