Thursday, January 27, 2011

Sorry my life is so awesome!

Lately my life has become this magic, playful carnival- lots of color, vibrancy and feel good fun times (and the occasional terrifying carnie encounter!). Of course I'm grateful. I'm a yogi and in the community we talk a lot of good talk about gratitude- how blessed we all are...OM! Namaste! But beneath it all, I've discovered a certain level of guilt. What have I ever done to deserve this beautiful life? Why do I get to live in a strong, healthy body with a strong, loving support network in a beautiful place where it's sunny and warm in January?

Why is it so hard to just say "Yes! Thank you!"? Whoever said we should feel bad about feeling good?

The Catholic Church is an easy target, so let's start there. My grandma, as devout a Catholic as I am a yogi, has actually said that we're meant to suffer in this life in order to sort of earn bliss in the afterlife. What? Are you sure? Because I'm pretty sure that this life is filled with things from God meant to make me happy right now (see: Ice Cream, Yoga, Kissing). Should I have been wincing while enjoying these things this whole time? People make jokes about the whole "Catholic guilt" phenomenon, but it's a serious precedent to be subtly (or not so subtly) raised with. Enjoyment seems to indicate some kind of sin, but we all really want to be happy, so we do these things that make us happy but then we have to feel bad because being happy must mean we're doing something contrary to God's word. Again, what?

Being fairly indulgent and a little lazy, I may not be the most neutral person to speak to the virtues of feel good activities. The fact is, though, that when properly inspired and directed, I will work my skinny little behind off with the same passion and intensity I usually reserve for dairy and arm balances. If I've ever helped you move, you can attest to my excellent, tireless work ethic. I am a woman who gets the job done. I just don't think we should have to work as much as frequently as we do. Why 40 hours a week? Why not 30? Who decided that two weeks off a year is enough time to rest and renew? Now we can point the finger at the Puritans, who, like the Catholics, believed that everything that felt nice was evil temptation. Chaucer came up with the handy line "idle hands are the devil's tools" and those boring Puritans ran with it, founding a country based on an obsession with work and repression. Do you really not think that God wants you to have fun, guys? The existence of puppies, sunny parks and bicycles makes that hard to believe.

Well, I've had it. I don't want to feel bad about my mega joy level anymore. Why do I get to live such a charmed life? I don't know. Because! That's why! Am I going to feel bad about all the opportunities I get to play? Nope. Why? Because I look for and pursue them. How about we all take responsibility for our lives. If you want more playtime, get it. Make it happen. You don't have to feel guilty about feeling good. God made the body to respectfully, lovingly enjoy. Chase your bliss and stop apologizing for it.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Getting Authentic.

You know when you learn so much at once that your noggin starts a'swimmin? After two full days of Authentic Relationships training, I'm looking for floaty wings for my soggy brain. I don't think I'll fully grasp how much I've learned or how much this is changing me for a couple of months (years...) but for now I'll try to get still and take in the first third of the training. I'm feeling linear, so I'll make a list...

1) Drop the past. Drop it. Drop it. Drop it. It doesn't belong in the present.
2) "Ego is the place where love cannot go. Where there is ego, there is no amigo." -Yogiji
3) Show up with neutrality and Listen.
4) Self-discipline is key for self-love.
5) Just because someone doesn't live up to their word doesn't necessarily indicate that they were not being honest. Some people are very authentic and just have trouble following through.
6) And that has nothing to do with me.
7) Get totally grounded in yourself. Then you can gracefully hold space for dissenting opinions and have love and compassion for the other person, even if they are not like you and you don't agree.
8) Make requests, not demands.
9) Be aware of and manage your own expectations. Let go of as many of them as you can.
10) Give them a little break...whoever they are and whatever they did.
11) Be kind.
12) In authentic relationships, each party presents an offering to the other...of love, respect, truth, compassion, etc. There must be an exchange.
13) In authentic relationships, there is no hungry, desperate grasping. We are lit from within and do not expect the other person to present our happiness on a platter. We are self-contained and responsible.
14) Ego serves a purpose and we cannot get rid of it, but it can't be running the show. (see #2)
15) You better open your mouth and speak or no one will know what you need or think...but remember #3.
16) Sometimes the person you really need to forgive is yourself.
17) It takes courage to be as bright and radiant as we are destined to be.
18) Don't forget to play! This is all so serious and hardly really serious at all.

