After my last newsletter about integration someone asked me a great and relevant question, which was "what does it feel like to be integrated?"
Her own experience was that not being integrated felt like pieces of her body were not aligned, and things felt as though they were off kilter. I thought that sounded about right to me.
It helps to know what it feels like when you are not integrated. What I have found with my clients, and my own self is that we may not realize we are not/were not integrated until we achieve some level of integration. Some of us have existed in a non-integrated place for so long, it feels quite normal and so moving towards integrating requires trust and courage to know that where you are heading, even if it feels weird or wrong, you are going in the right direction.
I believe we can equate non-integration to not being grounded. Some people know quite clearly what it feels to be grounded, and know once they are grounded, they are also integrated.
To be integrated means we can store the information we are constantly getting from our senses in the right places. For example, maybe we hear a loud noise and our immediate response is that we need to attend to that noise right away. But what if that noise has come from the TV, and is really part of a movie? It has already happened, we have no control over it, it was manufactured and not only are we in no danger from it, we can't do anything about it (other than turn the TV off), and if we are able to recognize that, it can be stored in the "acknowledge it and leave it alone" file. What if we hear a noise and it is right behind us? Is it threatening or not? Is it benevolent or dangerous? If we are grounded at the moment we hear the sound, we will be able to store that in the right place (defend yourself, run, embrace, etc). If we can store the noise in the proper place, for example it needs to be attended to, or filed away for use later, or discarded, we can integrate the sensorial experience into right action. If we can not do that because we are overloaded (information came too fast and we are confused) or we aren't physically healthy and we are depleted of energy (it takes the energy to discern and to recognize the source and proper response of the noise), if we are overloaded because other things have used our discernement muscle to capacity, we will instead respond in the way that "saved our life" once. This may cause us to shut down, or make a very wrong decision about how to respond, or we flood with emotion (think about a glass filled with water and you try to add more).
Creating space when you realize you can't integrate something (or everything!) will help. You can make space literally in your body by physical movements (walking, dancing, yoga and other exercise). You can make space in your brain by stepping back and getting distance from the situation so you can see things a bit more clearly, especially to see how this thing may affect you personally. We tend to think that things affect us personally first, then on second or third glance we realize it really doesn't, or at least not in the way we think it does.
If we can make it a practice to seek integration we will see that all information, stressors, fears, can be sorted out and attended to, when our container is fit to do so. When I shared several weeks ago that I needed to take a step back, my intention was to give time for everything to find its place in my being. I do not want to shut out the news of tragedy, difficulty, pain and suffering. I just needed to stem the flow a bit so everything could find its place. I have made some shifts to the amount of information I take in (yeah, it's a really intense time now, right?) but I still want to be engaged and aware. And to do that means, for me, more time in practice and more time doing what I love, which is serving this community.
This is a quote I recently heard during a lecture by yoga therapist Mindy Eisenberg. When I heard it I realized it summed up my experience since I first started practicing yoga, and is one of the things that has kept me at it for 35 year. Being in community heals so much of the fundamental pain and suffering we experience as humans.
Our culture has always been a culture of isolation. Now with the pandemic, our isolation is amplified. Some of the struggles that occur when we are separated from community may not be so obvious. Maybe you are struggling to finish something because you just can’t find the inspiration to complete the project. You might be letting your self-care slip by the wayside, and you might be exercising less and eating more. Maybe you find you have less energy and zest for life. Community (or Sangha, which is Sanskrit for like-minded community) can increase prana, and this prana is the fuel that pulls us up and out of tamasic (lethargic) place.
Being inspired by others in your community can shift your perspective and lead to an uprising of joy. Experiencing joy from other peoples sucess is an amazing healing tonic. Our ability to enjoy that is a good sign of unity. Arriving at the non-dualistic experience which is attributed to a yoga practice is ironically often best understood by dualistic observation and engagement. Before we can go off to the forest or the mountains and live the life of a sattvic (harmonious) renunciate, we need to be able to look at all the mirrors our community holds up for us and see how we are reflected in the faces of our neighbors, friends and relations. In other words, we need to heal the spaces between "me" and "them" and in doing so we can begin to understand "me" and "them" is actually one and the same.
