Monday, August 28, 2017

Dealing with a Poisonous Situation

There are 3 ways of dealing with a poisonous situation when it occurs. All three are valuable in varying degrees of skill and elegance.

Say you find a tree with poisonous fruit in your back yard. What will you do?

  • You can cut the tree down and be assured that nobody will die as a result of eating the fruit
  • You can put a fence around the tree and put up a warning sign
  • You respect and utilize the tree and fruit and make a medicinal potion that cures certain illnesses

The first strategy can be appropriate when we try to let go of an unwanted addiction or behavior. To cut it down and conquer it may be a necessary step on our evolving path to living wisely.

It is also how cancer and other illnesses are frequently treated, especially if they defy our understanding. We simply try to eradicate them out of existence. While this approach may work sometimes, it often does not.

In some ways, it is a rather blunt way to dealing with the problem.

Also, the problem may persist, meaning that out of the seeds of that tree, a new poisonous tree might grow.

The second level is considered more refined and more compassionate. Instead of killing the problem, we acknowledge the danger, and will warn anyone approaching the tree that there is danger - including to remind ourselves. We approach with respect, what we do not understand.

The third way is the way of the shaman or the yogi. Not only do we respect the poisonous tree and seek to understand it, but furthermore we will be able to transform the poison into medicine.

It takes a courageous heart to transform the poison - thus the need for spiritual practices.

I encourage you to look at your experiences - what would you need, to move towards the yogi's way?

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

To find your Dharma - Learning how to Thrive

Dharma has many meanings, among them: to see things just as they are; duty; reality; our essential nature; the law or destiny; and it is also simply referred to as “the way.” Dharma means we finally understand, through direct experience, the nature of life, consciousness, and love.

All of the paths of yoga are concerned with dharma. As the Bhagavad Gita mentions in 3:33, “It is better to live our own life, even if poorly, than to imitate someone else’s path.” Human beings, through the gift (and sometimes burden) of choice, are the only species confused about who we are and what our purpose is. Even the tiniest of flowers will bloom in the spring without apology and say, “here I am, I am yellow, and I smell lovely, and this is who I am and all this is my gift to you.”

Dharma is an expression of both our deepest longings as well as what we receive from our circumstances. It is our duty to find our dharma, our path with heart. The practices are meant to help us find it. It is said that there is no amount of money, fame, or success that can make us happy. The only path to happiness is to live our life with authenticity and to give our gifts to the world without sabotaging ourselves constantly.

What comes to mind is the idea of “living out loud.”

Many students experience confusion with regard to finding one’s purpose, or dharma. Somehow, finding one’s purpose has become mixed up with the New Age philosophy of “following your bliss and all else will follow.” Unfortunately, this approach does not work. Even when you are deeply ensconced in your dharma, your work will sometimes be hard, tedious, boring, and filled with obstacles of all kind. It is not always bliss. But underneath all of it is a faith, a commitment, and a dedication that will guide you through all of the obstacles. At the end of the day, we know it is all worth it.

There was a time when doing my yoga practice really hurt my body. People suggested that I stop practicing. But I knew that I could not quit! I knew that there was more to it, and that I had chosen the right path for me but not yet the skillful approach. This deep faith eventually led me to the right teachers, who could really help me.

Two clues to finding dharma

There are two important clues that can help you to find your dharma.

The first clue is to pay attention to your natural talents and all the things that are easy and effortless for you to do. You are naturally drawn to those things and when you are engaged with them, time passes fast. Initially, you may not value this trait. If you are not sure about your natural talents, you can ask your friends about them, as they may be aware of the gifts you have. For example, if you are a good listener you may not think that this is special, but there are plenty of jobs where being a good listener serves as the foundation of doing a good job, such as being a therapist.

The second clue is the exact opposite of what is easy for you. To identify this, you must look deeply into your core wounds.

I was sick as a child and struggled for survival for many years. Being incarnated in a body and being healthy is obviously a theme of struggle for me. Working through this challenge led me to yoga and to my dharma.

