I get about 50 gazillon junk e-mails, promo mailings and annoying calls a week now that I own a small business, all of them trying to tell me how much I NEED to advertise with them or offer their product or sell their junk. The impetus to sell more and use CAPS! And promote THIS! And ADVERTISE with US! (for free, after I invest $172) is insatiable and it is WAY out of line with my integrity.
This icky, growly, stay-away-from-me-response bubbles up when I start listening to voices that promote scarcity and sagely explain why my worthiness depends on Facebook Ads and staying relevant on omniscient Instagram. No experience has led me more to refining my integrity and drawing boundaries to stay within my integrity than registering an LLC.
Satya is the second of the ethical considerations of the yoga philosophy. There are five ethical considerations given in the Yoga Sutras which guide our social and communal actions. These are called yamas and we examined the cornerstone, ahimsa (non-harming and compassion) in previous posts.
Satya is defined as Truthfulness and Integrity. It is the impetus for aligning our thoughts, words and actions so that we are effective and living with sincerity. It’s the opposite of living a false or shallow life where we say one thing… and then do another. I love what writer and researcher Brené Brown says about satya because she takes it one step further from just ‘telling the truth’ to ‘living our truth.’ She says that truth telling is integral to upholding integrity and that it also takes courage. She writes,
“Integrity is choosing courage over comfort, choosing what is right over what is fun, fast or easy; and choosing to practice our values rather than simply professing them.”
One of my values is living a life of simplicity and generosity. So when I am bombarded with messages telling me to DO MORE and BE MORE to BE MORE WORTHY, the pit of my stomach fills with molten hot revulsion. It’s difficult not to give in to messages and ideas that seem culturally customary; my boundaries are often affronted and I find myself fearful, but then I get on my yoga mat and meditate and my courage is bolstered.
I remember that choosing courage over comfort is part of living satya and that whenever I am in line with my highest Good, which is always Light and Love, then I’m living a meaningful life. And I just say “No, thanks” to every bogus e-mail that comes my way.
When are you living in integrity with your highest good? When do you find your words saying one thing and your actions saying the opposite? In contrast, when do you feel most aligned, truthful and sincere?
“By abiding in truthfulness, one’s words and actions are subservient to truth and thus whatever is said or done bears the fruit of sincerity.”
The thing about yoga is that is 100% meant to be learned on the yoga mat and then 110% meant to be practiced off the yoga mat. I mean, it’s not really something that I “do.” It’s something I practice. Because practice means: ‘to do that which is not yet fully accomplished.’
Yoga is something that, like being kind and courageous, I get to practice every single day of my life. I can get better at it, but I probably won’t accomplish it fully 100% of each minute, each day.
The practicing of yoga-ing, is the practice of yoke-ing.It’s the act of binding my Spirit with the Divine Light that precedes all creation and to the principles of compassion and ethical living.
“To yoga with the Divine” sounds slightly bizarre, but ‘yoga’ in Sanskrit actually means ‘yoke’ or ‘to find union with.’ So, yeah, you can yoga with goats or yoga with Pearl Jam or yoga with Sangria or yoga with whatever is the new-yoga-class-combo popular right now (real talk: don’t ask me what is popular… I just found out that scrunchies are back in and Justin Bieber is out. For the record, I don’t like scrunchies. And I LOVE Justin Bieber) but if it doesn’t change your heart to be more:
Kind and compassionate
Humble and Courageous
Trustworthy and Trusting
then WHAT IS THE POINT of doing yoga?
The point is this: yoga does help us become more kind, compassionate, truthful, generous, humble, courageous, trustworthy and trusting through the ethical principles it promotes and the continuous Presence we learn.
The ethical principles of yoga are called ‘yamas.’ There are 5 of them and they are the primary foundation of yoga practice and yoga living. The eight important pieces of the yoking-to-Spirit-to-discover-ease-in-mind-and-enlightenment-puzzle-called-life are often called the Eight Limbs (Limbs as in, like, limbs on a tree. Not as in, you grow extra appendages.)