Zoom and other online platforms have become the medium for community gathering since the start of the pandemic. We really are able to transmit our concern, care and compassion for each other through zoom. I have experienced this. It may not be optimal, but it's what we have now. And it is also a matter of perspective. If we want to connect, we will connect, whether its over zoom, face to face or behind masks. So don't be concerned that connection to community wont happen over the internet, and try not to get stuck in the fact that it is not happening the way you want it to, or the way it was 2 years ago. We adapt because that is what we do - we are designed to adapt. If we look back at history, even let's say just 60-100 years ago, we can see how well humans can adapt and integrate the unthinkable into their lives.
Remember: we are a family; we are a team. We can move through this pandemic together. No, we NEED to move through this together as humans. The first step is to show up and come together. Then we can work towards our common goal. In the context of our yoga practice, part of the goal is to care for ourselves so we can care for others. When we care for others we become less separate from others. As that separation lessens, we are being healed. This takes us back to community being medicine.
Many people over the last few months have asked me how I managed to keep the doors to Yoga Loka open given the fact that many similar small businesses have closed. I attribute this to us being a strong community that recognizes we are a team working together. Parts of the team may be focused on healthy aging and maintaining a strong body, or balancing and quieting their minds, or lifting the vibration and healing energy of the universe. We instinctively know we cannot do what we are doing alone. Even if you have never see the other people in your asana or meditation class face to face because you started after the lockdowns, or you are coming to private sessions, you are part of the team, the family and the sangha. We are all serving each other by contributing positive energy and health to the whole, and by lessening our negative energy output which inevitably effects others.
The upcoming winter months are looking dismal, but don't give up! If you splinter off, you are without community. If you haven’t been for a while, come back! Sometimes we need to step away from the team to realize how much the community supports us. If you can’t afford to attend classes, let me know- we need as many people working towards a peaceful environment as possible! Don’t let finances keep you isolated. You are needed for the wholeness to happen. Your participation, in any community, is an essential ingredient in the healing balm this world needs so much.
Ask a realtor the best way to invest in real estate and they will say what matters is location, location, location. Ask a comedian what the secret is to good comedy they will say timing. A chef will tell you the secret to a good meal is to use the best ingredients.
If you ask a meditator what the secret is to a quiet mind, or a yogi what the secret is to their peace of mind, they will tell you "steady, consistent practice over a long period of time" (Yoga Sutras 1:12, 2:28) is the key to success.
This secret ingredient is probably why so few people have a quiet, peaceful mind! I was intrigued by the title of this article, "Spiritual Bootcamp for Brain Health" by John Douillard. It is a short article, and in it you will read about some practical and measurable side effects of spiritual practice. These benefits may inspire you want to do a spiritual practice. What do we do with this inspiration? The word Bootcamp, to me, implies really hard work. If you follow through with the work, you get results. If you don't, you won't. It is really that simple. Location, timing, good ingredients, and consistency. Those are the components of an effective Spiritual Bootcamp. (Here is another interesting short article about training your mind)
It is hard to stay as dedicated as needed to get the results on your own. The camp part of bootcamp suggests community. Don't get upset with yourself when you can't do it on your own. It is not really expected that you do this independently at first. You need guidance, constant inspiration, and the important thing is, you need to know HOW to do it because the sequence of steps is important, and can vary depending on the person.
I would like to relate a quick story to illustrate what I wrote above. Our family got a dog in September. This is a new thing for me, I never had a dog before and so didn't know much about training one. We did some reading, enrolled him in doggie kindergarten, and tried as best as we could to follow what we learned. We found it hard to stay consistent, but fortunately our guy is well behaved and cooperative. However the one thing we didn't master was how to call the pup back if he ran off after a deer in the woods, which happens to be his favorite pastime. It is also a scary one, because sometimes the deer runs across a street, or far enough into the woods that we lose track of him. We made up some stuff to try to get him to listen, and the three of us did different things, and you guessed it, it wasn't working. I mentioned something to a client of mine, who happens to be a dog trainer and she pointed me to a printed resource that I purchased. I made the whole family study it. Poe the pup was grounded for 3 weeks while we all practiced the protocol for "reliable recall". The pamphlet (which to me was like the yoga sutras of dog training) was explicit- you must do it this way for a long period of time. Each step was outlined. If it doesn't work the author wrote you needed to reread the pamphlet and do it again because you missed some steps. We followed it, and bam! it worked. We know that we have to stay diligent and practice in between walks, and that we still need to reread the pamphlet. We can see when he starts to falter. This is not a one time thing, he is growing and maturing, and he forgets, and sometimes desire to run over rides his current level of training. Just like the mind and meditation, the training needs to evolved along with the practitioner if peace is desired. There are just too many distractions and enticements in this world of form, whether they are deer running in the woods, or fretting over an old story.
