Being WITH Yourself

aka "Does Self-Work" Make you Feel Wrong?

Thank god. I was feeling at a loss in so many ways, and I came across exactly what I needed to be reminded of. In that body of forgetting, we sometimes need the words of others to let us remember ourselves. There is a reason I teach hatha yoga. The philosophy contains a fundamental difference that changes everything.

While hatha yoga is simply described as physical yoga, that doesn't mean that it is not meditation. It is just the order of things that is shifted. For the arising of meditation, hatha sees the physical body as the too-often-missing preliminary to all systems of meditation, AND also the end point and resolution of duality. The fundamental difference in hatha yoga philosophy from most other systems - raja yoga, buddhism, or any form of self-work or religion is that the idea of morality and mental self-discipline and self-control-- is removed.

The idea is that the body and its elements are the lens that we look through and act through. If we clear the body (physical body and nervous system) of past residue, blocks that obstruct the movement of life force, and things that obscure our clear understanding of ourselves - wholeness and balance will be the result and it will naturally create a state of bring WITH self and others in a good way. In other words, morality comes as a result, but cannot be forced. Also, morality, ethics, yama & niyama have more to do with religion than with a person's inner experience of spirituality.

In the introduction to Hatha Yoga Pradipika, Swami Muktibohhananda writes:
"Often we observe that when we try to practise self-control and discipline, we create more mental problems in our mind and personality. If we were to take the statistics of patients in mental hospitals,, we would find that most of them are religious, because self-discipline and self-control split the personality....If harmony is not created in the personality, then self-control and self-discipline will create more conflict than peace of mind"

"Why do you fight with the mind first? You have no power to wrestle with the mind, yet you wrestle with it, thereby creating a pattern of animosity towards yourself" "Self-control and self-discipline should start with the body"

The starting point it to be with yourself, not against yourself. This carries with it the understanding of spirit in EVERYTHING - not some outside thing to achieve or connect to. It is through that harmony of self - specifically, harmony of life force and mind - that leads to the personal evolution of consciousness. Through this, comes a non-duality. There is one self - body, mind, emotions, atma, jivatma, paramatma - all the same. Its just that - out of delusion of being something other than god, we divide them up to start a war - the goal of healing is good, but the unfortunate result of feeling wrong. How would we ever feel wholeness when we are fighting with our experience?

This also brings to what some would call a "new yoga" but I think is really the heart of it. This is the shift from seeing yoga & meditation of caging the monkey mind, and the discrediting of the emotions towards seeing yoga as integration of all of these things. Seeing them as essential. Through tremendous respect of whatever state any part of you is in, the coming back to wholeness and perfection.

From times where I really felt at home in yoga, I remember that the most sacred thing was a feeling of embracing myself as I am and trusting that what I am is exactly what is needed. It may just be something inside of me, or it may be a stronger decoy operating in the evolution of yoga and self-help culture, but I sometimes feel this to be hard to come by. Trying to make myself think differently, feel differently... the beliefs that, if I understood, I would feel better (true, but also, where ever you are is the most essential work). Instead. Do the practice and allow for the states of meditation to arise. Do the practice - don't wait to think or feel differently. Do the practice - through all of the human elements so that you can know that they are all one.

I hope to give this to people. The dance through all the elements and archetypes of life. The poetry and perfect position of the emotions as the are, mind as it is, life as it is - as absolutely perfect. Maybe this is not something that can be said, but rather that arises through doing. But also it is something that must be said. To be willing to do the practice, but to consider that fundamental piece of releasing yourself from mental contortions. To start by being with yourself. To know that, as things clear, they must be breathed in. To balance the life force and the mind and, through full embrace, let consciousness arise.

 

Loving Kindness

So another shooting. 1. I cannot bear that people are potentially suffering from disabilities and 2. and then this. I know that the truth is that love is bigger, but sometimes it feels like life is just so much pain. We need to take these incidents not as something that makes us shut down and give up, but as encouragement continue to doing the work. Continue to gather together and practice connection to all aspects of ourselves. To strengthen love within ourselves and then start to spread it out. In general, I really feel that it is the connection to the body that needs to be learned, connection to our own emotions and our own heart as a gateway to spirit. I think we can only hurt others when we are numbed out, and having been so disregarded ourselves.

I definitely cannot say that I "don't understand" violence. I think my knowledge of what it feels like to be hurt and disregarded is what puts me in a position to do the healing. But I think it takes an effort to not shut down more from this (exactly the problem), to not become more numb, more defeated, to not become more afraid from it. To expand love and continue to do the emotional healing. It takes conscious effort to say that our work matters and is not just a drop into the hopelessness.

So focus on that. That the problem is complex but the solution is simple: human regard. Even for those whose defense to disregard is more disregard. For the body, the emotions, the spirit. If we see the enactment of pain as the enactment of separation, we can come closer, we can potentially be the remedy.

golden_light.jpg

It is clear that it is a time where great kindness is required. Both internally and externally. When things happen externally - the surfacing of fear, hate, and violence, things come up internally to heal as well. This is the work of yoga. The most typical response to pain - internal or external - is judgement. But really compassion is a more helpful response - to see BOTH the cause and the resolution of the problem within ourselves so that we can even begin to form the possibility of resolution in the world. Social media makes the tendency towards judgement even worse - it is so easy go around debating words when probably the feeling behind them is much the same.

