Imagine that you are the last of your own kind to survive in this world. That is unfortunately the direction many of the animal species are heading. The Kauai o’o Bird became extinct in 1987, and now we can only hear his sound through recordings. His singing has stopped for good.
The way we can prevent this from happening to others is to take care of their homes and food sources. On our end, that means consuming only what we need, going vegan, keeping in mind that this home is not ours alone, but one we share with others.
A German photographer took pictures of birds in the sky, and only upon checking the images did he notice that thousands of starlings in the sky have formed the shape of one giant bird.
This phenomenon of flocking together, as if they were one organism, into one-shape shifting cloud is called a murmuration. It is said that birds do this to ward off threats, to make sure predators do not approach them. Their strategy simply is in strength in numbers. Researchers found that each bird interacts with seven other birds, and this is how they manage to coordinate with each other as one giant unit. They don’t know why the magic number is seven though. They were only able to observe but not explain.
Starlings forming these murmurations is one of the most amazing phenomenon observed in the wild. Unfortunately, starling populations and bird populations in general have been dwindling, because of shortage in food and nesting places caused by destructive human actions.
And for now, even though we cannot completely understand nature, we can appreciate its wonder and beauty, and we can learn from it too. We can certainly do our part in preserving our environment, making sure our fellow Earthlings have a safe space to dwell and have enough to eat, and one of the most efficient ways we can contribute to that is by looking at our lifestyle choices and going plant-based. The less resources we use— land, forests, trees, water etc— the more that can be left for other animals, including the birds.
Aparigraha means non-greediness. And according to the yoga sutras, if we practice non-greediness, the benefit is that the meaning of our lives will be revealed to us. That is quite a promise, something all of us would appreciate. No more asking those questions about why we are here and what the purpose of living is. There would be clarity.
How, though, do we determine what greediness and non-greediness are when our baseline has been distorted so much? We live at this time where excess is the norm, consumption is at an all-time high, and materialism is rewarded. This is my own experience, and I believe the experience for many of us. I grew up in the city, and weekends meant shopping, family time meant going to the mall, traveling meant checking out the outlet stores available in that city. This has been our norm for so long that these days, Decluttering with Marie Kondo has become so popular. We are now catching up to the realization that we have too much, our possessions are far excessive, that we now have to cut down and declutter and make sense of the mess of it all. Now that we know we live in excess, where do we begin in the practice of aparigraha? Where do we even start?
My teacher Sharon Gannon gives a simple but perhaps an unexpected piece of advice—feed the birds. What does feeding the birds have to do with practicing aparigraha? Well, it has to do with intention and mindset. When we are constantly accumulating things and thinking of our wants, we are living with the mindset of impoverishment, feeling that we do not have enough, and so we hoard to overcompensate, afraid of the safety of our future. But when we feed the birds, we turn this around. We shift our mindset, feeling safe that because we have enough and we are enough, we could turn our attention to others. We could afford to think of the welfare of others because our own future is safe and secure. We are sending out the message that we have enough, so we no longer have to worry about our own needs, we can tend to others. Why birds? Karmically, when we feed wild birds, we reclaim the wildness we have lost through the years. Our life of rules and dogma and living up to the expectations of others may have trapped us and prevented us from getting in touch with the meaning of our lives. When we reclaim our wildness, we become free to explore the world around us, our hearts and minds expand. And in that process, the purpose as to why we are here can be more easily revealed.
We often forget, because of excess as our norm, that we already have enough, that we have in fact more than enough. Think of the conditions available to you right now that indicate you already have enough. Appreciate it. Be grateful for it. Find joy in it. And then aparigraha will not feel like an imposition of what you need to do. Rather, it becomes a natural progression. Because you have already enough, you are inclined to give to others, you are inclined to think of the benefit of others, you are inclined to become selfless. And anytime you are unsure about where to start, start simple: feed the birds.
The story goes that there’s a group of frogs walking in the woods. Two of the frogs fell on a deep pit, and the other frogs looked down from where they stood, saw how deep the pit was, and they started yelling and screaming that it’s too deep and they should just give up. The two frogs jumped up and down, wanting to save their own lives. Still, the other frogs kept saying it was without hope, that they’re doomed, that they’re good as dead. This went on for some time. Eventually one of the frogs did give up. The other frog continued to jump until he jumped out of the pit. It turned out that the first frog was discouraged by the things he heard, and the second frog was deaf and didn’t hear any of it.
