Blog

Learning from your past self

Cleaning up the files on my computer I found the file of an old blog post A Ghost In The House which I wrote ages ago.  As I read it I thought: “Ya, that’s really true, I should do that!!”

Sometimes we fall back into our patterns, even when we know a different way to be.  Writing helps us keep a record of what we know to be true.  A journal is a great way to keep track of insights and new awarenesses that may be forgotten.  You could keep a journal either on paper or online.  You could even create a “journal” email address and send emails to yourself at that address. Then you can read them over later.  You can send yourself letters of encouragement or reminders of the ways you appreciate yourself and your life.

In that post I talk about letting go of my need to be right.  As I become more aware , I realize how much that need is a misdirected attempt at self-protection.  It’s based on the premise:  “If I’m right then I’m safe and my sense of myself is safe.  If I’m not right then my sense of self is threatened.” My bodymind responds to this threat as if it is real.  But it isn’t.

There are lots of situations that we interpret as threatening even though they actually have no ability to really harm us.  We go into a “fight or flight” response (or freeze or collapse/shut down) without recognizing that we’re responding as if we’re physically threatened.  What is really threatened is our sense of self.  If that can be allowed to be changeable, then we needn’t be so afraid of the opinions of others.

Beyond your opinions, beliefs, knowledge, titles and possessions, who are you really?  Are you curious about the essence beyond the armor?  What is your authentic self?

Change happens. Move with the cheese!

This has been an intense year for me.  A year of change and growth. A year of new discoveries.  I’ve learned things about myself that I didn’t imagine I could know.  And most of all, I’ve learned that fear often prevents us from doing things that are actually not as difficult as the fear leads us to believe.

We live in a constant state of change.  Our thoughts, emotions, sensations, and motivations are constantly shifting. We imagine that we can keep things the same, but this is an illusion.  Change is a constant. We grow older with each minute, we get hungry, we are happy, we become sad.  This is the nature of life in a human body.   The idea that we should always be happy, or always content or always productive – all these are belief systems that are contrary to the ways things actually are.
The book Who Moved My Cheese (also available on audio) is a great story/parable by Dr. Spencer Johnson that talks about how we deal with change.  It’s worth a listen/read if you don’t know it.  One of the lessons from the story is:  “If you do not change, you can become extinct.”  Another great one is:  “The quicker you let go of the old cheese, the sooner you can enjoy the new cheese.”
So if we accept that change is a constant, we have some choices to make in terms of how we relate to change.  I’ve learned a lot from my kids on this subject.  Left to their own instincts, little kids view the world with curiosity and with awe.  Every change is fascinating.  I’ve watched young children when faced with a new experience first pause, or even startle – perhaps a quick move away.  Even when there is some fear or hesitation, almost immediately they also become curious and try to move closer to investigate. They haven’t yet learned to rush to judgment first – they are still fascinated by each new thing.
What if we adults could have that same childlike curiosity and wonder about our own changes.  In fact I think that’s what’s gotten me through this year with some measure of peace.  I’m learning to be curious about my life experiences rather than judgmental.  It’s not always simple or easy.  In fact sometimes it’s downright hard.  But even the difficult times can be observed as interesting – even fascinating.  And when you’re fascinated by what’s happening, change becomes a collaborative process – an adventure even, rather than something that’s imposed or unwelcome.  The question becomes not, “How can I stop this change from happening to me?” but “How can I be with this change so that I grow from the process?” 
In the process, a healthy dose of self-compassion and humor also helps! So “Savor the adventure and enjoy the taste of new cheese!”

Breathing to Live

Hope that you are well and enjoying this moment of Life!

I’ve been fascinated with the breath lately. It’s pretty amazing that the thing we need most to survive (air) is abundant and free! We walk around in it!  Your breath can have a calming effect on your nervous system, and yet constrictive breathing patterns can be agitating to the mind. That’s one of the reasons yoga is so focused on breath. Free your breath and you free your spirit!

Our bodies are such fascinating instruments, and so wonderfully interconnected. Amazing, really. Did you know that tension in your jaw can affect the health of your pelvis? And that chronic tension in your shoulders can be an indication of constrictive breathing habits?