This is why I teach yoga: because it is NOT positive thinking, it holds the wholeness and the tension of opposites that point towards the truth. It is not just dancing in the light. The path does not ask us to look away or only to envision what is wanted. It says that the healing is in the pain. The pain is there anyways. So, drink the poison. And that is where deep kindness comes from. We do talk about the light in yoga, but it is not light as opposed to the darkness. That is where it gets interesting - it leading towards the light, the acknowledgement of darkness must occur so that we can clean it up, clear it out, move it through. So that we can actually feel a light that holds it all, rather than a light that is dissociated and allows things to stay in tact as they have been.

We get to hold the light of hope in the darkness. This is very important AND there is the other element as well. I have made the joke a few times that, if we consider the light, think of shining it into a room that has been locked up for four generations. You open that door and shine the light - do you expect it to be all rainbows and heavenly? On some level it is. On some level, it all is. But on this level - the one we are to work in - its cob webs and dust. You shine the light and the cockroaches crawl out. The individual, the world, cultures, have been carrying around these dark rooms inside themselves for a long time. Not feeling the pain does not mean it is not there. And so this is the way of yoga bringing things into the light. Being willing to look and see what comes up.

And so, in yoga, there is the fierce work on self that we do in these moments when the external brings up the internal. What do you feel when tragedy occurs? Anger, Hopelessness, Despair, Minimizing, Normalizing, Comparison.....? This is your work (to say "this is your work" does not mean they are not also real in the world, it is all real). These are yours to be felt and dealt with - they are all true and reasonable. The fierce work is in using these to clear out the past to be able to see the present more clearly. And then, equally important, and maybe even more so, is the work of self kindness. To dispel the patterns of judgement and cruelty inside yourself, to yourself. To begin the loving-kindness there and then work your way out.

Some believe that - in addition to action - there is power of your own inner state and prayer to contribute to the soothing of the world. Some believe that -- when groups gather together -- this power becomes even more. Even if you don't know if you believe these things, you can know for sure that when ever you sit and breathe - with your pain or with your bliss - rather than reacting, there is at least one more person in the world creating peace. So I thank you. I thank you deeply for doing the honest work. For unlocking the rooms of your generations and not needing it to be pretty. I thank you for your courage, your kindness, your steps into the unknown.

Fierce Battle

aka The Two and the One:
aka Everything is ok AND you must try your best.

There is a growing awareness of the planes described in yoga, and a sense of split. There is the plane of Oneness - where everything is perfect just as it is. And there is the plane of Twoness - where there is light and dark, pleasure and pain, loss and gain, and where there is work to be done.

Spiritual sight is rising and also the height of the darkness. It is a challenge of our time to deal with both. It is common for people to have a split experience. When they are focused on the Twoness, it is easy to become devastated and hopeless. It is possible to even believe that your emotional and spiritual practices don't matter. On the other side of things, when focused on the Oneness, there might be a desire to dissociate from the Twoness, or - if wanting to engage in the Twoness - a difficulty in knowing where to begin.

Yoga gives the idea of holding and participating in both and all - the One the Two and the Three. The 3 warrior poses - the Unity, the Polarity, and the Plurality - each represent a philosophy or lens and there is the suggestion to hold them all at once. Of the Oneness and the Twoness, there is the concept of "hand in the world, heart in [god]", and the physical yoga and hatha understanding itself brings the the importance of practice - you must act in the Two.

As we drop down out of the head and into the body, out of ideas of what should be we drop down into the messyness of what it actually feels like. As we move to express the Oneness through the Twoness of words and actions, it can feel like being a baby crying and learning to talk - knowing that words could never express what is felt and known. It takes consistent practice in the One AND in the Two to get better at holding more of the One in the Two. This means, dwell in the one, and also participate.

There are many currently who seek to teach yoga without spiritual components. And I certainly believe that there is enough magic in any single moment to study, without needing to go beyond. But some concepts are impossible to teach without the understanding of a larger unfolding. The non-spiritual yoga often criticizes myths - and literalization of myths is certainly a problem. In many religions, cultures, and philosophies, there are myths of battles and wars. There is a current problem of literalizing this - of practicing war on the grounds of knowing what is right for all, and this is not good. But it is equally a problem to just throw out these myths. Because it is true that we are engaged in battle.

Pop-culture psychology and spiritualism say to let go of the fight and the struggle - to let it be easy and think of the positives. It is necessary to some degree to let go of unnecessary strife, especially within ourselves. But we must come to understand the metaphor of participation in the battles. Yoga is a path that does not renounce all worldly possessions or give up action, it is of finding peace in completing action fully, of its own integrity, and in the greatest possible service to all. When we enter the body - as is done in physical yoga - we enter participation in the Twoness. This is why physical yoga is hatha yoga = sun/moon, male/female, exhale/inhale, light/dark. We cannot simply go glow in the cave. That is a good path too, but not necessarily the path of a yogi. The archetype of the Warrior is one of the great paradoxes of yoga.

From the Oneness, you might say, life is fun and beautiful (and it is). But from the Twoness, how does that feel to someone who is struggling for food and safety each day (which is also true)? However, from the Twoness, you see the struggles and then superimpose your own personal devastation. There may be anger, hopelessness, and defeat. There must be both. It is an act of respect to honor that we are in a great battle. It is of great respect to honor those who grapple with the existential and face their angel-demons head on. And there is great learning in bringing the Oneness to this Twoness - to engage fully and with full surrender.

This is the quality of acting fully without doing it from the ego. The surrender of the ego in the archetype of the warrior is what removes the violence. The archetype embodied as someone who actually is a warrior is of one who will do anything not to have to fight. But then who is willing to take on the karma when something must be done (when literally in that position, so many take the responsibility WAY too lightly. Arjuna was being a yogi when he fought with Krishna). But in our day to day life, the metaphor of engaging in the battle becomes even more important. This is in every move of yoga and in every action of your day - to act fully, and without ego and control. It is interesting how, if you give it a minute, a metaphor faulted for violence becomes one of radical non-violence. To act fully and not strong arm life. Yoga does not tell us what is right to do, but it tells us to choose as wisely as we can.

