Friday, July 31, 2009

Reality Bubbles

The screening of 500 Days of Summer started with an ad for Tanqueray Gin. It turned out to be a very appropriate introduction to the film. The ad starts by naming ingredients like angelica, coriander and juniper berry. And then there is a story about friends who have been to Paris many times, but still haven’t seen the Arc de Triomphe, the Eiffel Tower, or the Mona Lisa. So I guess those friends were just having too much fun drinking gin to do much sight seeing… Their private world with each other was so enthralling that they had no need to experience where they were. I guess that they didn’t even need to go to Paris because they could just drink at home. Hey, I think I’ll roll up my yoga mat, now, and get some gin! Just kidding…

What the advertisement does point out is that there are people having different realities in the same place. Some might be sightseeing, but others are drinking. I think the ad is kind of dark. Why go anywhere when you can just drink and have a good time? You know, just sedate yourself… Apparently it’s very sophisticated to do that if the ad’s reality is to be believed.

I draw a connection to the movie because the main character, Tom, is in a dark dream world of his own devising. He listens to The Smiths and apparently has chosen a ‘Girlfriend in a Coma’ like the song. He has sold out, and is working at a greeting card company. Everything sucks, and he thinks that the girl is going to save him. So he gets high on love and it alters his reality for a while, but then it’s over and things look much worse than they did before his fling with Summer. Somehow the awareness of his deep emotional pain shocks him into action towards pursuing his dream. He could no longer live in the way he once did.

I have heard people say that they thought that we needed to have President Bush with all the war and torture and general darkness so we could elect President Barack Obama representing hope, healing and high morality.

Do we need the dark to find our light? We might.

When seen in this way negativity might become a slingshot, rather than a trap. But to allow darkness to become a functional slingshot towards lighter times, we have to feel it. If we numb the sensation with alcohol or other distraction it only works for a little while. So it's better to feel it, and heal it!

So I consider some of the darkness I was born into. In my young adult life in bars I enjoyed hearing the song ‘Anthrax’ by Gang of Four. From the lyrics I remember:

"And I feel like a beetle on its back,
and there's no way for me to get up.
Love will get you like a case of anthrax
And that's one thing I don't want to catch."

The cool rhythm of that song made me feel safe and protected--a proper prophylactic for the enemy called LOVE!

What might the “negativity slingshot” mean for practiced positive-speak and affirmations? Might there be a negative backlash for shoving positive vibes down your throat all the time? Might be... I don’t know for sure, but when I tell myself things that aren’t true it just seems fake rather than helpful.

I don’t know the answer for one right way to modulate positivity and negativity in one’s experience. I bet that there’s not just one way. Each person and story is unique. Right now I’m learning to be with my truth, and to ride the positive and negative waves skillfully because (to be perfectly honest) I’d like to stay above the water. And I’d like to ride the currents of my life more skillfully as time goes on. And even though I did some real belly flops in the past and I held my breath for a while under the water, now I’d like to enjoy a little sunshine before I’m gone.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Buoyant Blog Blessings! It's My Bloggiversary!

Happy Birthday to my Blog! We have ridden the world around the sun one time. Yeah!

When I started writing this blog on July 29, 2008 I had no idea how it would go. I thought it might be a workspace just for me to work out my ideas about yoga, the mind and culture. I soon became convinced that I wanted to share it with the world, and I'm so glad! The experience has been immensely satisfying. I have learned so much, and I feel much more connected to the world.

With every entry I developed more trust in the process and a greater sense that my words were being understood based on comments I received here and also privately. The positive feedback emboldened me to share more than I might have otherwise. And it has been so healing and fun!

Thank you for reading! Your comments give me a boost!

Collective Effects

I am bothered by the news about the destructive effects we are having on the environment. It was reported in the New York Times and NPR that a 3,000 square mile "dead zone" was measured off the coasts of Texas and Louisiana. This is an area of water containing dense bacterial "plumes" feeding off of agricultural runoff. The people who are directly affected now are those that run "shrimp and other fisheries." Fish cannot live in the "dead zone." Three thousand square miles??

And I know this is just one of the myriad destructive effects of living in an industrialized capitalist society. It seems like the majority of us are quiet or willfully ignorant about the effects of our way of life. As long as we are provided with comforts distracting enough, we can ignore environmental destruction and the deaths of many creatures. Life is for the living, right? And beings have been dying for as long as life has been living. So what's the big deal?

