A Change In Perspective

  

“Yoga is the uniting of consciousness in the heart. 

The lotus flower has long been a symbol for the unfolding of spirituality. It is one of the most elegant illustrations of the meshing of our human and Divine natures.  

The lotus seed is planted and grows in muddy waters, below the surface of the lake, far from the light. Though the light is murky and clear, the flower blossoms by drawing energy from within. As the bud passes through the muddy waters, it lifts its face to the sunlight and finally emerges. Miraculously, not a trace of soil remains on the flower. It lives in the mud yet it is not affected by it….

Yogah Citta Vritti Nirodahah. Yoga is the uniting of consciousness in the heart” (Devi 16).

I am happy to report a change in my life. For the past two months or so, everyday has seemed to bring new horror and drudgery, leading me into the shadow-self. It didn’t take much, just a few changes and suddenly I was able to see the beauty around me and the amount of abundance I have to be grateful for.

There were so many people I encountered in the last two months that were so blissful and grateful for the life they had. I saw them and thought to myself, I want that kind of bliss and contentment. It’s hard to feel happy all the time or even grateful for one thing in your life. Yogis are often painted as figures who see the world in technicolor all of the time because they are supposed to have some mystical secret told to them by the yoga gods, but that’s not true. Yogis are human, just like everyone else. We each have the opportunity, like the lotus flower, to be affected by our circumstance, to blame what has come before. However, we can also choose to see each day anew and gather strength from within. Instead of looking at all of the mud we are surrounded by, we can take our gaze to the sun; to the infinite.

So today I shed gratitude for all of the circumstances of my life, they bring to to new depths and new challenges, but they also bring me to new heights and new joys.

“Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.”

-John Lennon

Mistakes: A Step In The Right Direction

It is a misconception to think any one of any stature is ever free from the capability of making mistakes. Mistakes can arise from even the most sincere intention or the smallest lapse in judgement. The importance of mistakes is that they give you feedback and new direction.

Growing up, I was a girl who strived for perfection and deeply criticized myself, my worth, and my merits if I did not meet the impossibly high standard I had set for myself. Interestingly enough, I did not have parents who pressured me to act this way nor was anything else in my surroundings urging me to do this to myself. It came from with in. This unfathomable fear of being wrong. I would say today I can at least pat myself on the back for not being a perfectionist, but I still do strive to answer the question, “What is the most right?”.

I remember this summer, I briefly took a job as a barista at my favorite coffee house. I really had no business being there, however. I knew nothing of coffee, nor did I even drink it myself. On one of my first days, I kept making a series of mistakes that lead to lots of spilling and clean up. I was so embarrassed, but relieved when I apologized to one of my co-workers who replied, “That’s okay. Mistakes are where life happens.”

Even recently, when I moved in with my partner — a move I may not have truly been ready for in my heart, but quickly learned to adapt to — he said to me a quote of similar nature: “Mistakes are unavoidable so you might as well have fun and enjoy the ride.”

Naturally, the part of my brain that has in some way or another programmed itself to strive for perfection was being overrided by the notion that a mistake could possibly been a good thing.

Mistakes are bound to happen. They hurt ourselves and they can hurt others, but they are ultimately how we learn, where we grow, and are what makes our journey unique. I recently lost a job I cared about deeply for a careless mistake, a mistake compatible to that which you make on a math test and think to yourself, “Really? I can’t believe I forgot to do that!”. It’s with a heavy heart that I step away from there, deeply regretting my actions. But I’d like to think that nothing happens without reason. Even mistakes. Yes, even mistakes are divinely orchestrated and can lead you to exactly where you need to be.

This post isn’t to say that you should purposefully make mistakes, but, perhaps, when you do make them, give yourself some room to breathe. Give yourself permission to mess up because that’s where life happens. When you find yourself in the midst of self-ridicule try to change to tone to one of self-compassion and have a little faith. Even though, you may feel deeply sorry for your actions, trust that all is as is because the universe is as is. And, ultimately that it will be okay. Have trust in your actions and faith in your merits. ❤

How to Move Forward: An Open Letter to Finding Comfort in Discomfort

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They say that the two of the most stressful things a person can endure are moving and the loss of someone close to you. On September 7th of this year my grandmother, a women whom I loved dearly and will miss eternally passed away. The grief still unfolds new for me everyday, unveiling a new layer of knowing the absence of her presence. Each day it becomes more clear that I can’t pick up the phone to call her, that I will never hear her Brooklyn accent, eat her roast beef, ride with her in the back of her cherry red car, or share my life with her. She was the most amazing listener and the dearest of grandmothers. When she passed, our cousin who lived near her said, “I want you to know that even though you live so far away, she breathed you everyday.” I remember hearing that and thinking to myself, “Wow. What a sacred thing to breathe someone.” To breathe someone, to know that no matter the distance, no matter the situation you are loved by one another. You are held by one another in a way that is as permanent and as impermanent as the breath.