A few Saturday's ago I attended a vigil as a peacekeeper. Victims and survivors of sexual violence spoke of their experiences and struggles to be heard, recognized and helped As I scanned the crowd in my orange safety vest looking for people who might need a mask or assistance of some kind, I started to feel my body reacting in a very uncomfortable way. My diaphram began to flutter rapidly and violent sobs threatened to escape. Of course no one would have been able to listen to these young people sharing their horrific stories without feeling something, but I was very surprised at the visceral reaction I was having. Even more surprising was that it stayed with me for days after. According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, 1 in 5 women have experienced sexual violence in their lifetime. I have not considered myself to be that 1 in 5, but here I was, very triggered by something. I have worked with many people over the years who have experienced sexual assault, and I have grieved their experiences, but their stories never hit me like this. What was it in my own experience that was causing this level of anxiety, fear and despair? What I was able to trace it back to was a time when I was probably in 3rd or 4th grade. A smaller, younger girl was in a room with me waiting for a teacher. She started telling me repeatedly and graphically, how her father was assaulting her. I remember that I just wanted her to stop talking and leave me alone. Her voice and her face have never left me even though I am fuzzy on most of the details (for example I will always remember her last name, but I can't recall her first name).
The point of this sharing is to, once again, point out that our bodies hold so much, and that what is being held can spring out at any moment. Also what we may think was a small, insignificant incident may actually have imprinted itself in us quite strongly. During my few days of this unfamiliar anxiety, even with all my yoga and TRE training, I just wanted to drink some wine and watching TV to take the edge off. And I did do a bit of that. But, also because of my training, and my obligation to the people who tell me their stories, I knew I also needed to look at what was rising around in me, unbidden and unwelcome. So after some wine and TV, I sat and practiced. I meditated, I tremored, and I walked a lot out in nature, and I kept that girl’s face in my heart. And here I am telling my story. Some of the anxiety is still here- even as I type this, I feel the tears seeking release. And so there is more work to be done.
This experience allowed me, on a visceral level, to really understand that there is not a hierarchy to trauma. This is what I had been taught, but now I know it in my gut. I do not mean to imply that my experience encountering the little girl is the same as her horrific experience was with her abuser . However, my experience is still clearly living in me and clearly has the possibility of being somewhat debilitating, even if the story might seem minor or insignificant. As much as i would like to believe I can "just get over it", I know it isn't as easy as that. I know that my work is to continue to acknowledge what's in my body, increase my resillency, dishcarge the charge, and seek resolution in my own self.
There is another important thing about recognizing our trauma; once we feel the strength of reactivity from a trigger, we have little choice but to open our hearts to other people as they struggle with their own reactions and triggers. Until we experience the power of the pull of unresolved trauma we can easily wonder why people can't "just get over it". Post-traumatic growth has been pointed to as the way for our society to become more humane and compassionate, but before we get there, we all have some work to do. "Post" in the important word here.
"I love that it is a small, consistent commitment I can make to ground myself in these strange times." Victoria C.
I love this testimonial from a student who has been taking the mini-flow classes. It speaks to something that is vitally important these days of much-reduced physical activity, and contact with others.
Here is another part of her email: "So glad you started this mini-membership. It has been a life saver, honestly."
I wanted to share a few things that helped me recognize the importance of small consistent commitments. Recently I listened to an interview with Dr. Daniel Leiberman. He is a professor of Human Evolutionary Biology at Harvard and author of the book " EXERCISED: The science of physical activity, rest and the pursuit of health. (Watch this 11 minute video where he debunks common myths about exercise) Dr. Leilberman touches upon a few important things in this video and book that are important for us to take note of. For one thing, he doesn't agree with the idea that sitting is the new smoking. We shouldn't blame the chair, he says, we should look at what we are doing during those times we are not sitting. He says that even getting up to visit the bathroom has a positive effect on our bodies, and as such he encourages us to not stay stationary for too long and to make sure when we are not sitting we engaged in positive, fun movement. (yeah, like a mini flow class!). He also points out that when we get older we need to devote more time to exercise, not less. His research on hunter-gatherer societies shows that the elders of the communities do not go off and play mahjong when they "retire"- they continue to actively gather, working towards the well-being of their families (the children and grandchildren). They remain an active participant in the families and comunity. We are in fact the only species that lives to be grandparents, and that evolution did not happen just for the sake of sending off birthday checks and congratulatory cards and kisses. The physical activity of the "gathering" prevents grandma and grandpa from being vulnerable to disease and experiencing the negative effects of aging. And it does the same for us too, even if we are not grandparents or running to Costco to fulfill our kids needs!
