Cat From The Mat

Follow Your Blissful Feet Through the Fire

"You must let go of the life you have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for you.  The big question is whether you are going to be able to say a hearty yes to your adventure."     
       Joseph Campbell

I have been on a journey for almost a decade.  Responding to the call for adventure, I chose to leave familiar terrain to explore unchartered territory, which has been both challenging and rewarding.  I've been wondering whether it's time to head back home to myself to complete that voyage.  

I just recently taught a yoga weekend workshop on Joseph Campbell's monomyth of the Hero's Journey.  The hero's path delves deeply into three main stages: the Departure from the known into the unknown, the Initiation/Fulfillment of the new world, and the Return back home.  Each time I present this theme, I focus on the warrior's choice of whether or not to leave perceived safety in order to venture into the dark and scary.  Putting yourself in unfamiliar situations brings more tools for fluency of self.  Yoga invites you to go to places that others might not have the interest, bravery, nor tenacity to go.  After all, courage is acting in ways that conjure up fear.

According to the monomyth, after the acclimation to the new world, the hero will choose to go back to the old one.  But the region to which he/she returns feels like a new place, because the warrior has evolved.  The environs might be the same, but the perspective with which the traveler interprets the world has shifted.  To quote French novelist Marcel Proust, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes."

I encourage my fellow yogins to return back home after the road of trials and tribulations, because yoga is about being in the world…of mortgages, bills, marriage, parenting, family reunions, holiday parties, to name a few.  As enticing as it might seem to turn away from daily responsibilities, we learn through the ups and downs of life by participating in the shared social fabric.  What has recently dawned on me though is how hard it is to do that last stage…the Return.  This step takes the most courage of all and can be anything but comfortable.  

When an astronaut has been in orbit for a while, the re-entry back to earth is very fast, extremely hot, and often destructive.  The temperature on the command module's surface can climb up to 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit.  The vessel's heat shield is designed to melt and erode away from the module as it heats up, protecting the inner structure.  The atmosphere acts like a braking system on the spacecraft, while this ablative covering vaporizes and keeps the astronaut safe inside for a successful re-entry.

 

As you journey through life, that same friction and heat are needed for transformation to occur.  Change is not easy and yet inevitable.  The return back to home to yourself can seem scary and overwhelming, because that too might seem as distant as outer space.  Your feet might be held to the fire.  That's when the metamorphosis happens.  Dissolution often propels you into a new place of understanding, of expanded awareness, of empathy.   This journey of self-connection opens up your eyes to see an old familiar spot as a new dwelling.  It's a practice of both inner and outer exploration.

Is "home" a place from which you emerge and to which you return?  Is it just your physical surroundings or your identity to a location?  Maybe it's as simple as a feeling of ease, like that deep exhale right before you fall asleep.   If this is indeed a state of being, then you can feel at home in your own skin, no matter where you are.  In the words of Joseph Campbell, "The goal of life is to make your heartbeat match the beat of the universe, your nature with Nature.  The goal of the hero’s journey is yourself finding Yourself."

The yoga asana is how you posture yourself in life.  Home is the pose to which you keep returning back with a newly renovated seat for your soul.  Every internal and external journey brings new agency of how to see, hear, and taste the world, turning the ordinary into the extraordinary.  Applying such accrued wisdom upon your return is what makes the abode of your heart even sweeter.  Like the destructive re-entry of the cosmonaut, your heart must break to open.

This year has been a very challenging year for many of us.   As 2014 comes to a close, there is the completion of projects, jobs, relationships, pursuits, or outdated perspectives.  It's been a process of wearing away old patterns to make space for the new.  Every ending marks a beginning.

As the season gets darker and colder, the holiday lights heat up.   Find the balance of how your inner landscape can match the outer world, while allowing the external fertile soil to feed your bright spirit within.   The hero's journey is only a step away and can take you distant miles further.  Home can feel far away, and yet it's on the other side of the door.  Enjoy the re-entry, because there's no place like ho-ho-hOMe for the holidays!

Happy Festivus! 

Cat

 

Cat From the Mat

December 2014

Should-ing All Over Myself


Acceptance
  |akˈseptəns| noun

1 the action of consenting to receive or undertake something offered 

2 recognition or belief in an idea, opinion, or explanation as valid or correct

3 approval or favorable regard, or willingness to tolerate a difficult or unpleasant situation


The term Acceptance implies a YES to what is.  It’s easy to accept the things, people, and situations that we like and want.  We must also accept that which is unpalatable, unforeseen, and at times unbearable. This is perhaps why we might feel as if we are submitting ourselves to a NO, when having to accept.  So, how do we unpack this full spectrum process of affirmation and gain wisdom from it all?  

Acceptance can be seen as either an active or a passive endeavor.  Inaction is an action.  Both are choices.  In the past, I have viewed acceptance as a kind of resignation, as if I'm giving in.   "It shouldn't be this way" has often been muttered from my lips.  This approach reflects disappointment that my expectations are not being fulfilled.  And if I assume that this pattern will continue to extend into the future, then why would I acquiesce to such a letdown?  Could this unacceptable situation be an opportunity for growth disguised as a loss?

I am now viewing acceptance as a presence to the state of what is.  It involves being actively receptive, without the typical critique that I normally apply.  We are all raised in a world of ethical judgment, with good versus bad, right and wrong, and "should/shouldn't" thinking.  "Shoulds" are based on assumptions, and I am constantly should-ing all over myself.  It is as natural and as unconscious as breathing.   It sets up unspoken expectations about how things ought to be, with no room for them to be another way.  Navigating outside of this binary of "should/shouldn't" takes constant practice and has helped broaden my narrow slice of thought.  As simple as it is to shift one’s perspective, it is a hard task to tackle. 

