Cat From The Mat

Embracing Paradox

Every July 4th, I contemplate my definition of freedom.  I usually connect that word with the agency of choice or a sense of ease around a busy schedule or a difficult situation.  Recently, I attended an Empathy Intensive as part of my Non-Violent Communication (NVC) training.  To my unexpected delight, I tasted a new realm of liberation.  I felt free from evaluation of others and more importantly released from self-criticism.  

I am a critical thinker.  All of my extensive education has helped me hone those skills with a healthy dose of discernment.  In doing so, my judgment muscle has gotten so strong that it often likes to choose for me.   I am so good at judging that I even judge myself for being judgmental.  So I ask myself, which form of acuity brings me peace?   

We discriminate in different ways.  We have value judgments as a way to express preference, like whether or not we like the taste of something.  Judgments as assessments are also helpful, when figuring out if an item will fit into an allotted space.  Then there is the world of moralistic judgment, where we weigh right from wrong.  This shrewd ether is omnipresent, and yet the universe itself is not ethical.  As humans, we attribute meaning to the world and prescribe our perception.  I myself often wake up into the domain of "something’s wrong," which edits and limits my experience.   It's exhausting and can disconnect me from others and from myself.  

During the Empathy Intensive weekend, I was surprised to wake up into judgment-free ease.  And I stayed there for three days straight with amazing appreciation.  The pressures to be “the responsible one,” “the comic relief,” “the helpful support,” or the desire “to be liked” were completely off the table.  We were having a different conversation all together.   This was not only liberating, but my shrewd self took a much-needed vacation, which made more space for my true self to play.  Rather than analyzing between good and bad, I explored whether a specific need was met or unmet.  I was and still remain empowered.

Moralistic judgments are not bad.  They are just indications of unmet needs.  I am learning to welcome my critiques, for they contain golden information.   I can therefore witness my default pattern, be highly entertained, and see the message embedded within.  I now walk myself through the inner dialogue and notice, for example, that when I feel frustrated, I need to be heard and understood.  When I feel distant, I look for ways to connect.  Feeling alive and rejuvenated tells me that my intention of self-care has been met.  This is the path of compassion. Empathy and self-empathy are two sides of the same muscle that get stronger with practice.

(For NVC information, visit: http://www.cnvc.org or http://www.nycnvc.org)

 

Yoga is about embracing the paradox of you.  Steeping in the fulfilled (formerly known as "good") feelings only offers half of the picture.  Unfulfilled (aka "bad") feelings offer the same gateway to excavating the need beneath.  By digging into all feelings, you get the full Monty, the works.  Your judgments become allies as various entry points within.   Yoga invites you to embody disparate feelings all at once and to choose how to meet your needs in any given moment.   Often defined in Sanskrit as independence, "Svatantrya" means self-sovereignty.  When you are sovereign unto yourself, you are celebrating your freedom of choice, while welcoming all limitations as a gift to know the whole you.   

Happy freedom from and within judgment!

Cat

 

Cat From The Mat

July 2014

Basking in the Blossom

Back in the day, when yoga first began with the Indus Valley civilization, there was ritual.  In order to transact with the rough environs, these rituals were a way of participating in keeping the world going.  There was no meaning to the ceremony.  The focus was the process itself.    

Ritual is defined as "a series of actions or type of behavior regularly and invariably followed by someone."  Today, every culture has ritual, known as "puja" in Sanskrit.  Whether we attribute meaning to it or not, it still continues…like making coffee in the morning, the way you get to work every day, removing your shoes at a threshold, reading/writing a monthly blog, or placing your yoga mat in a specific way.  In doing so, like the ancient yogis, you are propelling the narrative of life.

This spring, I was fortunate enough to experience rituals of two very different cultures, both embracing nature.  In March, I held a weeklong yoga retreat in the Osa Peninsula of Costa Rica.  We were taken to the edge, where the paved road ends and Mother Nature begins.  It was tropical, not tranquil.  Forget about blaring car alarms at 4am, when you have howler monkeys, scarlet macaws, and deafening cicadas to wake you up.  Welcome to the coastal rainforest containing 2.5% of the world's biodiversity.

We pushed our edges by climbing a 70-foot tree barefoot to see as the monkeys see, by rappelling a 150-foot dry waterfall trusting the support of ropes over empty gravitational space, and by exploring our inner obstacles on the yoga mat.  My visit was book ended by staying at my friend's wall-free jungle home.  Talk about transacting with the natural world!  Who needs walls when you can have 24/7 free entertainment by all walks of life entering and exiting your humid domain!