This quality of the yogic warrior can be practiced in the Warrior 2 pose. Arms softly reaching in two directions, torso centered. It is easy to lean in the direction of the forward arm (the over eager warrior) - leaning into the light and not the shadow, pulling forward to the future and forgetting the past, deciding that that is where to go and what must be done. It is also common to tense the arms, shoulders, and let the eyes and skull become too hardened - the way we are used to driving things forward from our ego and how we want it to be. In the energetics of the body, the legs are of the earth. There should be strength in the legs and lightness in the heart, arms, and head. Most of us have flipped this around. It is the practice of the warrior pose to stay in the center and stay in the earth and in the heart. To not be pulled by light OR shadow, future or past, demand or hatred.

The archetype of the warrior teaches us to own our actions and surrender our results. Both of these components are the seeds of non-violence. You will need to learn to act in your life with tremendous kindness. There is a fierce battle, but it cannot be won through the ego. If you are someone looking to stand firmly in an open heart. If you are someone who has a heavy karma and some big demons around, if you want to hold the One the Two and the Three - I hope that this post honors you and your efforts.

And, you have probably felt it before: after you went through a challenge with as much consciousness and love as you could, after the storm is clear and you know you did your best - the warriorship and clarity that rises up within you. The way you can sit strong and open and hold it all. The way that everything you have gone through in the past now becomes the strong ground you sit on. The warrior strength rises up and opens your heart.

 

Effort & Grace

The Twisted Trunk of Ganesha

Ganesha's trunk can be seen to represent flexibility, but the fact that it is twisted or bent, represents the path of effort. Yoga can be described as a path of effort and grace. I think it is beautiful to work in a paradigm that has a respect for effort. There is a lot of there right now that says it should be easy (and usually the ones who say it should be easy are selling something). I am grateful to work in a system that respects the effort of those who step off the road that perhaps could have been easy. To change their karmas. To change the world.

In the bend of the trunk, there is compassion and honor for the places where we have been twisted by effort. The hands calloused by work, the shoulders tight from the fight. There is not the judgement that you would have to be without scar. And then there is the other side as well: the surrender, the grace. The idea that perhaps we do not need to continue to be bent in ways that no longer serve. There is the effort and there is the release of effort.

Culturally, we probably have context for a path of effort as we have been taught to work hard. However, we probably can clean up the path of effort as well - seeing where there is conflict, force, or strain, rather than deep power and flow. One lesson in this is to respect our effort and also to learn a bit about surrender and grace. Most people apply the word "grace" to particular situations (or some don't like it at all as it feels religious), but in this sense it refers to something that is always available. We may not have as much context for the path of surrender and grace. I know I do not.

It is something that has to be experimented with - to see how much you can let go and have the earth hold you. Since release is necessary, it often comes up in negative ways - the desire to check out or to numb out. It is important to clean up the path of surrender.

In yoga, the idea is that the effort deepen your surrender and the surrender deepen the effort. And that you can study feeling both - the surrender within the effort, the steadiness within the surrender. Both of these qualities can come to be positives. To begin to see the struggle as a positive, as not wrong, is a place to start. And Ganesh is a beautiful one to hold this understanding - that even the twisting of effort is held within the great remover of obstacles. That the whole dance is soothed by the infinite breath.

 

Image by Graham Brown

Image by Graham Brown

Guilt & Shame

Guilt = I did something [bad]
Shame = I am [bad]

This distinction is important to understand in mindfulness and meditation because, while guilt can be a helpful experience, shame only serves to keep us stuck. It is tricky because the culture we live in still believes that shame is a good way to control behavior and keep people in line (there was even a time when they were trying to coin the term, "positive shame" <shudder>). But if we investigate it, it is easy to see how shame keeps us defensive, protective, and stuck.

Brene Brown writes: "When we apologize for something we've done, make amends or change a behavior that doesn't align with our values, guilt - not shame - is most often the driving force. We feel guilty when we hold up something we've done or failed to do against our values and find they don't match up. Its an uncomfortable feeling, but a helpful one. The psychological discomfort, something similar to cognitive dissonance, is what motivates meaningful change. Guilt is just as powerful as shame, but its influence is positive, while shame's is destructive. In fact, in my research I found that shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we can change and do better" (Daring Greatly, pg 72)

On the other hand, when we feel shame, we are more likely to protect our self. We might blame others or rationalize or defend what we did event if we genuinely know it was in error. The reason is that, since shame is a most primitive experience and IS a feeling of self - if this action is [bad] that means I am [bad]. Since - no matter how self-destructive we may seem to be - there is a part of us that defends us -- we end up defending the very thing we might otherwise want to change. This is one of the big problems with shame - we grow up linking actions with self and so it is hard to change the actions.

In meditation, there is actually the idea that increasing one's relationship to "Positive guilt" (not "positive shame") can be strengthening and healing to the sense of self. We can develop the deep inner strength to admit were we went wrong - allow ourselves to feel the consequences without using it to beat ourselves up, and then make a sort of promise or resolution to not do the same thing again, or at least make our best efforts for a set amount of time.

