The Angry Baby

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As a mindfulness instructor, it’s challenging to come up with an “elevator speech” or lesson about anger. Many people come to me seeking to become rid of their anger. This is not the goal of mindfulness training.

Anger is a reflexive emotional response to disappointment and aggression (real or perceived).  The yogis explain the powerful emotion springs from the four primitive fountains, which are inherent to all sentient beings: food, sleep, sex, and self-preservation.

Self-preservation is the most powerful urge. It makes sense, there is an inherent drive to keep oneself alive.  Eastern Philosophy would argue, many times (especially in the developed world) the reaction is to threats which exist only in our mind. The ego perceives the potential death of one of our many personae.

Physiologically, our amygdala switches on the sympathetic nervous system and our body is flooded with cortical hormones. It’s the classic flight or fight response.  This isn’t inherently bad, it serves an important purpose–it’s how our ancestors survived so we can be here to discuss this! 

The problem is many of us are overly reactive and every little ego-death causes us to fly off the handle. We’re literally a bunch of raw nerves.

So, shouldn’t we try our best not to feel anger? 

The answer is no! Anger is a signal that something is wrong (even if it’s in our imagination). We don’t want to become numb. We need to learn how to feel the emotion without becoming consumed by it. We should learn to react skillfully. 

The first step is deciding that we no longer want to be a slave to our emotions. Talk to yourself, connect with what is meaningful to you. Tell yourself when you are you’re possessed by anger that it takes you away from what matters. It puts strain on relationships and impedes connection.  

Next, (and you may need to find a teacher to guide you) you practice observing yourself when you’re feeling angry.  This isn’t easy and it takes willpower. This is one of the reasons systematic yoga meditation is powerful and effective: during the body scan you methodically move attention throughout your own body.  This helps you to develop a sense of actually inhabiting your body–most people are a little disconnected from their amazing human suit.  Over time you can use this skill to observe your body when you are feeling angry.  Perhaps you feel your chest tighten and your heart rate quicken.  This can signal you to use another technique from systematic yoga meditation, deep diaphragmatic breathing.  This counteracts the fight or flight response and helps to calm the nervous system.

In deeper stages of meditation you become a witness to the mind in its natural habitat, allowing the thoughts to come and go. This affords the ability to see thoughts and emotions as objects that are inhabiting the mind–they are not the mind itself. In a nutshell, you can observe anger in the mind with awareness it is not the entirety of the mind.

At this level of practice, you create a little space from anger. In that pause, which you develop during meditation, you can choose to act from the anger or to allow the wave of anger to arise in the mind and body and, when it abates, continue with a wise course of action.

Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh explains,  “Anger is like a howling baby, suffering and crying… Your anger is your baby. The baby needs his mother to embrace him. You are the mother. Embrace your baby.”

The anger isn’t evil; however, we may do evil while in its clutches.  Anger is shaktithe power of creation.  However, we can choose to create while blinded with anger or allow the anger to wake us up and enact positive change.  The anger can catalyze a course of action fueled by that which brings us closer to our higher self.  This is acting from love–this is acting skillfully.  But, in order to do this we have to broaden the space between the trigger and the anger–it has to become less reflexive.

Ignoring anger is just as detrimental as continually exploding.  The stored up anger has to come out–remember it’s the creative power of the universe.  It will manifest either in an H-bomb or in other deviant behaviors.

Rumi lovingly metaphorized emotions as visitors in his oft-quoted seminal work The Guest House:

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
As an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

Will you pause and listen to the guide or allow it to take over your mind while the Real You watches idly by?

 

Hangry for Sleep!

 

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Alex Grey, “Insomnia”

 

I was posting the newsletter for the monthly Yoga Nidra practice I help to facilitate. It reminded me of an acronym used in treatment, to describe various triggers which catalyze substance abuse: HALT–hungry, angry, lonely, tired.

The ancient yogis recognized these primal urges, which are identical to those of our animal brethren: self-preservation, sex, food, and sleep. The four primitive fountains.

Self-preservation isn’t merely the urge to protect one’s body from death; it is the urge to protect our numerous personae. Sex isn’t merely the urge to copulate; it’s also driven by loneliness and insecurity. Food is a necessity; but, it’s also a sensual pleasure which can overrun other urges when unchecked. But, today, I want to talk about sleep.  A blessing many of us are not partaking of.

In the Himalayan Tradition, there are three primary levels of consciousness (there are more, but brevity is helpful): waking, dreaming, and deep sleep. They are correlated with three states of energy: gross, subtle, and causal (hence, the name of the blog).

Yogis assert that the level of deep sleep in the causal plane is the most cathartic. It is the realm of pure potentiality, the place before the subtle manifestation of dreams. This is intuitive, think about the deepest sleep you’ve had… Right where you feel you’ve vanished for a while. This level is so close to the realm of pure being (or, turiya, the fourth state).