As we go through our everyday lives, we do not really know if the people we encounter are going through a tough time. Usually, they don’t share it with us. And the words we use to speak to them could either encourage or discourage them. That is why it is important to ask ourselves these three questions when we speak: Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? Perhaps there are times that our best course of action is to say nothing at all. When we ourselves are angered by something, or otherwise feel intense emotions at any given time, maybe it is best to practice silence instead of saying something we would later on regret. All of us have been recipients of unkind words, and we have ourselves experienced how damaging that can be, and that even as we forgive and let go, we cannot really forget.
The yoga practice teaches us to pause in lieu of reacting without thinking. We can use this pause and apply it to our speech. When unsure, we can ask ourselves: Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? And when the words we had intended to use do not pass this test, we consciously choose silence. And then, if someone happens to be in a deep pit, we refrain from causing harm, we avoid passing on to them our own negativity. It is the least we can do for those around us who are already suffering.
In Patanjai’s yoga sutras, it is said in chapter 2 verse 36 that: satya pratisthayam kriya phala ashrayatvam. In English, the commentary is: When one does not defile one’s speech with lies, the words one says are listened to and acted upon in a positive and immediate manner. The speaker will be able to say what they mean. What one says comes true.
There is a quote that is the complete opposite of this sutra, attributed to Nazi minister of propaganda Joseph Goebbels: If you repeat a lie often enough, people will believe it, and even you will come to believe it yourself. This phenomenon of the illusion of truth is also observed in the field of psychology. In this experiment, test subjects were given trivia. And the more the trivia is repeated, the more it was taken as the truth. The explanation is that the human brain takes a shortcut, so we judge the reliability of information based on how often we’ve heard it. Does it mean, then, that human rationality is doomed?
The phenomenon calls upon us, now more than ever, to pause before we repeat what we have heard. If we are unsure about whether something is true or not, we can fact-check. Let us be contributors to truth prevailing. Let us stop fake news. Let us stop the culture of spreading myths in lieu of facts. On a personal level, we can also start to examine the storylines we tell ourselves. Do we repeat belief systems that are not only untrue but also keep us in misery? What if we changed our approach and started to speak the truth about ourselves as well?
The yoga sutra and the quote by Joseph Goebbels are certainly two different perspectives. And while the latter can give us control and power, it is only through the former that we can attain ultimate freedom. As yogis, it is apparent what values we hold— freedom over oppression, kindness over control, and truth over lies. Always choose the truth.
In high school, our classes started early in the morning and ended late in the afternoon. There was a 2-hour lunch break in between and I often used this break to study for any exam that was scheduled in the afternoon. It’s almost like a routine, very predictable, that I would tell my friends “I have not studied yet. I know nothing yet.” And then I’d cram. And every single time, the test results would come out, and predictably I’d get a good grade, from 97 upwards. So one time a friend said “You always claim to know nothing and you always end up doing well” and they thought I was being the boy who cried wolf. Though the truth was that I really knew nothing at that time that I was panicking. I simply acknowledged the truth at that moment and sought to change it.
The other day, I talked to a person I met for the first time. After the exchange, she made a comment that I have a very positive aura. I thanked her and then I thought about it. The truth is, I am not exactly at the most positive phase of my life at the moment. I’m battling some internal issues, and I have been feeling a lot of anxiety and restlessness. But I’ve recently opened up to my friends and spoke the truth of what I’m going through, and it is because of admitting my truth and speaking my truth that I was able to unload, that I was able to free myself from the burden, that I was able to create a much-needed internal space.
The point that I’m making with the two examples is that the truth is the truth. Sometimes, it is not believable, or pretty, or at par with our expectations. Sometimes we hide the truth because there is an image we project and protect. We don’t want to appear weak or vulnerable. But when we discern the truth of the moment, we can examine the quality of this truth. Is this something that I can change in some way? If it is, then we don’t have to fall victim and we can acknowledge that we are in a position to change the situation. Is this something beyond my control? If it is, because the decision is not ours, or because the decision is ours and it is the right one and we need to stick by it, then we learn to accept the truth and begin the process of letting go.
As the old adage goes, the truth hurts but it shall set us free. Anything in between will keep us in limbo. Any denial will prolong the pain. Any minimizing will push our humanity down and hide it. So speak your truth to yourself and live your truth, and let go whenever it is necessary. This life is short.
Is liberation— to be completely free— something that we work on or something that happens to us? It is both. It is simultaneously the path of effort and the path of grace.
