Shift, don’t drift –

232323232-fp633_8_nu=79;;_6_9_258_WSNRCG=33627978_8349nu0mrjFrom Outwitting the Devil, by Napoleon Hill –

The first thing you will notice about a drifter is his total lack of a major purpose  in life. He will be conspicuous by his lack of self confidence. He will never accomplish anything requiring thought and effort. He spends all he earns and more too if he can get credit. He will be sick or ailing from some reason or imaginary cause and be crying to high heaven if he has any pain. He will be lacking in imagination and lack enthusiasm and initiative to begin anything he is not forced to undertake and he will plainly express his weakness by taking the line of least resistance whenever he can do so. He will be ill tempered and lacking in control of his emotions. His personality will be without magnetism and it will not attract other people. He will have opinions on everything but accurate knowledge of nothing. He may be jack of all trades but good at none. He will neglect to cooperate with those around him even those on whom he must depend for food and shelter. He will make the same mistake over and over again never profiting by failure. He will be narrow minded and intolerant on all subjects ready to crucify those who may disagree with him.  He will expect everything of others but he wiling to give little or nothing in return. He may begin many things but complete nothing. He will be loud in his condemnation of his government but he will never tell you definitely how it can be improved. He will never reach decisions on anything if he can avoid it and if he is forced to decide he will reverse himself at the first opportunity. He will eat too much and exercise too little. He will take a drink of liquor if someone else will pay for it. He will gamble if he can do it on the cuff. He will criticize others if they are succeeding in their chosen calling. In brief the drifter will work harder to get out of thinking than most others work in earning a good living. He will tell a lie rather than admit his ignorance on any subject. If he works for others he will criticize them to their backs and flatter them to their faces.

Shift. Don’t drift.

Driving School and Turning Towards Feeling

dirtroad011392161292Driving school saved my life. I grew up on dirt roads with little traction, driving a manual Honda Civic that I had learned to drive on my own. One afternoon, driving my friend home I took a corner too fast and my car started to skid out of control on the gravel road that was framed by hedgerows of large, sturdy trees.

A few months before at a race track in West Virginia I was put into a spin by my driving instructor and had learned in a safe environment to turn into the spin in order to gain control over the car. I think in some ways my parents sent me to driving school because my Dad wished he could drive around in police cars on a race track all day and sent me instead.

But that afternoon on a curvy gravel road in Northern Virginia, I went against my intuition to fight the spin and crank my wheel in the other direction. While my friend gripped the edges of her seat, both of us holding our breath, I turned into the spin and regained control of the car, missing the surrounding trees by an inch.

I don’t think that the driving school in West Virginia meant to teach me any other lessons that day other than how to safely manuver a car but a decade later I return to this idea of turning towards a skid on a different level.

On a metaphorical level, the idea of turning towards what might seem to be the opposite of what one wants to feel is important. Not allowing emotions to control behavior but turning towards what one feels and what might be difficult or uncomfortable can be life saving.

As a sixteen year old new driver I was able to save the spin out because I knew what it felt like to be in one. On a metaphorical level, it is important to be able to experience all of our emotions in a safe environment and learn how to identify them so that we can choose appropriate responses to what we feel. It is important not to be afraid of fully feeling emotions so that one can experience life and grow– it is important to learn how to drive when one lives in a rural area so that one can experience life and grow (and go to the grocery store, and see people, etc, etc).

I was frightened that day but if I had allowed my fear to control my behavior I would probably have collided with a tree. Because of driving school and learning to drive in a safe environment I was able to feel my fear, recognize quickly that we were going into a spin, feel which direction the spin was going and turn towards it, miss the trees and stop the car.

I am still working on the next level– still metaphorically in driving school but I think I am more in control of my car, at least I am better aware of where the gears are and when to shift. I am learning what different emotions feel like, and learning how to sit with them rather than pushing them away or being impulsive with my behavior. Shame, fear, guilt, anger, happiness, love, joy, boredom, sadness all feel a little bit different if I pay attention, and just like how the appropriate response to a skid is not the same as the appropriate response to an obstacle in the road, there is an approriate response for each emotion and each feeling as well. There are still blind spots and unforeseen curves in the road as there always will be but I’m still here, I can feel my hands on the wheel, I stall less often now and I’m happy to be driving along.

Jean Luc Godard : 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her (1967)


Mindfulness meditation in 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her (1967), I think this film is so great, watch it.

“But first of all, what is an object?

Maybe an object is what serves as a link between subjects, allowing us to live in society, to be together.

But since social relations are always ambiguous, since my thoughts divide as much as unite, and my words unite by what they express and also isolate by what they omit, since a wide gulf separates my subjective certainty of myself from the objective truth others have of me, since I constantly end up guilty, even though I feel innocent, since every event changes my daily life, since I always fail to communicate, to understand, to love and be loved, and every failure deepens my solitude, since–

Since. Since I cannot escape the objectivity crushing me, nor the subjectivity expelling me, since I cannot rise to a state of being nor collapse into nothingness, I have to listen, more than ever I have to look around me, at the world, my fellow creature, my brother.