The big deal to me is that as a group we are so powerful and cause so much destruction without much opportunity as individuals to cognize the effects our actions as a group. And I get the sense that the people who make decisions that create these catastrophic effects are primarily concerned with profits, because it seems that money provides the structure of our society and money provides lavish comforts for individual decision makers and shareholders of companies.

What if we had to process our own household trash? Can you imagine? I wouldn't know where to begin if I had to do that. So I put my trash in the trash can. And where does it go from there? This is just personal waste. Then there is the problem of industrial waste, and all the byproducts of manufacturing processes.

I have an idealistic notion lurking in the background of my actions as a yoga teacher that relates. What if we can come into greater conscious awareness of ourselves as a group through the practice of yoga? What if?? Am I in fantasy-land? I usually want to avoid "what ifs" because they seem like colossal time-wasters. But in this case I am allowing it. The "known things" in this picture aren't enough. I know I buy food from the store, and that what I don't use, I "throw away" either in short order or some time later.

But, then there are also agricultural wastes that run into the Gulf of Mexico and other waters, and render that area uninhabitable for some time. Am I responsible for this because I shop at a store? As a group of consumers of these products we are responsible, but at a personal level we tend to be oblivious of the effects.

So big changes are called for, and I don't know exactly what they are. I have been suspicious of joining groups, but it's clear to me that a group awareness leading to group action is required. Those who make industrial decisions are polluting our world, and charging us for it. And what we get is comfort. But I don't think that we can really see the full costs of this "comfort."

I just hope that yoga doesn't just provide another form of escape from a world that is calling for action. Yoga practice can be used as an escape, and I hope we can come around to an understanding of it as a group that will help us to see clearly together so we can make a real difference. Yoga can be a part of a solution that will heal our hearts and embolden us to take what might be the tough steps needed to heal our world.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Quest of the Soul

The soul is having a quest through my genetics and my flesh, my stories and my emotions, and my isolation and my relationships. There is a soul seeking expression through everything I identify as me. Yet the soul is not the same as the terrain that it is trying to inhabit. How can I make the terrain of my life in this world a place where something that is not a thing--a soul--can express whatever needs to be expressed? Very mysterious.

"The right means are just as important as the end in view. Patanjali enumerates these means as the eight limbs or stages of Yoga for the quest of the soul. They are:
1. Yama (universal moral commandments); 2. Niyama (self purification by discipline); 3. Asana (posture); 4. Pranayama (rhythmic control of the breath); 5. Pratyahara (withdrawal and emancipation of the mind from the domination of the senses and exterior objects); 6. Dharana (concentration); 7. Dhyana (meditation) and 8. Samadhi (a state of super-consciousness brought about by profound meditation, in which the individual aspirant (sadhaka) becomes one with the object of his meditation - Paramatma or the Universal Spirit)."
-B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Yoga, twelfth paragraph of the Introduction.

Patanjali outlines a plan for this soul-quest in the Yoga Sutras. Where does the eight-fold path lead? When I think of a path visually I see a way that has been described by others, like a dirt path through the woods (created by humans or perhaps deer) or a path of stones leading to a gazebo. But this is a different kind of path. It is only a "path" in the loosest sense of the word path. It is a journey that each of us takes alone. 

There is plenty of help along the way, though. There are others walking this path. So teachers and friends are of great help as we move along in life. But, I find that it isn't true for me to try to live through the choices of others. Mimicry is a way to learn, but through trying out the suggestions of others I quickly develop my own tastes, and a desire to express myself uniquely.

Action creates this path. Action offers new pathways into the mystery of mind. The more I do, the more I learn.  Action creates new possibilities in one's life. Just by making a choice and doing something to support it a unique experience unfolds. An experience that is about my choice. The soul is finding it's feet.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Keep Blogging, Linda-Sama!

Recently, Linda-Sama threatened to quit contributing to her established and widely respected blog, Linda’s Yoga Journey. At first I reacted with ambivalence akin to an unvoiced, “Oh well…” But I want her to keep blogging. …Not because I always agree with what she has to say, because I don’t.

I want her to keep going on Linda’s Yoga Journey because she is very generous in sharing her viewpoint. She doesn’t seem to attempt to homogenize her personal writing into mainstream yoga speak, and I like that. What she actually writes sometimes affects me like a drink of vinegar—not how I would say it! But, that’s the point: she is saying her truth the way she sees it. And I am glad that I have had the good fortune to read it. There are also times where I do resonate with what she shares. I remember some really good book reviews she did once… I thought I might like to read those books one day.

