I cannot count the number of times in a yoga class that I have said, “Let go of that which no longer serves you” or start with “letting go of expectations” or “you are perfect just as you are.”
Sometimes I listen to my own words and wonder if I am simply forcing platitudes out my lips.
I would hope to be a catalyst for some inner journey for my students. Yet as I reflect on these words, even now their full magnitude evades me. They are words that indicate self-awareness and consciously changing.
The reason that hatha yoga is so powerful is that it offers an avenue to self-discovery and change through ongoing spiritual journey. However, I feel that I (and perhaps other yoga teachers) do a disservice to students when I casually utter phrases that offer spiritual reflection.
As someone who seeks to live an examined life (in comparison to the unexamined life we are constantly warned about) I know the hurdles that come with being mindful.
There are great benefits, but only after experiences of being stretched in every possible direction. Here are the truths as a therapist, yogi/yogini, and spiritually seeking person I have encountered.
1) Choosing a path of mindfulness is incredibly difficult.
Anyone who tells us that becoming self-aware is all kittens and moonbeams is not to be trusted. There will be moments where we uncover more and more things in the crevice of our beings that we neither like nor are particularly proud of. In those moments, we have a choice. We can either continue to shine light into the crevices and befriend those things we found (and will continue to find) or run the hell away.
The spiritual warrior chooses to continue to shine light and nonjudgmentally examine those crevice dwelling creatures so that eventually those distasteful things become less menacing.
2) The mind can feel like an incredible hurdle to overcome.
There is a reason hatha yoga (the yoga of the body—what we Westerners think of as yoga) was done in preparation for raja yoga (meditation). Quieting the monkey mind is incredibly difficult. Most days I would rather do endless asanas than sit in meditation for hours since it feels at times like I am fighting a losing battle with myself.
I own that as my particular attachment but any cognitive behavioral therapist will say that retraining thoughts involves identifying negative thoughts, finding substitutes that are more accurate, then catching oneself in the act of thinking the destructive thoughts and replacing them with the accurate new thoughts. Yeah, it’s a lot. Which brings me to our next point.
3) Feelings aren’t always our friends.
Remember the less accurate thoughts we tell ourselves? They affect our feelings. So telling ourselves something more accurate will change our feelings as well. And those feelings that we sit with, that we label “bad” are not permanent, though it might seem that way. Give it time. And more meditation.
4) Old patterns and habits will need to be deconstructed.
Some of these patterns and habits we might not be conscious of making. Yet in being a spiritual warrior, one must first become aware of them, then examine them, gently, with a discerning eye, and let them go in order to make way for a healthier way of being.
5) We must own our own sh*t.
We are each responsible for our respective lives, choices, thoughts, and feelings. Scary, huh? Yet, at the same time, incredibly powerful. Whatever our caregivers did that screwed us up (it’s quite common, ask any therapist) we now get the honor of deconstructing.
A spiritual warrior knows that blaming others is useless and takes that energy that could be used in defensive posturing and denial and uses it toward clarity and self-awareness.
A second piece of owning our sh*t is taking responsibility for any situation and honestly looking at our contributions. Not what we wish we contributed—but what actually happened.
6) We are not responsible for anyone else’s feelings or thoughts.
Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries. As spiritual warriors, we must take no responsibility for things that are out of our control but at the same time, do it kindly. Everyone needs more kindness. However, seriously consider giving wide berth to anyone who insists that you take charge of/are responsible for her or his feelings. In time those relationships become toxic.
7) We will fail.
While trying to grow and change, one will slip back into old patterns. We will think how nice it would be to remain ignorant and reactive instead of conscious and thoughtful. We will be stripped bare, feel our most vulnerable, then remember that this is our choice. In those moments it helps to be grateful for that choice.
8) Extend the compassion we offer toward others toward ourselves.
This is the hardest for me but I have found self-flagellation serves no purpose. In the midst of trying and failing, it is important to remember we are human and doing our best. All of us are lovable as imperfect, divine beings. We remember our perfect imperfections and try to extend love to ourselves. If it is incredibly hard to do so, calling a friend or loved one is a good option.
9) Change will happen.
There will be a moment, when we look back and find that we changed our thoughts, or that sitting in meditation has more ease to it, or that our demons no longer have the upper hand. Rejoice in that moment. Those moments become longer and longer until they become the majority of our lives. Keep faith that change will occur with time.
10) We will choose this path of awareness, of mindfulness, again and again.
With every breath, with every thought, every action, we can choose consciousness and presence. Eventually, I hope for it to become a way of life.
Author: Lisa Manca
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: Alex Naud/Flickr