For thousands of years, humans have individually and collectively asked the questions: Who am I at my deepest level of Being? How do I live my truth in this community with other flawed-but-awesome humans?
These are the questions, we, as yogis and seekers of wisdom, ask in our Yoga Practice. These are the questions that the Yoga Tradition wants us to look for on the yoga mat; and then practice our answers off the yoga mat.
Over the next few months, I’ll be leading you through thefive yamas and discussing how they can positively affect your life on and off the yoga mat. We’ll discover what these ethical principles mean and how they inform our vision of self-care, of care for our families and care for our communities. Together we will learn how to yoke ourselves in mind, body and Spirit to a way of living that affirms the world is abundant, gracious, loving and sustaining.
Enjoy this Guided Relaxation and Meditation Experience.
Guided Meditation Teachings
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I’ve been an adult for nearly a decade; which in no way entitles me to any authority on the matter, whatsoever… but actually I think I may have figured out a significant strategy to successful ‘adulting.’ (This, by the way, is its own hashtag…which makes me think my internet community must be overwhelmingly and alarmingly excited about pretending we know what we are doing as pretend adults.)
(so fun to be a real-life adult! photo cred: JanaMarie Photography)
I’ve presented this 3 pronged approach to a few friends lately; its been received reasonably well. I’ve been warned it is, perhaps, missing a few key elements regarding paying bills and car insurance and feeding oneself and her family, but I’m pretty sure I’m on to something.
So, my exhaustive list of 3 key actions: How to be a Successful Adult
1. Move things around. Moving things around makes me look so busy! And creative! And responsible! And people love it when things are in a new place. Trash, dust, towels, pictures, Kleenex boxes, water bottles, Ganesha statues, plants, dirty clothes, clean clothes, whatever! Move that stuff around, continuously and consistently, and you will totally look like you know what you’re doing.
2. Send a lot of e-mails. I have discovered that e-mailing is the most substantial indication of “doing work.” It makes me appear so important and communicative and ‘on it!’ It’s the best! Sometimes I send e-mails just to send e-mails…and then check them off my list.
3. Measure my success by how much fun I’m having and how quickly I can change my mindset from fear to love. Being serious is overrated. I’ve found that success in life, for me, means always choosing joy and learning not to compare myself to others. The more I love others, give to others, and affirm others, the more successful I am at building the life I love. It’s sometimes terrifying owning a business whose bottom line is contingent on students getting off work on time in the evenings, family schedules, personal energy levels and the conscious and sometimes difficult choice of attending a yoga class instead of a Sporting KC game. It’s sometimes terrifying owning a business in what now, for some unknown reason, seems like a ‘fad industry’ and there are yoga studios popping up on every corner. It’s sometimes terrifying when I think: Is this really a real-life job and do I have the energy to keep it going? But then I remember to measure my success by how much fun I’m having and how quickly I can change my mindset from fear to love.
And I choose to love my life.
How do you measure your success? How can you change your mindset from fear to love? How do you choose to love life?
My Ironman insists on celebrating his birthday on top of a 14er in the Colorado Rocky Mountains. Literally, on the summit. And I always, always, always forget how difficult it actually is to hike one of those things, so I say, “YES! Let’s totally hike that mountain that requires ten straight hours of hiking and a 4 am wake-up call on vacation!” and then I start hiking and remember: Holy freaking cow, this is really, really difficult.
Worth it? Yes, because the spaciousness of the summit and the silence of the trail are unforgettable. But still difficult.
So, readers, in the (likely) circumstance that you never marry a former Trail Guide who expertly guides you to the top of a 14er summit (or two) every summer, I humbly present to you my Yogi’s Guide to Hiking a 14er.