What provoked me to write about this is a comment she received about her announcement. It starts out like this: “would that you could go quietly into the night, but that would be too much for you to manage, wouldn't it? at least you're GOING.”

I am so saddened and shocked by this comment. Using a metaphor for dying quietly is just so hurtful and wrong to receive. I know personally (not from my blog but from somewhere else), so I’m admittedly triggered into a reaction here.

The last part of the comment is also a problem for me: “one less chunk of bitchiness in the virtual yoga world; for that many of us are extremely grateful.”

I am not grateful for that thought that Linda-Sama could stop writing on her blog. I want her to keep doing it. I want to know how it goes from here.

My path of yoga right now is about accepting all the aspects of my mind. And in some ways this yoga blogging is a grand experiment, and a way to integrate and heal spiritually. So if I meet some words on Linda’s Yoga Journey that remind me of my own bitchiness… Well, I think that it’s a good reminder to acknowledge that part of myself that is a bitch and wants to squish those who don’t agree with me into the ground like bugs. And while I’ve done a good job of directing those energies into parts of myself that I value and want to cultivate, I recognize bitchiness because I have it somewhere inside myself.

And Linda-Sama, I read your blog regularly. I hope you will keep writing because you want to, not because someone sent you some hurtful words.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Soup Du Jour

I am bringing my self to this world. And rather than letting the world imprint on me how I am acting and how I feel about myself: I am bringing my own special flavor to the world, today. The world is a soup that is not complete without my spice. If I hold back, there is something missing. Like a bland soup calling for that certain something... My contribution makes it yummy.

In the past I have confused the effects of the world for myself. I can bring something good. The bad things are not my fault, nor can I take full credit for the good things.

I became aware of enormous guilt I had been carrying--as if everything was my fault. The world was not my fault--just like the problems of my parents were not my fault when I was growing up. But I sure felt like it was. I thought that everything was my fault--I guess it's common that kids feel this way.

I can't seem to get anything done from that space of being faulted for everything. It's a heavy place. That's a huge burden!

At the same time I also feel a call to responsibility for doing what I can. I am here to make things better. I can bring something good to the world. It's not my fault. So I can offer my helping hands without having to carry all of that heavy baggage. This way, my hands are many times stronger.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

From Melancholy to Movement

Not too long ago, I wrote about welcoming a morning malaise. Today I am doing that and I am welcoming it into the ring because I want to KICK ITS BUTT! And that might be my personalized form of abhyasa, or constant practice. Today it is my way to keep things moving. …because it is just this kind of morning and these kinds of thoughts that keep me from my yoga and keep me from my life. And I AM NOT rejecting this part of myself--please do not confuse this point--I merely intend to show this sulky, stubborn part of myself that it is time to move. And I will feel better because of this. I have heard it said before that people tend to be their own worst enemy. Well, I want to be my best friend. I want to be the friend that helps you out of bed when you are too melancholy to move. This can be a way of maintaining the constant practice that is mentioned in the following quote:

"The problem of controlling the mind is not capable of easy solution, as borne out by the following dialogue in the sixth chapter of the Bhagavad Gita. Arjuna asks Sri Krishna:
'Krishna, you have told me of Yoga as a communion with Brahman (the Universal Spirit), which is ever one. But, how can this be permanent, since the mind is restless and inconsistent? The mind is impetuous and stubborn, strong and willful, as difficult to harness as the wind.' Sri Krishna replies: 'Undoubtedly, the mind is restless and hard to control. But it can be trained by constant practice (abhyasa) and by freedom from desire (vairagya). A man who cannot control his mind will find it difficult to attain this divine communion; but the self-controlled man can attain it if he tries hard and directs his energy by the right means.'"
-B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Yoga, eleventh paragraph of the Introduction.

So we just have to keep at it. Yoga is an ongoing process. And it is never a static entity; energies and thoughts are always moving so constant practice is necessary to harmonize our yogic experience. Every day is unique... Even every moment is unique. The account from this morning (that I started the post with) is just one example of keeping things moving.

Never let the poses get stale or stagnant, either. Don't let the pictures in yoga books and magazines confuse you! Photographs make the poses look like they might be frozen, like a bronze sculpture. But yoga poses in practice are percolating with life, even when they are "held." Tune into your sensations to learn more.

