Monday, June 27, 2011

Untrust Us Emotions

Awhile back I was doing a lot of babysitting for these awesome yogi  parents. One night after the kid was sleeping, I picked up their copy of The Yoga Sutras and dug in. It was a long overdue date with the philosophical basis of my spiritual practice and became the foundation for some important study over weeks, months and, now, years. That night I jotted down some tidbits of wisdom in my notebook and this was the first bit, which would later become part of one of my rad, hipster tattoos: "As the mind, so the man; bondage or liberation are in your own mind." It's an old Sanskrit quote and I find this explanation to be even more enlightening:
"The entire world outside is based on your thoughts and mental attitude. The entire world is your own projection. Your values may change within a fraction of a second. Today you may not even want to see the one who was your sweet honey yesterday. If we remember that, we won't put so much stress on outward things."

Lately I've been realizing how terribly unreliable my feelings about things are. I'm not talking about my intuitive senses- those are iron clad. I'm talking about the way that I feeeeeel about things- people, situations, etc. The way that I feel about something or someone surely does provide valuable information and it is valid, but it doesn't necessarily mean anything about the person or thing in question. If the lens with which I view the world is at all colored, foggy or dusty, I am going to perceive the world based on these modifications of reality. In becoming more neutral, my lens begins to clear and it is becoming apparent that as my feelings change about things, the things themselves may not actually be changing at all.

For instance, I have spent the last couple of months vacillating back and forth between liking and being mad at this guy. The guy has been doing the same things and as far as I can tell hasn't changed at all. The only thing that's changed is the way I feel about him. While I think it's fine to change ones mind, it's important to recognize that that's what's happening, lest we involve the other party in our fluctuating feelings. After all, as Viktor Frankl so wisely pointed out, "everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms - to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances." No one can make us feel anything- that's our choice.

Ultimately, what I'm learning is that how I feel doesn't really matter. It does, kind of, but it doesn't change the fact that everyone deserves to be loved. Even if a person is legitimately horrible, they need love and prayer most of all. In the cases where I've just decided that I don't like someone, it is especially important for me to not let my compassion lapse. It's about time that I gain neutrality in the realm of feelings, recognizing their origins in past experience and holding them up to the light of truth and reality. It doesn't mean that I will expose myself to unhealthy people, but I'd like to be able to consider them lovingly in thought and word.

The world doesn't need our judgement and anger and hate. The world needs our love. Who are we to decide who is worthy of it? We are ALL worthy of love.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Sweet Jesus!

San Francisco has turned me into a scrounger. I consistently watch the ground passing under my feet, as it often turns up fantastic treasures. My most recent finds were $5 in a Valencia St. gutter, a debateably real Chanel scarf and a copy of Deepak Chopra's Jesus. The $5 bought a Mission burrito, the scarf (which is fabulous, real or not) will be worked into my Pride wardrobe, and the book became my weekend reading material.

In Jesus, Chopra sets out to create a 'map of enlightenment' through a fictional account of Jesus' life during the "lost years" between age 12 and 30 that are not covered in the New Testament. He believes that Jesus was indeed a sacred savior, but that he was not innately divine- he had to discover this potential and special destiny, and learn to fulfill it. The story does not contradict anything that Jesus taught, it seeks to understand how he came to be who he was (and is) to the world.

The assumption that Jesus was innately divine- the one and only Son of God- I think is ostensibly intended to indicate his very special role in history. It is terribly alienating, though. Without allowing Jesus to be a man and a savior, it cuts out any possibility that we can reach the kind of union with God in life that he reached. To me, it seems like an awfully convenient way to avoid having to do the difficult transcendence work required to merge with the One. If we accept that we lack that sort of divinity, we can get away with a lot more nonsense.

Jesus called his disciples "the light of the world," the same way he referred to himself, and told them that they would do everything he could and more. Chopra believes that Jesus intended for his disciples (and all of us!) to reach our most Divine potential. And why not? If Jesus was indeed intended to save the world, wouldn't the best way to do that be to elevate the world's occupants to their Highest Selves? And so God gave us Jesus as a great teacher and so very many methods and pieces of wisdom to help us realize our own unique potential and special destinies. There's this beautiful quote from the nameless wise man in the book who Jesus goes to study with that sums this up well:
"To know God, you must become God," I explained. "People don't want to hear that. It upsets their fantasy that God sits far away above the clouds. But being God doesn't mean that you created the universe. God did that...When I say that you've become God, I mean that you know what you're made of."

My favorite mantra in Kundalini yoga is Ang Sang Wahe Guru, which basically means the same thing: 'God vibrates in every cell, in every limb of my body.' If you want to find God, look in the mirror. God created Jesus and he created you- we are all made of the same vibrating atomic carbon. Jesus was certainly exceptional, but it doesn't mean that we can't strive to such greatness. If boundless compassion and lovingkindness don't come naturally to you, practice! It makes perfect, right?