The effort is there because it means we have to get to the point where we feel we’ve had enough of our own self-sabotaging behavior that is keeping us in misery, that we are willing to do something different even if it’s raw and unfamiliar and creates great discomfort. It means we truly learn to accept ourselves. This is not the watered down or distorted version of self-love where we allow ourselves to indulge in addictive pleasures. But rather, accepting ourselves is the hard work of self-confrontation. And though this confrontation is a kind, gentle, and friendly one, it is most certainly not an escape. It is the complete opposite of escape as we investigate every nook and cranny that make up our belief systems and thought patterns and unconscious behavior. It is looking at those hidden spaces, those blind spots, seeing them completely, and accepting them unconditionally. It is letting go of our biased discriminating mind, so we no longer create these barriers of you vs me. It is hard work of seeing that putting hierarchies of who’s higher and lower based on gender, sexual orientation, species, religion etc isn’t working for our peace of mind or for the world that we live in.
Then the grace happens because after all the hard work is put in, there comes the point that we just have to allow for things to fall together, or apart, whatever the case may be. We surrender to the unknown, the unexpected, the unpredictable, and the impermanent. We become willing to be a part of it all, to be a string in an instrument, a pawn in a chess game, a hero and a villain in someone else’s story. We let go of our attachment in how things should be, and come to accept things as they are. It doesn’t mean we withdraw from the world, that we don’t do our activism or voice our opinions or do our part in making a difference, but it means we let go of the aggression in control and self-centeredness. We become so gentle even our efforts feel effortless, our deliberate actions become organic actions. There is no forcefulness anymore.
And so there is the interplay of effort and grace, hard work and letting go, awareness and softening. We become a soul comfortable in this shell of a body because we know how to navigate the seeming opposite characteristics of living liberated.
Liberation or absolute freedom does not mean that we are able to take control of everything in our lives. It means that even as things do not go our way, we are able to feel at ease in the world. It means an expansion of the heart that allows for grief as well as joy, sorrow as well as happiness, pain as well as pleasure. It means that instead of running away from difficult emotions, we are able to sit with it, with kindness towards ourselves, and compassion towards others.
Tonglen meditation is a tool used to find that heart expansion. When you feel suffering in your own situation, you use your in-breath to take in the suffering of others, especially those who are going through the same challenges as you are— be it physical pain, emotional anguish, debilitating heartbreak, unexpected death, etc. Then you use your out-breath to send out relief and comfort and love. It may feel counterintuitive to take on the suffering of others when we are already feeling so much of it ourselves, but the miracle that happens is that in so practicing, we become connected to our shared human condition. And then we remove our attachment to our storylines— Why did this happen to me? What have I done to deserve this? Is it always going to be this way?
We realize what happened to us is not the world punishing us, but the way of living as a human being in this complicated world. And then we don’t have to take things so personally. And then we don’t feel as much suffering. And then we realize we have so much to draw from deep within that we are capable even of wishing others relief when we ourselves are in the midst of the difficulty of it all.
It takes practice. Maybe in the beginning we are only able to draw from that place for one second, and we are miserable the rest of the day. But in time, those spaces of freedom become wider and wider. Eventually, through consistent practice, it becomes our natural state. That then is absolute freedom. It is liberation.
Come to child’s pose, and think of a child whose life— and quality of life— is important to you.
Have you heard of what’s going to happen in 2030?
Climate scientists have warned that we only have until 2030 to keep global warming at a maximum of 1.5C, beyond that, we would be expecting irreversible climate damage like drought, floods, and extreme heat. That translates to food shortages and wildfires, a mass die-off of coral reefs, mass extinctions and billions of human deaths.
The thing is, the solutions exist to stop this damage. But there’s lack of action because of ignorance at the personal level (to go vegan), willful ignorance at the level of the corporations that stand to lose money (to stop using coal), and lack of political will at the level of government. Technically, we can stop this. The question is, will we?
It’s an urgent message to us, that the moment to act is NOW. We simply cannot afford to wait any longer. I know it sounds like a doomsday prophecy, but it’s also an opportunity for us to examine our priorities, the way we’ve been living our lives, to ponder the connections between our actions and their results, to be the determinant of the future of our only home. Perhaps, when we think of going vegan, we resist because of the adjustments we need to make, conveniences we have to give up, etc. Consider this: Does the quality of life of the child important to you matter? If it does, then be willing to see that any adjustment you make is not only for yourself, it’s most importantly for them.
It helps to remember: We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.
Are You Ready to Fly?
