The Dalai Lama is a selfish guy
People often tell me that they feel selfish working on themselves and doing spiritual work. After all it takes time away from family and friends, and it takes money, and people naturally feel bad using these resources to sit around and seemingly do nothing. My counter to that usually goes something like this: do you think you can make positive change anywhere before you make positive changes in yourself? Gandhi said “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him.… We need not wait to see what others do.”
The biggest polluter in the world are the negative thoughts and tendencies we put into the atmosphere and into the space we all share. If you don’t believe that, spend a day or more in the company of a very grumpy, caustic personality and see how you feel after. See how your behavior is towards friends and strangers after immersing yourself in this toxicity, see what your outlook on the world is. Or hang out in an extremely manipulative environment and observe how you then act in the world. Are you really able to not bring that stuff home and spill it on your family, or dump it on your casual acquaitances and the other people sharing the highway or train that you take back and forth to work? Some of you are in these kinds of situations all the time and you may not have the choice to remove yourselves. Changing the other people in that situation really isn’t an option if you think about it. Surely, someone else thought to do that already, and if they didn’t succeed most likely you won’t either. So now what? Do you want to continue to be a carrier, or find a different option?
Just because you can’t SEE the outcome of spiritual work doesnt mean you, and everyone around you, are not GETTING something from it. Parvathi once spoke of a student she had who was convinced she wasn’t getting anything from her private yoga sessions and really wanted to stop but her family wouldn’t let her.
This consciousness-raising work is not selfish. One might even say NOT doing the work if you have the inclination, the means, and the opportunity is selfish. As my teacher pointed out on our last retreat, the majority of the people in the world are struggling daily to survive, to literally not die. Those of us who live in relative peace with enough food and a safe place to live are the minority. If we have the ability to bring light in to the world by clearing our mind, by finding our seat of authentic generosity, by not polluting the world with our negative, repetitive, old worn out thoughts and tendencies, misperceptions and envy, why would you not do it?
If you said “Well, it’s not easy…” you would be right. It takes time, discipline and courage. But please don’t think it is selfish work, because that implies that all the people who are doing it now are selfish- like the Dalai Lama, like the all of the monks who gave up worldly possesions to pray for world peace, and the priests, ministers and other spiritual leaders we are so fortunate to have in this world. Have you ever thought about what this world would be like without them? I am sometimes chilled to the bone considering it- if there weren’t so many people praying for the welfare of this earth and all the inhabitants, where would we be now? If we think there is too much darkness and cruelty in this world today, what if those spiritual beings also thought this path to be selfish? Is the world a better place because you vacuumed your carpets instead of sitting down to clear your mind?
Yesterday I had the great fortunate to spend an hour with a new client who was struggling. It was beautiful to witness her unfolding. During our session she was able to recognize her power and light in a non-threatening way, and she left smiling and hopeful because she felt she could now show her children the love and attention they crave, something that she craves too. As a result of this session I was home too late to prepare dinner. I looked in the fridge only to find that my 16 year old had prepared a beautiful salad, fresh corn and peach cobbler for our dinner. See, when you make room for spirit to emerge, the universe will support your effort. Try it and you will see.
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More Confessions From a Yoga Teacher......
When I was in Italy I took a yoga class in Florence with Guido (that is him above) which was pretty difficult. I didn't realize it was going to be a rigorous Ashtanga style class and that I would be, by far, the oldest person in attendance. I wanted to write a post about that class for two reasons; while Guido led a very strenuous class, he didn't push, or demand, or judge. I found him to have a deep caring energy and assumed that he has a very strong personal meditation practice and a deep dedication to all the limbs of yoga. He pushed, but was not a bully, which is a rare combination. I was also excited to find that even though I hadn't done most of those poses in a long time, my body could still do them! I appreciated the muscle memory and the level of fitness that a “yoga body” can retain, even after many years (especially since it was my body!)
I never wrote that post. I think it's because I was waiting for the other shoe to drop, which it did in July. Traveling to Italy, then the beach, and then being in retreat where I sat for 10 days straight while hosting multiple house guests for over 2 weeks really took its toll on my asana practice. Really, it took a toll on all physical practices, from tending the garden to walking to the grocery store . I have been able to sit in meditation for much longer, which is good, but that doesn’t really help to maintain the physcial body. So while my experience with Guido showed me that my body is resilient, my subsequent experience with lethargy showed me that strength gained is so very impermanent. As the end of July crept on, I found my knees hurting, my feet were so tight in the morning it took time for me to be able to walk to the bathroom, I was not able to fit into certain clothes, my shoulders were tight… on and on. (Sound familiar?)
You would think spending all day telling people to exercise, move their bodies, and tremor would remind me that I needed to do the same to maintain a level of well-being. It's not that I didn't want to follow my own advice. It's just that things got in the way, and I experienced the fallout from my neglect. Of course, this is not the first time I have “fallen off of the wagon.” But it is the first time I've done it at the age of 52, when most bodies start lose resiliency.
Personally, I don't think it's so bad to fall off the wagon every now and then. After all, when you do so, it is a good time to experience what your practice has been giving you all along. It can be hard for us to trust in a practice that is consistent and know that it's doing anything for us. Because we are consistent with the practice, it is consistently working, and we can imagine our well-being is simply a natural outcome of breathing. But think again!
Everybody is eventually lured out of routine by the allure of recklessness (and pasta, gelato and chianti!). I think very few of us escape the pull. And when we experience the fallout, we can either continue down the slippery slope of decay or jump back on the wagon. If we jump back on, and things switch back, we know for sure it is our dedication to our practice that is keeping us happy, not just good genes or happy coincidence.
As things happen, just as I was conjuring up this post, I saw this article in the NY Times which talks about what happens when you take a vacation from your exercise. Take a look if you are interested in the study.
(New York Times article: "Take a Vacation From Exercise? Your Body May Not Thank You")
So now you know, I'm not just shaking my finger at you when I'm encouraging you to come to more classes or to stick with your practice. I am shaking that finger at myself too. I will be spending August crawling back on the wagon and invite you along for the journey.