Say that the limits of language are the world’s limits, that the limits of my language are my world’s limits, and that when I speak, I limit the world, I finish it. And one inevitable and mysterious day, death will come and abolish these limits, and there will be no questions nor answers. It will all be a blur.

But if by chance things come into focus again, it may only be with the advent of conscience. Everything will follow from there.”

No.

The two shortest sentences available to us in the English language —

Yes.

No.

You know that movie with Jim Carrey where his entire life changes because he starts to say yes to everything? I get it, but he was really only saying yes to the most dramatic invitations. The movie would have been much less exciting if he was asked questions like “Is this water fountain really a water fountain?” YES! “Are you going to go to work today just as you did yesterday?” YES! “Are you actively engaged in your life?” YES! “Should you continue as you always have?” YES!

Generally, as human beings, I think “yes” is a tool for change only when faced with questions to which we usually say “no.”

I’d like to argue that we say yes much more than we say no, whether we think about it or not.

Yes is fast, agreeable, accepting, and dangerous.

No is slow, it is both a sentence and a question, no rejects the old and provides space for the new.

No stops the words that clutter our conceptions. No infiltrates all the yes’s upon yes’s upon yes’s and like a child reading the pictures of a book allows us to change our story.

Yes says “this is”; No says “maybe it’s not”.

Viveka : Keen discernment–questions and answers that establish truth.

emancipate-ourselves-from-mental-slavery-big-text1The practice that I “teach” can impact people’s lives greatly; what I teach is constantly evolving, has an uncertain and debated history that is often lost in translation and is increasing in popularity daily.

I teach a practice that is traced back to a single word from texts that were initially passed down verbally thousands of years ago in a place across the world from where I grew up, in a culture that processes thoughts and concepts in a way that my brain may not be able to fully understand.  I teach a practice that the initial purveyors of in the West, thousands of years after its “invention” felt I, as a Westerner, would abuse in its full form.

I am naturally drawn to the liberal arts, to more spiritual pursuits, to activities than lean more towards emotion than organization. I think that the human desire to organize and define can repress creativity and alter one’s perception sometimes in a negative way.

However, in order to make sure that I am not teaching false ideas or facts, it is important to organize. My categories are as follows –

Feeling – 

1. Feelings that I observe in myself.

2. Feelings that others have described to me.

Knowing 

1. What I know to be true.

2. What I know I don’t know to be true.

3. What I know has multiple ideas of “trueness” but does not have a proven definition.

My mother always told me that she thought I would either be an opera singer or a scientist. I like to look at yoga from the perspective of both a scientist and an opera singer. Everything is an experiment, be it an experiment in physical sensation, or an experiment in cross-examining facts. Like the opera singer, it is important to practice, to develop and experience your instrument which is in this case the body. Like an opera singer takes vocal lessons and sings with others it is important to share your experience and be open to learning from other’s experiences. 

Like a scientist, it is important to take what you see, hear, and feel, ask questions, and analyze answers. We would never have many of the inventions that we have today if human beings did not ask “what if” or “how.” In that same vein, the yoga practice may never develop to its full (potentially endless) potential if we do not ask “what if” or “how” and even “is that true.” Finding answers may seem daunting but my approach is this – do not take anything that you hear for granted, question everything and everyone, always ask for an explanation, and cross-examine the facts that you find. Learn Sanskrit or find multiple translations from people who do know Sanskrit and then study the breakdown of the translation of Sanskrit words. Be open to the idea that changing the way you perceive the world can change the entire world around you and even sweep the ground out from underneath your feet. Breathe deeply and if you don’t know the answer, say so– no one knows everything and the people who say they do are too caught up with being “right” than finding truth.

The news and buckets of popcorn –

“Everything you do is political, everything you do is ethical (or not).” – Michael Stone

I have avoided reading the news for a long time.

I grew up in Northern Virginia, near Washington DC, where politics are almost unavoidable. My parents never hid what was happening in the world from me and when I was younger I would ride the waves of my liberal mother’s reports on what was displayed on the front page of the Washington Post into the halls of my middle school, wondering why my classmates were not as upset as I was about the state of the world. When terrorist attacks became real to me I walked out of movie theaters because I imagined bombs in extra large buckets of popcorn. I talked to every suspicious looking person on a flight just to make sure that we both knew we were human.

I moved out to California and stopped reading the news. I was tired of being afraid. And slowly but surely fears started to fade and I became more involved in my life. No, I could no longer carry on a debate about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, but I stopped inventing stories about buckets of popcorn.

I should also add that around the same time that I stopped reading the news, I stopped watching “scary movies”–I’ve probably never seen a horror movie, ‘The Shining’ is as horrifying a movie as I have ever seen. But I stopped watching movies with guns, movies where bad guys try to kill the good guys and the good guys have to fight back.

