The body: a cage, or an agent of freedom?

I have so much fear in my heart. I’m afraid of being not good enough, of not having enough, of never reaching the fullest potential of a human being. I find myself lonely in the space of so many people – feeling a disconnect in my own soul that manifests as disconnection with others. Truly we can not find fulfilling relationships until we’ve reached deep into ourselves and found the light that dwells there – this is how we become one with others – as the word “namaste” describes. But how else does that connection manifest? When we are channeling through the highest form of ourselves, how does that affect our actions and our contributions to the world?

Sometimes we say or do things that surprise us. Often artists and musicians describe some mystical creativity that seems to have not come from their own mind – their ego-clouded, earthbound mind – but from a space beyond their comprehensible reality. “The song almost wrote itself”, “It just came through my brush onto the canvas”, etc. We have no memory of premeditating our actions, they just happen. And this is when we are completely present in the moment, when we are connected to that powerful and sacred place of all-knowing, all-being life: the place that connects us both to God {insert “Universe”, “the cosmos”, “nature” or your choice of divinity here} and to each other in the purest and most satisfying way. This is the universe realizing itself through us: this is when we find our purpose, this is when we know why we are here.

The body is both a sensory vessel and a tool that we can use to connect to this place. We are animals, and so we have base desires that require careful and consistent mediation. However, when we can push past the fear of relinquishing the body (it is, after all, only a temporary fixture), we can begin to allow our awareness and our light to shine through. If we are hungry, we fuel the body with nourishing sustenance. If we feel sexual desire, we ask if it is truly necessary and good. If we feel tired, we find balance between rest and lethargy, knowing that if we are treating our bodies right, we will have enough energy when we need it, and otherwise to allow a space for “non-doing”. We condition the body so that it is a sound instrument for a greater truth or power to speak through us. If we fail to do so, the body becomes like a cage, and we are slave to its constant acts of primordial desire, physical and emotional longing, bad habits, and overall heaviness of being.

After many years of being an unwilling servant to my body, fighting it and loathing it along the way, I realized that it can be a sacred space where we find peace and enlightenment and therefore came to love and appreciate it, and all its “flaws”. We can use the body like a rope or toehold to climb out of a deep crevasse and see out into a world beyond our own. Yoga has taught me so much about my own tendencies and given me tools to overcome it. Standing on my head was one of the most overwhelmingly freeing things I have ever done. A simple inversion turned my whole world upside down, in a very good way. It was like I’d always been looking down at the ground, and changing my perspective allowed me to see the sky. I felt empowered; by overcoming a seemingly impossible physical limitation I realized that I could actually change my mental and emotional state, and therefore my entire life. It was magical. The journey was painful and frustrating, and it is far from over! Next challenge: bringing the headstand off the wall. I have fallen several times. I keep trying. And similarly there will always be days when I feel lost, lonely, scared, and not good enough. But just like in yoga, I will get right back up, engage my core, push harder, reach higher, and burn brighter. The universe wills it. And in recognizing when to push harder and when to surrender, the latch opens by itself and we are set free.

Namaste.

My New Year’s Resolution Revolution!

I have noticed throughout my life that when it comes to setting resolutions, the same themes come forward time and time again. Although I am a vastly different person from year to year, I find myself nostalgically recalling the same shortcomings. My goals are like a recurring dream that keeps surfacing through the muck of my subconscious mind.  And like a dream, whatever thing I’m chasing or searching for remains intangible, and the desperation to achieve it disappears upon waking.  I need to paint more. I need to write more. I need to work out more. I need to spend more time in nature. I need to call my grandparents more. These mantras reverberate in my head like hymns said a thousand times over, their original meaning lost on the lips of those disconnected from their origin.  They become a futile chore – an oppressive “to do” list – rather than a source of enlightenment and growth. Thus our ambitions become like seeds that have been planted but not cultivated; they perish in the cold soil of our apathy – or perhaps our fear – and no amount of intention can revive the shrunken kernel in our neglected garden.

A good friend of mine once said, “Inspiration without action is merely entertainment.” Which is true of goal setting – if we merely entertain ourselves with the possibility of what we could become or create without putting in the necessary work, we become passive observers of our life rather than participants. Then it is too late; the inspiration passes and we find ourselves stuck in the same ruts, setting the same now nearly mundane goals, replaying the same mental movies over and over again, until we decide it’s time to change – we gain inspiration, reset the goals, and repeat the process.