Being True to Ourselves
Dealing with Emotions
Expansion of Love
Healing Past Wounds
Seeing Ourselves in Others
Sitting With Our Negative Tendencies
Strength and Perseverance
Surrendering Our Ego
The Gift of Continuity
We Bend So We Do Not Break
You Are the One You Have Been Waiting For
We spend so much of our time and energy building up an image we show to the world. We are composed and put together, or calm and collected, or mature and confident, or all of that and more. We become so attached to the persona we have projected that when in times we fall short, we feel shame, regret, and disappointment in ourselves. We fidget, become restless, and beat ourselves up for what we have said and done, punishing ourselves for what we think we could have said differently or should have done differently.
And yet no one has imposed this perfection upon us except ourselves. No one has deemed ourselves unworthy except ourselves. No one has demanded impossible standards to attain except ourselves. We are our worst critic. The voice that puts ourselves down inside our head is our worst enemy. It comes from not knowing how to love and accept ourselves.
Try a simple meditation connecting to your heart center. Silently say: I accept myself completely. Do this repeatedly until you start to feel the tenderness of unconditional love. Next time that any negative emotion comes up, pay attention to it instead of waging it against the perfection you have projected. If there is insecurity or jealousy or disappointment, see it for what it is, with kindness and curiosity, without creating any more unnecessary drama. Then you will begin to accept that your negative emotions and mistakes are because you are human, not because you are not worthy. The only acceptance we truly need- and the most challenging one- is from ourselves. Then we won't have to live our days acting out the need for validation, because we would then have accepted that we are an amazing human being, even during the times we falter.
Are You Ready to Fly?
Have you ever seen a perfect pose in a yoga magazine and wished you could do that? An image is what's captured in a split second, but the story behind it is the real inspiration. Before the yogi was able to do the pose, chances are, they have tried that same pose for weeks or months or years before they finally got it. Hardly anyone perfects anything on the first try, and what would help us is to remember all the effort that went in to the culmination of that final image.
If we ourselves want to lift up into a crow pose or a flying pigeon or a one-legged sage pose, we must be willing to try and give it our best shot. We must be willing to put in the hard work and effort and commitment, even during times progress may seem slow and unnoticeable. We must be willing to do all the necessary preparation to build our strength, to train our minds, and to foster our equanimity. And most important of all, if we aim to fly, we must also allow room for "failure".
In order to fly and soar and glide, both on and off the mat, it is necessary to let go of perfection. Failure is often underrated and depicted as negative as it is not seen for what it is-- success in trying. So whether we have a dream to chase or a love to pursue or a path to choose, we get ready to fly by seeing each one of our attempts as valuable and every one of our efforts as a learning experience. We get ready to fly by trying things once, twice, thrice, and for as long as it takes; when we fall flat on our face, we pick ourselves up and dust ourselves off; and the time will surely and inevitably come that we are able to lift ourselves up in lightness and confidence. When we see that perfect image in ourselves, we will finally understand that the inspiration is not in the perfection but in the trying, and our readiness rests not just in the body but also in the mind.
Being True to Ourselves
Some of us may feel guilt and anxiety over not living up to the expectations of others. We were somehow led to believe that the path carved out by others for us is the way, and when we choose our own, we stray. We put unnecessary pressure on ourselves to do the things that we don't like, to spend our time and energy conforming to what is considered normal, and to acquire the things we are told we need to keep the status quo.
When we practice yoga asana (the physical poses), we may feel the same knee-jerk reaction to conform. We worry that being different means being "less". And yet the beauty of our practice is that it gives us this amazing opportunity to observe how we may have self-effacing tendencies, how we may be lacking in confidence, and how we may be our worst enemy. Once we are aware of these tendencies, we can then learn to sit with ourselves and not act on those initial reactions. When the yogis around us are binding in marichyasana, and when we feel we are the only one not binding, observe that this is so, but it does not make us any "less". Sit with acceptance that at this moment, for us to be in alignment, we have to create our reality that is different from others. It takes practice to sit with the discomfort of being different, but inevitably, the discomfort gives way to freedom and ease.
Being true to ourselves means that we listen to our authentic inner voice, not the one that others can easily influence or manipulate, but the one that is connected to our highest being. Being true to ourselves means that we do not just settle, that we do not create excuses and go to plan B because it's "safer", that we do not shortchange ourselves because of a false identification with our insecurities. We will know that we are living our most authentic life when, after the initial resistance, we see that everything makes sense in our life, that we are right where we were meant to be, that our life is filled only with what we love.
Dealing With Emotions
We use our emotions-- both "positive" and "negative" to run away from the loneliness that is inherent in all human beings. We were born alone, and though the company of others is available to us through much of our lives, the fact is that we will leave this world alone as well.