We can sit, breathe and reflect:
1. What was the thing that was against my own values?
2. How did it affect others (or - if it was against self - how did it affect self and how might this also affect others)? --allow yourself to compassionately get in touch with this.
3. What specifically do you resolve to do differently? Make the promise to do this differently just for 24 hours.
4. Return to trust in the intelligence of things. All things have intelligence, even when we don't see it. There is a wisdom to all behaviors, even when we call them stupid. Trust that there was essential learning in this both for yourself and for the people who may have been hurt by the actions.
5. Resolve again, and see if this process makes it easier to forgive yourself for the past mistake. Know that it was not an element of you and so it is changeable. Even if it is not easier to forgive, at least intellectually do so - let yourself understand that forgiveness will allow you to do better.

Shame is a different sort of thing - perhaps even less an emotion than a sensation. Though it is something that does happen explicitly sometimes and can have a thought process, emotion, and we actively do it to others or ourselves, it is primarily an implicit experience. It is a primitive function that is likely a product of the dorsal vagal complex, right brain and muscle memory. This is extremely primary attachment stuff where emotional rejection = death and so shame = physical pain as it is just as essential to be safe in the tribe as it is to pull your hand out of the fire.

Mindfulness of shame: we can be aware of when it is coming up and when our value is getting tied to what we do. We can remind ourselves that someone not liking our idea or our work does not take away our value. We can practice prioritizing courage rather than success or praise. However, I also know that only taking actions can be exhausting if there is a mis-match to the implicit states. This is why is it also important to practice in meditation and hypnosis (deep-dive meditation) a relearning of basic safety of the nervous system. It may come in the form of forgiveness or cleansing, but it leads to the understanding that there was nothing to forgive. At the soul level, we can come to believe we are always safe, AND we can have compassion for the physical body that wants survival and that has been through some perilous times in the past. Over time, we can relearn our basic goodness and come to have an understanding of ourselves that allows us to change rather than berate.

Here is a recorded deep-dive theta meditation (can be used as hypnosis) to help with shame.

Listening to the Darkness

(originally posted Dec. 2011)

The holidays emphasize light and joy. And also, many are depressed. Part of this may be stress, a collection of griefs, a triggering of old memories, or a sometimes harsh noticing of ways our experiences do not match our expectations or the stories told to us. Holiday darkness may come to the forefront when we feel we are not totally accepted by our family, where religious or spiritual differences come in, or when we remember people who used to be in our lives but are not anymore.

These sorts of feelings are often resisted, and so, not fully listened to. They get covered over by lights, cards and letters telling how happy we are, frantic shopping, seeking of party invitations, striving to create the perfect meal, busy-ness to the point of never being fully present with ourselves or others. And sometimes, even when everything goes exactly as you thought would make you happy, the darkness still remains.

I decided to consider this a little more deeply. Maybe holiday depression is not just a common error. Maybe its not against the way things are “supposed to be”. Maybe its not a personal failing, a lack of strength, or just a deficiency of vitamin D. Maybe it has something to tell us. So I wonder, “what else could this mean?”.

Many cultures represent this time of year through symbols and stories of light: an impossible light that burns for eight days, a miraculous star announcing the coming of the divine to the earth, Solstice celebrations mark the of the return of the sun, reminding us to tend to the light in ourselves and others. With all these symbols, and with Christmas music and hustle-and-bustle beginning even before Thanksgiving, we too easily forget that this light comes only in contrast to the dark. That before the rebirth, there must be death: a total emptying out, surrender, a letting go. In a society that drives towards the light–towards activity, productivity, energy going outwards and upwards–there is not much permission to go into the dark. In a natural rhythm, this is the Savasana of the year. Perhaps holiday darkness, depression, dissatisfaction, or desire to retreat are reminding us that Solstice brings the longest, darkest nights of the year and that the dark is part of the light. If we can fully go into that darkness, completely empty out with the moon, a new light and love that is not seeking might miraculously emerge from the stillness.

To enter this darkness, is not the same as depression. Depression may come through the stacking of griefs, a sadness that becomes identity, or a persistence of natural feelings that we have resisted to feel. Perhaps the phenomena of holiday blues comes from all the feelings we have refused to feel, rising to the surface so that we could start the new year fresh. Too often the dark night is skipped over to focus on dawn, so we may think its wrong to be feeling dark or alone. But, if part of you wants to hide in a cave as much as you want to go to a party, or if you are angry or sad when everything seems to be telling you to be happy, maybe you are feeling the wisdom of the season and the knowledge that you do not need to manufacture light. You are feeling the call to turn inward and release downward; to take refuge in your heart and seek connection that goes deep. Solstice is when the sun suspends still. We must honor this pause so that we can stop old momentum and truly be begin again new. Exhale fully. And trust that the next breath will come.

So, if you think you feel depressed, remember Savasana. It is not you that is tired, hopeless or lost. Rather it is a symbolic death of things that no longer serve–old beliefs, energies, or routines–that are ready to be let go as an offering to the cold winter ground. This is not a suggestion to get stuck in despair–quite the opposite. It is a reminder to listen and to know that your consciousness itself is the light you are seeking. Take pause and see what wisdom is there. Maybe all that was needed was permission to stop. Or maybe there are things to be felt, let go, and not carried to the new year. Is there something that you need to say to yourself or to someone else? Is there something to make peace with? And, if there is grief, maybe it is a request for remembrance and a cue to acknowledge the love even underneath ambivalence or pain.

This is a process that happens in cycles. Every exhale, an emptying, a blessing and letting go. Every inhale, letting in the new. In completing a year, we may travel in waves of memories, hopes, and fears. If we can go into the darkness and know that it is natural, know that it is the rich emptiness from which everything arises, breathe with our fears and pains as much as our joys, we can emerge out with a sense of our own wholeness. We can then meet others from that wholeness, from a depth, and fierce understanding.