I do breath awareness work in my Yoga for Pelvic Health classes and with many of my psychotherapy clients, simply because the breath influences so much about the body and mind. Read on below for more tips about breathing. And don’t worry! If you’re alive and reading this, then there’s a good change your body is breathing well enough right now! And with compassionate curiosity you can develop awareness of how you could free your breath even more!

Quick Facts about Breath and Breathing 

I’ve become really fascinated by the breath and the mechanisms of breathing lately, and I’m especially interested in the ways that the breath affects our nervous systems, and therefore our state of anxiety or relaxation. Here are some facts that might surprise you, or might be enlightening!

  • When you’re relaxed your breath is usually slower & deeper, but not forced or strained
  • When you’re agitated or afraid, your breath is faster and usually higher in your chest
  • Your breath should change depending on the context – if you’re running, you need to be breathing faster and deeper than if you’re sitting and reading this email
  • More oxygen is not necessarily a good thing. You need a balance of oxygen to carbon dioxide in order for your body to function well (yes, you need carbon dioxide!) Too much oxygen can be as problematic as not enough, and breathing too hard or too fast all the time can alter your balance of oxygen to carbon dioxide actually causing anxiety & other problematic symptoms
  • Your lungs span the area from just below your collar bones to your lower ribs (there are no lungs in your belly/abdomen).
  • Think of breathing in through your nose and down into your lower ribs
  • The belly moves out as a result of the downward movement of your diaphragm – a muscle that connects to your lower ribs & spine – when you inhale. Forcing the belly out isn’t a good idea and doesn’t help you breathe better.
  • Your lower ribs should move when you breathe. When you’re exerting yourself, your upper chest should also move to allow more space for your lungs to fill. Your shoulder muscles generally shouldn’t be used for breathing
  • Allowing ribs and belly to move when you breathe provides for a freer breath and a more balanced & content nervous system.
  • Tucking your pelvis under (squeezing buttocks in) and holding your belly in wreaks havoc with your breathing and isn’t good for your spine (or your pelvis). Whether sitting or standing, the pelvis should optimally be in a neutral position with a curve at your lower (lumbar) spine
  • A “deep” breath doesn’t mean forcing the breath into your belly or taking a big, loud breath. It’s best for the breath to move quietly, freely & deeply into the body at a relatively relaxed rate – depending, of course, on what your body is doing. 
  • The average number of breaths per minute is 15-20 for adults.

Any of this sound new or contrary to what you learned in yoga class? It’s been an education for me to study the breath more deeply too & I’ve had to relearn some things! It’s also been wonderful to observe how psychotherapy clients and yoga students have benefited from learning more about how their breath works.

Please feel free to leave a comment to this post and let me know what you think…

New possibilities for compassionate transformation

Happy New Year!

I love this time of year.  It feels so fresh with possibilities.  But that’s an illusion, though, right?  Every moment of every day is fresh with possibilities.  Yet maybe it’s the collective agreement about the specialness of the New Year that provides an extra wave of optimism that we can use to feed our own New Year resolutions.  I’ve also noticed a growing wave of cynicism this year.  There seems to be an expectation that no matter what your resolution is, it won’t take long for it to fade away.  Again, that may be a collective tendency, but why assume that will be the case for you? We don’t have to be victims of the collective influence.