The salvation that Jesus brought wasn't necessarily just about washing away our sins, but about bringing us from darkness to light. His ultimate lesson was that not only are we IN the light but we ARE the light. We all have that flicker of God's love inside us- its strength and radiance depends on the person and how they are conducting their life, but it is there regardless. So I ask you, will you stoke this loving fire in your heart, letting it spill over and illuminate every corner of your life? Will you recognize what you are made of and live accordingly? Will you be "the light of the world"?

This is not always easy, but imagine the rewards of a life lived with love and light. Imagine being able to proudly stand behind every choice and word. Imagine having everyone you encounter walk away feeling better. Imagine the world if everyone lived this way. We can choose to perpetuate justice, peace and love. It starts with you and I, today, right now.

Ang Sang Wahe Guru!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes!

The other day I saw a friend I hadn't seen in a while and asked him what was new. His reply: "Everything! All the time!"

And of course he's right. In the continuous flow of life, change is the only reliable element. We lose track of this basic reality when life takes on predictable, safe schedules and routines, and it doesn't seem like anything really is new or changing. When something tragic or otherwise momentous occurs, we are brought back to the truth that life is actually pretty chaotic and we are never far from moments that will de- and re- construct our lives completely. Even when it's not obvious and dramatic, we are all still always changing.

When you are in a period of rapid, massive overhaul, change is the new black. Destabilization of normal routines becomes so normal and routine that one can almost become jaded to it. ("Newness? How completely ordinary! Yawn.") Yet even in this space of reliable unpredictability, there still lurk surprises. For example, the theme of this past week was Completion. I pulled this Osho Zen card for the week and with a big ol' crazy, eclipse-y full moon on Wednesday it made sense. What was difficult and surprising about the changes of the week was the seeming completion of several relationships that have been defining in important ways. Of course, it's impossible to definitively determine what the future holds, but this week definitely brought about some clear endings.

Endings, deaths of various kinds, are really just a transformation that cycles right around again to rebirth. One thing ends, another begins. One door closes, another opens. We're born, we die. And so on and so forth. Even as I am doing some major completing, I am forming new relationships and connections. These future possibilities provide some comfort when faced with letting go of the past.

All the things we love will eventually end or be gone, and will be replaced by new. The Yoga Sutras teach us not to be so moved by these gains and loses, but to simply witness this flow of the tide. If you're not quite so enlightened yet, think about it like San Francisco weather: If you don't like it, stick around. It's sure to change anytime now.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

If you try sometimes, you just might find

Last night I got some disheartening news. I spent the earlier part of today feeling pouty and impatient with God. "Seriously," I thought, "What's the hold up? I know what I need so why am I not getting it?? Now." After mildly sulking all day, I marched off to teach yoga, still feeling deprived and slighted. I distractedly started teaching, deciding to change sets at the last minute and (feeling like I was) barely getting through the class.

When it came time for the students to relax and for me to play the gong, I was relieved. The gong and I are in relationship and the experience of playing has always been rapturous and enveloping. As usual, I was enveloped, but there was no rapture to be had. For the first time ever while playing, the gong schooled me. Wrapped up in the raw, primal sound current, I was stripped of my nonsense ego antics and a clear message came through: "You know what you want. You don't know what you need. God knows what you need and is providing it for you in every moment." I stopped pouting. How could I not?

During post-class community tea time, everyone reported getting exactly what they needed out of the experience, confirming this idea that we are being provided for. Tonight I had the immense honor of helping provide, and between good material and intuition was able to deliver, despite my initial distraction. I don't think there was any way for me not to provide, though. It's our work as humans. We deliver on God's behalf.

Because, see, miracles don't just "happen." Miracles are intricately crafted over time, involving the input of far more people than we realize and sometimes don't look at all like we thought they would. Aside from hermetic yogis meditating in caves (and maybe even them, too), we are all always participating in the creation and deliverance of miracles for each other...and sometimes we don't even know it! What may seem like an insignificantly small gesture to you can mean something so much more to the person receiving it. Sometimes our contribution is so removed from the fruition of the miracle that we'll never see it, but don't doubt that you matter- your thoughts and words and heartbeats ripple far and wide.

Supposing that God is actually providing me with everything that I truly need, I reframed the disheartening news. It occurred to me that this disappointment could actually be a gift, a saving grace, a miracle! The space that would've been occupied by what I wanted remains open and ready to receive what I really need. Someday perhaps I'll be still and quiet enough to easily discern what that actually is. In the meantime, I am grateful for the reminder that I am already receiving what I need in every moment. Thank you, in advance, for the miracles in the works.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Working Those Edges

If you've been a student in enough yoga classes, at some point an instructor has probably told you to "work your edge." If you're a yoga instructor, at some point you've probably said this to your students. I've said it as an instructor, heard it as a student and only vaguely understood what that actually means until now.

