January 31, 2018 § Leave a comment
Care. Humility. Integrity. Justice.
The secondary school I went to between the ages of 13 and 16 (a combination of Middle and Junior High here in the US) employed the school’s acronyms in a lesson on values and qualities that they wanted their students to embody. I thought it was a neat way to encapsulate ‘moral lessons’ for teenage girls though I did wonder for many years what “Integrity” meant. Life eventually showed me those lessons and now there’s no shortage of illustrations.
These words came up again this week as I’ve been watching and reflecting on the developments in our Ashtanga world over the past two months. How would these words apply to the current context? An attempt:
- To Care for oneself, for others and for one’s environment, rooted in empathy and compassion. Mindfulness in one’s way of being. Taking care of things. Taking care not to act (or speak or write) in a way that causes unnecessary harm.
- Humility in thoughts and actions, not only in the field of accomplishments but in relationships. Having humility above all in recognizing that you’re never going to know the full picture. You’ll never know what goes on in others’ minds, their intentions, their baggage and motivations. To have the humility to know that you don’t know and from there cultivate a receptivity that breeds compassion. Being able to see both (or many) sides.
- Integrity of being. A sense of responsibility and moral courage. Of being able to do what is right in situations where it is tempting to kick the can of accountability down the road. Aligning actions with intentions, so that your words have weight and your actions have power.
- Justice. Working for fairness, always, even within systems that are inherently unjust and exploitative and benefit off of it. To ensure that people are adequately rewarded for the effort expended in their work, their livelihoods.
In my immediate environment we’ve also had a major disruption in the form of a teacher leaving the Mysore program she built from the ground up. Her departure, for me, illuminates again two salient lessons: (1) how bloody hard it is to be a Mysore teacher of integrity, humility and dedication for your students and (2) how exploitative the studio business model is of yoga teachers and their labor.
What does it take to run a Mysore program? Sacrifice, a strong love for the practice and the method, stability of mind and heart to nurture students as you nurture and raise your own children. It is a vocation. It’s unglamorous work filled with the messiness of human relationships – projections, illusions, hopes and disappointment – and showing up daily despite all that. And imagine doing all of that while not being able to earn a living wage living in one of the most expensive regions on earth. A system predicated on grossly underpaid labor is bound to fail and this is one failure I am rejoicing in. Hopefully this is the start of something new, a new paradigm where students recognize their responsibility towards ensuring that the teachers who serve us need to be served and protected as well.
July 21, 2016 § Leave a comment
Some thoughts from last month’s full moon + solstice buzz that I thought would be worth sharing here.
I live on an incessant internal tension between striving, constantly, for perfection in my endeavors and also shying away from making it a reality. This is my center of gravity. The endless contradictions of wanting/notwanting as it relates to the social/professional self. I am trying to figure out where this comes from, what feeds it and nurtures it.
The big questions I am currently wrestling with relate to “doing things” in a way that can be easily measured by conventional metrics such as: “fame”, “Social media engagement” (collectively rounded up in numbers), money/profits, prestige and length of one’s client roster, number of “friends”, offspring. I feel constantly inadequate because the quantifiable answers that I can give to this big question (“What do I do”) do not measure up to the standards that are used to evaluate one’s standing in this conventional world. How do I compare with my peers with their careers, degrees, titles, children? By all measures I am unremarkable. In this paradigm I am practically unmeasurable and invisible. I am a problem for the paradigm because I don’t fit neatly into its limited checkboxes.I never wanted to fit and have sought to break out of it. And in many ways, I have now successfully rendered this paradigm a useless tool for evaluating my life, and yet I am mourning my failure to measure up to it and clinging to something that I never really cared for in the first place. Instead, I’m using this ‘failure’ to explain my low self-esteem, fuel my efforts for affirmation (in a perverse, roundabout way), and shield myself from trying new things and putting myself out there.
Wow. I sure enjoy making things difficult for myself! There are all sorts of fear tied up with letting go of this shield-crutch, which is built out of fear.
What will it take for me to let go of this crutch? Is this the only thing holding me back from my full potential?
January 14, 2016 § 3 Comments
If I were to imagine a place where my Self lives, it would be a small, spartan room with one window facing southwest that streams the afternoon sun at varying angles depending on the time of year. There is a basic bed for one. A wooden writing desk and chair and not much else. On that table is a book that runs on its own time. A book of my life to date. Part narrative, part textbook, it reminds me of adventure books from childhood where, at certain junctures in the story you could choose from a variety of actions to reach a different conclusion. Except in this case the choices aren’t so much a matter of flipping the page as much as they’re puzzles to solve. More and more I’m faced with puzzles that are intractable and opaque, and are often obscured in a heavy fog of big emotions like grief and sadness. Occasionally anger. Often, the feelings are so big that I cannot even fathom the question, I am too busy setting anchor in a tempest of emotions that often linger for days.
It is lonely, at this desk. I want to leave the room, to look for someone to commiserate with, to exchange notes about where they are at with their puzzles. I am looking for distraction from this onerous drudgery of sorting through heavy, isolating stuff at this stage of my journey, but I also know, deep down, that the time for conversation is over. My experiences so far have equipped me with all the skills and knowledge I need. Any search for more knowledge is a trivial pursuit. Time-wasting.
It is time to do the work, work that only I can do. That in itself is a sobering realization. I feel like I’m at the edge of a precipice that I know I have to jump off. The past 18 months have been deeply transformative and I’m surprised by the sorts of changes that have happened both within and without. But the job is not over yet, and yesterday I saw, with utmost clarity, the name and form (namarupa?) of the task ahead.