When we choose to do something different with ourselves, we almost always move away from a comfort zone and toward something we have to learn to be comfortable with.  New possibilities can trigger the fears that live below the surface of our minds. Years ago I was talking with my husband about an issue I had been struggling with for a long time.  “Why can’t I just let this go?” I wondered.  He offered (and I accepted!) the possibility that it was because I had held on to this way of thinking for so long and it had become a part of me.  He suggested that it was because I didn’t know who I would be without it that I chose to hold on.
Sometimes we hold on to the most uncomfortable aspects of ourselves because they are familiar.  We are afraid of who we might be without them – afraid of the unknown and unfamiliar.  Fear is a powerful motivator – you only have to look around at the political and economic climate to see evidence of that.  Fear sells a lot of products, garners a lot of votes and keeps the status quo in place. Even the prophecy around 2012 is feeding into that collective fear which affects us all and yet goes largely unacknowledged. Fear can also warn us of impending danger, or be an indicator that we’re growing out of our comfort zone – it’s all about how we choose to see it.
I believe that we each are integral parts of the collective that is humanity.  Goswami Kriyananda writes that we are each “microcosms of the macrocosm.”  From this perspective, when one of us makes a change to our way of thinking or being in the world, it creates a ripple that affects the whole collective.   
So what if we were to create ripples or even waves of change this year by acknowledging and stepping out of the vortex of the collective fear of gloom & doom through the recognition of our individual fears?  I don’t mean “fighting” or “pushing through” or “ignoring” your fear. Just being willing to see it with compassion is itself a revolutionary act of courage.

Sometimes just seeing clearly is all it takes to recognize anticipation of the new versus an actual threat to well-being.  Imagine if, as a collective, humanity could recognize change as a marvelous potentiality versus impending doom & destruction.  In a comment to a post about Fear as Opportunity that I wrote in 2010, a reader named Christine offered a wonderful mantra she uses when faced with fear:  “I am willing to dance with you.”  I think that just about sums it up.

So how do we cultivate this capacity to view ourselves compassionately?  I offer below a version of the Buddhist Metta meditation that has helped me to cultivate self-compassion.  It has helped me in the process of acknowledging, and in many cases moving beyond, the many fears that held me hostage for years.  
Have I overcome all my fears?  Heck no!  I don’t even know if I will, and that’s actually okay with me.  What I do know is that seeing a little more clearly and a little more compassionately helps me to be curious, rather than contemptuous about myself and this mysterious, fascinating, sometimes-seriously-hard-to-deal-with adventure we call Life. 

So here are the 4 phrases that I use for my Metta practice:

May I be filled with loving-kindness,
May I be peaceful and at ease,
May I be free from suffering and self-deception,
May I be healthy and happy, and free from fear.
The traditional phrases are:  May I be safe, May I be happy, May I be healthy, May I live with ease.  (I know, a lot less words!)  For more information on Metta, Sharon Salzberg, a well-known Buddhist teacher, talks about the traditional practice in which you also offer these phrases for others.  Personally, I like to do “drive-by Metta” silently for strangers I pass on the street, for the patients in passing ambulances and even for politicians & acerbic TV talk-show hosts!  It provides me a small way to transform a wave of apprehension, anxiety or fear into an act of possibility.
Namaste, and may 2012 bring you peace, curiosity, compassionate self-awareness and ease of well-being!!

We already have Peace on Earth

In my yoga classes and with therapy clients and meditation students, I often lead a mindfulness exercise where we notice discomfort or tension in the body and then also notice where there is ease, relaxation or comfort.  It usually comes as a surprise that both tension and ease can exist in the body at the same time – what you experience is determined by where you place your focus.  This works the same with emotions – we can have multiple seemingly opposite and often conflicting emotions happening at the same time.  What you experience is determined by where you choose to focus. 
This all might come as news to some of us.  Yes, we have multiple emotions and sensory experiences happening at once, but we usually only focus on one – and usually it’s the more challenging or unpleasant one.  The idea that I could change my experience based on what I focus on actually irritated me when I first heard it because it seemed to be saying that I should ignore the feelings I was having.  Actually, rather than ignoring what you’re feeling, the ability to notice what else you’re feeling can open up a wider range of experiences and possibilities.  The more we notice, the more the experience expands. For example, noticing that there is also comfort or ease in the body often has the effect of alleviating some of the tension!
I led this exercise for a group yesterday, and then this morning in my meditation I had a thought:  Maybe what we need to do is not keep working for Peace on Earth as some future ideal that seems only vaguely possible.  Maybe what we actually need to do is to open to the Peace that is actually already on Earth.  Noticing the softness of your breath, the gentleness of the wind, the smile and coos of a baby, the stillness or soft movement of the lake, the softness of a loved-one’s embrace, the gentle  falling of the snow or grass swaying in the breeze, the moments of quiet.  Accessing the feeling of peace in your body – the felt experience of peace – you can perhaps also begin to experience this even in the midst of chaos.   You can begin to notice the peace of the Earth underneath us and the peace in the air all around us – even when there is also anxiety and hurry and fear.  The more we can notice the Peace that is already here, the more it can expand.
This holiday season, may you experience the Peace that is already here on Earth.
Namste!