About 6 years ago,when I was in my late 40's, my physical activity level dropped. I no longer had time to take asana classes or move around much outside of teaching a class. I know most people think that I am constantly doing asana, but the truth is while I do practice yoga everyday, it usually does not include asana (poses). So back then I was doing a lot of sitting for meditation, and jumping in to demonstrate a pose here and there in a class (probably the worst thing to do!) but not much more. I started to realize, the few times that I did get to take an asana class, that my body was getting weaker and I was losing range of motion. I had been under the delusion that my body would continue to be sustained by all the previous years of yoga and karate I had done. But by the time I got to like 52, this was obviously not the case any longer. The biggest wake up call was when I started to zoom yoga classes and I had to do asana while talking! Gulp, gulp, pant, pant... The random aches and pains, stiffnesses and loss of energy I experienced as I climbed through the 4th decade to my 5th started to make sense. I simply was not doing enough exercise and my body was aging in not such a graceful way. Since doing the mini-flows, which now means I am doing asana every day but one, I am happy to find my strength and suppleness returning. Is it what it was in my 30's? No. But it's far better than it was last year at this time.
Now almost a year into the pandemic I am hearing from more and more people that they are getting stiff, weak, parts of their bodies are cranky, and their energy levels and mental states are not as robust and positive as they were 1 or 2 years ago. Given the personal experience I shared above and the myths of exercise that we have all bought into, I am not at all surprised that people are not making the connection between what is happening to their bodies and how they are using, or better yet, not using them. It is a worthwhile consideration to use our resources investing in what worked before such as exercise, yoga and other forms of self-care. We can seek medical testing and intervention, just to find that even the conditions that do require medical intervention are going to be enhanced with self-care, especially as it will lower your stress levels and improve your immune system. Or we can sit it out and let it all slide. After all, you are getting old, right? And this is what we believe getting old looks and feels like.
I don't think it is ever too late to decide you are going to take the path of action. We can all start up again somewhere and at any time. If you have sat out for a while, know you are not going to come back in where you left off. While that may be frustrating, embarrassing, demoralizing or however you want to label it, it's not a good enough excuse for staying inactive. Yoga teaches us to appreciate this present moment, so if you come back to the mat out of shape, stiff and unable to keep up, remember these words of Pema Chödrön "As long as our orientation is toward perfection or success, we will never learn about unconditional friendship with ourselves, nor will we find compassion.”
(If figuring out how to join back in seems daunting, drop me a line. I am happy to try to give you some direction. Even if it is not with a yoga class, I may have an idea how you can invest in your well being again.)
Rituals performed after experiencing losses – from loved ones to lotteries – do alleviate grief, and rituals performed before high-pressure tasks – like singing in public – do in fact reduce anxiety and increase people’s confidence. - Scientific American
In reviewing how you have sought normalcy during the pandemic, you might recognize that the rituals you have engaged in have been lifesavers! Rituals are embedded into every culture and civilization. Some rituals are more communal- like Thanksgiving and Memorial day. Some rituals are personal to you or your family. Recognizing how you are using ritual will give you permission, and inspiration, to invite more of them into your life and recognize their sacredness.
Many of our habits are rituals, or are actions that are seeking the benefit or ritual (they don't always work, like stress eating for example). Rodolph Steiner referred to rituals as rhythm, and recognized the importance of rhythm in children's development. "Rhythm by its very nature has an innate logic – it has a natural order. The steady, returning rhythm is healing and instills a feeling of safety and trust as it lifts the burden of the children wondering what is going to come next and what be expected of them". Caroline Joseph, Waldorf Kindergarten teacher. A kindergarten teacher begins to instill a rhythm for the day, week, year, in the children so they become habits going forward. The student is able to use the sense of safety and trust rhythm, or rituals offer as they continue to mature and develop. This can work for us too! Rhythm and rituals free up space in our brain. We don't have to reinvent the wheel each day. The structure is already in place.
