Cat From The Mat

Should-ing All Over Myself

  |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 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.


Cat From The Mat

September 2014

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: or


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 From The Mat

July 2014