Women’s Pelvic Health: If it’s in your body, it’s not “all in your head”

Warning:  This post contains discussions of “girl stuff.”  You’ve been warned!

I was teaching a Yoga for Women’s Pelvic Health workshop this weekend and that always gets me on my soap-box.  One of the things pelvic health educators encourage women to do is talk to each other about their pelvic health issues.  So now I’m bringing the soap box to this blog! Self-disclosure is always a little risky, but I think it’s worth it if I can help just one person to realize she’s not alone.  There’s so much suffering we deal with silently & alone as women that doesn’t need to be.
About 15 years ago I was diagnosed with a pelvic pain disorder.  I got lucky because my nurse practitioner at the time was up to date on her female pelvic health and diagnosed me right away.  That was as far as it went, however, because there was no known cause, no treatment, no cure.  I say that I got lucky because many women with pelvic disorders spend a lot of time going from doctor to doctor being told “It’s all in your head” as if mental/emotional issues that may in fact be affecting their physiology aren’t “real.”  The fallout of that attitude is that sometimes these issues, which can be contributing factors in pelvic pain, are rejected in favor of finding a “valid” physiological cause. 
The ancient yogis knew that the mind and body aren’t separate. It’s not likely that you’ve taken your body anywhere recently and left your mind behind.  (Okay, I know some people will try to argue that point!).  It’s often stated in body-centered psychotherapy circles that “every thought has a corresponding sensation.”  I was one of the speakers at a recent seminar on Pelvic & Abdominal Health and Trauma sponsored by Rush University Medical Center’s Program for Abdominal and Pelvic Health.  It was thrilling to hear physicians acknowledge the ways traumatic life experiences can affect the body and advocate for a multi-modal approach to pelvic healthcare that includes addressing psychological factors.  Times are a-changin’!
From the yogic perspective, the first chakra at the base of the pelvis develops during the 1st year of life, and affects our sense of safety and our ability to really be present in the world.  The second chakra at the pubic bone develops between 6 -18months and  affects creativity and sexuality.  The 3rd chakra at the solar plexus develops between 18 months and 4 years and affects our self-esteem & sense of our own power.  In a culture where women are objectified, sexualized, shamed and encouraged to be less than we are, is it surprising that we might experience dysfunction in these areas?  According to oneinfour.com, 1 in 4 college women report experiencing some kind of sexual assault since age 14.  So that number doesn’t includes girls assaulted/abused before age 14.  According to webmd, “Doctors don’t really understand all the things that can cause chronic pelvic pain. So sometimes, even with a lot of testing, the cause remains a mystery.”  Hmmm.
Many women are hypertonic in the pelvic floor – muscles gripping too tightly.  I call it “holding on for dear life.” This could happen as the result of sexual trauma but not necessarily so.  Bodies develop habits because they seem to work.   Tightening the pelvic floor may give a sense of control or safety that works for the short term but becomes problematic over the long term.  Some women are hypotonic – not enough strength in the muscles at the base of the body. Usually there is a lack of awareness and either state represents a weak base of support.  Strengthening, stretching & relaxing the muscles of the pelvis (including the “core” transversus abdominis muscles and the pelvic floor muscles) can have a definite impact on one’s ability to feel grounded, optimistic, creative and confident.
There’s a fabulous book called The V Book that is subtitled “Your private parts shouldn’t be private to you.”  We could take some of the mystery out of our own pelvic health as women just by becoming more aware.  There’s another great book called “The Female Pelvis” that gives lots of exercises for developing awareness.  
Overcoming vulvodynia and dealing with issues during pregnancy & delivery through mindfulness, yoga and physical therapy helped me realize that I’m one of those hypertonic folks.  Somewhere in life my body figured out that when the going gets tough it’s time to hold on for dear life. Now that I’m aware of the habit, I can consciously relax muscles that shouldn’t be chronically tense.  Is that “all in my head?” Um… No.  It’s definitely in my body too.   Mind/body connection?  I’d say so.
For more information on women’s pelvic health check out:  Women’s Health Foundation, Rush University Program for Abdominal and Pelvic Health
For more information on yoga for pelvic health check out:  Leslie Howard
For female-centered affordable gynecological & mental health care check out:  Chicago Women’s Health Center 