Many situations in our day-to-day lives trigger this loneliness because our emotions are personal and private and no one can fix those emotions for us. We then seek the adrenaline rush of excitement, experiencing new things, meeting new people, mastering new yoga poses, etc. We seek more and more and more so as not to stay still. While these activities in themselves are not problematic, using them as a crutch to avoid our loneliness is a mere distraction from looking inside ourselves. Similarly, emotions that we classify as negative such as anger and resentment, impatience and irritability, jealousy and fear seek to distract us from ourselves by using the world outside-- other people and other situations-- as an excuse not to do our work inside.
When we are irritated that the traffic is out of control, angry that our partner does not get our point of view, jealous that our peers are more popular than us, is our discomfort really about the situation outside of us, or is it because we are afraid of confronting the loneliness that remains when we take on a non-reactive stance? The solution lies not in denying our emotions, but in allowing ourselves to feel so deeply, enough to crack these emotions wide open and reveal what they truly are.
The key is to have a non-threatening relationship with loneliness and all of the other emotions it latches on to. Meditation is a good practice to do this, be it seated meditation or walking meditation or simply watching the thoughts and emotions as they come and go. As one emotion arises, we observe it, we remove the blame, we give it space, we allow it to go away. We can apply this to all emotions. In the quiet of our solitude, we sit without grasping, without wanting, without even knowing. We simply sit. Dealing with our emotions means we have the commitment to sit with the deepest parts of ourselves, including and especially our loneliness.
Expansion of Love
Love is defined in Buddhism as wishing for the happiness of the beloved. It's a very expansive definition of love, one that focuses on the other rather than the self, one that emphasizes freedom rather than attachment.
Love and attachment are two different things, though we often mix up the two. Attachment often arises because of our mistaken notion that our happiness rests on somebody else-be it a partner, a child, a friend, or another being whose attention we crave. Attachment arises because our notion of love is limited. Because we do not genuinely believe that we are enough, we seek to get that love from an "other". Because we falsely think that approval is equal to love, we yearn to conform to what we think is popular. Now, how do we move away from attachment and get closer to a state of love? We do so by expanding our experience of love. We do so by accepting ourselves as we are, being gentle towards the parts of us that need healing, and learning to take care of our own needs that were not previously met.
Practicing yoga, sitting in meditation, spending time in nature are a few things we can do for self-care and self-love. We can think of these practices as spending quality time with ourselves, getting to know ourselves, and being comfortable with our own company. We learn to be our own best friend, so that when negativities arise, we are able to process that internally instead of acting out in destructive ways and potentially harming our relationship with others.
The expansion of love starts with ourselves. It is when we are full of kindness and compassion towards ourselves that we can begin to love others unconditionally-without attachment, without fear, without jealousy. It is the kind of love that is ripe in every moment, waiting for nothing. It is the kind of love focused on the happiness of the other, because we know how to take care of our own happiness for ourselves. It is a love based not on need, but on an outpouring of appreciation of the other person. Wouldn't we want that kind of love?
Imagine that you are holding a pitcher of water on one hand. If you were holding it just for a few seconds with the intention of pouring the water to a glass, you won't have to carry the weight of the pitcher for long. You'll put it down. But if you choose to hold that pitcher of water for a few hours, even though its weight doesn't change, it will start to wear you down. Anger is like that. When we hold it only for a brief moment, just enough for us to process it and transform it, it is bearable. But if we hold on to it for a long period of time, if we choose not to forgive, then we will be weighed down by the heaviness of it.
Most of us want to forgive but don't know how to do it. That is why forgiveness is both a choice and a practice. It is a choice because we are consciously acknowledging that what was done was done, holding on to the past cannot change it, and harboring resentment is not going to free us. It is a practice because it is building compassion for the person who hurt us, understanding that they did what they did because they didn't know any better, because they mistakenly thought that their hurting us would bring them happiness. If we are finding it difficult to forgive someone, we can focus on backbending yoga poses like cobra, locust, bow, camel, half wheel, and upward facing bow. These poses have the capacity to open our hearts after we've shut it down for so long. Be it a parent, an ex-lover, or a friend who wronged us, we can be free of our own anger by choosing to forgive.
Forgiveness is difficult because it means we have to acknowledge the pain underneath the anger, and we have to take responsibility for our part in moving forward. But, if we want to move forward with our lives with ease, then there is no other choice but to forgive and let go. We choose forgiveness to love ourselves; we practice forgiveness to love others. This is our path to freedom.