A common notion that seeps into yoga, sometimes is: wanting to be "done." In this case we might get into a pose--thinking we are "done"--and just wait for a teacher or timer to let us know that it's time to move on. However, some yogis think that once we have gotten ourselves into a pose that it is only then beginning. 

There is always movement in life, and we can choose the direction. Choosing not to act leads to disorder, and doing something creates order. And in order to live a life I want I must act. There are things I have to do to contribute towards outcomes I'd like to see. The present moment is always making the next one, so my action now or my lack of action now strongly affects what comes next.

And I trust that the amount I can do is enough. Sometimes (many times?) it seems like there is so much to do that it is overwhelming. It is important to remember that when I am applying myself it is enough. If I am doing the best I can do it is enough. I do the right amount.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Where to Start... (It’s kind of a rant!)

I think, right now I just have to start somewhere! So many thoughts floating around, and it’s time to try to put some down!

Without a lot of crap, this is what I’m thinking about:

I’m thinking about how thinking gets in the way of seeing and therefore our actions because if we’re not seeing clearly, then we don’t (can’t) know what to do…

We count on people being certain ways for us. And when they’re not living up to those expectations there can be trouble in those relationships, or just blindness and missed opportunities. What is the source of this trouble?

Memory is a repository, a rich resource we can draw upon when in relationship with others. Our memories, both subtle and obvious, help us understand the world. Our memories help us interpret the language of the world.

When we mistake the meaning of memories for the content of the present moment, we are stuck in the past and not seeing correctly.

Let’s say I’m in relationship with my boyfriend, and he is always “the rock.” When my emotions are unstable I can go to him and his presence tends to calm the storm. On a particular day I go to him and he is aloof. I have nowhere to put my pain, because I had been depending on him for this. So I am miserable and tell myself that he is, “growing tired of me,” or, “doesn’t love me.”

Meanwhile, my (imaginary) boyfriend is worried about something at work. He just doesn’t have that to give to me right now. He tells himself that, “She is needy.”

In this scenario more distance is created between me and my boyfriend because I am expecting him to be how he always is, and he is suffering about his job and needs space for himself. Expectations based on memories are getting in the way of peaceful interactions during stressful times.

What I’m interested in though, is how our memories support rich perception. Our memories provide the structure for so much. We wouldn’t be able to go anywhere to experience anything if we forgot how to drive the car, ride the bike, walk, or whatever the basic things may be... So obviously memory is important for life in the world. And relying on memory incorrectly causes problems.

What if I grew up in a family that would make degrading comments based on race, gender, obesity, disabled, age, etc.? Don’t we generalize about things?

Our ability to conceptualize is challenged by living in society. Men and women require different healthcare. Culturally men as a group share challenges, just as women do. Then there are so many things that we share and that are the same. Ethnicity can also dictate concerns that a group of people share.

The richness of differences that exist among us is an asset. The problems that exist around perceived differences are a failure of imagination. Our ability to think is hamstrung by our old psychological baggage.

Another “lazy thinking” approach is when we assume that others are basically like us. This can be a way to tell ourselves that we are open minded and accepting of other people, but really we do violence to who they are in assuming this. Also, when we accept images others put onto us we do violence to who we are.

An example of this might be if I had relatives who would ask me if I was pro-life, (when they know that I believe in a woman’s right to choose) and not hear my reply, and instead use it as an opportunity to shit their opinion all over me. This is not a real conversation… It’s like a sales tactic to ask a question and then go forward with whatever you want. In this case they are not seeing me as someone with my own rich set of experiences and wisdom to bring to the moment.

How do the images that we hold of one another serve us? Images or impressions provide the language for us to interface with one another. And when we look to these past impressions for content about the present moment we are confusing the language to understand with the content of what is really happening.

So the challenge I put to myself is to see. It is easy when I meet someone new who looks like someone else I know to assume that this person is like the other one. This type of generalization destroys the possibility to see this person who I am with, now. It also limits my experience when I look through the goggles of the past in this way. But can I use everything I have learned up to any given moment to see more clearly, instead of killing the moment by perceiving it as a meaningless repetition of something I have already experienced? Can my memories contribute to my ability to perceive someone instead of robbing them of their uniqueness?

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Yogi Marriage

In some sense I am the stories that define who I am, and yoga practice helps me to go beyond that into a more expansive and connected sense of who I am. Yet the word yoga indicates a joining or balancing of being an individual and being a child of a larger connected whole.