Blessings blessings blessings to you for Authentic Relationships that challenge, enrich and enliven.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Resistance is Futile. (No, really, stop.)

Since admitting is the first step, I'm just going to come right out and say it: I am stubborn. I have definitely learned a lot over the years about choosing my battles and will freely admit it when I'm wrong, but I still have a ways to go in other aspects. I derive great pleasure from ceaselessly banging up against walls, refusing to look around and realize that there was an unlocked door there all along that I could simply open and walk through. Part of this resistance must come from my shrinking but still prevalent adolescent love of drama and suffering. Oh, how romantic it is to be in pain! The exquisite tragedy! Luckily, the older I get, the less patience I have for unnecessary discomfort. I've survived enough real life tragedy now to understand how ridiculous it is to generate or invite in any more. And yet...

There is still this escapist part of me that wants nothing to do with reality and goes to great lengths to avoid it. Every time I end another protracted period of resistance to something perfectly benign, I always marvel at my ability to convince myself that whatever I'm resisting will kill me...and of course it never does. No matter how painful the confrontation, how drastic the change, I always come out the other side stronger, (sometimes) wiser and closer to my truest self.

Lately, a useful and safe tool for exploring my resistance has been my bhakti flow practice. There is plenty to resist- the room is hot, there is little to no rest between poses, sometimes sweat gets in my eyes. Sounds terrible, but beyond the physical challenges, the instructor inspires a lighthearted, playful attitude so that as my left quad begins to shake and my ego starts screaming, "AhhHH! I'm going to DIE!" I can laugh and calmly remind myself that, no, you're not. I keep breathing, smiling, move through my vinyasa and I'm fine. See? That wasn't so hard, was it? I know it's working because we get to the end and despite how hard it was, I always want to keep going. I want more opportunities to show myself just how capable I am of opening the door and walking through. Because I'm willing to put the work in and push myself one breath, one inch farther than I thought I could ever reach, I have been receiving an incomparable gift- myself, a bit more clear, vibrant and pure than the practice before.

This underground river of joy I've tapped into in my bhakti practice is beginning to spread into life off of the mat. The resistance and the weighty fear it inspires still lurk just under the surface. It crowds into my mind when it's time to do something important and, like Fox News, spews a slew of irrational anxieties all over the place. Before I would become so overwhelmed by everything that could go wrong ("They won't like you." "They're going to be mad at you." "You're going to fail." etc) that I'd continue resisting my task until it had blown up into something totally unmanageable looking. Believe me, I still resist. There are some important things that I'm avoiding right now in writing this. However, with curiosity and compassion piqued, it's easier to see how I can actually conquer challenges. When my crazy ego starts telling me that calling my health insurance company is going to kill me, I can recognize how irrational that is, have a good laugh, make the call and prove to myself that it's really not a big deal. Most things aren't. If yoga has taught me anything thus far, it is that anything can be survived if you just keep breathing.

Take a deep breath right now. Feel better?

My strong, productive energies wax and wane. I'm not sure that I will ever entirely stop having resistance to the challenging tasks and moments that require my attention. But at least now I have the presence of mind to know that the only things that can actually kill me are tigers, lightening, MUNI vehicles and the like. Hopefully, with continued bhakti practice, I'll be able to fit into my big girl pants, stop hitting the wall and walk through the door. It sounds so simple! Just keep breathing, just keep breathing...

Monday, January 3, 2011

Totally Total Totality.

Awhile back my friend Brooke and I were talking and she was musing about something that could occur in the future. She stopped herself mid-sentence and said, "I'm living in the future," and directed her attention back to the moment. At the time none of this made an impact on me. It wasn't until about a week ago, when I found my whole consciousness in a fantasized, future moment, that I began to utilize Brooke's concise statement to check myself when I slip out of my breath, out of my body, out of the present. I've been in a cycle of growth that began with my move and is now coming to a close. My final gift of learning from this time will be to come into Totality- giving every step through life my total presence and energy. Now that I've brought my attention to my tendency to frolic in the future and I am attempting to correct this, it's becoming clear how much I have my work cut out for me.