Perhaps we cling so desperately to our old goals because it is hard to relinquish the projected persona that a past version of ourselves worked so hard to construct. The avatar our ego creates becomes so real, to let it go before we can fully step into its skin seems like an unbearable tragedy. However, by so rigidly committing to these future selves, we are doing our present self a great disservice. If we continue to look back at the things we perceived we were lacking in the past, we fail to see how much we’ve grown simply by reaching and stretching ourselves towards our goals. We in fact have shed so many skins in our efforts to become someone else that we could not possibly fit into the mould we previously created. Spontaneous occurrences that pull us away from our intended aims can shape us in ways we couldn’t possibly predict, and if we focus so narrow-mindedly on a set path, these gems of experience are lost.  Thereby accepting unplanned change is part of the process of goal setting, otherwise we remain in a mental state of lack rather than abundance.  So if you remain open minded and allow even that which may seem like a setback to become an agent in your development, who you wanted to be a year ago will quickly render itself inferior to the person you can become.

Let it go, and let it flow.

It is these retrograde goals that I have decided to shed this New Year.  What I’ve noticed is that we always seem to set new year’s resolutions to somehow better ourselves by CHANGING ourselves. We want to lose weight, eat healthier, spend more time with people we love, be more creative, save more money, drive less, be less judgmental, read more, etc. etc: Skinnier, bigger, faster, slower, smarter – less this, more that.  Instead, this time I’m going to set goals that focus on acceptance of and integrity towards my true self.

That being said, these are my resolutions for 2012. I expect they will shift and amalgamate, fade and break apart, all in the name of growth and self-discovery.  I am ready to be broken and remade, to be introduced to my true self, be able to look it in the face and say, “I love you. Let’s do this thing.”

SELF-ACCEPTANCE and HARD WORK

The concept of one’s “true self” is a slippery one, as we change so often and our sense of identity is constantly challenged by our egos and external sources. But I think that in practicing acceptance of my limitations, quirks, neuroses, and strengths, I will come to know my true self. And this isn’t to say that I will accept – for example – that I can’t perform a handstand and give up. It’s about accepting that in this present moment, I cannot perform a handstand. But that’s OK. Because tomorrow I will be a different person with new cells who has attempted a handstand one more time than the person I was yesterday. So I will attempt it again, and maybe the day after tomorrow I will be able to. Or not. Maybe I never do a handstand, but I am still evolving and that’s all that matters. The most important thing is that I learned something about myself while I was going through the process. How did I feel? Was I frustrated? Fearful? Why? How can I overcome that? Can I laugh about it? Who can I ask for help? This is where the real yoga is, where the real work exists, and where the resolution really takes form. And self-acceptance also means recognizing that I am perfect in every moment, and I completely accept where I am from one day to the next. Some days my jeans will fit, some days they won’t. And that’s ok. In fact, it’s great.

HONESTY and INTEGRITY

This one is also tricky, because lies are woven into our society like threads of a tapestry, and the lies we tell ourselves are often the hardest ones to eradicate. Do you find yourself blowing things out of proportion for dramatic effect? “Oh my gosh, sorry I’m late, but I had to wait SO long in the Bean Scene lineup this morning…there was this old lady who literally had 400 pennies that she was using to pay for her latte and the barista had to re-count them TEN TIMES!” But, really you were only waiting for two minutes while the lady counted out her change, and the reason you were late was because you slept in.  We have to own up to our lies, even if they are little white ones. Why do you lie? Is it to protect yourself or someone else? Are you really doing them or yourself a favor in the long run?

Sometimes we lie not to hide, stretch, or disregard the truth but to uphold a long-standing lie that we’ve been attached to for so long that we’ve come to accept it as true. In other words, we have to be aware to not make up untrue stories to fit with past scars. For example, someone may have been hurt in the past, and those trust issues color all their new relationships.  Their narrative may sound something like this: “I am shy to start new romances because I was rejected by my true love. All other men will eventually abandon me and I’m only going to get hurt again, so I choose to remain closed off”. When they were hurt, it was a defense mechanism to create this identity to cope with the pain. In “The Untethered Soul”, Michael A. Singer relates emotional wounds to a thorn in our skin. We will do all we can to protect that thorn from being touched, because it hurts to do so. So we create an elaborate contraption to protect the thorn while we are sleeping, we tell everyone we know about the thorn and warn people to stay clear of it, and we dedicate a large portion of our energy to creating barriers between our thorn and the world. And eventually, life without it becomes unimaginable! The victimized alter egos we fabricate as well as the untrue future outcomes of situations become more real to us than the self we truly are, and the life we truly deserve.