Tell yourself it’s easy. Literally, start every sentence with: “It’s easy for me to…” And fill in the blank. In challenging and strenuous situations (for instance, climbing to the top of a pile of rocks 14 thousand feet in the air or getting your work done before deadline or talking to the most annoying co-worker in the history annoying co-workers) your thoughts (in Sanskrit vrtti-s) can spin wildly out-of-control. Hiking to the top of a 14er mirrors life in that it is mind-game. Gaining control over the 70,000 daily thoughts in our mind alters the spinning trajectory of our vrtti-s to be helpful instead of harmful. Our mind LOVES to distract us from achieving goals such as ‘being present’ and ‘being content’ and ‘not dying while walking these last 7 miles’ with negative vrtti-s. Negative or harmful thoughts are usually caused by deep emotional triggers (in Sanskrit: kleshas) and they turn over and over and over again in our subconscious until we believe them. Starting a sentence with, “It’s easy for me to…” re-sets the turning/tumbling/ridiculous cycle of self-judgmental thoughts and helps you focus on what you CAN DO. Like, for instance, take one more step. In fact, “It’s easy for me to hike this whole trail, even though my lungs are exploding.”
Wear gloves. It’s cold. And numb fingers make everyone crabby.
Listen to silence. I believe it’s ultra important to understand that the core of our being is always quiet and still. It is our Inner Light, our Inner Wisdom, which is connected to Spirit. A little bit of the Atman lives in each person’s heart and offers an Infinite wellspring of grace, joy, love and wisdom. The vrtti-s spin like wheels, distracting us with outer definitions of who we think we are and how we aren’t good enough, butthe inner light of awareness (purusha), is a hub stillness. Listening to silence means learning to listen to the still small voice of awareness that shines through all the vrtti-s. Sit yourself down on a rock and listen. It’s incredibly quiet on the mountain. It’s intoxicating and beautiful and freeing.
Get an alpine start. If you don’t get it done in the morning, it’s not going to happen. This is true of your yoga practice and your meditation practice. Set your alarm and get up in the dark if you need to. Be diligent in your personal resolve to consecrate your day toward Love and set your intention. Do it first thing in the morning or the day will get away from you. Remember: you have time.
Take frequent rests. I recently learned that resting is a spiritual practice. And that taking naps is an important part of staying healthy and whole. When climbing that GD mountain of day, set aside a specific time of the day for an 8 minute savasana, legs-up-the-wall-pose or guided meditation. Resting is necessary for your body, mind and spirit to re-align. Rest at every mile mark, take a drink, eat a snack and enjoy the view.
Be creative in your route. There is no ‘one right way’ to get to the top. In fact, there may not even be ‘a top’ in life. Everyone measures success differently. Give yourself permission to be bit creative with your route and your end goal. Stay safe, but let your dreams run wild and free. Seriously. Do the things that most inspire you and do them with passion. You may not have a 9-5 job, you may not wear a suit to work, you may not have a giant house or even a giant ego; be creative and courageous find what really makes you come alive. The view from ‘the top’ will be priceless.
It’s about the journey. Sometimes, things are worth doing simply because they are beautiful and interesting. The spiritual journey of yoga is one of those things. The poses themselves are fun, but the inner journey of discipline, strength, flexibility and being willing to travel light is what matters most. Every step forward on the spiritual journey of healing the mind from addictions, cravings, compulsions and falsity is worthwhile. Every step forward into the Light is worth it—difficult and sometimes scary and sometimes hard as heck—but worth it. Keep walking. Try to enjoy the journey, because you’ll really never get this day, this trail, this hike ever again.
Don’t be annoyed when a 3-year-old summits faster than you do. Refer to Number 7.
Pack a chocolate bar. There is nothing sweeter in life than taking a moment to savor your hard work and delight in all your senses. When you achieve even a minor life goal (like putting all the clean dishes away?), enjoy the sweet moment to its FULLEST. Open a Cadbury, snap a few yoga photos from the summit, gobble up that Freaking Fresh mountain air and then start walking back down the trail. It’s waiting for you.
“True space is encountered only with the willingness and courage to experience things just as they are.” -GM
‘Waiting’ (i.e. thinking and worrying and meditating and worrying and praying for days) is generally how I operate.