When you read about ancient rituals, or the rituals of indiginous populations, they can seem superstitious. The article from Scientific American quoted above tells about what one group of fishermen from the South Pacific Island when they need to fish in shark infested waters. It may seem like superstition, but look at what the performance of the ritual does for the community.
The sacredness we instill into our rituals give us a lot- they give us a boost, they offer us a moment to surrender, to celebrate, to let the feel-good hormones release in our bodies. This gives rise to positive and inspired thoughts and creates a specific energy that defines our day, week, month, year differently.
The people who have been practicing asana with me regularly have said the classes have been a "lifesaver". I know a big part of that is just the ritual of attending class. Even though everyone is still at home, rolling out the mat, putting on yoga-appropriate clothing (even if they are just different pajamas), closing the door to the room, getting the camera set up and clicking on zoom, all of this is part of the ritual, and part of defining the huge chunks of time we are spending at home now. It gives a structure to the day, not only for those who may not have much to do during the day, but its a way for those who are (over) working at home to break from that work. This is of course just as important. It also happens to be nice that the asana practice is good for the body, nervous system and mind, but that is really just a side benefit.
The word ritual comes from sanskrit. rit which implies cosmic order, a flow towards truth, honest and respected. And as you might expect, yoga practitioners use many rituals. Look for the rituals that feed you. If you come up empty, seek rituals that align with your beliefs. There are many resources out there. Rituals that have history behind them, and centuries of practice, also have a cosmic energetic connection that we, as modern day folks, may not be equipped to understand, until we engage with them. But the good news is we don't need to necessarily understand the alignment of stars and planets, and energetic vortexes. Like with Winter Solstice, that has all been figured out thousands of years ago. All we need to do now is step in the current that has been created and look to appreciate how the rituals enhance our being.
“Life, with its rules, its obligations, and its freedoms, is like a sonnet, You’re given the form, but you have to write the sonnet yourself.” Madeleine L’Engle, A Wrinkle in Time.
I attended a very informative meeting about mutual aid. It was so inspiring that I wanted to share the concept of it with you- partly because these times are very difficult for so many- and those of us who are weathering the storm of the pandemic well are looking for ways to help those who are not. And here it is holiday giving time and we may be wondering the best way to share our abundance. Another reason I wanted to write about this is because I recognized that many of the concepts yoga teaches us are embeded in the foundation of mutual aid.
What is the difference between mutual aid and charity organizations? Here is an article that will explain it much better than I can - Mutual aid is essential to our survival.
Here are my big take-aways regarding mutual aid:
Many of us are already engaged in mutual aid and may not recognize it. Money raised from the Thanksgiving class fundraiser went to two organizations committed to supporting and uplifitng communities. A few days ago I got a tour of the Open Door community food pantry that the Methodist church just completed. Pastor Peter emphasized that this was a place for ALL to come and take what was there. If you need butter to bake cookies, come to the pantry. If you turned vegan but still had pounds of butter you bought at Costco (personal experience), bring it on by. He wants to make sure there is no THEY and ME involved in this pantry, there is just US. He sent my daughter and me off with a tin of corn bread that I hear was amazing (but unfortunately far from being vegan.)
Tia Ryans, who founded the Northern NJ chapter of All of Us or None, shared at the mutual aid meeting that the cards accompanying the Thanksgiving baskets were presented to the families of incarcerated individuals from the family member that was incarcerated. "With love from Daddy" may have been how the card was signed, not "brought to you by a bunch of well-meaning people you don't know". This emphasized the US in the community, not the THEY and US.
It is worthwhile to ask ourselves if our giving is serving, if what we are doing is empowering, and working towards healing the community as a whole.
All of us or None is seeking people to adopt a family for Christmas. You can choose to donate money, buy gifts or deliver baskets. You can find more information here. Pastor Peter asked me to spread the word about the pantry to all good people. Come and receive something, or drop by and leave something. You can find the pantry behind the Methodist Church on 3rd street in Frenchtown. It is housed in the small building therein the back of the parking lot and you can access it 24 hours a day. You can donate to the church here.