The yogic bible, for lack of a better term, is The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. This strand of beads of wisdom is the foundation of yogic philosophy and the Raj Yoga school. Raj Yoga is the "royal yoga" and concerns controlling the mind- or as Patanjali put it, "the restraint of the modifications of the mind-stuff is Yoga." I am an avid student of yoga, and have long known how important the role of the mind is, but it wasn't until now that I understood how hard it can be to reign in. I honestly don't think I've even tried until now. I have this wild, creative imagination that loves to rocket ship into an uncertain future and fill in the blanks. I used to indulge in what I call "disaster fantasy" scenarios, in which I would guard myself against pain, fear or disappointment by imagining the worst possible outcome. I caught on to that nasty habit a long time ago, but simply replaced it by imagining the "best" possible outcome, or the way things would work out if my most self-indulgent self had her way. Then I would project for that imagined future, so sure that it was really in my best interests...and no doubt sometimes it is.

What I've been finding lately, though, is that I don't really know what I want, and by and large, the future that I imagine is never as excellent as the one that God lays out for me. There have been several occasions in the past year when I've been forced to admit that what happened in reality was way more awesome and natural than anything that I could've imagined or manipulated. We get so stuck on this "perfect" vision of the future and don't even consider the other hundred alternatives, each possibly better than the last. We want to be so sure of what will happen, so we decide what that thing should be and work at making it occur, even if it isn't really that great. I think about the people who marry totally incompatible partners because the future without that perceived security is too much to bear. Certainty holds a siren call allure that is hard to resist. Faith is not often the easy road.

It is faith, though, and a large measure of self-control and discipline that allow us to live in Totality. If I could ever manage to stop engaging with my ego, which wants to control everything, I might be able to understand that I am not the doer. Yogi Bhajan talked about the gift of the Raj Yogi in this way...
"The Raj Yogi's presence performs his miracle. Others have to act and perform and do all kinds of things. But this is the path of the King. It is not the path of the slave. Just feel your presence is acting: therefore you have not to act. Never try to interfere with the power of God. Never try to control other people. Serve, excel and be."

This does not mean that we do nothing, though. In order to make this work, to harness the power of the Raj Yogi, we have to commit to controlling our minds, to drop the ego and allow God to take the reins. We also have to develop a quality of receptivity that allows us to recognize the beauty and abundance in and around us. If you are not receptive to opportunity, if you do not faithfully reach out an open hand, God cannot deliver you to your true destiny. We do not do nothing. We respond when prompted by the still, small voice that tells us to bring an umbrella, to take the early flight home, to call that person on our minds. We follow God's lead in all things. Controlling the mind allows us to discern between the still, small voice and the bossy ego, so busy busy spinning stories about the future.

This daydream fantasizing serves a purpose for me that I can't ignore, though. If I'm unhappy with the current moment, I can project out of it and onto a warm beach someplace or whatnot. My powerful imagination can see all the difficult nasties resolved and smoothed. It's almost like the mental equivalent of a night of heavy drinking. I get to check out of my reality for a time, only to return to it exhausted in the morning with an outbox of embarrassing text messages and even more problems than before (not that I know anything about that...). The thing is to engage with our realities rather than our egos, to pay attention to what needs mending in our lives and just simply do it. Sometimes it ends up being simple, sometimes we have to summon quite a lot of courage, but the reward is the ability to live comfortably in our reality, in our Totality, without feeling like we have something to run from.

Life is worth totally showing up for. Being present to each moment brings a fresh vitality to everything you do. It is a gift to you and the people you love who share their lives with you. Show up for them. Show up for each other. Show up for yourself and to your life. We're alive! Right now! Let's live for now, be in love now, be perfect now, be total now. Everything is happening now. Welcome.

"This moment is given to you, a gracious gift from God or the whole or whatsoever you want to call it — Tao, dhamma, logos. This moment is available to you: sing a song, live it in its totality. And don't try to sacrifice it for any other moment that is going to come in the future. Live it for its own sake...." -Osho