So I can see why the practice leans toward gleaning insight about that which is beyond form. After all, we do tend to be mesmerized by the physical world. So to balance us we tend to need a spiritual practice, lest we get wrapped up in the daily tasks and then think that that is all there is to our lives. 'I am a bill payer' would be an example of this kind of reduction.

At the same time I recognize that my warm and cuddly human form with all it's unique expressions is a part of this marriage. So it's not about blotting Brooks Hall out in exchange for some kind of compassionate one without a past that informs the present. On a less-than-completely-conscious level I misinterpreted the teachings of yoga in this way. These teachings are an aspect of a total process that includes my earthly existence.

The reasons for my misinterpretation are twofold. One reason I made this mistake is because I read each teacher as if they had "it"--meaning the whole story--when individuals always have a particular take on things. That's just the way it is. And another person's take cannot be my own. I have to integrate my own understanding. So while I was trying on the ideas of other yoga and spiritual teachers I was a bit confused about how to live this kind of excellent life that I was seeking. So my unsophisticated and underdeveloped sense of myself gravitated towards self-rejection under the aim of becoming the best person I could be--which turned into some things which turned out to be against the me that was born and will die. And it was under the good intention of helping others. But I have done that at the expense of developing my personal life. I have been Brooks Hall the yoga teacher, and now I'm just trying to be myself.

And as contradictory as this might sound I also recognize that my immersion in spiritual teachings is now part of my life path. Furthermore it is a blessing, and for any confusion and struggle that may come as I continue to assymilate and integrate what I am able to in my life, I am grateful--because this adventure is one I want. I want to see how far I can go, and live what I can learn.

The other way I got off track with the teachings of yoga is my misinterpretation allowed me to hide from hurts from my past. If I can be a yoga-inspired person I can be totally healed and happy, right? There is something false and Pollyanna-ish about the commonly advertised image of yoga yielding a perfect and always-happy life. For me, there was self denial present. I was fooling myself to think that my old painful self would just disappear--I still have to deal with that one. It also was an easy fit for my self-loathing. Self-loathing loves denial! This way you can hate yourself without feeling the rawness. Have you ever seen someone with the fake yoga smile (the fake smile exists in other places of denial, too)? It's the kind of smile that holds pain in the eyes--like they're afraid that you'll see what's really going on there.

I understand this because I've lived in the fear that others will see just how pathetic I really am. But that's really just a self-judgement and not really true. I am who I am. And plenty of people like me and there are some who don't.

What is called for is a sacred marriage or union within myself between the stories that give my life form and the great mystery that is formless and beyond any one person's comprehension. And while I recognize this I also think that the mystery is something that we can hold together. This is an important reason for us to come together and listen to one another.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Channeling the abundant resource of mind

I was talking to a friend I hadn't seen in a little while and she reminisced about how she had felt more focused when she had been practicing yoga. This paragraph from Light on Yoga provides insight:

"The word vrtti is derived from the Sanskrit root vrt meaning to turn, to revolve, to roll on. It thus means course of action, behavior, mode of being, condition or mental state. Yoga is the method by which the restless mind is calmed and the energy directed into constructive channels. As a mighty river which when properly harnessed by dams and canals, creates a vast reservoir of water, prevents famine and provides abundant power for industry; so also the mind, when controlled, provides a reservoir of peace and generates abundant energy for human uplift."
-B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Yoga, tenth paragraph of the Introduction.

This passage evokes the image of the mind in motion. These motions can have a positive effect if we can learn to harness the mind's power. It is like an energy generator... The generator can run by itself: just running to run. Or the generator can channel it's energy into powering something, like a house... Or maybe something grander like a peaceful society.

When seen in this way, living and allowing the mind to run, like obsessive rumination might be a terrible waste of fuel. But if we can learn to choose action, we might be able to do more than we thought we could. The practice of yoga becomes an imperative, and indispensable for someone who wants to focus in this way.

Staying in the mind without discipline is like being in a room that only has walls, and when we start to act on those good intentions doors start to show up.

Are we at the mercy of our minds? According to the teachings of yoga we are not. Through the practice of yoga B.K.S. Iyengar suggests that we can control this abundant resource and feel positive spiritual benefits from doing so. 