Pain happens

Hello again!  Long time no post.  There have been lots of changes happening for me recently, and for many people this is a time of change and transition.  Just since this summer 4 people I know have moved out of Chicago with their families.  A quick glance at the news will reveal that this is indeed a transformative time for humanity as a whole.

Change can be exciting and it can be challenging.  In fact any process of transformation can involve both of those states – and sometimes both at once!

As humans we are often surprised when change happens, and when it is difficult.  There is a mistaken notion that if we shouldn’t have to feel pain or discomfort supported by advertising and the media. Yet by virtue of being human, pain (in all its varying degrees) is an inevitable part of our experience.  Sometimes the pain is emotional and sometimes it is physical. Either type becomes suffering through our reaction to it.  When we resist, deny or reject difficult experiences, they tend to magnify – the pain insists on being felt.

One of the biggest sources of pain, I think, is this idea that what we are experiencing “should not be.”  We use a lot of energy resisting what is already here.  So, what is the solution?  One of my favorite yoga teachers, Roger Eischens used to say “It is what it is.”  I heard this phrase from him when he was dealing with the brain cancer that eventually caused his death. That simple phrase has saved me a lot of emotional wrangling.  When I feel myself getting caught up in the debate of “this shouldn’t be happening to me” I hear Roger’s voice “It is what it is” and I surrender to the fact of the matter. Marsha Linnehan, who developed Dialectical Behavior Therapy while working with severely suicidal patients describes the concept of “Radical Acceptance” – essentially a letting go of resistance to the truth of what is here.

A great deal of anxiety and stress can be released through this process of accepting what is.  This doesn’t imply approval or complacency, but a simple act of acknowledging and letting go of resistance to the moment.  I sense this as a physical shift – a visceral “letting go” of inner tension that I usually didn’t even realize I was holding. A spontaneous full breath usually follows.  Sometimes I have to remind myself to do this multiple times as the tension creeps up again.  And sometimes what is here really hurts and I get to feel the hurt without all the added tension created by the thought that the hurt shouldn’t be here.  This process can take a long time, depending on the situation, and in those times, I try to notice the degrees of pain – acknowledging moments of relief – or moments of “less than” the pain or difficulty that was here before. By being willing to be with what is, I get back into the flow of life and inevitably, the hurt moves through and I come out on the other side. 

A Spot of Sunshine

I was driving up McCormick Blvd yesterday afternoon and like so many other days in Chicago it was overcast for the 2nd or 3rd day in a row.  Suddenly there appeared a spot of sunlight over the street, which stayed long enough for us to drive through it.  It felt like such a treat – a spot of sunlight on a cloudy day – and if I hadn’t been paying attention, we would have missed it altogether.   How often is life like that?  When things seem bleak, can we pay attention and take pleasure in those little spots of sunshine?  I like to call those little miracles – like not being able to find my keys and then having a sudden intuition or looking in just the right direction to see them in an otherwise hidden spot, or coming to an intersection to make a turn and having someone stop right away to let me in.  I try to notice and give thanks for these little blessings and then they begin to add up, giving the impression that my life is full of blessings – and it is – except if I wasn’t paying attention to these “little” things, I probably wouldn’t notice how many there are! I’m convinced that the more you notice the more there are – kindof like positive reinforcement to the Universe :-).

Eventually the sun broke through the clouds and today is a gorgeously sunny day here in Chi.  As we celebrate the sun I also send out prayers for those in Japan that their recovery from the devastation will be swift and certain. My heart aches in compassion for their suffering and at the same time I am grateful to be safe, and dry and warm.