What I’ve noticed is that even if we’ve moved on in our heart, we revert back to these stories because they have become so familiar. This ego-driven narrative has steered our actions and reactions for so long, choosing a new operating system is like starting a new job: it is better, but new and scary. This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t learn from our mistakes. Perhaps he was your true love, but that was in the past. We have to integrate our experiences, heartaches, illnesses, rejections and other wounds into who we are, feel the pain completely, allow ourselves a period to mourn, and then release it. There is no sense in continuing the heartache when in reality no one is hurting you in the present moment. You are only protecting a wound that will heal if you let it. And this is where forgiveness comes into play, which is another resolution of mine.

FORGIVENESS

“To err is human, to forgive, divine.” I only feel like I’m just beginning to understand these well-known words of poet Alexander Pope. To fully forgive doesn’t mean pushing feelings of betrayal and anger away and forgetting about them. It’s about really allowing those emotions to burn up in the furnace of our hearts by abolishing it with love. And we also have to forgive ourselves. This goes back to the work of self-acceptance. We have to remember that we were perfect even in the moment that we made the mistake and we are equally perfect now, so let it go. Additionally, I think that we are afraid that letting go of our pain will lead to our having to flourish, which can be scary. Sometimes it feels safer to hide in our shadows rather than to step into our own light.  But we have to stop making excuses for not shining as brightly as possible. As Marianne Williamson says in one of my favorite quotes from her book, “A Return to Love”:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

It is our responsibility to burn bright. The universe will realize itself through us, and so in honoring ourselves we honor all that is.

LOVE

“Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails…But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.” ~Corinthians 13

I’d like to explore the act of loving a little further this year. This one is the toughest for me. I think because of my own history with the matter I’ve shied away from love without even realizing it. However, I’ve come to realize that self-acceptance is the first step to preparing yourself for love. We cannot accept love from another until we see our own perfection, our own worth. We have to fall in love with ourselves first. And that can take some hard work.

In an interesting article about how technology provides an alternative to love, Jonathan Franzen describes social networking and the phenomenon of a culture that is obsessed with easily consumable “likeableness” (with the ubiquitous thumbs-up “like” button being the most obvious example of this) as opposed to a harder to obtain “loveableness”. He states that social media is driven by narcissism, but I would argue that its main motor is the desire to connect with others. The human race has had the same tendencies before enablers like myspace, facebook and twitter were created. We have constructed outward projections of ourselves for thousands of years by carefully choosing what kind of clothing we wear, the homes we buy, the crowds we hang out in, the music we listen to, the politics we support, etc. And above all, we have always longed to relate with others; modern social media just gives us a very effective medium to do so.

He argues that we create a self through social media that is all around likeable, but that the deeper sensation of love only happens when we are allowed to see the negative sides of another and accept that as well. The problem is, I believe that our society is obsessed with perfection – from dangerous diet programs to girls having cosmetic surgery done on their vaginas before they turn 18, to cultures that are so obsessed with material wealth that many are perishing at a young age from stress related disorders, we are a global society so focused on the impossibility of perfection that we forget to love unconditionally. Perhaps this is why so many marriages collapse – we are not equipped to settle for something imperfect, and are so used to quick-fix idealism that things like compromise and sacrifice are abolished from our moral vocabulary. We are unlikely to commit to something or someone who is imperfect, and so we continue to float in a comfortable but oftentimes unfulfilling space of “liking” – too scared to truly LOVE, because of the risks associated with both showing our true colors and the challenges of tolerating those in another.

However, if we are able to start with self-love, accepting both our own flaws as well as our assets, it will be much easier to convince others that they should do the same. Likewise, we gain the wisdom that enables us to feel the same deep affection for another, as if to look in a mirror and recognize the imperfect human condition in our partner, or our friends, or even our enemies. As written by the Postal Service and then covered by Iron and Wine in the song Such Great Heights: “I think that it’s a sign that the freckles in our eyes are mirror images and when we kiss they’re perfectly aligned.” Jonathan Franzen describes this phenomenon as follows:

“Love is about bottomless empathy, born out of the heart’s revelation that another person is every bit as real as you are…to love a specific person, and to identify with his or her struggles and joys as if they were your own, you have to surrender some of your self.”

Thus indeed love is a selfless act, and requires us to take a leap of faith. The law of attraction most definitely works its magic when it comes to love; the more you give love away freely and without the expectation of it being returned, the more you will feel love. MC Yogi said it best:Open up your heart, unlock the cage, turn the key and break the chains. Love will always find a way. If you want love, you have to give love away.”

OK, I’m ready. My resolution is then to live with love everyday, give it even when it seems undeserved, and open up my heart to receive. Bring it, 2012! 🙂

Peace to you, and may you achieve all your goals and resolutions with passion, gratitude, and love. Namaste. ❤