Cat From The Mat

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

You Have Arrived

In the fast-moving pace of our social media-filled world, it’s virtually challenging to exist in the present moment. And yet every time you receive a tweet, Facebook message, text or email, what is being asked of you is the valuable commodity of your PRESENCE.  Has yoga fallen victim to being a fast food commodity or is it still a practice that nourishes you?  That answer depends on how you step on to your mat and into your life.

I tend to operate at an inherently rapid pace, embedded in a participatory life.  A manifestor, I thrive being active, whether weaving a new perspective into a yoga workshop or on-location directing a non-fiction program.  The peril of being a go-getter, however, is that I often do not see the obvious.  When I move at such a fast pace, I become desensitized.  The desire to maximize life and not miss a thing, might be just what prevents quality.    Might you also be speeding through life?

My need to reach to any anticipated destination can often overshadow the journey.  When rushing on my Vespa scooter to go to yoga (to be ironically in the present moment), I miss the signs.  So when I came across this one the other day, I took note.  The sign declares, “Slow down, you have arrived.”  

Can you slow down?  The adage “Live in the present moment” can sound trite.  Of course, you only live in the moment.  How can you be anywhere else?  But the present is also where the past and the future meet.  Imagine that every instant is a moving seam between these two contrary complements, traveling through time.  Negating or whitewashing the past proves to be problematic if you are repeating the same patterns over and over, wondering why you find yourself in the same predicament, yet again.  If you only reside in the unforeseen future, then you get paralyzed by the worry of “what could be” or overwhelmed with “what might happen.”  By straddling both your informed past simultaneously as your envisioned future, then you are tasting the potency of the powerful present.  Life happens here.

But have you “arrived”?  When will you know when you are a success?  If you are always on the move, then perhaps you may never get there.  So where are you going?  The answer to this boils down to both motivating and hindering expectations.  The yoga practice invites you to be “here” and “there” concurrently.  Living the life you want and wanting the life you are living.  We do this by cultivating awareness.  Success is measured by noticing (always with a sense of humor) when you are not aware, rather than beating yourself up when you not presently getting the desired results. That sensitivity comes from slowing down in order to see more, feel more, and be more. 

I admit.  I have a hard time letting go of the past.  I also plan so far in the future for things that might never come to fruition.  When I slow down within my jam-packed schedule and take time to pause, I notice how splintered I have become.  Whether practicing asana, sitting for meditation, or trying to be calm while caught in traffic or in a heated debate, I find refuge in the gaps between my breaths…the bridge between the previous exhale and the next inhale.  This grants me tangible access to the current moment, which can be an elusive and on-going quest.  This is when I stop being stuck…in my past criticism, in my future angst....and am successfully present.

So what’s the rush?  Slow down, arrive, and welcome yourself.  What a relief to have been here the whole time!


Cat From the Mat

May 1, 2013

Sculpt Your Own Path

"Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail."
-Ralph Waldo Emerson

This February 14 will mark one year since I resigned my licensing agreement with Anusara, Inc.  It was an empowering and clear day in the middle of the mayhem in Miami when I made my choice to no longer promote my offerings under the brand of Anusara Yoga.  In fact, it was the best Valentine's Day gift I have ever given myself!  (Second runner-up was when I graduated to a big girl bed in my 30's after a decade of an aging futon.)

Thinking that I was operating within an egalitarian horizontal model (where the seat of the teacher shifts from person to person), I found myself practicing deference, however still within a vertical hierarchy.  The guru-based top-down model is antiquated at best.  I define the term "guru" as a principle, not as a person.  A guru is anything that helps you recognize your inherent greatness.  Listening to my dignified teacher within, I chose to resign from old-school Anusara Yoga (to which I had been committed for over a decade) and to honor my own path.
This though begs the question: if you are surrounded by so many guiding voices, then what does YOUR inner teacher truly sound like?  Extrinsic voices are only effective if they guide you back home to listen and believe in yourself, especially if it differs from the status quo.  The tools you need already reside within.  Intrinsic experiential wisdom is the loudest and clearest voice of all.
ImageAs we segue from the Chinese Year of the Water Dragon to that of the Water Snake, we shift from the tumultuous properties of water to a more reflective, fluid nature of the serpent.  A snake sheds its skin, letting go of that which is no longer needed to prepare for the newest version of itself.  Every time we practice yoga, we are shedding light on that which needs to shift and be healed so that we evolve in every moment.  This year offers immense potential of creative expression and subtle gestation that may take some time to unveil.  Trust in your intuitive abilities, as a way to honor your discerning inner guru.
Happy Chinese New Year, Happy Mardi Gras, and Happy Valentine's Day!
Cat McCarthy
February 2013