In the coming weeks, I signed a lease with my boyfriend, Josh. We ended up in a beautiful little apartment right off Main St. I knew that it was because of her that we got the place. I just had a feeling: The odds of a college student with no credit and a mother as a second reference with a post-grad swamped with debt made us unlikely candidates. Yet here we are.

The idea of moving in together was not a new one, nor did it come into play silently without any debate. Very early in our relationship I decided moving in with Josh was something I wanted. For eight months I continued to nudge and ask for this move. Finally, Josh said yes. He saw part of him wanted to pursue our relationship in this way and that he needed to get away from his current living situation.

I have never lived with a partner before. Needless to say, everything feels entirely new and not entirely how I thought it would be. Everyday since we’ve moved in I have felt heavy in my heart, feeling as if I broke something that didn’t need to be fixed. I have yearned and yearned for my old room, my old house, and my old roommates, simply for the fact that they were familiar. Last night, my partner looked at me and said, “When are you going to arrive? I feel like I have been living here a week and my roommate hasn’t showed up.”

Crushed by my self guilt and the notion that I am letting him down, I recalled a conversation I had with my mentor earlier that evening. With loving eyes and little detail of my situation she said, “Expectations take you out of the present. You cannot find happiness where expectations lie. Furthermore, you’ve signed a year-long commitment with this person so you need to give it your 100%. By the time your lease is up you will know what you need to do.”

All of this leads up to writing this post this morning. I flashed back to the moment another yoga mentor of mine told me in the most arduous of poses, “This is life, right? It’s so painful and uncomfortable, but it’s all about how you approach it.”

So yes, happenings like death and moving may be some of the most stressful things one can endure, amongst many others. However it is not our circumstances that define our quality of life, but the way we choose to navigate them that counts. I noticed, the most painful things require a great deal of adaptability, for it is great change, I believe, that haunts us most in this life. Still, each day is a choice to stay in Duhka (suffering) or find Dharana (contentment). Finding contentment is a continual practice, one that takes conscious and undivided effort. It begins with showing up in the midst of discomfort and knowing that is shall pass. Knowing that change will change again and it’s all about how you approach it, so you may as well enjoy the ride.

grandma

Dedicated to Shirley Klein Harwood

When Life Gives You Lemons

We’ve all had those days…. The sours days that you wish you could just delete from the record or a string of really bad days that leave you feeling beaten and dejected. And sometimes it seems like everything just rubs you the wrong way. As a yogi, or as someone generally trying to be a decent person, when someone aggravates you almost want to skip over the anger. We try to cool our ego with compassionate lessons we’ve been taught: “Oh, we’re all one,” “They are just mirrors of my personality, so I’m really just aggravated by myself,” “They are doing the best they can,” etc. But, regardless of our best efforts we may still feel anger, and that anger turns to guilt and self-hatred. Before we know it, we have turned on ourselves. Unable to offer the same compassion and forgiveness that we are trying to give to someone else. And as the ego continues to churn out terrible thoughts, we are left with a choice: to either continue to run the hamster wheel of hatred until it spins out of our control, or find it with in ourselves to be with our emotions as they are. Sure, it is true we are all one and we are only hurting ourselves if we fail to see the fault within others is also a fault within ourselves. But if you can acknowledge that and, further more, accept those emotions as they arise, well…that is power my friend, and true self love. We do not have to be the angelic, passive, everything-is-always-fine yogi, because that is not our truth. Part of the beauty of yoga is being able to be firmly rooted in Satya (truth) and our truth is that we are beautiful human beings who are doing the best we can at our own level of awareness at any given moment. We find our lemonade in the sweetness of our own truth, emotion and owning ourselves as we are, regardless of whether or not we label that state of being as good or bad. So own your anger, and your bad days, and sit with it the thoughts and emotions as they arise with in. See what part is you, what part of it is ego, take the passive state as the observer, and when the anger and frustration ensue? Own it. Love it. And make lemonade.

Light on Life

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Yoga is the practice of tolerating the consequences of being yourself.   ~Bhagavad Gita

The last year of my life has been a mixture of both great pain and great wonder. I started the year off in Nosara, Costa Rica where I was certified by Marianne Wells in Hatha yoga. When I came back home from this delightful experience, I was fully immersed in my practice. Every day, with great enthusiasm and devotion, I took to the mat. Intermingled with knowledge of Ayurveda, holy texts, meditation and chanting, I had a daily routine which would last up to two glorious hours. I was in love. Yoga consumed every part of my life with welcome arms and moments of ecstatic and spontaneous elation. 

