Tuesday, January 31, 2012

How to Make Your Resolutions Stick, aka I Think I'm Catching On

"There's a push and another push, the necessary dyings, the ground crumbling that lets wildflowers come up." - Rumi

The last day of January seems fitting to talk once again about resolutions or intentions, whichever you prefer, since by this time, folks have either tucked them away for another day or are making some headway.  In my last post on looking back at the gifts received in the previous cycle, I indicated that while my resolution-setting process looked much the same as in previous years, the outcome was actually quite different.

Much to my surprise, instead of dutifully making a list of all the projects I’d like to embark on, both ways to “fix” myself and things I think I “should” be doing (both of which turn out to be forms of self-loathing in a not so brilliant disguise) in the quiet aftermath of contemplating the previous cycle, a new question arose from within.  What’s next?  What is emerging?  What qualities are wanting to be more fully expressed in me?  I could feel these starting to bubble up from deep inside weeks before as the next natural direction in which to turn my attention.  There was no question, it was obvious. And so what next arose, effortlessly, was a very short, precise list of practices to support the emergence of these nascent facets of my being. For me these qualities are softness, easefulness, receptivity, and even (especially) vulnerability.  And the supporting practices: staying at home more and making my home a place I enjoy settling into, making more eye contact with folks – really seeing and listening, and establishing a longer regular meditation practice.  Now, staying at home more (and the attendant disciplines of eating less, drinking less, and spending less) and a regular meditation practice have been on my resolution list for years, YEARS, which obviously means something wasn’t working.  And yet, all of a sudden something is working, and these things have been mostly easy and even joyful; I haven’t even had to set an alarm and I’m up for meditation practice!  I’m shocked, truly.  What I’ve also noticed one month in is that at the times that I’ve not quite done what I’m wanting to do, there’s been simple observation and recommitment, no guilt, no self-flagellation, no giving up until next year, no drama. Geez, what a freakin’ relief. 

And the practices are having their desired effect.  Even though I’m as busy (and by that I mean engaged) as I was before, it feels easeful most of the time.  I even ran into someone I don’t see often in the grocery store the other day and she commented on how soft and grounded I looked. Wow.

So, what has been the difference?  How has the shift occurred?  I stopped trying to fix from the outside in to conform to what I think I should be doing and started working from the inside out, listening to this bigger flow of energy that is moving in me, as me, for me.  For the Anusarans among you, this is precisely why Open to Grace precedes Muscular Energy in our alignment principles.  First, get soft, sensitive, receptive, then the efforts that you apply will be loving and serving of the highest, not hard and punitive, and they will be more skillful and therefore more effective. You can do more and better with less. But isn’t that first principle the hardest to really get and teach, since we are so used to doing?

Even though these what seem to me to be seismic shifts appear to have happened all of a sudden, overnight, they actually have happened all of a sudden, overnight, after sixteen years of practice.  It’s been the sixteen years of practice, of internal investigation of the physical body, and then the energy body, and then thoughts and habit patterns, that have set the stage to hear the true voice within, to become sensitive enough to even be able to ask the question “what is wanting to arise from within” and then to hear the answer. In his book, Meditations on the Mat, Rolf Gates says that “When you do yoga, your bad habits drop you.” And in Christina Sell’s recent book, My Body is a Temple, she says that yoga invites us to a timeline that we are not generally familiar with. “This will take some time,” in other words.  Yet the time it takes is not most effectively nor efficiently spent in trying to rip out everything we think is unseemly about us, but rather in being dedicated to showing up to any practice that invites you into relationship with yourself. Then, when you get even a glimpse of who it is you really are, your natural impulse will be to say “yes” and those things which prevent the sweetness within from emerging will begin to fall away.
Freedom by Zenos Frudakis
Brent Barnidge
I have always loved the image of the sculptor faced with a new block of his raw material.  They say that the material actually contains within it the complete work of art, and that their job then is to see that form and simply carve away all that is not that.  That is exactly what yoga does for us, over time, and sometimes all of a sudden - it removes all that which is not really us, the calcified structures of conditioned personality (arthritis of the psyche, anyone?), in the words of one of my teachers, Christopher Wallis.  If you’ve not checked out his work, you should! He describes the work in this way:  Give up the self-improvement project, ground down into your essence nature, and then "self-improvement" will happen out of love, in service to the highest, as an inside job, and the process will mostly be joyful.  I think I'm catching on.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Letting the Ocean Instruct, Part II: Receiving the Gift of Life

