Extra-long, extra-wide, extra-sticky deluxe yoga mat....check! Mala beads...check! Meditation bench...check! Designer yoga shorts...check! First-name basis with yoga instructor...check! (Luchadora mask and championship belt optional!) Why then am I not ZEN YET? I mean really? If you're like me...you've put in the time. My practice started back in earnest in 1999. I've been teaching steadily since 2007. I offer free classes for Veterans. I donate money to several different non-profits that work with Veterans. I donate mala beads. I meditate pretty damn regularly. I have a daily list of mantras to read. I write about topics like compassion, peace, and hope. I even wrote and recorded a yoga nidra this past year. So why then am I (and maybe you) not ZEN yet?
First of all...if you totally agreed with everything you just read...and really felt a connection...go back and count how many times you see the word "I!"
Truth be told, it was a real tough year for me. It was my first full-year of retirement from the Air Force. I went from being in charge of a large group and responsible for a rather important mission to a stay at home dad. Don't get me wrong, this is equally challenging, but the scale of my responsibilities were greatly reduced. I have a special needs son who has been home-bound for well over a year. He has debilitating OCD and autism. I no longer am able to travel and work with Veterans and fellow yoga teachers like I use to. I could easily add to this list, but I think you understand where I am going. LIFE HAPPENS...and that is when YOGA helps!
Several months ago I was talking with Rolf Gates about my meditation practice. I told him that I felt my Transcendental Meditation mantra was no longer working for me. He confessed not to know much about TM, but asked me if I was using my meditation practice and mantra as a pill, or as a way of life? DAMN! Was I sitting because my phone reminded me it was time to sit? Have I been meditating because that is what yoga instructors do? Was I only putting a band-aid on my wounds?
"Things don't come up when you want to fix things, they come up when you're ready to fix them...when you have enough bandwidth to focus." - Rolf Gates
In Chip Hartranft's translation of the Yoga Sutra, he suggests that Pantanjali believes most physical and mental actions arise from a fundamental misunderstanding of reality and therefore entail suffering. So...if you're like me and are suffering, most likely it is because of a 'fundamental misunderstanding of reality.' How then do we stop taking the pill of yoga?
Look no further than the Yoga Sutra!
"And if you wish to stop these obstacles, there is one, and only one crucial practice for doing so. You must use COMPASSION." 1.32-1.33
Yoga and meditation have the ability to work in two ways. From the outside in and from the inside out. When you use them as a band-aid, you are only able to work from the outside in. While this is still better than nothing at all, you're not truly practicing compassion. In order to be compassionate, we have to practice self-care. We have to love ourselves enough to engage in a loving and caring relationship with ourselves. Taking a daily pill will only temporarily provide comfort. However, a daily practice of 'yoking' (yoga and meditation) will create the opportuinty for compassion to pour freely from every part of you. In the Yoga Sutra it describes this daily practice as a way to control the tendency of your consciousness to gravitate towards misunderstanding. (Why am I not Zen?) Instead, it helps teach you how to turn inward and realize the true nature of what is causing us to be in a mode of judgement, rather than compassion. Rolf Gates says compassion is the opposite of judgement and that when we are judging, we are not understanding.
So...WHY ARE YOU AND I NOT ZEN YET? Most likely because of life and our in ability to understand why things are happening to us the way they are. In Anatomy of the Spirit, Caroline Myss recommends that we must first stop asking why things happened to us, as this is a form of judgement and not compassion. I would suggest the need to cultivate rather than regulate a daily practice. Work from the inside out with breath work and meditation and from the outside in with asana. Notice and practice non-reaction instead of judging and asking why. Most importantly...LOVE YOURSELF for who you are, not for who you were, or who you think you should be.