Maya Shakti: On Becoming a Demolitions Expert

Via Bernadette Birney
on May 21, 2011
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I have a confession:

I have a long standing tendency to consider my point of view to be The Truth.

Do you have that same tendency?  I’ll bet you do.

Until recently, I never bothered to challenge many of my most fundamental points of view, and beliefs about myself–and the way I operate in the world because of them.

For example, here’s a short list of things I’ve believed to be true:

  • That I’m fiercely introverted
  • That I’m horrible at math
  • That I don’t have the discipline to be a writer
  • That I’m good at teaching yoga but bad at the business of yoga
  • That I have to chose between personal fulfillment and financial success

I have regularly repeated these “truths” to myself as though they’re gospel.  They have shaped my mind.  For better or worse, they’ve shaped my ideas about myself, and my life–and they’re simply stories that I made up!

I am always making up these kinds of stories, and so are you.  Do any of the stories you tell yourself leap to mind?

Modern neuroscience tells us that every time we think a thought, a particular neural path is strengthened.  The more times a mind travels a neural path, the more likely it is to travel that path again, and so a single thought becomes a tendency to think in a certain way. A neural pathway that starts out as flimsy as a scantly traveled deer-path in the woods can become a well established super-highway, with as much traffic as I-95. The structure of a brain is literally altered by the way it’s used.

Therefore, I am both the shaper of my terrain, and the shape my experience takes–and so are you.

The yoga tradition calls this ability to shape our experience the power of Maya Shakti, or the power of illusion.  Nothing that I fashion from Maya is an absolute truth, but it might feel an awful lot like one.

Many times, I have heard my teacher, Douglas Brooks, call Maya “the architect of consciousness.”  Maya will give shape and structure to both my brain, and my experience.  Maya will either be the crummy experience that I’m compelled to have, or the fantastic experience that I get to have.  Or, it might be just another humdrum Thursday.

Without an understanding of Maya, I’ll engage this power in an unconscious way, and just keep telling myself my same old stories.  I like some of my stories, but some of them really f*ck me up, and keep me playing small.  If I want to, or if I don’t know any better, I can use Maya to build a little box to crawl inside of.  I will have to inhabit the cramped space inside those “truths”.  They will seem as solid, real, and confining, as brick walls.

Or, as Lauren Zander likes to say, I can become a demolitions expert, blow that sh!t up, knock down the old Maya, and put in a new deluxe kitchen.

I am beginning to understand, in a much deeper way than before, that it really is all me. I am creating my experience all the time.

I am god in my world, and so are you.

Maya is built in.  There’s no getting rid of it, and you wouldn’t want to.  The point isn’t to get rid of Maya; the point is to get good at it.

I understand that I am not an island. As I create my experience, I’m also impacted, and imprinted upon:  by chance, by the world, and by the people in my world.  However, it’s up to me to decide how receptive to be, and to whom.  It’s up to me to choose wisely.  It’s up to me to process my experience.

It’s exhilarating to heave a wrecking ball into what appears a solid, confining structure, only to find thin air.  Some “truths” that once felt dense, substantial and unhappy, now seem far less so.  Some are so flimsy I can almost poke my finger through.

For example, it turns out that I’m not (quite) as introverted as I’d thought. Who knew?  I’m also better at discipline, and my business acumen doesn’t suck nearly as much as I’d feared.

Mindful demolition creates the opportunity to build something better.  Demoliton gives me goosebumps.  In the good way.

Note:  I’m forever grateful to Douglas Brooks, and to The Handel Group, for teaching me how to  become a demolitions expert, and architect extraordinaire.


About Bernadette Birney

Bernadette Birney is a dyed-in-the-wool, freedom-loving tantrika. When she’s not busy conquering the world, taking hostages, feverishly freelancing, working on her book, and posting on-line essays, you can find her practicing the art of life-on-purpose, and teaching in Connecticut. / Bernadette has had the good fortune of studying with the great ones: she’s a certified Anusara yoga instructor, and has long pestered her Rajanaka Yoga mentor, Douglas Brooks. Known for her poetic and precise articulation, she insists that you can maintain a hard-core yoga practice and a sense of humor, too. Her classes, immersions and trainings are steeped in a life affirming philosophy that will invite you into the exploration of your own potential. / Bernadette was one of the earliest Certified Anusara yoga instructors in CT, and continues to mentor the local teaching community, leading trainings and retreats. She has contributed to Yoga Journal, Fit Yoga, Elephant Journal and Srividyalaya Amrta. She is also a Lululemon ambassador, and the author of the quirky, award-winning blog .


4 Responses to “Maya Shakti: On Becoming a Demolitions Expert”

  1. Great blog, Bernie. Love the analogies.

    Posting to Elephant Yoga on Facebook and Twitter.

    Bob W. Yoga Editor
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  2. Just posted to "Featured Today" on the Elephant Yoga homepage.

  3. Kris Nelson says:

    Yes. Fantastic, B. I love this. This sort of perspective is so valuable. I find that it is often lost and misplaced in the Anusara world being chalked up as "Advaita" and beneath. It's so important.

  4. […] wholeheartedly recommend reading her entire post, Maya Shakti: On Becoming a Demolitions Expert over on Elephant […]