Healing Past Wounds
There is a traditional Japanese method of repairing broken pottery called Kintsugi. It is an art form where lacquer is dusted with gold, and this mixture is used to put the broken pieces together. The result is that the piece does not go back to what it was, but it becomes beautifully unique unlike any other.
We may think of our past wounds stemming from our childhood or adult relationships as something we need to disguise, something we need to "get over", something we need to sweep under the rug. But when we pretend these wounds do not exist, we only push them down deeper. When we ignore these wounds, they come up even more aggressively when we least expect or want them to. When we try to act as though we were not affected by these hurts, we become cold and guarded and closed in our hearts.
Life is not perfect and we have all experienced pain. Perhaps we felt abandoned by our parents. Perhaps an ex-lover betrayed us. Perhaps we had a lifelong dream and something happened and everything we ever wanted was taken away from us at one fell swoop. How do we deal with the hurt and the pain and disappointment? Certainly, as much as we want to escape, that is not an answer. What then?
Know this as a certainty. Our wounds-- no matter how deep they are-- all heal. The right conditions help. Being surrounded by people who understand helps. Seeking advice helps. Meditation and yoga help. Confronting our own inner demon helps. These past wounds will heal, but we must also do our best not to keep poking at them. If a toxic relationship is aggravating those wounds, we need to rethink this relationship. If our actions merely cover the wounds instead of giving them the right circumstances to heal, we need to change our actions. If our own negative self-talk digs into those same wounds, we need to build a better set of life tools. We need the kind of self-compassion that opens our heart instead of shutting it down. We move forward, not in spite of our past, but because of our past.
There is no shame in having past wounds. Our work is not in hiding it but in healing it. And in reality, the healing of these wounds presents us with a life-changing opportunity to become uniquely and independently ourselves, like the art of Kintsugi. We do not stay the same, because we become even more beautiful.
Do you feel lightness in your life? Are you living freely, moment by moment by moment?
We were born free, and yet through the years of our lives we start carrying the weight of our unresolved issues, recurring drama, emotions that are not dealt with, etc. Then we feel as though we are chained or stuck or imprisoned in some way. We try to soothe ourselves by latching on to the quick fixes of the outside world- buying more things, acquiring more recognition, obsessing over our looks, doing what we can to win over society's approval. None of these free us, though, and only keep us trapped in a vicious cycle of adding more to our burden.
How, then, can we live freely? We start by going on a quest of radical self-examination. We get to the root of it all. Why do we do the things that we do? What motivates us? What do we think we will "achieve"? What do we truly want, deep inside, that we are unwilling to admit? When we overspend and overeat, when we diet and work unreasonably long hours, when we compulsively shop and mindlessly react, what is truly happening? Could it be that we are escaping the shame of our burdens? Could it be that we go from one external activity to another so we can continue to ignore how we are feeling inside? Could it be that we create these endless distractions because we cannot stand ourselves?
There is an on-going trend of decluttering made popular by Marie Kondo. The idea is to keep only the things that spark joy. It's so simple and yet ignored by most of us, because we mistakenly think we have to keep things out of a sense of obligation. Further expand on this concept. Not just our physical space needs tidying up, our emotional lives need it too. Are we holding on to anger because we think it gives us fire and passion and drive? Are we holding on to shame because it validates our decision to remain inactive in our lives? Are we holding on to guilt because we wouldn't know who we are without it? What is the cost of holding on to all of these? Is it really worth sacrificing our freedom and happiness for?
Let go of the burden in your life, and allow the emotional baggage to come off as well. There are many ways to do this. You can, for starters, meditate on self-acceptance. See yourself as a being worthy of love, and the first person to give you that love must be yourself. As you become more and more in tune with your true worth, your life starts to change. You will see that material things do not equate to happiness. You will see that relationships are not a means for you to get what you think you need. You will see that negative emotions do not add to your sense of freedom. As you recognize that the most important task you have is to love yourself, life becomes incredibly easy and simple. Freedom is no longer a pursuit, as it is the natural and effortless result of the work you put in. Freedom is manifested in your expression of self-love. Freedom becomes the state of who you are.
Seeing Ourselves in Others
Whether we like it or not, we live in an interconnected world where other people inevitably affect us. How others speak to us or treat us can make our day or break it, as our natural response is to react with our own filters and our own interpretation of what happened. What then, becomes of us, when we are caught in a constant chain of reaction, unable to control what others say or do? Are we doomed to be at the mercy of others’ moods and whims, or is there a more self-nurturing way to respond?