In the past couple of years I’ve incorporated action movies back into my viewing repertoire and it feels okay. I don’t have time to watch TV very much and as long as I don’t let my imagination get away with me the movies don’t become real life. And a few months ago I started reading the news again.

Maybe I started reading the news because world news was a big part of the life of a person I was dating. Maybe I started reading the news because again I had a place that I call home hit by a person who wanted to inflict terror. Maybe I started reading the news because there is more going on in the world than before and it’s impossible to ignore. Maybe I started reading the news because I felt strong enough.

For whatever reason, I now check news.google.com everyday.  And everyday something horrible has happened. It is so hard to find good news and so easy to become depressed, or anxious, or nauseous, even, about the headlines that change every few hours.

A friend recently posted about the ISIS beheadings which I find incredibly disturbing. I am disturbed because 1. The beheadings bring me back immediately to the same feeling of terror that I felt in movie theaters and airplanes after September 11th–uncontrollable and helpless fear. 2. I work with people for a living, it is my job to read faces and the looks on the men’s faces in the pictures break my heart. 3. I have a vivid imagination and with just one picture my mind comes up with a million stories. 4. I really have/cannot offer any solution, this situation is way beyond my control.

I have spent quite a bit of time sitting with and thinking about how I respond to world news and have come to the conclusion that the best thing for myself is to do the best I can to create a healthy, kind local community by doing my best as a human being to interact with everyone that I meet in an open, honest and kind manner.  There really is not much that I can do to stop these beheadings except to choose to not react. If I can make sure that these beheadings do not impact how I respond to MY world then I am not giving these forces power.

So what I found to be even more disturbing than the beheadings, more disturbing than everything displayed on the homepage of Google News, were the responses to my friend’s post on Facebook about the news.

A few responses were logical, but many were extremely upsetting to me. Does the desire to watch the beheadings and the simple solution of “killing them all” actually move the world forward in any way?

When I read articles about events such as the ISIS beheadings my heart starts to beat faster and stronger, my palms start to sweat, I can actively feel my body getting tense and angry. But these are the physical signs of becoming out of control, becoming aggressive, and really not being able to think clearly and solve any problems in a logical manner.

I am bothered by these Facebook postings so much more than the actual news because this is what we do have the power to control. We have the power as human beings, as a small or large community to take a step back and feel what our bodies are doing when we read the news and choose NOT to make our lives, choose NOT to make the world, a horror movie. It does not have to be. Yes, there are people and forces that might challenge us but I know that if we choose to fully greet each other and are honest in our thoughts and actions that we have the ability to use light to drive out the dark. Responding to aggressive, inhumane behavior with aggressive, inhumane behavior merely makes our enemies less evil. I do not know the solution to the world’s problems, but I have seen so many people change, become stronger, become better leaders, become more lively, and in turn help others become more lively, just through a mindful practice on their mats. We can do this off our mats too, “yogis” or not, be human. To me, exercising our ability to feel, recognize what we feel, and then choose our response in a mindful manner is the only way that we can change the world. Honest behavior is not emotional behavior. Honest behavior is acknowledging and being aware of every way that our actions impact others and then choosing the action or response that is most beneficial to both ourselves and those around us. It takes practice but it is possible.

New Jersey

There is a man who works all day, every single day at my corner liquor store. He is from New Jersey. I know this because a few weeks ago when I stopped in for a bottle of wine he interrupted our conversation abruptly and said “You’re not from around here are you?” I am still trying to figure out what made him ask this question but I told him no, and gave the question back to him. 

I enjoy a glass of wine in the evening and stop by this store weekly on my way home from work and pop in during the day for the occasional bottle of water, etc. He is always there, smiling and inquiring about whatever job I am dressed for at the time. I feel like he has become my friend.

The other day I popped in during the middle of the day because I was craving a bottle of fizzy water.  It was much busier than when I am usually there and I stepped in line behind four people. I watched my liquor store friend greet every person like they were his good friend, and asked to be updated, knew details about three out of the four people’s lives. It was a beautiful hot day, people were dressed for work, buying things, snacks and drinks to get them through their day. Everyone left with a smile on their face. I realized that he is not just my corner store friend because we both work a lot and are both from the East Coast. He is everyone’s friend because he listens and finds something that he shares with everyone. 

I work two very physical jobs and I know that it is not easy to be on your feet all day.  It’s not easy to not have a day off. It’s not easy to work in customer service. It’s definitely not easy to do all that and keep a smile on your face. 

I hope that one day he will be able to work less. But right now I am thankful because that day in the store, waiting in line to buy my fizzy water, he showed me how important is to meet people fully, to truly see the light that is in each one of us no matter how jaded or tired I might feel. The light in you brings out the light in me and the light in me brings out the light in you. We can all help each other to brighten the world. We can’t be happy all the time, but we can be present for each other as human beings and share our humanity because we have at least that in common.

atha yoga-anuśāsanam 

Now yoga begins.