Cat From The Mat

Wall To Wall

In crossing the threshold into my 45th year of embodiment, I have been “OTG.’’  Not “open to grace” nor “on the go”…but rather, “off the grid.”  In hopes of recharging my battery, I recently took some much needed down time, sans cell phone.  While residing in my social media-challenged hermitage, there was limited wi-fi.  What a treat to retreat!  I am though reemerging in the world with accrued restful sleep, new insights, and an appreciation for fortification.

Every birthday you celebrate adds another layer of experience that surrounds you.  You collect these yearly concentric circles like an encasement of knowledge.  In yoga, there are similar lampshade-like sheaths of awareness called “koshas.”  They range from the most outer physical coat to the most sagacious inner one of intuition.  Inside all of them is your highest and brightest self.  However, if you stay mainly in one kosha or only identify with one covering as “you,” then you limit yourself. 

If you have an injury or a health issue, you can start to recognize yourself as your ailment.  Do you find yourself saying, “I am so inflexible that I can’t even touch my toes”? Do you complain about always being tired or too busy?  Do you resign yourself to the fact that you are and will always be stubborn?  These declarations constrict the possibility of transformation or the thrill of breaking your own rules 

Boundary is not the issue at hand.  Partitions are not bad per se.  Screening is often needed to measure whether another person has earned his/her access inside.  The real predicament is whether the barriers are ultimately confining and compounding or permeable and expansive.  Are these protective layers of armor meant to keep others out or to keep you safe inside?  

Regardless of purpose, each relationship you choose helps you grow.  It’s in connection with others that you learn more about yourself.  The rub of conflict can propel you to develop understanding, and to evolve.  You cannot undo the past.  There are no do-overs in life.  But you have the opportunity to recursively begin anew in every moment.  

Yoga invites you to hit the reset button every time you step onto the mat.  The more familiar you become with your outermost physical existence, the more curious you are in exploring the subtle body.  The skillful yogin traverses all sheaths of consciousness like porous walls and to fluently straddle the various layers of self…from outside in and inside out.  If you have been regrouping in your fort, I urge you to eventually come out and play in the world.  This practice promises all sorts of adventures with your many selves, within limits and beyond!

 

Cat From The Mat
Aug/Sept 2013

Happy Interdependence Day!

Every July 4th, the US celebrates the notion of freedom.  As the country moved away FROM colonial confines, there emerged a new autonomy on what TO become.  In Sanskrit, the term “Svatantrya” can be defined as self-sovereignty.  The word presumes the license to choose.  And with choice comes responsibility.  “Sva” means self.  According to yogin Rod Stryker, “tantra is the application of any technique that moves you beyond your limitations and closer to the life you seek.”

This past Independence Day, I experienced a rather unexpected type of liberation.  While on an outbound flight (during which I had planned to do lots of backlogged work), my laptop would not start.  Upon arrival, I brought it in for servicing where it was sent off for at least a week.  Untethered from my laptop, at first I was beside myself.  I had tasks to do but could do nothing about it.  And then a huge wave of relief passed over me and my newfound freedom.  By unplugging, I got recharged and more plugged into the tactile world.  I finally had time to finish reading Marshall Rosenberg’s seminal book, Nonviolent Communication (NVC): A Language of Life.

American psychologist Rosenberg travels all over the world to help negotiate conflicts between nations like Palestine and Israel, inner city students and school administrations, married couples as well as individual inner dissension.  In a densely populated environment where many people interact daily, there are ample opportunities to practice communication skills.  Harmless opinions can lead to ideological clashes that can escalate into full-fledged fights.  When I witness these moments, I wonder how these events could be replayed, having had access to Rosenberg’s approach.  I am constantly applying this to my yoga practice in an effort to shift my own deeply engrained patterns.  Until you get a chance to read his acclaimed book, here are some of main concepts from the NVC highlights reel:

(1) Observation versus evaluation.  We humans are meaning-making machines.  We are taught to evaluate everything.  Like breathing, we might not even notice when doing it.  Judgment is an important discerning tool.  But when it hinders one’s growth, then it’s no longer helpful.  Just learning to recognize when I am evaluating rather than observing has been helpful.  In the true spirit of self-determination, I invite you to notice when you are doing one or the other.  If you notice the evaluation, just observe yourself rather than evaluating yourself further.  When we label ourselves as good or bad, it can lead to self-imposed limitations, which is the opposite of freedom.