As the summer blossomed I was working a series of three jobs, an internship, and I volunteered as yoga instructor. My practice was evident in my life, in my manner and in my speech, but my actual time on the mat began to diminish. It was not until the fall, once school had begun, that I lost touch with my practice. Papers began to take president over breath work and sitting in lecture halls replaced my practice of asana. As you can imagine my elated nature began to deflate and my energy began to dwindle. Five months passed like this until my well was dry and I was feeding off of what felt like my own soul. My absence of practice had left a void in my life that lead me into the depth of the shadow self. My kind and patient nature became one of depression, confusion, and unruly ego-feeding. Thus creating a life of discomfort.

The following summer began to bear the fruit of my shadow self: every aspect of my life could no longer be served by my absent practice and demanded modification. My life at work, my choice of career and how to pursue it, my relationships, and my living situation were all up for grabs by the hands of change. It seemed pain was within every encumbered decision and clarity was no where to be found. In Iyengar’s book Light on Life he writes a passage which explains the intricacies of suffering titled Pain: Finding Comfort Even in Discomfort. He begins this section saying, “Pain is there as a teacher, because life is filled with pain. In the struggle alone, there is knowledge. Only when there is pain do you see the light. Pain is your guru. As we experience pleasures happily we must also learn not to lose our happiness when pain comes” (Iyengar 47). It was with this knowledge that my perspective began to adjust. I remember one of the first ways this knowledge was re-introduced to me. I was invited to an Ashtanga yoga class that was taught by my soon-to-be mentor. I didn’t know it at the time, but this class was one of the first dominos to fall in the series of events that would lead me back to my spiritual practice. During this class, the instructor lead us into what seemed to be a version of Prasarita Padottanasana (Wide Legged Forward Fold), only in this variation we were instructed to heal-toe our feet as far away from one another as bearable and lower our forearms to the floor. The pain was real and mind consuming; the kind that stops your breath from flowing with ease and causes your body to shake. I look up to hear my teacher say, “This pose is just like life, right? It’s so painful and uncomfortable, but it’s all about how you approach it.”

In Light on Life and on the mat a new concept had been introduced to me: the idea that intense, heat building yoga was not solely meant to tone the abs or strengthen the legs, but also to create an uncomfortable sensation that teaches us to go beyond the visceral pain of they body and enter into the meditative mind. As yogis, we do this because “practice is not just about the pleasurable sensations. It is about awareness, and awareness leads us to understand both the pleasure and the pain” (Iyengar 48). Recently, I have been able to gain elements of this lucidity. I have begun a mental practice which reminds myself when I reflect on a trying moment that it has passed: it is no longer something the mind has to endure. Thus, I am able to take the role of the observer and can allow the rumination to dissipate and, consequentially, ease the tortured nature of the mind. Iyengar and the reintroduction of my practice has reminded me that “If you can adapt to and balance in a world that is always moving and unstable, you learn how to become tolerant to the permanence of change and difference” (Iyengar 48). Including those pieces of change that carry elements of hardship and mental or emotional suffering.

When I first came back to my practice, I would go to classes where the teacher would by chance say something to the effect of giving gratitude for your life or this breath and it would cause me to cry, for I knew I had spent the last several months forsaking my life. My mind was so wrapped in the webs my ego had spun, I could not even see past the illusion long enough to be grateful for one breath. Surely, it is no coincidence these experiences happened on the mat. Yoga seems to have a way of putting a bright mirror in front of ourselves, which can unveil shocking and painfully disagreeable qualities. However, “It is not just that yoga is causing all of this pain; pain is already there. It is hidden” (Iyengar 49). Even so, the presence of pain can be a welcome visitor. Iyengar moves to speak in this passage about the difference between good and bad pain. He describes good pain as something that is arduous and leads you towards greater growth, compassion and understanding, whereas bad pain can be misdirected, disheartening, and selfish (Iyengar 50-51). As Iyengar expands on his ideology of pain, I am reminded of my favorite poem by Rumi titled The Guest House. In one of his verses he muses: “Be grateful for whatever comes [A joy, a depressions, a meanness,/ some momentary awareness comes/ as an unexpected visitor]/ because each has been sent/ as a guide from the beyond.” It is for this reason these experiences of pain have become my most cherished moments of my life. I have begun to see new love for the parts of me that harbor pain and darkness because they are the reason I no longer have to be afraid of it. Iyengar says “There are only two ways to confront pain: to live with the pain forever or to work with the pain and see if you can eradicate it” (Iyengar 49). These bouts of circumstance that have elicited pain in my life have caused me to see that there is no way out, but through. Like the variation of Prasarita Padottanasana, the things that can elicit some of the greatest pains are not only temporary, but can also lead to the greatest of joy. And again I am reminded why I practice yoga, “not just for the enjoyment…[but] for ultimate emancipation” (Iyengar 52).

Citation:

Iyengar, B.K.S. “Light on Life: The Yoga Journey to Wholeness, Inner Peace, and Ultimate Freedom Paperback – September 19, 2006.