I think that yoga has the potential to help us make the world a better place--we just have to do it.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Mind Control

"In the second aphorism of the first chapter of the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali describes Yoga as 'chitta vrtti nirodhah'. This may be translated as the restraint (nirodhah) of mental (chitta) modifications (vrtti) or as supression (nirodhah) of the fluctuations (vrtti) of consciousness (chitta). The word chitta denotes the mind in its total or collective sense as being composed of three categories: (a) mind (manas, that is, the individual mind having the power and faculty of attention, selection and rejection; it is the oscillating indecisive faculty of the mind); (b) intelligence or reason (buddhi, that is, the decisive state which determines the distinction between things) and (c) ego (ahamkara, literally the I-maker, the state which ascertains that 'I know')."
-B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Yoga, ninth paragraph of the Introduction.

Merely limiting the second aphorism of the yoga sutras to "stilling the mind" or "cessation of the fluctuations of the mind" (as I have commonly heard it explained) can lead to a major misunderstanding, I think. In the above quote from Light on Yoga, B.K.S. Iyengar breaks down 'chitta' into three parts. Manas, the mind, or the storehouse of all the images and experiences is only one aspect.  Chitta also includes the aspect of mind that decides or judges: buddhi, and the part of mind that creates the concept we have of ourselves: ahamkara. The misunderstanding can come when we read it from a western mindset. After all, "I think therefore I am," (RenĂ© Descartes) according to western philosophy, right? Thinking is something that I do. In fact "I" do not exist without thinking according to the western mindset. But according to yogic thought you are not your mind. And only identifying with the concepts you have about yourself is missing out on the full extent of who you are.

So, according to the simplified translation: if I quiet my mind, I might be there at the same time, enjoying my calm mind. It sounds safe. Okay I'm just going to hold my mind still, and I am having a major accomplishment, right? Well I think we are missing something if we read it that way. It might be a first step, but lacking fullness and definitely missing something.

Also the mind is something I have according to the western concept. And having implies ownership. An effect of seeing it this way is we might think that the mind is ours, as if someone bought and owned the rights to what they think. (Indeed, copyright law is an expression of this.)

So it might be possible to control the mind and quiet the thoughts, but it is still "me" that is doing this.

But if we look at what this chitta is that we seek to still, the part of that process that is "me", and the part that chooses is also quiet. So for 'chitta vritti nirodha' "I" cannot quiet my mind, because the "I" must be quiet, too.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

On Healing

...a post about putting two hands together and saying a prayer with a heart full of faith, acceptance and love... 

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

"You made your bed..."

"... now LIE in it." I was told as I was receiving my punishments growing up. This is one of the ways I learned my depression.

At the time I didn't get the sense that you could make a nice bed. It was the kind of hopeless bed that one laid in to die.

But why not? Couldn't I learn to do it better? What about a fresh set of sheets? Wouldn't that spruce things up? No I could not (because authority said so... End of story.). There was no making things good in that house--unless authority was drunk or bizarrely happy. And then it was just fate--the gods had forgotten.

I think that I'd like to learn to make a nice bed today... In fact, I think that it's kind of interesting that I've almost never made my bed unless it affected someone else...

I think that I'm DEATHLY AFRAID to make my own bed, because then I'll have to LIE IN IT.

I am trying to embody the truth that I can heal. There is hope. Everybody makes mistakes. I have made mistakes, too. Except I want to make a bed that I can heal in.

I want to get a brand new bed that will protect me when I sleep, and watch over me while I heal. …a bed that allows me to wake up fresh and ready to start things anew.

From the old bed I would wake up feeling groggy and still tired. …for I had been punished and forced to PAY.

In my new bed I wake up fresh-as-a-daisy, and welcome the sunshine as well as a little rain.

I am making a new bed that I can make over and over again.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Welcome, Morning Malaise…

Just like giving birth can be painful and joyful, a morning malaise can yield useful realizations, and lead into a joyful day. So it is.

This is the thought I had upon waking today:
“Is maintaining life just prolonging the torture?”

Yikes! Where the heck did that optimistic little gem come from? Right?

Then I realized: “wait a minute…” And decided to look at it…

There is a technique that I like to use at the beginning of a yoga class. This past weekend I had an opportunity to use it. A student had just set up their mat, and I asked, “How are you doing?”

“I’m stressed,” she said and flashed an unhappy look.

To which I responded, “Welcome, stressed!”

To which she giggled!

I had major realizations today. It stemmed from the malaise I woke up with and cleared in my yoga practice. Just like a realization on a theatrical stage might come out of a fog, my foggy mood cleared to reveal something useful. It has to do with an awareness that entertaining negative thought patterns leads to real problems! I have acted in response to my own internal verbal abuse (harsh inner critic) and shut down where I need to energize!