(2) Accountability for thoughts as feelings.  Often we use the term “feel” superimposed over a thought.  This can lead to further disconnection from our true feelings. So when you next declare, “I feel (blank),” notice if it’s a feeling or a disguised thought propelling you further into the habit of self-admonishment.  When our thoughts are masked as “feelings,” it can hide the deep emotions beneath what we “ought to” or “have to” be doing.  Rosenberg says that the inherent violence of “should” creates an inner tyranny and a lack of choice.  When practicing asana, notice how you talk to yourself.  Are there poses that you should or must be able to do?  Instead, replace “I should” with “I choose to.”  This shift in verbiage can make or break your approach on and off of the mat.

(3) Anger can indicate unmet needs.  The root of conflict is deeply embedded in basic needs that have yet to be addressed.  When frustrated, sarcastic or blaming another for some situation, you might be displacing your self-punishment onto others.  Nobody is actually making you angry.  You are the key to diffuse that anger by focusing on yourself and your unfulfilled demands beneath it all.  This turns the table back on you, to practice sovereignty of self, warts and all.

 

 

The practice of skillfully traversing all perspectives is the quest of yoga. Can you understand (and not necessarily agree with) various points of view while still holding your own?  That is the true test of the self-rule that we all seek.  Celebrate freedom FROM your outmoded ways and TO your true autonomous you.  

 

Happy Interdependence Day!

 

 

 

Cat From The Mat

July 2013

Hello, Dalai!

This month, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama paid New Orleans a visit.  He addressed our general issues of violence by claiming that more education and affection starting in childhood breeds compassion.   A question he posed however has stuck with me: When in conflict, what if YOUR SURVIVAL was dependent on understanding the other person's perspective?  

As a yogin, I practice being subjective and objective at the same time.   I am not always successful in this endeavor, but I try.  I often play with sitting in my individual "seat" while witnessing myself in that seat, being both an insider and outsider.   The yoga invites all of us to marinate in more than one perspective.  However, if one's existence depends implicitly on appreciating the other person's "seat"…well, that's a different conversation in which to enter.  It's not a debate of who is right and wrong.  It's a dialogue that provides incentive to truly consider an unfamiliar point of view, not as your own but as equally valid.

One definition of compassion is "sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others."  Its Latin root word "compati" means to suffer with.  However, I do not view compassion as feeling sorry for another.  To me, that can imply judgment, of being "better than."   But acknowledging what fuels another's passion is how we arrive at com-passion…"com” being inclusive of all positions, sharing all sides to a story.

I am not talking about the blind or overly tolerant compassion involved in spiritual bypassing. I suggest in no way that we excuse hurtful behaviors or let people off the hook by claiming the "compassion" card.   Concurring with another's opinion is different than understanding it.  You can see how someone might feel a certain way without agreeing with him/her.  What if your own evolution as a person depends on recognizing another's outlook?  This requires empathy.  Incorporating opposing perspectives is easier said than done.  In fact, there is nothing passive about this practice. 

I was encouraged to hear the Dalai Lama's words that peace comes through taking action, rather than looking the other way.  Words are great but actions speak volumes.  Yoga is putting your aligned heart and head into skillful action, on the mat with asana, and off the mat within your community.   

Your body is a similar collective. It's one system that is made up of many parts working together for the whole organism's survival.  When one part is having conflict, other parts take action.   When you break your leg, the other limbs help redistribute the weight.  They may not agree with the task at hand, but there is a common desire to keep balance.  The more you understand how your own body works, the more compassion you cultivate within.  The more empathy you generate at home, the more apt you are at exercising that allowance towards others.  How you inhabit your own seat without being stuck in only one outlook, determines your view of reality.  

Conflict is real.  So how can you do it well, to avoid an escalation into violence?  To evolve as humans or as a community takes effort.   Making space for all perspectives is however the first active step.  Life can then be an entertaining adventure, where the rub of conflict becomes welcomed friction needed for growth.  Conflictive compassion, capisce?

 

Cat From The Mat

June 2013