I am continuing to hone my conflict resolution skills with NVC (Non-Violent Communication) training.  I am learning to relate in a new language called EMPATHY.  Empathy is not sympathy, nor is it the act of fixing, analyzing, comparing, defending, discounting, educating, or even giving advice.   Empathy is about understanding another person’s experience, outside the realm of judgment.  As a yoga teacher who is used to giving, I find it easier to offer empathy to others than to myself.  But in order to hold an empty presence in which to be empathetic, I must put my oxygen mask on first, before helping others.  The practice of self-empathy is like a self-cleaning oven.  I find it difficult to apply, not unlike trying to give myself a haircut.

The learning curve is steep when consciously communicating in a new way.  My deeply engrained "shoulds" are vocal, and they are not going away.  I can give them less volume and/or listen more.  My "shoulds" are actually quite helpful, if I am able to hear the golden message embedded within my thoughts.  Rather than negating my judgments, I am learning to excavate valuable information from what each "should" is sharing with me and often shouting.  A declaration that "I should be better at this" can be highly motivating, when striving to strengthen my empathy muscles.  This is the mental and emotional asana practice, with all relationships as my yoga mat.

The mantra of NVC is simply "everything we do, we do to meet a need."  Emotions become the loud sign posts of met or unmet needs.  When we can identify the need tied to an emotion, there is a relationship.  Strategies (to get needs met) can conflict, while our universal needs do not.  If the connection between feelings and needs is severed, then confusion can arise.  By recognizing each other on a needs basis, we become more relatable as humans.  Yoga is often defined as skill in action.  It's a practice of curiosity, self-inquiry, and awareness, in connecting our inner and outer worlds.  But we must first start at home, comfortable in our own skin.  It's an inside job.  Once we have more compassion for our shoulding-selves, we can begin to understand from a spacious seat of empathy.

It's harvest season…a time to reap the need found in every "should/shouldn't" thought, in any criticism, in all conflict.  What if you could translate all of your "negative judgments" into nourishing food for thought?  Take your deep, dark, unvisited places out to lunch and ask them to tell you more.  This can yield potent information.  You might start to hear the yes inside every no.  You might even find your inner narrative so entertaining, that you no longer wish to pay for cable TV.  If acceptance means being amused by my self-imposed limits while living beyond the outskirts of Shouldville, then I can make room for continuous expansion, writing my script as I go.  It's helpful to remind myself that I am doing the best that I can. That I can accept!

Happy Harvesting,

Cat

 

Cat From The Mat

November 2014

The Calm Before The Play

I love being productive.  I feel satisfied when checking things off of my To Do list.  But I wonder.  Do I wear my exhausting productivity as a badge of honor? Am I keeping myself distracted so that I don't have the time or space to address bigger issues?  Might busyness equate with feeling important?

 

Brené Brown's book The Gifts of Imperfection addresses how we interpret exhaustion as a sign that we are doing well, while putting naps on the back-burner. Brené says, "If we want to live a Wholehearted life, we have to become intentional about cultivating sleep and play and about letting go of exhaustion as a status symbol and productivity as self-worth."  She has collected data over years of research proving that play, calm, and stillness are key ingredients of a meaningful life, as illustrated below.

"Play shapes our brain, helps us foster empathy, helps us navigate complex social groups, and is at the core of creativity and innovation,"  writes Brené.  Play is purposeless, on purpose.  Through play, we can find joy and satisfaction in any work we do.  Ironically, we become even more productive.

Brené defines Calm as "creating perspective and mindfulness while managing emotional reactivity."  Calmness requires recognizing when we are being triggered, taking a moment to pause, then choosing how to respond.  Breathing is the best place to start this process.

"Stillness is not about focusing on nothingness; it's about creating a clearing.  It's opening up an emotionally clutter-free space and allowing ourselves to feel and think and dream and question," explains Brené.  Meditation is also this practice of holding a space of judgment-free presence.

In a recent lecture I attended, holistic doctor Deepak Chopra prescribed sleep, meditation, and yoga as a solid recipe for health.  These endeavors are highly effective.  A little bit can go a long way.  He pointed out that as a culture, we drink stimulants in the morning to wake up then pop a pill at night to fall asleep.  No wonder we are deprived of well-being.

I've been practicing yoga for over twenty years.  Compared to recently deceased grandfather of yoga BKS Iyengar (1918-2014), I am a newbie on the path.  My initial access to yoga was through the physicality of asana.  It not only kicked my butt and reconnected my heart-mind-body; it opened up my eyes to a world of awareness.  My consistent and cumulative years of practice have taught me that in order to be more conscious, I need to slow down, do less, and be more.  Easier said than done.

As far as my mileage on the meditation cushion, I am not as well-seasoned.  My human-doership far excels that of my human beingship.  But when I do find time to sit, I find spacious solace.  Besides being thoroughly entertained by my relentless thoughts, nothing really happens during meditation.  What matters is that which occurs from having meditated.  I notice that I don't speed through life as much.  It's like a really good savasana for the mind.  How I do love my siestas!

Brené Brown encourages us to create a list of practical things that make our lives work, called the "ingredients for joy and meaning" list.  The items might include relaxation, exercise, healthy food, time off, quality visits with family/friends, cooking, dancing, singing, or walking the dog without your cell phone.  Then compare it with your usual To Do list.  You might be surprised in how little downtime you schedule in a day, how much sleep-debt you have accrued, or maybe how disparate your doing and being have become.  

 

Carve out more time to rest, to play, to practice yoga/meditation, or to just breathe mindfully as you enjoy moments of dynamic stillness.  Shift the intention of your To Do List from completing future tasks to qualifying your daily choices in the here and now. To do or not to do…that is seldom the question.

Cheers,
Cat


Cat From The Mat

September 2014