Namaste!

What do you want?

This year has been the year of fabulous yoga training for me.  In January I went to Tucson for the Level I training in Amy Weintraub’s LifeForce Yoga which specializes in yoga for managing anxiety and depression.  The workshop was held at a Catholic retreat center high up on a mountain with a fabulous view of Tucson.  We saw the sun rise every morning as we chanted the Gayatri mantra and on the last night were blessed with the rising of the full moon in all her luminous glory. 
Even though I’m an island girl, the deserts of the Southwest are magical to me, and in Tucson the desert is dotted with majestic Saguaro cactuses, which at 6ft tall are over 100 years old!  Suffice it to say the whole experience was transformative.  It was a great opportunity to “get away” and be somewhere else – to slow the pace of life and have an opportunity to be in silence with myself when I wanted, but also to be in joyful communion with others.

One of the things that Amy taught at the workshop was sankalpa.  A sankalpa is an intention.  You can create an intention for your class, for your day, for your stage of life.  You come into this life with a sankalpa – your life purpose.  Your sankalpa is essentially what you want to manifest.  But most often, when we are asked what we want, we respond by highlighting we don’t want!  For example:  “I want to not be so stressed,” or “I want to stop being so disorganized.”  We tend to focus on what we don’t want, rather than clarifying what it is we want to manifest.  In a way, it can be scary to imagine what you do want – what if you don’t believe you deserve it?  Or what if the current circumstances of your life don’t seem conducive to your dream manifesting itself?  Some of us were taught not to hope for too much, so we don’t end up disappointed.  Kriyanandaji, the head of the Temple of Kriya Yoga, often repeats the phrase:  Aham Brahmasmi.  He translates this to mean:  “I am the creative principle.” In other words, I have the power to create my life.  If you have the power to create your life, then why not direct your energies toward what you want, rather than what you don’t want?

So, what do you want?  Amy recommends that you bring your sankalpa into the present:  “Peace flows through me now.”  I’ve spent a lot of my life being tired and focusing on how I don’t want to be tired anymore.  So instead I created the sankalpa:  “Good health and vitality flow through me now.”  Guess what?  When I say it I feel better, clearer, more energized, and a smile comes to my face!  Of course just stating an intention starts the energy flowing, but you must follow intention with action to manifest your heart’s desire.  It is also beneficial to courageously, mindfully and gently excavate the underlying subconscious beliefs that might be sabotaging your best efforts.

The second fabulous teaching was last weekend right here in Downer’s Grove.  Rod Stryker also taught about sankalpa and he mentioned another term that I wasn’t familiar with until recently: vikapla.  Rod described sankalpa as the intention linked to your heart – that which you want, your reason for being – and vikalpa as that belief or desire which separates you from your purpose.  Whichever one of these is strongest determines your destiny.  A lack of fulfillment in life, Rod taught, is based on not living your purpose.  And if you’re not living your purpose, it might mean that your vikalpa is stronger than your sankalpa in terms of your desire for it to manifest.

I think we all get glimpses of our vikalpa.  You might feel yourself recoil when presented with a fabulous opportunity and then notice yourself coming up with reasons why it’s not the right thing or why you can’t do it.  Or you might start to clarify your sankalpa and find that your mind comes up with all kinds of reasons why it can’t happen.  Mindfulness helps us to notice these moments and look at them clearly, examining our deeper motivations, rather than running away.  What is manifesting in your life right now?  What might be the underlying belief or desire that has brought these circumstances into being?  (Rod Stryker has a book about these teachings coming out in a few months.  If you read it before I do, let me know what you think…)

So in two separate trainings this year already, I’ve been presented with the teaching on sankalpa.  Maybe its time to really get clear.  What do I want and do I dare to dream that the desire of my heart could become the life of my dreams?  I’ve seen plenty of evidence so far that your entire life can shift based on the strength of your desire.  If you had told me 10 years ago that I’d be a yoga instructor, energy worker and therapist I would have laughed.  I was a committed database manager with a love of logic, data and computers.  I promise you that life can change in a heartbeat. Aham brahmasmi – you are the creative principle.  The first step to putting that power to work is to get clear on what you want.