The Art of Compassionate Return

When we work to balance our awareness on the breath, eventually it falls off. Maybe after one breath, two breaths, or even half a breath. The usual rivers of the mind (neuro-pathways or sanskaras) are powerful. Imagine the Grand Canyon and the Colorado river. All of the rain drops in the area (energy) effortlessly flow to join that river in the pathway that has been carved through time. Our rivers of focus might be anger, frustration, doubt, worry, distraction, analysis - and you might see the ways that subtle thoughts wick through to join a large familiar river that could easily sweep you away. 

Meditation, and the practice of steadying the mind on the breath - or really, any change at all, at the level of body or mind - is the equivalent of taking that river and balancing it on a mountain top. The way that you participate with your mind seems so subtle, but this metaphor gives understanding of how difficult is the work. To sit in stillness and silence is something most will never do. To choose out of the familiar flow of energy and thought is something that many don't even know is possible. 

The goal, however, is not to do it perfectly. The awareness will fall off the breath. And perhaps where the most strength and healing comes is in the way that you return the awareness - to the breath, or to the point of focus, or simply away from the old thought pattern. To compassionately, kindly, and endlessly return. It is this practice that changes the inner space. 

Consider this: Is it wise to tell bare your soul to someone who is not trustworthy? Is it wise to tell your secrets to someone who is judgmental or too busy to really hear? No. It would not be. And the same thing is true within yourself. Our subconscious is wise. Our soul only opens up when there is safety. And if our own mind is a dangerous place - filled with judgement, business, disloyalty - we won't even open up to ourselves. The old river of anger, defeat, or false belief carries you away. And then you judge yourself for being carried away yet again.

You might have had this experience: where you are practicing well (meditation, yoga, or therapy) and there is this initial immediate burst of life and healing. But then you continue practicing well and crap starts to come up. Perhaps from inside you: the pain surfaces, or difficult memories, emotions, tiredness, etc. Or from outside you: difficult circumstances in work, relationships the need clean up, or situations that need help. The intellect says - "ITS NOT WORKING!" (the therapy, meditation, or yoga). Give me back my peace! I need a better yoga pill! (this is when most will go seek another practice to get that initial high again). But actually, the opposite is true: It is working. You have created enough safety in yourself that your soul and what whats to heal can start to surface. 

You subconscious says: "Ahh, she is listening. She is strong enough to hear the pain and not be broken. She is non-reactive enough to be able to be tempered and make the right move. Let me speak these secrets, dreams, mis-alignments, and sacred contracts". Your compassion is woking. We seek meditation, yoga, therapy, for peace and then often get exactly the opposite. But this is the feeling of pain leaving. This is the work that will make your mind, heart and life a very safe place for you. 

So, this is why compassionate return is important. Bringing the attention back to the breath again and again. Perhaps the art is NOT of keeping the mind still (because that is simply not the nature of life) but cultivating the quality with which you bring yourself back. Each time that you bring yourself back - with kindness, non-judgement, and deeper listening - you make of your mind a safer place and better confidant to your soul.

Acharya

A few weeks ago, we went to Esalen to study with Mark Whitwell. One of the many reasons I like him is that he also doesn't buy into the culture of teacher certification and yoga celebrities that seems to be happening now. I think this culture comes, in part, from the appropriation of yoga into the Western context of the 20th century, but also reflect pretty well the caste system that had seeped into yoga long ago. Peeling away these distortions, he gave an idea and definition that I found so interesting and helpful. It reframed our challenges in such an important way. In the classes I teach and the people I get to work with, I see the deeper yoga and a different understanding of difficulty. The following is from notes from his lecture and from my own thoughts as well. I found it very helpful and I think you might find it helpful too. 

The idea was about "Acharya". He defined an acharya as someone who has gone through their own difficulties and learned how to be well. He said, in these traditions, acharyas are seen as the best teachers. It is even said that, one who has not been through human difficulties (such as avitars - ones who are born free) are NOT the best teachers. Acharya is one who has overcome their social conditions so that they can help others do the same. This concept acknowledges that there are avitars - one's that come into life with less suffering. Or what some might call, "more enlightened". But it is understood that - while they are good examples of the light...freedom...etc, they are not necessarily the best teachers on their own. They might come and hand to humans a magical tool, or an example of divine love. But in order for this information to be put into use and applied to life - in order for people to learn - an acharya is needed. The avitar works with the acharyas. 

To learn to be free within it all - we need the acharyas. You are the acharya for your family, community and friends. Through the things in your experience that you have found freedom within (perhaps you have freed yourself by transforming it, or perhaps found freedom within things that cannot change) - your freedom is of service and teaches those around you. It may be that you literally teach them the tools you have learned, or that they see in you the journey and commitment. In any case, this perspective makes it clear that our challenges are not weaknesses - they are our gifts. They are our curriculum to learn and to teach. This also makes it clear that we do not need to be perfect. We only need to be exactly where we are. An acharya is fully and deeply human. We all have unique journeys that makes us uniquely useful. This concept honors your life journey and all that you have overcome and are overcoming.

This reminds me of the concept of Responsibility of Incarnation - that we are born at a particular time and place with particular circumstances that, in part, determine our work. As a bible verse says, "grow where you are planted". It also reminds me the importance of doing your own work honestly and that, often, the real work is invisible from the outside OR looks like things are totally falling apart. That is to say, its not about looking like you have it all together. It is the vulnerability to be along the path, rather than to pretend to be finished. 

To be a yogi, in this sense, means to break the patterns of the past. To see the patterns and not participate in them anymore. Most of these patterns you did not create. Many of them have been passed through families for many generations. These difficulties of your family, you must overcome for your sake and for theirs. They are grateful that you do not need to duplicate their suffering (even if they can't show it in this life). You are born at the tail end of many generations of suffering and you now have the choice of duplicating these patterns, or bringing them to an end. The acharya claims their own life in the midst of the patterns. A yogi is one who claims their own life, not just continuing the patterns. 