I want to see of I can explain...

So it seems like the thoughts are just there. And I have been watching these thoughts like a scientist might watch the activities of cells in a Petri dish—with little interference. I admit that I have been fascinated with the process.

And I realized that to grow to another level of care for myself, that I have to do something because these self-defeating thought-streams are preventing me from fulfilling goals. “Oh, well, I’m going to die anyway,” is a pretty stupid thought that left unchecked can lead to some pretty irresponsible behavior.

I guess that I realized that I can watch my thoughts destroy the beauty I have in my life, or…

I really think that the way forward is to play the part of the welcome wagon for the macabre. I could say in my imagination, “Welcome, the one who is going to die anyway!” This is actually true. But, life isn’t about the death, it’s about what we can create and do during this time of blessing: this time where I am ALIVE.

So this morning I welcomed “the one who prolongs the torture (of being alive)”. This is a pretty depressed one. But this aspect of consciousness is not without hope! I say this because I also have the capacity to access the aspects of myself that feels that life is good now. And I recognize this negative bit as a figment from my past. And once I got going today I ended up having a really good day. I enjoyed the sun and yoga teaching and the ability to learn about myself in my practice. And I generated some good vibes with yoga!

I shared this in the hopes that if others have negativity showing up on the path to healing, that it can be okay. In fact it may be necessary to find the kind of psychological integration that is unflappable and able to help our world. And I've decided that I'm here for myself in all moods and stages of health. My care is not going anywhere.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Spiritual Declaration of Independence

Stepping onto one’s yoga mat, sitting on one’s meditation cushion, tending to one’s garden, or whatever a person does to connect with their self can be a declaration of spiritual independence. It is a statement to your self that you are important enough to nurture. You have an expression of beauty to cultivate.

It might even be worth a contract. Contracts can seem ‘binding’… However, just like you have to declare a bit of space to create a garden that grows plants of your choosing, you also have to designate and commit to a certain amount of space and time to your spiritual flourishing--if that's what you want.

Sometimes freedom can seem like “doing whatever I feel like.” But feelings are as ever-changing as the weather, and if you really want to strengthen an aspect of your life I think that it requires consistent effort. Doing it "when you feel like it" may not be enough to make the kind of difference you'd like to see. You might even want to write down what you'd like to do as well as the time commitment (and sign and date it).

And just as the United States Declaration of Independence states that, “all men are created equal,” the Yogic Declaration of Independence might state that “all thoughts are created equal.” So thoughts like, "I can't do it" could be considered on equal footing as thoughts that say, "I can do it!" This equanimous perceiving of one's thoughts can allow freedom to choose the path you want. Do you want the "I can't do it" path? Or would the internal terrain be a little easier if you choose the "I can do it" possibility? The mind is that flexible, if we allow it to be. And this would ensure that we needn't be contained by any past limitations. The old ideas are no longer true. So we should be suspicious of thoughts. It's a way to move forward and change.

So, in going forward, today I'll try not to listen too closely to thoughts that limit my expression of myself, and I'll try to take more seriously those quieter thoughts about doing the right thing. What seems to happen for me is that the things I have done many times have a strength in my internal world of thoughts. And new things I might like to do have a quieter voice. These options are easier to ignore. The familiarity of old ways has an emotional strength that the new possibilities lack because I haven't really tried them yet. There might also be a little fear around the new ideas.

The mind is an infinite problem solver if we use it that way. We can also use the mind in the same way over and over. I find that whatever direction I point my mind in will yield ideas. At first glance a particular problem might seem like a dead end--especially if I am listening to my emotions around something new. But if I stick with it and don't follow my tendency to switch to the familiar when things get scary, then ideas come. This is freedom. It is freedom to choose one's direction, instead of being contained by old habits, or held back by fear.

Choose freedom.

Friday, July 3, 2009

World Kisses

I just feel like the world is giving me a big kiss right now. At Whole Foods I see the Yoga Journal that mentions this blog, and I say, "Yes!" (I wrote other posts about it here and here...)

If you've been reading here for a while, you probably know that I have my demons that my yoga practice helps with. But today I came out of my yoga practice with the realization that I make people happy, and that I might be able to make someone happy--like a special someone, a man! I've had this thing going on with me where I think that below my exterior (that people seem to interpret as sweet) I'm really yucky. This word, "yucky" doesn't fit on purpose--because it's not true! But just below the face I think that I'm sharing with people, this child-like part of me has been calling me unloveable for a long time. And of course I have plenty of back-story that has seemed to support this. And today I have a totally different sense of myself. I like this one better.