There are many worthy mutual aid programs sprouting up. Grassroots organizations are uplifitng communities the government has overlooked. It is not good news that there are so many communites in need, but it is good news that we can find a way to reach out directly, and that mutual aid organizations are stepping up to bring people together.
All good news that is available these days is worth spreading!
Usually I ask people if they are ready to change their life when I promote the Yoga Immersion. Well, this year is different- everyone's life has already changed, whether they intended that to happen or not. So the new question for this year is, how are you doing with that change? Were you ready for the upheaval (and I don't mean did you have enough toilet paper). Were you able to aclimate to the "new normal" and do you still have energy and the bandwidth left to adapt to the changes that are still to come?
There is no promise that the Yoga Immersion/Teacher Training changes your life immediately, but most people have found there to be a lasting impact. A sustained yoga practice does change things- it gives you the tools for right action. Yoga gives you the ability to change stress into action, fear into trust, it strengthens your body, your immune system, your ability to control of your own mind. I refer, of course, to the full scope of yoga practice, not just triangle or warrior one.
I started practicing yoga in 1986. I have continued to practice since then, while I was raising 2 children, while I changed my career several times, while I was going through a divorce and remarriage, while my hair was greying, my skin sagging, my joints decaying. I have been with my primary teacher since 1997. There are many things I have walked away from because of my practice, so there has been loss. There are many more things that have discovered, and so there have been gains. There is no doubt that I find myself on a dramatically different path than I set out on, say, 30 years ago. Do I see the benefits? Yes. Do I regret any of the choices I have made? Sometimes. But that regret is usually short lived. Why? I would say that the thing in me that has changed the most from my practice over the last 30 years is that I trust. I trust the choices I have made, the actions I have taken, I trust the teachers that I have had over the years- even the times when they have (in my mind) rejected me. I think it is safe to say, I am heavily invested in this practice, and I have been so since I was in my early 20's. I believe my investment has paid out much more than what was expected, and I feel completely confident in the outcome each time I step forward to invest more. (That is much more than I can say about realestate or the stock market.)
I am passionate about guiding people through the door I walked through in 1986 when I first began an asana practice. I can do that easily by opening the doors to the studio (well, ok, now its more like starting a ZOOM call). I am over-the-top passionate about inviting people to walk through the door that I did in 1997, when I began my yoga practice for real, and in 1999 when I started my first teacher training, which is when I can say for sure the trajectory of my life noticibly changed. I have been incredibly blessed to have attracted students who are willing to invest the time and the money, and to invest their precious lives in this program, for the past 18 years. It is a much bigger step and investment than coming to an asana class (which remains a very admirable start). It is a true blessing to spend time with people who want to learn the tools that yoga offers, and to witness each persons unique evolvtion of skill with the tools. The program, which has evolved over the years, just as my own practice has, offers the full spectrum of a yoga practice. The fact that some may go on to teach is great, but not necessary for people to benefit and consider their immersion sucessful, and their investment "profitable".
Below are some links for you to follow if you want to know more about the program. The first one is from an info meeting held in May about the training. There is also a 1 1/2 hour demo class on using the Joint Freeing Series to understand kinesiology and anatomy. The intro to this class starts with a meditation and some history on the Joint Freeing Series. The demo is a good example of how much of the Yoga Immersion classes are run. Regarding the schedule for the training, in the info meeting we spoke about some different possibilities for the schedule that will most likely have to continue to evolve with consideration to the pandemic. Based on what is currently happening with COVID, we will most likely extend the time the traininig happens in so we will be meeting fewer hours per week. That means the 200 hours would extend into June. It is best not to rush integration, and hopefully by spring we will be able to meet in person. Until then, the lectures and "at home" work will be emphasized as they are more easily done via ZOOM.
If you have any questions please email me. Your questions might not answered in the videos, so please let me hear from you if you are interested. I can also get you in touch with some of the graduates, they always have much better answers than I do!
That is what I have been doing these past 2 weeks, listening, reading and learning about the injustices that have led to the protests happening now. There is change approaching, and it is time to listen to the people who are leading the way, and to investigate where we personally stand and what action we are willing and able to take to assist that change. I am heartened by the protests and regret I have not been able to attend more of them. There was an absolutely beautiful vigil in Frenchtown this Saturday, hopefully one of many, and if you missed it you can still view it on Facebook.