Instead of reacting with our filters, what we can do is remove those filters, and instead put ourselves in the other person’s position. We see their challenges, their struggles, their defenses, and their coping mechanisms. We see that in many ways, they are just like us, and we are just like them. Their hurtful words and actions come from a place of fear, rejection, and a lack of self-love. We need not take it personally when they themselves are unable to deal with their own pain; and when we see through their pain, instead of anger over the things they say or do to us or those whom we care about, we feel empathy and compassion. We no longer feel the need to fight fire with fire. We see that we can break this cycle right here and right now by choosing love.
Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.” Let love be the center of our yoga practice, our relationships, and our lives. Seeing ourselves in others frees us from our expectations that others owe us something, and in return we see that we can always, always choose to be kind, regardless of the walls that others choose to build around us.
Sitting With Our Negative Tendencies
Do we think of our negative tendencies as something to be pushed away? Do we deny our anger and fear, minimize our guilt and jealousy, bury our shame and disappointment? When we do, do we really make it disappear? Most likely, these negative tendencies are just hiding in some corner of our heart and mind, and in the most unexpected moment, they erupt into something far bigger than what we had originally hidden.
Yoga as a practice not only strengthens our physical body but also helps us develop mental resilience. It allows us to sit with our negative tendencies and trains us to bear witness without judging. Experiencing the discomfort in our physical body and being able to connect it with our emotions bridges the gap between observation and reaction. Every time we hold a pose, we practice seeing how the body and the mind come together as one unit- how the body influences the mind, and how the mind influences the body. Whatever the body is feeling- tight hips, legs shaking, feet wobbling- the mind gets to observe, and with practice, this observation comes with a sense of detachment, of not taking it so personally.
When we sit with our negative tendencies instead of being overtaken by them, those tendencies become quieter and quieter. They still exist, but they learn to know their place. We can then be calm in the midst of discomfort and hardships, not because negativities do not arise, but because we allow them to arise and take space, just enough space to be observed and acknowledged. Yoga trains us to see that negativities do make up part of who we are, but who we are is not defined by those negativities.
Strength and Perseverance
We think of strength as something we see from the outside, measured by how easily one can hold one's own weight, how strong one's core is, how defined one's muscles are. While those are certainly descriptions of physical strength, the heart of that strength is perseverance. What we see outside is merely the result.
The Sanskrit word "tapas" refers to the inner heat or the fire that is created within, the prerequisite for consistent practice to arise. Building strength means that we have to fight against the inertia of not doing, and get up and stick to the practice even during the times we may wish to turn away from it, and move forward despite those times progress may seem slow. We trust that the process will work over time. We do the work, and we let the results take care of themselves.
Strength and perseverance go hand in hand. Next time you come to a plank pose, and you've reached that point where you want to give up, hold on even for just a second longer. In the same way, when you are finding that the weight of the world falls heavily on your shoulders, hold on for a little bit longer with the strength that is inside of you. Allow your inner fire to motivate you to keep going, one breath at a time, one day at a time, one challenge at a time, and inevitably you'll see that the strength is in you all along. Keep moving forward!
Surrendering Our Ego
What does ego mean anyway? Is it our imagined self-importance, as we use it in everyday language "someone has an inflated ego"? In spiritual traditions, the ego covers a wider scope, as it refers to our identification of the "I, me, my, and mine". At the risk of oversimplifying, the ego pops up when we take things personally.
When we attend a yoga asana class and the teacher calls out our least favorite pose, and we think "The teacher is giving ME a hard time", that is our ego speaking. The ego is so caught up in itself that it prevents us from seeing the big picture. The ego feels entitled to have its own way all the time, and anything less than that is cause for misery. Can you see how this can be quite problematic? By mistaking the ego for the self, we think we have to be in control all the time-to be in control of when we will ever be able to lift up to a handstand, to be in control of the traffic in EDSA, to be in control of the people in our lives so they do what would make ME happy.
What then can we do? We can practice surrendering the ego, to start seeing things as they are, not according to the stories we create in our minds. When a yoga teacher calls out a pose that challenges us, it is simply because it is part of the planned sequence. When our car service is late in picking us up, it is because the app crashed or there was traffic congestion along the way. When someone we love does something we do not like, it is only because they are doing their best to find their own happiness. Surrendering the ego can give us a huge sense of release, as we no longer have to carry the weight of control on our shoulders. We discover that once our ego gets out of the way of our happiness, we no longer have to project an image of who we think we should be. In place of our self-inflicted burdens, we find lightness, and we become free.
The Gift of Continuity
When we start something new, whether it's our yoga asana practice or a job or a relationship, the unfamiliarity of it brings much excitement, and it is easy to be propelled by momentum. However, when things start to become steady and predictable, or we feel we have reached a plateau unable to make further progress, we may then think we are stuck.