Despite my intentions of slowing down the pace a bit this year, so much has been going on! So, this is my new year’s blog, a few days late, and hopefully better for the percolating.
I am a person who really likes to mark time; I love the rhythm of the year, the celebration of holidays, the thresholds, the in-between times, the moments where you sense that something new is possible.  Every moment is a threshold moment, containing the possibility for revelation and change, truth be told, but it seems that certain moments present themselves more obviously as such.  And so, not surprisingly, I relish the end of the year, and even look forward to this contemplation and intention-setting time for weeks ahead.  It helps that I’m usually able to nestle in to this process at a cozy coffee shop in Chapel Hill, NC, outside of my normal routine.  This place has a back porch that meanders out into the woods and invites lingering.  It is lovely on a winter’s day.
Before rushing into listing all of the things I’d like to do differently in the year to come (which turns out isn’t what happened at all this year!), I spend ample time looking back on what gifts the waning year has given.  There have been many, there always are.  They have come in the form of friends and challenging folks, opportunities and roadblocks, teachers and students, beginnings, endings, changing forms, great music, glorious food, sunlight through magnificent live oaks, the ocean.  I have been able to actually receive all of these gifts of the previous year because of the supreme gift of yoga, and of Anusara yoga in particular, and all that has been received has brought me to a place of a deeper engagement with life, a deeper responsibility for the freedom that is mine, and more cohesion and steadiness to the powerful light that shines within.  For me, this time of reflection is crucial to actually fully receive what is being offered.  The nature of the universe is that it’s always offering itself to us, always, and always in more ways than we can possibly imagine.  Yoga has taught me how to pay attention and acknowledge more of what’s being offered than I had before, to see the old and familiar in new ways, to penetrate to the essence of the moment, at least some of the time!  And in that attention, acknowledgement, and appreciation that what is being presented is a precious gift, even if it does not seem so at first, I am actually able to receive even more fully what is being given, and in that space of full receptivity, I can make the most of those gifts and even grow them into something greater.  This is the yoga, to apprehend the threshold that exists in each moment, enter into that seam and make of it something only we can.
I was reminded of the lavish giving of this world and also of how easy it is not to pay any attention to it during our trip to the beach (see the last post) right before Christmas.  The town was mostly deserted, deliciously quiet, and we were staying in a condo with the balcony overlooking the ocean, overlooking the ocean!!  And still, I forgot.  There it is, this vast, magnificent sea, right outside my door, the waves always coming in and going out, at once dependable and wild, and for long stretches of time I get caught going in circles in my head about something or other, caught in busy-ness, until my dear teacher of a husband reminds me that there’s an ocean out there.  And, every time, as soon as I pay attention, my breathing deepens, my mind drops into my body, and I am myself again.  This experience is being presented to us all the time in the breath itself, which is giving us our aliveness unconditionally always.  There is no obligation to pay attention and we will continue being breathed. We don’t actually have to receive the gift, but we find that when we do, we’re not only alive, but lively, more of who it is we already are. 
If you’ve not already, I invite you to spend some moments acknowledging what you been given this year. What is that you are always being given?  If you are a yoga practitioner, what specifically have been the gifts of the practice for you?  There’s no obligation to receive them, but if you do, it’ll be worth it, I promise!  Enough for now…I leave you to linger on this side of the threshold before offering my experience of intentions for the new year.