The Yoga Sutras is always a relevant teacher, and it outlines the way we can approach taking our place in this movement: Effort and discipline, (Tapas) self-study (Swadhyaya) and surrender (Ishvara Pranidhana) leads to higher consciousness. (YS 2:1)
We see so much effort going into the protests and demonstrations now, and we need to appreciate and acknowledge the efforts that have been going on by organizations, such as Black Lives Matter, for years. There is a lot of work being done to try to shift broad understanding and educate those in power, while standing strong in the face of oblivion, retaliation, and denial. The practice of looking into my own ignorance falls into the practice of Tapasia (Tapas), because to stay on the course of finding truth rather than default to the answer that keeps things OK and familiar is hard and uncomfortable, and it does take discipline to approach those uncomfortable places again and again. Another discipline is to stay in contact with sources that educate- this takes a surprising amount of time, and it takes time away from things one might rather be doing. It takes discernment to figure out what is education and what is inflammatory. Discernment is an outcome of touching a level of inner quiet that requires quite a lot of practice. Staying current and awake, present and aware, requires discipline and consistent practice over a long period of time (YS 1:12 and 1:14)
Swadhyaya (self-study) has many parts- one of them being to listen to our internal dialogue and the conversations around us. To really listen, without "hearing" what you think should be said, or what you want to have been said is not easy. It is often uncomfortable to hear what people are really saying, especially if we have missed it before. That is how I feel now, uncomfortable because I did not previously "hear" the inequality happening, particularly in regard to law enforcement. Now, after 2 weeks of protests and demonstrations and lists of hashtags dedicated to people who have lost their lives due to their skin color, I can't understand how I missed the injustice, the pain, the anger, the fear and the frustration of so many. Believing myself to be a person who has good intentions and an open mind is just not enough. I have to also recognize and confront the places in me that are similar to the places that are so repugnant in the people and institutions I find unjust. We all have those seeds of hate and cruelty, it comes with a human body. We may not be actively watering them and nurturing them on a large scale, but whenever we feed them, just a tiny bit, we add to the matrix of hate, oppression and fear. And to stay in the place of self-inquiry without going into shame or guilt is important as those two directions are just distractions and will not serve anything other than more self-absorption. So I have to watch that I don't take my discomfort over my blindness and feed it in those directions, (for me it can also easily go to blame). I have to funnel my discomfort, when I see it, towards a more productive outcome. And to do this work, I have to keep looking for it.
Understanding HOW we listen is important too. One person, when challenged about an action they were initiating, responded with "Well, that is what would make me feel good". That is not listening, that is cementing one’s own agenda. It’s true that sometimes the action fits and is right, but it is not a sustainable strategy if one is seeking truth, it is more like playing the odds- sometimes you will hit it but mostly not. A friend of mine who is a POC in LA wrote that her boss, who is white, told her to take the time she needed to grieve. She said it was unexpected and exactly what she needed, and she let him know she respected this immensely and how much it meant to her. I do not think she even knew that is what she needed- but somehow, he did. That is listening. Self-study should both precede and proceed action. We will always make mistakes. Self-study helps us to integrate those mistakes and gives us a broader understanding of how the way we think fits us into the picture we want to see. Sometimes we are right on, sometimes we are far off. Maybe that boss in LA didn't know if what he was about to say was the right thing- but he went forth with it and listened for her response. If we make a mistake and were wrong about an action, and we get called out, we engage in Tapasia again, because it is hard and uncomfortable to be told you were wrong. Tapasia implies heat and, being wrong and admitting it without getting defensive can cause a lot of heat. There is no progression if you can't sit in that place. About 15 years ago, I unintentionally injured someone who meant a great deal to me. Just because it was unintentional doesn’t mean it wasn’t wrong. (I think that is very important to highlight). This was a tremendous time of growth for me as the wrong-doing was not completely clear to me. I tried to apologize, but I couldn’t really because I didn’t get the full iimplications of my action. But I really wanted it to be over. (I think we are seeing this with some of the statements company’s are coming out with in the past few weeks, many of which sound meaningless). So I tried over and over again to apologize in all different ways, and over and over again my apology was ignored. It took about a full year of me asking myself for clarity and being coached towards the truth by a friend, (who I begged to tell me what to do and she refused, saying I needed to see it myself or I wouldn’t understand it, and it would have no meaning to the injured person). I began to understand that it was not up to the person I wronged to explain it to me, to try to make me feel better about it, etc. I began to understand this burden I was putting on the injured person was not helping the situation at all, it was only causing more injury. The task was fully up to me to reconcile in myself first and then impart my understanding to the person I injured. I remember, after about a year, a huge wave of surrender to my ignorance came over me, I can't really describe it other than that, and then it was done. Surrender was first, understanding came, and then reconciliation followed.