It’s how I make big decisions and small decisions. It’s how ensure that I am living a life of integrity and not a life of greed or compulsion or defensiveness or (god-forbid) absurdity. Waiting is how I make Soul Space, a place for sweetness and relief, for intuition; a place for sukha.
Soul Space is something most of us are missing in our lives.
Why? Because making Soul Space is demanding and messy and uncomfortable and requires just about as much patience as putting a buttoned-down Christmas sweater on a llama.
What I discovered about Soul Space during my very big emotional inhale the past few months, was that it required me to wrestle with suffering (duhkha) and stop waitingaround for my Present Moment to be a magical unicorn-rainbow-puppy parade. Instead, I needed to start making my Present Moment as free as possible given the present circumstances (with puppies, sans unicorns, naturally).
The head/heart/Soul space (in Sanskrit ‘kha’) I lived in last spring was far from inner contentment. It was grieving and frightened and nervous and doubtful and overwhelmingly stressed. I didn’t write about it ‘real-time’ because living it ‘real-time’ was enough; but here’s what happened:
I quit teaching at my home Ashtanga Studio, the place where I launched my yoga teaching career in Kansas City, learned to structure my life around the discipline of yoga and even met my husband. (Sad, but not overwhelmingly so.)
I purchased Westport Yoga, the place where I transformed from a good yoga teacher into a great yoga teacher, learned how to be a leader in the industry and delighted in the invaluable mentoring of my boss Kate who taught me to lead with integrity, creativity and wisdom. (Exuberant, almost overwhelmingly so.)
Two days after the deal closed, as I was still wrapping my mind around the 11-day whirlwind of legal crises, bank accounts and paperwork required to purchase Westport Yoga, my mentor, colleague and dear friend took her own life. After decades of battling bi-polar disorder and depression, Kate’s decision was not unexpected but it was still extremely, horribly shocking. (Devastating, decidedly overwhelmingly so.)
Within me clashed momentous emotions: shock, devastation, excitement, determination, grief, anger, disbelief, anguish… duhkha. Immense suffering.
I did what any sensible person would do: I shut down my Soul Space, repressed a whole lot of emotion, turned into an efficiency robot and disconnected from any hope of grace.
I did what needed to be done: I called teacher meetings, I presided over Kate’s memorial service, I taught 15+ classes a week, I held students as they cried, I wrote lesson plans, I planned professional development and wrote contracts for teachers, I organized insurance policies, I went to therapy appointments, I rain trails with Russell Clive, I drank wine and binge-watched three seasons of Scandal and I even tried to learn tax laws (remember that post?). I filled my hours until I didn’t have to bear the discomfort of my Soul Space. I told myself I was WAITING for life to get back to normal, waiting to feel free again.
And then I read this, about repression of the Soul Space:
“…the more we repress, suppress, procrastinate, or anesthetize, the more resistant we will be toward space. Conversely, the more true space we give ourselves, the less we will repress. And to the extent that we consecrate our spaciousness, intend it for love, point it toward love’s source, space will be merciful. The unpleasantness of space will never be more than we can bear.”
-Gerald May, The Awakened Heart
And my Soul Space demanded to be opened back up and directed toward Love, immediately. What I needed was not more WAITING to feel the right thing or to find the right words to put down on paper about this experience, but more courage to consecrate my Soul Space toward love so that I could heal from it. I needed more Safe Soul Space, more sukha.
In the first post of this series, I introduced the Sanskrit term ‘kha:’ space or spaciousness. Yoga philosophy insists that duhkha (bad space, suffering) is a shared and unavoidable human experience, but yoga teaches us techniques to alter our reactions to suffering so that we can experience a space of relief and sweetness, sukha, even in the midst of suffering.
Meditation master Jack Kornfield writes, “The purpose of spiritual life is not to create some special state of mind. A state of mind is always temporary. The purpose is to work directly with the most primary elements of our body and our mind, to see the way we get trapped by our fears, desires, and anger, and to learn directly our capacity for freedom.”