From everything you've been through, to come through it all and come to love life - even your family  - even yourself. This is no small task.

Seeing things in this way reframes suffering and gets us a step closer to seeing suffering as grace. I do believe that we all suffer and I do like the idea that we are all old souls. But, it is absolutely clear to me that some have a heavier burden to bear in this life time. I have been told by many teachers that we can't compare suffering (of course not), and even that everyone suffers equally (no to that, too). I have been told this in situations where I was being called "dark" because of what had been written on my body and mind in this life so far, as compared to someone who carried the lightness of someone with a very different life experience that far. Let me say it simple - some lives have bigger karmas. And with that, bigger opportunities to carry on the pain AND bigger opportunities to clear. If you see yourself as having a lot of suffering, this is to say, don't see it as an opportunity to be a victim or excuse your anger - but rather as an opportunity to unwind it all. To find your way through. Sometimes this means you are able to change outer and inner situations. Sometimes, this means finding freedom right within things as they are. 

I made the distinctions in the beginning of this blog about an interpretation of yoga different than what comes to us through the caste system and celebrity hierarchy because, if you were to look up the uses of the word "Acharya", you would also likely find it used by some where it almost denoted royalty or leadership through empowerment. You might also see it used simply to mean "teacher", which is a perfectly good definition too. However, the word itself translates as something like "one who goes forward with practice and self-conduct". This means that is someone that goes forward by doing their own work. And - if they lead others - they lead by doing their own work. It is a place that puts teacher and student on equal ground of humility, and places the power in integrity and effort, rather than divine empowerment, magic, or lineage of birth or teacher. 

Mark told a story as an example of a Buddhist teacher who had many schools and followers (I don't know who exactly the story refers to, but there are many like this). The story went that this teacher gave many powerful teachings over the years and was very helpful to his students. But it just took one time that it was seen that he slapped wife, and the next day, all the schools had dissolved. The self-conduct is more significant than any other teaching. Now. I don't recount this story here to say that a teacher must be perfect. Actually TOTALLY the opposite. I would say that the teacher in this story was potentially on his way from being a teacher who had been given empowerment through blessing of hierarchy or credential, to being an acharya - realizing his humanity and doing his work. Big teachers like this can be very public. And their falls can be public as well. However, the work that follows - the real work - may well be invisible. May look like loss and humiliation. But may be his actual initiation. Into practice and teaching in a different way.

Back to the concept avitar and why they need the acharya. You might not have heard the word "avitar" before, or maybe not in this way. It translates as "descent". Is a deliberate descent of deity to Earth. You can take this literally or metaphorically. For some well-known examples - many see Jesus as an Avitar. And, while Siddhartha/Guatama Buddha is a story of obtaining enlightenment, he is also seen as an avitar. Shown, in part, in that both of these had interesting births. Though they both went through challenges, seeing them as avitars is a statement of the freedom they already carried through their suffering that was symbolized in many ways. And both also needed acharyas - ones that worked with them and after them. And some who even worked before them to carve the way. Because the thing is that, humans have tremendous ability to glimpse truth without integrating it into daily life. Tremendous capacity to experience divine love, and yet still have old patterns of anger and fear intwine their hearts. We hear words that sound true and say "oh thats so beautiful", or something happens as a revelation....and too much of the time, we just go about our day. Through the element of continuous practice, humanity, and intention of integrity, the acharyas work to bridge this gap between heaven and earth. 

Mark said - "If Christ comes to you, the appropriate response is yoga". You put it into practice. You put it into action. Yoga is the appropriate response to the pain of our patterns and conditioning AND it is the appropriate response to glimpsing truth.

For a few years now, I have believed more strongly in invisible lineage and I think the concept of Acharya is exactly that. It was necessary for me to come to understand the invisible lineage because there were times when I felt so alone and disempowered because I did not have a lineage of blood or of empowerment (for those unfamiliar with that, in many ways of studying yoga and meditation, there is still a concept of receiving man-made initiation into or right to teach as well as just the social situations of in-groups). I now relate to it strongly, and the idea of the acharya brings it together: there are people in all sects and situations who work for freedom and truth by doing their own work. There is a truth where life gives its own initiations to learn BOTH though unbearable joy and pain. 

If someone comes to read this, I bet you are an acharya, or at least one in training or however that should best be said. This doesn't mean you have to be perfect to teach. But that you are doing your own sometimes ugly work. Perfectly, imperfectly and humbly - you are exactly where you should be. And that, through anything you have already freed yourself from, you are guiding others by that. I really respect that. And I hope this writing helps you respect it in yourself.


It is only your practice

There will come a day when you get up earlier than some parts of your mind. Or, you will stop at any point in the day and sit down. And you will call on guides, or ancestors or angels, or religious names, or a deeper part of yourself. And, while others before you and around you have pointed you here, this is only yours. Your mind, your breath, your soul. You imagine, you pray, you breathe, and you focus your attention to something worthy of your attention, even if you don't entirely believe it.

Alan Watts said, 

"Anybody who tries to teach you enlightenment is like someone who picks your pocket and then tried to sell you your own watch"

It is important to remember that it is your practice and though many will help you along the way, meditation is about accessing potentials that are already inside you. It is about being in your true nature. Even when it feels like you are far away from the peace and strength you know yourself to be, it is the tiniest shifts that will get you back home. 