See, for someone who doesn't like running I noticed that I do an awful lot of it. Anytime I hit an edge, when I start to feel incompetent, challenged beyond what I innately know or am comfortable with, I bolt. If there is any chance that I will fail or not look masterful, my wretched pride intercedes, my defenses go up and I contract away from the source of discomfort. I am better about "working my edge" in yoga because I have someone else there to push me past my own resistance. In my life off of the mat, I don't have as much discipline. However, I have managed to overcome my own fear of looking dumb and done all kinds of things that challenged me, like grocery shopping in Amsterdam and riding inter-city Italian buses (seriously, so confusing). It's not like I am unable to meet challenges; most of the time I simply opt not to for the gross, prideful desire to always appear as if I know everything...which I can admit is pretty ridiculous.

The major problem I am encountering now with this counterproductive pattern is that I'm not mastering anything. Running from, as opposed to working, my edges has left me with shallow knowledge in many different areas and little depth. This is what working my edges would look like: I come to a place with something where I have a gap in knowledge. Instead of pretending like I actually do know, or just dropping it entirely, I ask questions and expand. That's what acquiring knowledge and resources and assistance does- it's expansive! We become smarter and more masterful by opening up and allowing someone else to know more than us and share their mastery. There is absolutely no way to become as great as we can be without allowing other people to help us at some point in our journey.

You're probably having a "Duh!" moment, but this was a big revelation for me. I can now see all the ways in which I've limited my life by not pushing myself to be comfortable with "not knowing." Who ever said I needed to be so impressive? No one knows everything. No one is perfect. It's absolutely fine (preferable, even) for me to ask for help. Come on, Pride, please give it a rest.

Everyone has edges in one way or another. Some people hit their edge and bolt when faced with commitment, or confrontation, or even their own success. The tricky thing is to recognize the edge and, as we say in yoga, work it! I notice that when I hit an edge, I start to feel a mixture of panic and despair. Now when this feeling comes on I can take note, take a breath and stop the cycle- ask questions, ask for help, ask for directions. My mastery expands, as does the boundary of my edge, and suddenly I am able to function more freely than ever before.

With enough practice, maybe the edge disappears completely, and I am that much closer to becoming boundless, ever expansive and free...one worked edge at a time.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Compromising.

While in the process of packing and cleaning our tent at Burning Man last September, I "borrowed" my best friend's Osho Zen Tarot cards. I consult the deck fairly regularly for graceful wisdom and am often visited by a few of the same cards. No card haunts me as much as the 6 of Rainbows: Compromise. Here's a clip from the commentary:
"The two figures on this card remind us of the sleazy and conspiratorial situations we can get into when we compromise our own truth. It is one thing to meet another halfway, to understand a point of view different from our own and work towards a harmony of the opposing forces. It is quite another to "cave in" and betray our own truth. If we look deeply into it, we usually find that we are trying to gain something--whether it is power or the approval of others. If you are tempted, beware: the rewards of this kind of compromise always leave a bitter taste in the mouth."

These two fine fellows visit me so frequently because I am so very apt to compromise. Disappointing people can elicit my anxiety, so I tend to be agreeable, which carries risk when one considers what can result from saying "Yes." For instance, awhile ago I agreed to eat ice cream when I wasn't feeling it and I still remember how sick I felt afterwards. In that moment, I recall thinking how ridiculous it was to do something so trivial that I didn't want to do. There are reasonable compromises that people make, but when the compromises become compromising, it's time to reevaluate.

On Sunday nights I pull a card for inspiration and insight for the upcoming week. Last Sunday Compromise surfaced yet again to inform my choice making, and as usual, was a strikingly accurate indicator of the ways in which I would be grown. By the end of the week, I had found myself alternately making healthy choices that respected my deepest held truths and ending up in a situation so vulnerable that I made a compromising choice to keep myself safe. It is debatable how unsafe I actually was. At the time I felt like my choices were extremely limited, and I am attempting to respect the in-the-moment feeling to prevent self-loathing for the choice made. All the same, I was ultimately reminded of a lesson already learned: Why do things that you are not 100% comfortable with? Like my friend Dave likes to ask, "If you're not doing what you want to do, what are you doing?"

Recently I wrote about how important it is to make bold choices, that it's better to regret what you did than what you didn't do. When it comes to doing what you don't want to do, though, no regrets in passing things by. Example: I'm totally psyched that I've never tried coke. On my deathbed I will not be thinking, "Aww man, I wish I had done coke with my friend that one time we were watching Showgirls together." Here is one moment among many where a resounding, "No," is right on.

When I look back at the things I do regret, I can see that they were all a result of ignoring my truth and doing what didn't feel quite right. And for what? To be "nice" and agreeable? To avoid someone else's disappointment? Here's a radical thought: I will do what I want, get to feel good about all my choices and let all those who are disappointed handle their own feelings. After all, it is they who have the need and it is not always appropriate, necessary or healthy for me to fill it.

No, I will not do coke with you. I can't handle feeling that sleazy. But you want to do some yoga with me? It's on, honeylove.