Everything clicked in place the moment I settled on the mat for Dandasana. The mind had been churning even before the first ekam, and with each breath and movement, the tension between mind/ego and Self/heart became increasingly apparent. The former wanted to cut things short and the latter urged steadiness and fortitude. I was stressing about my commitments for the next month. And the back-and-forth continued until Dandasana when I realized that the anxiety for two unrelated events shared the same root: I was stressing because I’m afraid that I’m not going to be good enough.
Not good enough for my parents (who are coming to visit).
Not good enough to do a two-week workshop with a certified teacher (who I’ve practiced with before).
Not good enough to (fill in the blank).
That’s my life story, in three words. “Not good enough”. It is the lens that shapes how I view myself in the world, the shackles of fear that paralyze me when I embark on a new project or conjure up a new idea. It is the driving force behind everything I do. I have high standards when it comes to, well, almost everything (yes, I am a snob), but the standards for myself are always that much higher. I am motivated by the fear of not measuring up – never mind that I don’t even know what “enough” looks like, thereby setting for myself an impossibly high standard for which there are no observable metrics.
When you realize that what needs to be changed requires you to upend a mode of being that is at the core of who you have been for 36 years – how do you even begin? If all you’ve known is what needs to be changed, then who is left?
Who am I?
December 31, 2015 § Leave a comment
The last month of 2015 took it upon itself to really drive home the lesson of learning how to be a beginner. This, in a year that has been especially about beginnings and endings. I get the sense that the Universe is really giving its all into impressing the gravity of this particular module of Life 101 before the clock runs out on 2015’s curriculum.
It’s new year’s eve and there’s a palpable anticipation of the “new year” all over my networks, with all the sentimentality of bright-eyed aspirations, courageous hopes and best wishes that today brings. It is sweet to read and to ride this wave of goodwill, a refreshing change from the endless parade of dismal news and cynicism the other days of the year. Dec 31 shows that we’re actually all optimists at heart. Tomorrow will be better, in all its newness. Tomorrow holds the potential for change and continued transformation. Tomorrow is another chance to start afresh and revisit my endeavors with fresh eyes, perspective and courage.
Tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow.
What we forget (so easily) is that this promise of an abstract ‘Tomorrow’ is always present with us. Each inhale and exhale is the ‘tomorrow’ that we keep projecting out of ourselves. You don’t need to wait to find the courage to face your fears, pursue your dreams, unfold into a radical acceptance of who you are/what you look like/how you age, etc. It’s always there, waiting to be found in the rhythmic spaciousness of the breath.
Life: Inhale. Exhale. Repeat.
Happy New Year friends.
September 1, 2015 § 1 Comment
A friend shared this podcast where meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg elaborates on the concept of ‘karma’. Spoiler alert: we’ve been too liberal in applying this concept to everything and everyone around us!
The true meaning of the word is complex and more empowering than pop culture would have us believe. It is not something that is inevitable, but instead, it is a tool for introspection and when applied intelligently, could help me avoid future suffering (Sutra 2.16). If where we are now is a product of the choices we have made in the past, then the choices we make now will shape our future. Therefore, it’s in our interest to choose intelligently. Or, as a Buddhist would say, to live skillfully.
June 21, 2015 § 7 Comments
Life and practice has been all about the pain in the past six weeks. Not physical pain, but emotional pain. Overwhelming, distraught, wordless pain that resides deep inside the body. A residue of past trauma, of physical and emotional abuse that still haunts me to this day. I thought I was over these chapters of my past, especially now that I’m living a new life far far away from the place and people of my childhood. But clearly my body has not forgotten, and Kapotasana has proven to be an effective trigger in resurfacing the pain and its attendant emotions: fear and grief, but most of all, worthlessness.
It’s not the first time that this pose has made me cry. The first round was in December 2014, a period of time I will never forget because I was depressed for weeks. I had no idea what was going on. This practice that nourishes me suddenly left me atomized, utterly broken and unable to do much more than mope around and weep. That phase eventually subsided, but resurfaced again a few weeks ago. This time I had the support of a bodyworker/osteopath/white witch who I’ve been seeing for the past two years. Her hypothesis that I’ve stored the pain of physical abuse in my quads has not only proven accurate, it’s also been followed by a series of events that tap deep into the heart of the pain that’s shaped me: shame, guilt and worthlessness. All of it is coming out now, one way or another. Old baggage from relationships that I want to hide forever and never have to deal with, coming to the forefront of my consciousness, resurrecting past ghosts, the past self of mine who believed that she was never good enough and who never quite fit in. And I still don’t. After all, it’s hard to fit in when you’re the only one crying in the Mysore room, every fucking time.
“The deeper the catharsis, the bigger the transformation”, says one of my yoga teachers when I clued her in on what’s going on. I cannot see beyond the pangs of this catharsis at the moment because identifying the cause of my pain has led to an unpacking of all the baggage I’ve been carrying around. It is one fucking mess after another. A cascade of painful realizations from past hurts. I am trying to rise above the ‘optional suffering’ that comes with the pain built-in into life, but some days it is too bloody hard. I have so many questions that will never be answered. Wounds so deep that I cannot see the day when they will heal, even if I know, intellectually, that they will. John Waters’ commencement speech spoke to me on a multitude of levels, but his remark about not being surrounded by assholes in his personal and professional life really stood out. Because this pain I’m processing at the moment is a product of the wonderful assholes who brought me into existence and weaved the cultural and religious environment of my upbringing for the better part of 30 years. I knew that moving away from “home” was one of the best things to ever happen to me, but it is in revisiting my past ghosts that I can fully appreciate the significance of this life event. By taking myself out of a toxic environment, I finally have the space and freedom to find my self, heal and build a new life. I have never felt more certain about being exactly where I need to be, and despite the pain, I know that time is on my side.