Another example of how your core wound can help you find your dharma is illustrated by this story from a fellow yoga teacher:

Many years ago this teacher had the desire to give back to society and began to teach at a local women’s shelter. She was excited about offering her service to girls and women who had been abused and she expected her weekly class to be fun and easy. What she did not expect was how difficult this task turned out to be; the young women would challenge her on every level and resist her in every way; but she did not give up. Eventually, this work forced her to face the abuse she suffered earlier in her life.

Eventually her teachings began to help the women and girls and in doing so, she also helped herself. Today, she is one of the most prominent and outspoken yogi/activists of our time.

We could call this evolved state of being “the wounded healer.”

(Excerpt from Yoga & Dharma Manual, soon to be released)

Friday, September 4, 2015

Insight Meditation

Training the mind is a necessity because, as I have mentioned before, the mind makes a poor master but a great servant. We are training the mind so it doesn’t wander all over the place, and so we can focus on what really matters.

Everything thrives on attention. With attention we can uncover deep, habitual patterns in the mind and body, and by bringing everything into the light of consciousness, we can examine and understand them. Without this training we get caught in our fears, delusion, and greed, an endless, repetitive loop, which is also called the wheel of suffering, or samsara.

By training the mind, we not only discover much about ourselves, but also find that we can make conscious what usually is on automatic pilot.

It is said that every human being will be given 10,000 joys and 10,000 sorrows during their lifetime. No amount of practice or magic pill will alter that amount. We all experience some joy and some suffering. The problem is when we create more suffering than is necessary.

Over time, our mindfulness practice creates that pause, the moment where we get to examine our reaction and choose how to proceed.

This is the promise and power of the practice.

I took to vipassana like a fish takes to water. Up until then I had been trained to focus the mind by using a mantra. And while this is a beautiful practice and I still use it at times, it didn’t work for me as a basic training. I always felt like I was covering something up by putting a nice, exotic mantra on top. The whole exercise felt more like an escape from my reality, which didn’t feel right to me. With vipassana practice, any presentation of the body/mind becomes the sacred mantra. We patiently, and with great interest, look at whatever occupies our heart and mind. I loved giving myself this kind of careful attention and respect, because I have always believed that the answer lies within.

Mindfulness is a loving and non-judging awareness. We soon realize that most of the times we react to what is happening in three different ways:

  • When we like what is happening we instinctively try to get more. This is called grasping, or, in its basic form, greed.
  • When we don’t like what is happening, we push it away immediately. This is called aversion.
  • When our experience is neither pleasant nor unpleasant, we simply ignore it. This is called delusion.

These are the typical automatic responses of an untrained mind to experiences we have. If we look at the state of affairs in the world, we see that these three types of reactions are huge forces operating everywhere, among all peoples.

Not everything that seems unpleasant is bad for us, and not everything that is pleasant turns out to be good.

I like to use the example of ice cream. For most people eating ice cream is an intensely pleasurable experience. If we are on automatic pilot, we might eat the entire pint of ice cream. It tastes good, but later we will probably regret it. If we eat with awareness, not only do we actually enjoy each spoon, but we also get to stop before it’s too much.

Mindfulness is like a wrench thrown into the automatic response of grasping. And the benefit is that mindfulness actually turns greed and grasping into gratitude instead.

With unpleasant experiences we can use the example of "swallowing the bitter pill." We all know we have to take it sometimes in order to get well again. Even though we want to push away the bitter remedy, we take it, knowing it is for our own good.

Mindfulness is like a wrench thrown into the automatic response of aversion. The benefit is that mindfulness turns aversion into compassion.

When our experience is neither pleasant nor unpleasant, we tend to ignore it and so miss out on many beautiful moments. Many of us are addicted to drama, and if we don’t feel something intensely, we think it is not valid. When we learn to rest in the quiet moments without the intensity we can once again appreciate contentment. The benefit is that mindfulness turns delusion into contentment and spaciousness.