In the mayhem and the emotional inhale of the last few months, I worked directly with the fear, grief, and anger in my very real and very temporary state of mind.
What I found was this: I only started to heal when I stopped waiting for things to be ‘back to normal’ and just acted like they were. I stopped waiting for things to be funny and just started laughing (loudly, probably obnoxiously). I stopped waiting to feel confident and secure and just started acting like I was a freaking Rock Star. I stopped waiting to feel like I could take a big, deep, FREE breath and just started making space for freedom in my body and my mind. I stopped waiting for the Present Moment to be a perfect one and just started seeing the present moment for what it actually was.
Gerald May, that blessed genius, came to my rescue again by reminding me that, “true space is encountered only with the willingness and courage to experience things just as they are.”
I just had to stop waiting for those love-filled rainbow unicorns to arrive on the scene and just go ahead and consecrate the Present Moment toward love, hope and freedom all on my own. That’s a Soul Space worth not waiting for.
Are you feeling the same way?
Here are 3 Guided Practices to help you encounter and maintain Soul Space today:
An organizer and lesson-planner at heart, I try to be 110% prepared for each class I teach. My notes are illegible to anyone else– lots of arrows and stick figures and Sanskrit abbreviations– the usual. But lately, well… my lesson planning book has been 110% BLANK.
It’s not like I haven’t been thinking about yoga all the time: I immersed myself for 5 days by studying with my Ashtanga yoga teacher in Philadelphia and you know, that whole owning a yoga studio thing. But somehow last week, I found myself showing up at Westport Yoga KC with a blank lesson book.
My mental chatter went something like this:
Me: Uhhmm… lisa? What the heck are you teaching today? You don’t have a detailed lesson plan?!? What have you been doing all day?
Me: Yeah, I know… don’t rub it in. I’ve been working all day.
Me: Great… but …still?? What are you going to teach today?
Me: Calm down, lady. I know Yoga. I know breath. I know meditation. I know how to connect with Divine Light. That’s what I’m going to teach.
Because what I did I need to remember? YOGA is a mental skill. Yoga isn’t cool arm balances and super-detailed sequences leading to a brilliant peak pose.
The poses are just some ways to PRACTICE my yoga, so that when I show up for life, sometimes unprepared, I still respond with compassion toward myself and toward others.
I’ve found repeatedly, that the most important yoga pose, of all time, is sitting and getting prepared to approach the chaos within myself with a sense of grace and compassion.
It’s difficult. It requires so much vulnerability. It requires so much forgiveness. It requires so much tenacity and so much courage. But, I promise you: it’s so worth it. Because you’ll learn to approach the chaos within and the chaos without with grace and gentle curiosity.
Remember Melvin the mouse? The one we forcefully and woefully evicted? (Refresh yourself on what Melvin taught me about karma in the previous blog post published last week.)
Today, as promised, we are going to look at another aspect of karma: the idea of a universal piggy bank.
Melvin’s story was an example of our typical understanding of ‘bad karma.’ But the full understanding of karma in the yoga philosophy is more nuanced than that. According to the Yoga Sutras actions can be good, bad or neutral. Each type of action creates a karmic residue that sticks in your memory and your heart-mind (citta is explained in this post).
Each time you take a karma action that is selfless, compassionate, kind or forgiving the residue of that action stays with you. You create, in effect, a repository of kindness. Yoga scholar Nicolai Bachman calls it a ‘karmic bank account.’ He explains, “Each time you perform a positive action is like depositing money into your karmic bank account. Each time you do something hurtful or negative, it is like writing a check from that back account.”
And here’s the thing: we all share a bank account. All however-billion-humans are on this little planet share this account. When I married my Ironman last fall, we talked endlessly about the pros and cons of having a shared bank account. When it comes to karma, I think a shared bank account is absolutely wonderfully amazingly uplifting. It means that every single time I do something kind, I’m depositing more kindness into the world. And it’s not selfish—I’m not giving you my preferred parking spot at the Plaza Library because I myself want to benefit. I’m actively adding kindness currency into the universal piggy bank and anyone can access it! It’s like I’m giving you a debit card (not a chip card—those things are more trouble than they’re worth) so that when your funds of compassion are low, you can bank with me.