One of the illusions that has held me back is the fear that I'll loose myself in relationship (as I have in the past). Another big ugly one is the idea that if I let someone get to know me in that every-day kind of way that they won't like me. Oh yeah, then there's the one where I don't want to get involved because I'll eventually hurt them. You know, because I'm a "bad seed" or something.

I want to nurture this warm nugget I feel inside myself right now: a gem that sparkles with the scent that says that "I am loveable" and that glows with the sound saying "I make others happy," in spite of the old stories that have told me otherwise. They lie. And within the contradictions that exist inside me I am free to find the truth that I am loving and equally loveable. Watch out, world, your kisses inspire me.

And as I wrote the previous sentence an attractive man startled me out of my writing as he tried to sit next to me and I scared him away. Aaaah delightful contradictions. Loveable life, I will learn to make you happy.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

The small stuff matters in inner work

The practice of yoga has recently brought my attention to some different layers in my experience. When I am in a yoga class there is what's happening in the present moment: yoga instruction and yoga practitioners, my body, my breath, my sensations, the room, sounds and sights are all there. Then there are also my memories that contribute to the experience, but they can also distract me from it: Memories contribute to my experience when they help me to build my poses, and they distract me when they might take me to a conversation I had just before class. I also might have an emotional response that triggers other thoughts and stories: One time I had a flash of anger come out of a groin opener and shot it at one of the teaching assistants (years ago). And at the time I knew it didn't make any sense to be mad at that person, but at that time I just sat with it, observing, and exerted effort trying not to shoot that person with evil eye beams. Pains can also call one towards thoughts instead of practice: I might feel pain in my foot and spend some psychic time in Jamaica where I injured it years ago.

Each person brings a unique mix of who they are into yoga, including the layers I mentioned above. Sometimes during a class certain aspects of the mix can come out. We might find a hidden tightness and we might find a hidden memory or desire. When we do yoga we are working with the WHOLE PERSON. So don't be surprised when these other aspects come up. They are aspects of who we are.

And just like we all have unique fingerprints, we also have unique patterns of tension in the body and mind. Luckily, there is enough overlap in these patterns so that group classes are useful, and very beneficial. Even so, there are things that are unique to individuals that can be discovered and addressed with yoga. One woman told me that the first time she did Warrior Two, Virabhadrasana II, she had had a strong recollection of physical abuse that she had experienced years earlier. The experience had been so powerful that she was afraid to enter the pose again. We were working individually and she brought up the courage to do it, and this time the pose became empowering.

A man in his seventies and fairly new to yoga, courageously shared that he felt layers of tension and also fear (releasing) in his legs in Supta Padangusthasana II. In yoga we are stretching, and enhancing our alignment and athleticism, but you don't have to look too deep to discover that you are working with much more than that in yoga. Our stories about who we are, both the ones we know about and the ones that we've repressed are written into the structure of our bodies, and when we practice yoga we have an opportunity to read the book of ourselves.

And amazingly, with regular yoga practice we also have the ability to work towards balancing ourselves from this physiological level that also affects emotional and mental aspects of ourselves. Just like a spider builds it's own web, we also have the ability to spin our own stories from the body level. And this internal structure that we learn to build and maintain, sustains us with a sense of continuity as we go through the many changes that life brings. 

With yoga, depressed posture can be transformed by the physiology of optimism with noticeable psychological effects. Traces of anger, gripping the bones together, can be transformed by being attentive to these sensations during practice. By noticing what kinds of attitudes relieve these feelings and which ones exacerbate them we can tinker in our inner workings with a noticeable effect, when we favor the poses and attitudes that go towards the desired effect.

Remember the next time you go to a class that everyone has a unique mix of these layers working in them at any given time. Everybody is a little different. Everyone has unique memories of the past (and judgements based on these memories that may or may not be correct) that affect their bodies and posture. Everybody has hopes and fears about the future. And every person has the ability to heal and move towards a greater sense of well-being: yoga practice is a tool that can be used in this way.

And when we choose this path the "small stuff" does matter. The flashes of fear running through the legs (that might be ignored in certain kinds of situations) can be a revelation. In this case I would say be sure to work with this often. Don't ignore the leg work if you experience the fear there (I feel it, too.). Yoga is an opportunity to relieve that.