If you embark on this exploration, I’d love to hear about your sankalpa!
Namaste!

Loving Support

I just completed a wonderful 4-week meditation workshop, and in their feedback the participants mentioned how good it was to be able to share the journey into meditation with others who were understanding, kind and supportive.  Even in such a short time, (an hour and a half once per week for four weeks), there was a sense of community and shared intention that provided support for all those who were in it.  Meditation in many ways is a seeking into oneself, and yet this inner seeking is easier to do with the support of others.  

Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about this sense of community and how we connect and separate ourselves from each other.  From a yogic point of view, the sense of an individual self is an illusion.  “No man is an island” was an old tune I used to hear my parents listen to as a child.  “No man is an island, no man stands alone. Each man’s joy is joy to me, each man’s grief is my own.  We need one another, so I will defend each man as my brother, each man as my friend.”  (Of course as a kid I wondered “what about the women?” but in the interest of the deeper meaning, we’ll let that pass for now!) 

All the world religions teach that we should care for our fellow human.  Yet watching the political news over the last few years, it has become so evident that we don’t, as a culture, live by that maxim.  In fact, our culture seems to be becoming more and more polarized into “us” and “them” and all based on ideas, thoughts and opinions, and the fear of these being somehow threatened and destroyed.  We identify with these opinions and beliefs and therefore when they are threatened, it is perceived as a threat to our very identity.

Even as yogis we are not immune from “separation-thinking.”  How often do yoga practitioners defend their chosen style of yoga as “better” or “more effective” than another?  Whenever we identify with a practice, an idea, or a way of being (what the yogis call ahamkara), we run the risk of thinking that we are that.  What follows is the assumption that “I am right” from which the logical premise that seems to follow is “they are wrong.”  Yet with billions of people on the planet, all with their own collection of interests, constitutional predispositions and life experiences, how is it possible that there could only be one way for us all to be, think or believe?  

 From a yogic perspective, we are not separate – we are manifestations of the same stuff – awareness, life force, whatever you choose to call it – we are manifestations of the substance of life which is One and yet each of us is a unique expression of that One.  Goswami Kriyandanda describes each person as a microcosm of the whole. Just imagine – you are a hologram of the whole Universe!

 
We are all the same stuff – just packaged in a different way, yet we spend so much time, energy and effort feeding the illusion of our separateness – this sense of “I, me and mine” that yogis call asmita.  The thing about feeding our sense of separation is that it also creates a sense of isolation and brings very little satisfaction.  When we build walls to keep ourselves, our opinions and our beliefs protected and safe, those walls also keep others out.  Those walls prevent us from hearing other people, from having sympathy and understanding, from recognizing in “others” not only our own brilliance, but also our own shadow.  And if we are too afraid or too ashamed to see ourselves clearly, we run the risk of projecting our own disfunction on to others and condemning them for it.   On the other hand, if we are able to really see ourselves with compassion, and even with humor, we can begin to free ourselves and to break down the walls that separate us from each other.
I remember the first time, as a teenager, that I realized that I wasn’t the only one with a particular trait of which I had been ashamed.  I had perceived this trait (can’t even remember what it was now) as a personal failing and when I found out someone else had it too, it was amazing!  I remember the sense of relief and freedom when I realized I was “only human.”  I could let go of that burden and stop blaming myself for not being perfect.  Being in a supportive community provides the opportunity to see yourself in others and be accepted as you are.  But you can do that for yourself and for others at any time if you think of all of humanity (and even all sentient beings) as your “community.”  Meditation is one way practice seeing yourself with gentleness and compassion, accepting yourself as you are – hang-ups, past life history, neurosis, judgments, opinions and all.  It all begins with the choice to accept ourselves as we are, with love & a healthy dose of light-heartedness.  Then we can create and/or find supportive communities where we can share this loving acceptance with others. 
What if we were to just expect loving support from our communities and especially from ourselves?  I wonder what would happen then?
In loving acceptance of you, just as you are…

Namaste.