Most of us are pretty happy with some areas of our lives, and feel that others…need work. Do you have something that you feel a little out of control around? Maybe it’s your weight, or your eating, or your work, or your consistent poor choices in relationships. Well, you don’t HAVE to feel like a victim to them. You can make different choices. Life can be different. Really!
I always think about the Yoga Sutras when I am mulling over this topic. I mull over it a lot, usually when I haven’t been my best self ever. That post was at a time when I was on the cusp of huge transformation and I could have made two choices: one would have caused a great deal of pain, and I would still be dealing with the emotional consequences now. I didn’t choose that. I chose something different, kinder and more honorable.
I only managed to do this because I had tools, and I had been practicing using them for some years.
What tools, you ask? Well, since you insist, I shall tell you.
Tapah svadhyaya isvarapranidhanani kriya yogah (Yoga Sutra 2.1)
Tapas (or tapah) is usually translated as discipline or austerity but its literal meaning is HEAT. Burning enthusiasm, fire in the belly, strong desire. Keep reading, I will get to the point soon.
Svadhyaya is self study: casting light on ourselves by whatever means works: therapy is good for seeing unconscious patterns. So is kinesiology. So is simple, honest, unjudgemental self-reflection. It’s very important to be able to look at yourself with compassion though, otherwise you are just going to get angry or frustrated with yourself and then it’s impossible to learn anything useful.
Isvarapranidhana is surrender. Mark Whitwell is fond of saying ‘Surrender to the floor. That is enough.’ Basically, my favourite way to look at this is that you yield into the present, you admit that there are many things you cannot control, and you sit with the feelings this brings up. Surrender doesn’t have to be giving up, it can just be a softening into what IS, instead of a fighting against it or a constant desire for things to be other than they are. I have talked about this at length, I know, but it really bears repeating.
Kriya is a cleansing practice.
So here’s my take on this sutra*, as great advice for living from those old dead guys:
If you approach life with burning enthusiasm, openness to learning everything possible about yourself and how you are in the world, and the ability to accept things as they are, you will be cleansed.
Cleansed of old, unuseful patterns. And that, friends, that makes way for change. It’s a practice.
When we know ourselves very very well, both the good and the not-so-pretty, we know how we will react in a given situation. And if that reaction isn’t a useful one, we now have the opportunity to make a different choice. Because once something is conscious, it no longer has the same power over you. That’s half the work of psychotherapy: getting us to see our patterns. I know therapists can often see them immediately, but their task is getting people to see for themselves, to shine a light on their interior lives.
Once you have a deeper understanding of yourself, coupled with compassion and enthusiasm for the work of living, you understand better that all of life moves in cycles: sometimes, you will weigh more than others. That’s ok. Sometimes, you may have more or less money. That’s also ok. It’s basically all ok, if you can soften into it a little, kind of ride the waves.
And life becomes an adventure, rather than something to be feared. I was chatting to a friend today and said to her that when I look back on the last year, many of my decisions have been klesha-ridden**. In plain English, what I mean is that divorced ladies should probably not be allowed to do anything in the world until their heads have stopped spinning a bit. Her reply was so wise, and inspired this post. She basically said that I haven’t left a trail of destruction in my wake and that I am in a better place, emotionally, than I was a year ago, so on balance, it all worked out fine. And to go live in a cave if I wanted to avoid chaos, because all of life is chaos. Well, I have nothing more to say. She just said it all.
*Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra’s for those not in the know.
** Explanation of Kleshas here, if you didn’t already click the link above.
- Making a Yoga DVD: Lessons in non-attachment (yogawithnadine.com)
- Feeling Beauty (yogawithnadine.com)