We like to celebrate exceptional talent and skill that we see in others. As a society, we see talent and skill as hard earned, something all of us can aspire to, and perhaps even achieve if we have a similar dedication and work ethic. We shower people who have exceptional talent and skill with popularity, accolades, and financial remuneration. And if you happen to be one of the many who are not recognized for your skills with popularity, accolades or financial remuneration, then the underlying message is that you just aren’t all that talented: Try harder, or try something else.
Interestingly, in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (the ancient text many teachers use to learn and better understand Yoga techniques), when supernatural spiritual powers (called siddhayah) arise, they aren’t seen as things to be honored, admired or celebrated.
Yoga Sutra 4.3
But the apparent causes of a change do not in fact bring it about. They merely remove obstacles to natural growth, as a farmer clears the ground for his crops.
– translation, Alistair Shearer
These incidental causes are an indirect means to spiritual evolution, which is naturally arising. On the other hand, they are like the farmer who removes barriers to allow water to flow for the flowering of the field.
– translation, Mukunda Stiles
Siddhayah are assistants that help to create the correct environment for the spirit to continue developing and growing. Consider the example of a farmer. Although the farmer’s role is important, the farmer does not manufacture the seeds or chemically create the water. Nor does the farmer dictate the weather, or birth the sun. Farmers, with all their knowledge, talent and skill, only make the best of the situation so that crops can hopefully grow. If the crops actually grow, though, that’s determined by karma and the Divine’s grace.
Of course siddhayah can be helpful, and because we must usually work hard for them to develop, these achievements can be appreciated, for sure. But according to Patanjali, spiritual growth and progress continuously evolves simply through living life. And the purpose of the siddhayah “superpowers” are not to initiate a new life of fame, but rather to help remove obstacles that are in the way of continued growth.
It is important to recognize that when siddhayah are revealed, they are not a symbol of having reached the end of the road. They are not tricks to be celebrated or even used to entertain. Rather, the true power of the siddhayah is found when they are used to help further one’s spiritual path. Siddhayah are a symbol of a turn in the road, or discovering the road you were on was only an on-ramp to a highway.
Most often, Sutra 4.3 is explained as a sort of warning not to let external success develop the ego-mind, which can derail us from our purpose of spiritual growth. This is a good lesson, and certainly we can all be reminded of this lesson often. But I see another lesson that can be gleaned from this Sutra, too. So many of us look for signs we’re on the “right” path through external signs of success – either fame, praise, or financial remuneration. But what if we never gain exceptional talent or skill in an area? Does that mean we will not be able to gain spiritual success and personal growth?
Superpowers, talent, and skills, or whatever you want to call them can be helpful to achieve a goal. But it’s good to remember they aren’t absolutely necessary to true success. Okay, so your dream to become a Hollywood superstar didn’t pan out. So what? Your acting skills still probably help you out in many situations in your everyday life. For example, perhaps your skill at being able to take on a different personality and “role” helps you understand situations from another’s point of view, which in turn helps you navigate office politics and be a good manager on the job. You can glean a lot of spiritual growth and satisfaction from that. Who cares if the average person may not see your interpersonal skills as a “superpower?” Your superpower is for you, not for them.
Maybe you don’t think you have an exceptional talent or skill? Of course you do! Your superpower is not found by comparing yourself to others. Compare yourself to you. Certainly there are some things you do better or enjoy doing more than other things. You can develop those skills and they become your superpowers, even if it may not look like a superpower compared to someone else’s abilities. Don’t worry about the result. It won’t matter how skilled you become at your superpower because success in Yoga comes from consistent practice, and that’s it.
About the Author
Michelle Dortignac, founder of Unnata® Aerial Yoga, is an E-RYT 200 certified Yoga instructor of close to 20 years, while during most of those years also being a professional aerial acrobatics performer. Her most influential Yoga teachers include Dharma Mittra, Alan Finger, Cyndi Lee and Susan Braham.