This is when the practice gets challenging; but here in this space where our expectations are not met is also the point in which we could find immense spiritual growth. If progress appears slow, be it in working on our headstand or grieving over a loss or getting the pieces together for a personal project, be kind to yourself and embrace your pace with patience.
Sit with the discomfort of not being where you wish you could be, and soften your heart to this moment of slow continuity. It is a gift to be right where you are right now, even if you do not see it yet. What is the rush? What do you think lies on the other side that can make things different for you?
Contentment, happiness, and peace will come from you, not when you reach a milestone in a pose you are working on, not when you lose the amount of weight you think you should, not when you manage to fix a person or a situation or a relationship. They come to you when you accept yourself as you are now, while you continue with your journey. Carry on, trust the process, and let it be. Accept the gift of the unknown, of the slow pace, of allowing things to unfold.
We Bend So We Do Not Break
How many times have we gotten stuck because of our rigidity? As our life situation changes, do we find ourselves clinging to old ways of thinking and doing things? Is it possible that much of our heartaches come from an inability to adapt?
Learning to be flexible means we are able to move in ways that allow freedom and choice. From a physical level, when our body is flexible, we take care of our mobility, we prevent aches and pains caused by a lethargic lifestyle, and we condition the body to continue working well even as we age. A regular yoga practice improves not just our flexibility, but also the quality of our life!
Flexibility in the mind is oftentimes more challenging to work on, as we may be set in our ways and have had many years of conditioning as to what identity we should take on and how we should live our lives. What we initially think of as our choice-be it what we eat, what job we have, or how we conduct our relationships-may be the product of decades of conditioning. We then keep the same beliefs and habits and patterns, even if they no longer work for us, and we wonder why we have less instead of more joy in our lives.
The way we relate to others can also constrict us or free us. Allowing flexibility in our heart is to love in a way that is expansive and inclusive and accepting. It is finding the delicate balance between owning who we are and allowing others to be who they are. Our relationships then start to let go of the pressure of one wanting to change the other, and inevitably ease into mutual love and acceptance.
Happiness is within reach, and part of the formula is learning to be flexible in the mind, body, and heart. It has been said that "we bend so we do not break". As life presents us with new situations, new information, and new opportunities, flexibility means we open ourselves up to the unknown, ready to walk the path that is ahead of us.
You are the One You Have Been Waiting For
Have you ever looked around- saw the inconvenience of everyday traffic in Manila, read about violence in the news, witnessed the poverty in the slums- and thought, someone should do something about it? Or do you think, on a personal level, if only you're in a relationship, or your partner will change, or if you have a child- you'll have everything you want and you will be happy? Has it occurred to you that you don't have to wait for someone else to fix your life? Has it occurred to you that this someone could be you?
We come to yoga through different motivations. Some of us wanted to lose weight, some of us wanted to manage stress, some of us wanted to find mental peace in the midst of chaotic city life. Regardless of what brought us to yoga, we find through consistent practice that we hold so much power in the way we control our mind and move the body. From barely holding chaturanga, years of practice allow us to balance our entire weight just on our arms. From initially thinking that self-care means getting a massage or buying a new yoga outfit, we begin to understand that deeper self-care is an internal evolutionary process. From filling up our schedules non-stop to feel that we are accomplishing more, we appreciate slowing down and finding stillness. It is this expanding awareness that makes us realize we are not powerless after all. Just as we can change our external body and condition our internal mind, we can live in the "normal" world outside and be agents of change, big or small. Just as we find peace in the 5 minutes of savasana with no other tools but our own quiet mind, we too can create an oasis of happiness all by ourselves.
What about your life is holding you back from experiencing joy? What is it about the world that you wish could change for the better? What do you think someone should do about it? Then choose to do it, step by step. It does not even matter if you don't have the skills and resources just yet. That comes later once you've set your intention. If you find the idea of taking on a whole new project intimidating, think of it as setting up for a challenging yoga pose. Not knowing how to do it yet does not mean you shouldn't start it. Lacking the understanding now does not mean you can't do it. Any perceived inability to complete it at the moment does not mean it will stay that way forever. A positive change in both your internal world and the external world you interact with is just like a challenging yoga pose- teachers can guide you, others can inspire you, but ultimately you need to come to the understanding that no one else can do it for you.
The bad news is, no one is going to fix your life- and the world- for you. The good news is, you don't have to wait for someone else to come along. You are the one you've been waiting for.