Surrender (Ishvara Pranidhana) can mean so many different things (like above)- but what is should not mean is surrender to ignorance or apathy. It is not the surrender that comes from us thinking "Well what can I do anyway? Things have been like this for so long, I am not in power.... “ etc. What are the things that keep us in ignorance? That is what we are trying to get to, and that is what we want to surrender. We see in the fight for racial equality many people don't want to surrender their power and their place in the world to make room at the table for others. In order to give power to others we fear we will lose something. Most likely that is dominance, which is often misunderstood as power. There is a lot of fear in letting go of dominance, after all fear is inherent in dominance- fear gives birth to dominance. When we are truly in power (empowered), we can surrender because we don't know and want to know- we can surrender because we care and we don't know how to show it, we can surrender to the possibility and experience of heartbreak, because we want to act from our heart, not our fear.
I am sure by now you have been flooded with resources on where to give money, where you can get a list of actions to take, who is holding peaceful protests in the area. (If you have not, I would suggest starting with the Black Lives Matter website. It has day by day actions you can take and many other resources if you are interested in educating yourself more about racism and how to be a part of the solution). I am grateful that I am being mentored by a great group of spiritual seekers who have been doing this work for decades, and they are sharing a lot of sources that I feel comfortable trusting. I hope my sharing this writing opens up some conversation with those of you who are reading. If you want me to share some of the resources I have been learning from please feel free to contact me, also with any thoughts you have and anything you would like to share.
Let us move into this journey together, with our eyes wide open and our hearts ready to be broken.
A lot of how we used to operate in the world is now quite different. Some things we miss dearly and some things are improvements. There are many people whose lives have changed very dramatically and who have had to endure, or will be facing, a huge amount of suffering. Whether you read the news or not, we all know this to be the case. There is no doubt that our world is in the midst of a huge shift, and if we are part of the population that is fortunate enough to still have the resources to cover our basic needs, and if we are paying attention, we might be able to shift along with it without the resistances that arises from thoughts that might start out with:
When one of these phrases start your sentence, pause and see if what you are about to think/say/do is of value to what is actually going on in front of you, in your head, or to the person you are about to say it to.
We absolutely can adapt to what the challenges are that life gives us. Adaptation is not just for the hero you may read about, like the 15 year old girl who rode her migrant-worker injured father on the back of her bicycle 700 kilometres to bring him back to the safety net of his village, or the front line workers who are working hours upon hours a day, or the people organizing food for people who have no access, the school teachers who are working many many more hours per day as they navigate this new way of education, and on and on....
There are so many ways we can BE in the world differently, and some of that recognition for you might be to look at what rituals or habits have changed in your day. The picture above was taken during a week-old new ritual of a 1/2 mile walk in the woods to a creek where I sit to do my morning practice. This is a definite improvement over where I usually do my practice. Being out in nature offers different energy, but so does being out in public. Plus one, minus one. But regardless of what the score card reads, I am grateful for this new opportunity to "see" my practice from a different view point. Has it changed my outlook? Hard to say so soon in the game, especially as so much other stuff has changed. This new ritual has given my walking partner a regular practice, which he didn't have before. I am participating in his shift by shifting myself to a shorter practice time and to unfamiliar chit chat before and after my practice which is not what I am used- usually I just step into the shower, which I enjoy immensely. However, I am happy to be a part of a shift, regardless of what the score card reads.
I am very curious to hear what has changed for you. Especially your asana practice (since that is what has brought many of us together) now that you are at home. What new things have you found out about your body, What new rituals have you found? What are the ways you are staying in contact with the suffering this pandemic has caused and how has it changed you? Please share your thoughts, either on the blog page, on Facebook, or in an email to me.
I look forward to connecting with you on these shifts!