This is true because like attracts like. Kindness attracts kindness.
Every time I consciously choose to be generous with a friend, I end up on the receiving end of generosity the next day. Even when I feel like being stingy with my money, I try ardently to avoid the pitfall of ego (and the delusion of scarcity) because I know my generosity will multiply. And it doesn’t have to be money: simply offering five minutes of listening or giving someone a ride home on a snowy day turns out to be a huge deposit in our shared karmic bank account.
Compassionate actions are said to be motivated by selflessness. Your job as a yogi is to understand how every thought, word, action and deed can positively impact the world around you and hold yourself to the highest standard of ethical and compassionate behavior. Real-talk: even if you are in a terrible mood, don’t take it out on the first person you see. It truly doesn’t matter how much you hate your job or are annoyed by your manager, choosing kindness (no matter what) makes a deposit of kindness into the universal piggy bank. You don’t have to pretend to be happy—pretending doesn’t get you anywhere—but you put a deposit in your karmic piggy bank by choosing kind thoughts, words and actions so that all of us can benefit.
While this requires constant vigilance and mindfulness, it is absolutely worth the effort. Positive attracts positive, clean kitchens stay mouse-free, and communities are uplifted when individuals consciously choose kindness for all other living beings. With this in mind, karma can be a pretty good friend.
A real wood-burning, smoke-producing, utterly-charming fire holds me captive for hours. I’m the kind of person who sits too close the fire: my frontside burning, my backside frigid against the chill of the air, but too intoxicated by the heat to move away. On New Year’s Day sequestered in an Arkansas cabin with my Ironman, I watched solid logs gathered the day before from the rugged hillside turn into powder behind the fireplace grate. In a matter of hours, they transformed completely from substance to ashes. It was beautiful.
January 1, or 2, or 31 is really just another day to the calendar. But we treat every January with unwarranted importance as the one and only time we reflect on the past year and set goals for the upcoming year. This act of reflection on the recent past and looking forward to the near future is, in my eyes, of utmost importance. But it should not be confined to January (even though it’s the perfect way to spend the hours hiding from winter’s unrelenting peril). Instead, transformation, or parinama in Sanskrit, can and should happen every day.
The Yoga Sutras tell us that we are all made of same underlying energy, an indivisible and invisible but powerful energy. A person’s heart is like gold: it can change, re-configure as a new shape, appear in a different form, but its essence remains the same. It endures fire and heat, but it is still gold. Parinama is a process of moving into the fire, confronting the heat of loss, fear, confusion, pain, humility, anger, and injury but retaining your essence of pure, unaltered light. It’s the process of taking a new shape but remaining gold.
According to Social Media, everyone and their mom thought 2016 totally sucked. I thought it was fantastically wild ride—very high highs and very low lows—which sent me headfirst into the heat of transformation (you can read my 2016 round up here.) I definitely got burned a few times. And I probably did some burning (that smoke detector in my new house works well, I assure you), but isn’t a wild and slightly uncomfortable ride totally worth taking, if at the end you step off a new and transformed person?
Parinama: true inner transformation of thoughts, words, actions and habits takes time. And trust. And a willingness to get burned. Transformation, on and off the yoga mat, begins with discomfort but ends with a stronger sense of respect for both yourself and the life you are leading.
The Yoga Sutras tell us that every time we set foot on the yoga mat or have a seat on our meditation cushion is an opportunity for reflection and transformation. Everything in nature changes from moment to moment, day to day, year to year. Today, and every day of this year, set your intention to refine yourself. Take a moment to sit by a fire—you may already be sitting in one if you are reeling from stress, anger, hurt, or fear—and remember that everything is always changing and true reflection will move you forward into true healing. Set your intention to be open to change but remain gold.