Happy Valentine’s Day!
I hope it was filled with love and passion, sensuality and intimacy…
This is perhaps an appropriate lead in to one of my favorite teaching subjects: the more deeply we know and love ourselves, the more deeply we are capable of knowing and loving others.
In my workshop series Yoga and the Chakras we look at this theme in terms of the third and fourth chakras.
As I said in the first article of this series, Grounding & Pleasure: Chakras 1 & 2 – I see the chakra system as a symbolic journey of self development and use it as a map of the mind/body connection via specific “high charge” muscles that can be worked with in asana practice.
So far we have worked with the hips and low back and our sense of being grounded in our bodies and alive to the pleasure of existence.
Think of chakra three as the area/stage of development in which we are forming a distinct sense of self. I want this, I don’t want that, these are my boundaries, this is my anger when you betray me, these are the desires I want to make real in the world.
Contrary to an anti-life, dualist spiritual stance that would categorize all of these qualities with a negative spin on the word “ego” – we can see this important area of development as being about healthy ego strength.
I make a distinction in my work between ego-strength on the one hand and ego-defenses on the other. The work of an effective spiritual practice is not to destroy the ego, rather it is about becoming aware of our automatic ego defenses, built up over time in response to pain and trauma.
Here we also encounter the importance of discerning the difference between healthy anger and toxic anger.
Healthy anger can set firm boundaries and honestly, cleanly express what has not worked – while toxic anger tends to be indirect on the one hand or over-the-top on the other, lashing out reactively and engendering more destruction than constructive forward movement.
The big irony for spiritual folks is that we often label all anger as toxic and negative and bottle it up inside until our healthy angry responses actually do become toxic when they finally explode! Learning to work with anger consciously is a powerful aspect of our work and can liberate clarity, creativity and passion in the bedroom as well as in our vocations.
As we dismantle these habitual defenses, we come in contact with the vulnerable feelings and wounded self that lies beneath – and we do the necessary healing work so as to have healthy ego strength: self-esteem, boundaries, desire-in-action, passionate engagement with life.
From the place of healthier ego-strength it becomes possible to have genuine compassion for others and to be truly intimate. When we have become self aware enough to be honest with ourselves about our own shadow material: our fears, anger, grief, shame, trauma, inadequacy, and to be able to see how it plays out and develop the kind of compassion necessary to heal, we are then capable of holding that kind of space for others in our lives.
This kind of honest and authentic compassion is radically different than codependency: where codependency seeks to fix or covertly control, either through denying pain or (as is so common in our community) preaching some distorted supposedly “higher truth” in which suffering is not real and pain is an illusion, true compassion can tolerate being with another’s emotions in a supportive way and trusting in their process.
I would love to share more with you about how to explore these juicy and essential themes in yoga practice, especially as it applies to the “high charge” muscles for the third and fourth chakras and the writing meditations I use after the physical practice to integrate the work.