You will come across many teachers along the way. Many systems, many podcasts, many religions, dogmas and brands. You will even find people who will tell you that they have the thing that will solve it all. These all will play a role in you coming to your own understanding. Ultimately, it is your path.

If we translate mindfulness as "remembering", it is about remembering who your really are and this can mean something deeper than could even be put into words. Since this is a slightly intangible task, it often is that people desire to meditate, but don't know what to "do". This is a super valid question because, in order to get to a place of non-doing (what someone might desire from meditation), there actually is stuff to "do" to help that state arise. What practice someone chooses to use to access meditation are determined by each individual - what makes sense to them, and also what they desire to learn next. The interesting thing is that, the way one chooses to practice has the potential to bring about a particular integration in their life - that is to say, not just changing you while you are sitting, but seeping into the way you walk through the world.

Here are just a few example of what one might "do" in meditation:

• Remembering. When we are constantly going, we are most likely going on auto-pilot. Stopping the momentum and sitting in stillness and silence can be a chance to remember certain things that are important to you. 

• Higher Power, or sense of something larger than any single moment. For some people, meditation is about connecting with their sense of a higher power – whether that is god, nature, or a deeper part of their self. A sense can arise in meditation of remembering that who you are is deeper than your body, thoughts, & feelings in this moment. A sense of perspective and connection can come in. 

• Minimizing self-destructive thinking, increasing helpful thoughts. Getting a little perspective may let us look at the way we are thinking and take a break from habitual patterns. You may notice self-destructive thoughts (like self-criticism, anger, grasping) and work at letting it go and return to the breath. You can practice observing these patterns, rather than perpetuating them, and offering compassion to yourself and your situations. You can also practice helpful thoughts, like gratitude, loving kindness, forgiveness, or taking it breath by breath. 

• Clearing. Following the breath and returning the focus to the breath compassionately and again and again. Erasing the old tapes. Unplugging from externals. Cutting the energetic and mental chords so that other people, times, & situations do not pull on you in unhelpful ways. Landing in the present moment and clearing from over-doing, rumination, obsession.

• Creating calm & non-reactivity. Though it may not be easy to sit and follow your breath for a few minutes, just consider – if you cannot guide your mind in a time and space of relative safety, how will you do so in difficult moments in life? This is a practice that develops over time and can set the tone of the day. 

• Intentions & Commitments. You can remember your intentions and commitments. These are the bigger picture things that you carry through the moment to moment details. This could be a commitment to creating a life you love that you remember even when it feels like you could never be happy again. It could be an intention of loving yourself, or of being of service to others, or getting honest, or being open to connection... 

How do you meditate? or, if you want to meditate, with which of these things (or other) do you think you might begin?

The Paradox of Hyper-vigilance

MINDFULNESS: The Paradox of Hyper-vigilance

DId you know that hyper vigilance is often a result of lack of appropriate vigilance? It is the result of the learned pattern of not orienting to the environment. Paradoxically, it is as though it has become unsafe to look around and notice if you are safe. It makes sense - there is no need to be hyper-vigilant when you know what is around you - you know, to the best degree that someone could know, what is a threat and what is not. When you don't know these things, everything becomes a threat.

In meditation that integrating the nervous system, orienting is done by actually looking around the room. The sometimes silly-feeling activity of looking under the chair, over the shoulder, looking at the faces of those in the group - giving your lower brain and nervous system a chance to assess safety so that it would be ok to turn inwards. In yoga classes that don't have this understanding, I remember being told "you should not know the color of the person's mat next to you". Actually, that's not the way humans work...and thats especially bad for anyone with any problem with anxiety or hypervigilance. You definitely should know the color of their mat. It would help even more to know their name!

In life, this paradox of hyper-vigilance can come in around information. We can become very concerned with the contents of a letter (or the mail in general) - so concerned that it becomes difficult to open the letter! Or sometimes we become hyper-vigilant because there is a question we need answered. Or something we need to say that will help us understand what we are feeling. We are afraid to ask (we feel too unsafe to assess if we are safe, but assessing if we are safe is the only way we could ever feel safe!)

There will always be things we can't know. However there are usually even more things that we could know but don't want to look at. This paradox points to the idea that knowing is better, looking is better. It may be a matter of timing - of when is the right timing to learn what someone is thinking, rather than continuing to mind read. Or it may be as simple as scanning more with your eyes while driving. It may mean letting a child explore the edges of the room and touch things before coming into the actual reason they are in the room. It may mean breaking a shyness and asking someone's name.

You could also interpret this as that our imaginations are way more crazy than reality. It is truly in the nervous system as well. Coming into the present moment through the details allows us to operate from present moment fact rather than fear. And start to trust ourselves that we can act appropriately - taking action if there is danger, and, if there is not danger, letting the nervous system calm down.

Sitting on Emotions

One of the most dangerous things in modern life is the desk job. You may have heard the phrase "Sitting is the new smoking". And so many students come with injuries - not from large movements - but from the chronic turn from the computer to the file, or with injuries of holding still. Bringing awareness to your beingness at work can help make small physical shifts. And I actually think that a lot of the body pains of sitting in a desk come when we are sitting on our emotions as well.

Are you in a profession where you are asked to sit on your emotions? Further...are you in such a profession because you'd rather not deal with your emotions anyways? In Western philosophy dividing the body from the mind, there is often a fear that emotions could destroy what the mind has built. That - if we actually brought *our self* into the room, everything would fall apart. 