In contrast, one week later, I arrived in Japan just in time to witness cherry blossom (Sakura) season, which delineates the beginning of spring as well as the national school year.   The Japanese are known for their customs, from pristine presentation to pride in whatever they do.   As Bruce Feiler decribes in his book Learning to Bow, "the Sakura is the national flower for this reason: the blooms come and go, tantalize and evaporate in a single moment of brilliance that transcends time."  As we walked through the various cotton-candy arcades of cherry blossoms, we observed locals taking pictures to document the concurrent beauty and elegy.  In such an urban environment, there is an admiration of nature, with elegance as fleeting as any text message.

Rather than trying to prolong the inevitable floral demise, the sakura season represents the practice of savoring the fullness of life now. This Japanese observance basks in the fact that nothing lasts.  The snowflake flurry of petals that fly in the air and fall to their death on the ground are equally celebrated as part of life.  Endings bring beginnings, beginnings mark endings, and the middle, which connects these two contrary compliments, keeps life going.  In any given moment, we are always in one aspect of a beginning, a middle, and an end. Yoga invites us to become aware and fluent in this simultaneous cycle.

Summer is here, which punctuates the end of spring.  The longer days will begin to wane on the Summer Solstice.  The end of June also signifies the closing of Virayoga, my yoga home of twelve years in New York City.  This studio has been my anchor since its inception.  With the support of my Virayoga family, I ventured off to help rebuild the yoga communities in my hometown of New Orleans and the gulf coast region after Hurricane Katrina.  Since then, my yoga travels have expanded across the globe.  It's been the nourishing cord back to that studio that has fed me and kept me going.

Like the sakura, Virayoga has blossomed and now some of its petals are releasing to the ground.  With gratitude for this rite of passage, I embark on an exciting new chapter.  As one says before and after a meal in Japan, "Itadakimasu" (I humbly accept the food) and "Gochisosama deshita" (That was a feast).  My heart is deliciously full.  Thank you for the ritual of the feast.  Happy Summer Solstice! 

Cheers,
Cat

 

Cat From the Mat

June 2014 blog

The Disease To Please

Do you care about what others think and accommodate their desires before yours?   Do you take responsibility for things that are not yours to take?  Do you have the disease to please those around you?

Over the past 20 years, as part of my yoga practice, I have done of a variety of trainings on how to live a more skillful life.  A primary theme that comes up often is the power of choice in taking responsibility for where you are.  Don't suit the life others want for you; rather choose your life.  Your perception of the world is your reality.  To shift your view, in turn creates a whole new realm.  To be the author of your experience is empowering and exciting, and it requires constant attention.

If an adjustment in perspective has a supportive environment, then there's no dissent.  Inner change can feel organic.  However, when this endeavor is surrounded by external expectations that are often at odds with how you envision your life, the task is harder.  There's the rub.

I grew up in the south, where people are friendly and frequently indirect.  I was raised to be a good girl, which I was.  The social context upheld a desire for me to fit in and to not make waves.  However, from the get-go, my innate tendency has been one of questioning.  There was discord between what others wanted for me and what I wished for myself.  In order to persevere, I would acquiesce.  As I got older and moved to new environments, that learned behavior would still crop in my decision-making.


Living in New York City has helped unleash my direct self, albeit blunt at times.  Those urban environs have affirmed a candid attitude.  Of course, being diplomatically truthful is a skill that takes practice.  But I still wonder.  Just because the context validates me, am I still being a people-pleaser?

The flip side of authentic self-expression is being accountable for how you "land" on others.   Can you be proficient in speaking your truth (inner dialogue) while taking responsibility of how you are being received (outer dialogue)?  There can be a disparity between the two.  You might either take too much liability for the lack of communication or you can lose yourself in deference.  I have been on both sides of this slippery slope.

I invite you to ponder this paradox of life.  It's a constant embrace of listening to your inner voice while considering feedback from others.  Learn to accept the fact that you might care what others think, without self-diminishment.  Find that appropriate balance.  After all, we live in relationship.  This is yoga.  

On the mat, you practice holding complimentary contrasts in poses, so that you can become familiar with engaging in a world of friction.  You hopefully in turn become more fluent in the art of difficult interactions.  You connect, you shift, and you thrive…at work, at home, inside and out.  How you relate to the diversity within, will inform how you handle a multiplicity of perspectives.  Begin with integrity, with self.  Welcome to your seat…the way you posture yourself in the ebb and flow of life.  There are no do-overs, just do-betters.  (*pleasantries not included)

Cat From the Mat
May 2014