I found this quote regarding psychotherapy and thought it was really poignant:

 

Some believe psychotherapy became a science when it took on fully the split between the body and the mind in the valuing of objectivity. Therapist was asked to take on the archetype of the scientific observer - with no personal qualities of their own. Client: "Have you been through this before?"..."Are you an addict?"..."Are you married?". Therapist: "What is it in you that feels the need to know?" (grrr)

Well, as for psychotherapy, there is a lot of recent evidence to show this isn't actually that helpful. That a century of cognition can only get you so far. And what actually is healing is in the emotional resonance, the right brain to right brain connection - when combined with the cognitive boundaries and containment. The therapist who sat in the chair AND sat on his emotions, might have been doing a bit of dis-service to everyone.

What does this mean? Well, consider if you have taken on that feeling that emotions could ruin your work. Or that you not only have to sit in that desk but you have to sit on what you really feel as well. Consider if that actually was convenient, because maybe you were trained that emotions were unwanted factors. Consider what emotions in particular you tend to sit on. 

THEN, consider the possibility that bringing more of yourself to any moment could be an asset. Perhaps an elegance needs to be learned if, for a long time, you had learned to push it down or let it explode. Consider that your whole self is welcome. Perhaps for you - as a student described this week - this means you get up every couple hours and walk around the block. Perhaps it means that you take small doses of listening to what your body & heart has to say about something and experiment with speaking up when you can. Perhaps it means you seek more time and places where those emotions you have been happy to push down can come out.

It is a tremendous skill to have both boundaries and strength AND feeling. Many have just one of the other. This carries us a bit towards wholeness. 

Is there a way that you might listen to your feelings in your work? Or do you feel like you are being asked to sit too still?

Venting Dreams

I wanted to share a bit for the sake of helping people understand, as it is easy to be confused. Venting dreams are dreams where an old belief or emotion is re-organized or released. They are often the ones where we experience the difficult emotion and fear that it is a sign of the present - when, actually, we are experiencing the difficult emotion for the sake of itsrelease. This concept reveals an important distinction in general - that what is experienced in the present is sometimes a release of the past. However, if we interpret it as being a sign of the present, we can react from it from the same old patterns and accidentally create the conditions for the belief or the emotion all over again. If, on the other hand, we can see it as the potential for it clearing out, it is a sign that we are on the path of healing. 

I wanted to share a bit for the sake of helping people understand, as it is easy to be confused. Venting dreams are dreams where an old belief or emotion is re-organized or released. They are often the ones where we experience the difficult emotion and fear that it is a sign of the present - when, actually, we are experiencing the difficult emotion for the sake of itsrelease. This concept reveals an important distinction in general - that what is experienced in the present is sometimes a release of the past. However, if we interpret it as being a sign of the present, we can react from it from the same old patterns and accidentally create the conditions for the belief or the emotion all over again. If, on the other hand, we can see it as the potential for it clearing out, it is a sign that we are on the path of healing. 

The present is, in many ways, like the light from a distant star. A light that was set in motion long ago. Like I said above, we make this error in many ways, maybe the dream is a subtle one. For example, we take on an exercise regimen and feel sore the next day and blame the exercise (rather than the state of not moving in the past) and say, "this is not working! this is not good for me". Even more so: we take on a cleanse, and crap comes to the surface. Even more so we say, "this is not working! this is not good for me" - we attribute discomfort in the present TO whatever is happening in the present, rather than seeing that perhaps we had been carrying around this crap all along, and this is the sign of it leaving. In any of these cases, the natural response is to shut it down. Some desire for things to just keep going along as they were. Same for Karma as well. It is learning to see the right kind of difficulty as the release of difficulty that lets us start to see suffering as grace. 

You can probably stop reading there, or I will give you a bit detail, not to be too personal, but so that you can see the arch of release, and the time it sometimes takes. I had a venting dream last night that seemed to be a bench mark in a process of healing I've been in for more than a year. The venting dream that I remember marking the deeper beginning of this process happened last August (incidentally, both at times when I was away from home for a few days...which is the only time I seem to have the psychic space to dream deep dreams). The one back in August - I had started to go deeper into my subconscious work and a lot of anxiety and tears had come up. So much that it scared people more than it scared me. That dream made it clear that what was asking to clear was Shame. That is easy to say, but gives no road map of how to proceed and what is the result, but I knew that was what it was - the dream showed me and it felt so right. 

In the year that has happened since then, I cannot tell you the things that have unfolded. Things I never thought could possibly happen. You can just begin to guess at them, if you can guess at what it would take for some shame to be relieved and self-love to be began. Some other forgivenesses as well. Some new practices. Some imperceivable breakthroughs. A lot of being at the right place at the right time. And not being in the wrong place. 

This can illustrate the mismatch - an old subconscious formed of repeated experiences of shame & humiliation, and now a subtly growing new understanding that an even deeper part of me knew did not match. That, day by day matched less - the old implicit memories and the new present tense. This past week, to an amazing degree. More good than I ever felt possible, and then an event of kindness yesterday that broke off a big piece of who I used to be. 

I was out of town with my family. And last night - in the early morning of today - I had a dream (it was followed by 2 more as well). But this one: 
I was being told I was "shameful". It built up in an experience that felt so much like everyday of my past. The intensity grew until I owed the experience of being shamed, but stood up to the idea that that was me. I said, "I have been shamed, I have been ashamed. But I am not shameful". 

I tell you this to explain the point - that dream was followed by another one of a subtler emotion, and then a dance. When I woke up, I have the taste of shame in my heart. I know it, because I knew it well. But I also knew enough to see the power of the experience as something that was being released. Something revised. And especially in the way that I responded in the dream. Though the old feels so powerful and has taken up more time, the task was to see it as release. 

And I know that the process continues to unfold.

Though this sounds like a personal story, I say it for the sake of sharing and also for the sake of you maybe seeing your own cleanse in a different way. What Is Being Released?