Yet, so many of us are sleep deprived–myself included.  We go to bed too late, we have too much caffeine, and there are those darn LED lights.  One article I read recently explained, soon lack of sleep will be viewed like smoking.  It asserted in the near future, we will realize the detriments: depression, obesity, and cancer.  Another NPR story suggest we get out of the city and spend some time in the dark–isn’t it bananas that we need to be reminded of needing dark!

Yoga Nidra is another name for deep sleep in the causal plane.  It is also the name of a progressive series of exercises to bring one to that place, while, paradoxically, remaining awake.  It is the psychic sleep of the Yogi .  This is a tool for developing more than better quality sleep, it is a method for dealing with negative karma.  I suggest clicking on the link that I attached above for detailed instructions on this ancient practice.

The causal plane is a womb.  It is the realm of rebirth.  A cleanse which we have the opportunity to partake in and give ourselves a spiritual reset.  Challenge yourself to try the practice for 7 nights in a row (in a dark room without caffeine) and see how you feel.

(Post 13 of 30 Days of Peace. Let peace begin with me.)

My Mental Meditation Pillow

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I’ve been recycling a bit lately because being a good teacher isn’t about finding new things to say all of the time.  Sometimes, it is about restating and reframing.  The path of Yoga isn’t about complicated techniques.  It is about depth; it is not about breadth.  You don’t need to know a million techniques to know the Center of Consciousness.  Whichever path you choose, you have to commit to going to the threshold again and again.

Originally posted August 27, 2014

A few months ago I was being coached by a wonderful teacher, Radhika Shah-Grouven, about how to keep doing “this” when I am so busy.  I know we all feel very busy– and, with regards to scheduling, I am: the family, full-time job, additional clients, commuting, this blog… this list could be endless.  However, I find that I am only as overwhelmed as I believe that I am– of course, this falls within certain physical parameters: I must get sleep (although I get 5.5-6 hours), I must eat well, I must drink water, I must exercise, and I must meditate.

Meditation doesn’t cause me to suddenly have a “stress”-free life.  However, it does cause me to be very aware of my reaction to stress.  It has afforded me enough self-awareness to realize how much I can take on or how much I must put down. I definitely experience times of ambivalence and apathy– times where I would rather sit on the couch and veg-out.  However, I would rather allocate predetermined amounts of “free-time” to meditation.

My lineage recommends four times a day– that may seem daunting to a newcomer.  I would recommend a newcomers dedicate time for one to two sittings.  As I have stated previously, five to seven minutes; but, commit and do it.  In the same way you wouldn’t consider leaving the house without brushing your teeth, commit to going inside.

My teacher, Swami J, says to make it an appointment, like lunch with a friend.  If you are late, you postpone and make it up, as soon as possible– like your lunch date.  Life happens!  But, as Radhika taught me, you have a “mental mat”– it goes with you every where.  She explained that there were times when she just touched the mental mat while riding the train!  The more you return to center, the more it stays with you.  Many times my meditation pillow is in the cockpit of my car and my meditation room is a parking lot.

Uncoupling my consciousness

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A Starlet, who will not be named, popularized the term “conscious uncoupling”. At first, I thought it was pretentious; however, at this phase in my life, I can see validity in the statement. Moreover, it’s reciprocal is poignant.

Sitting still, in silence, affords us the opportunity to uncouple our consciousness from it’s habitual moving outward. In silence, we can peel back the layers that we have created to the substratum– the ground matrix where the Truth is.

It is so simple; yet, for many of us, it is not so easy.

We are always plugged in, we are always stimulating ourselves–even if the stimulation appears benign.

For example, a person may say “my meditation is working in the garden”. Communing with nature is a beautiful and healthy action. But, it’s still doing something. Listening to classical music is edifying; but, listening to music about engaging the senses. What is being avoided?

The senses are the vehicle through which we experience this world. Aside from sleeping (and many of us don’t do that) they are constantly being engaged. Furthermore, due to our hectic lifestyles they are exponentially more engaged then at any other time.

Being in a quiet room is disengagement from the sense of hearing. Deliberately sitting still is disengagement from our action sense of movement and the importer sense of touch. Closing the eyes is disengagement from the sense of sight. Now this energy can be directed to inner exploration.

This is the true uncoupling. The uncoupling of your temporary ego driven self which goes willy-nilly for everything wants and you open yourself, the definition of yoga , to Eternity.

The Zen of Anger

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I originally posted this in February 2015.  I am reposting with some edits–it feels so relevant to my previous post (Heartbreak Catapult).  The spiritual path (sadhana) is not a straight line it is a circuitous path.

It would be ludicrous to think as a practitioner of Yoga Meditation I don’t get angry. Candidly, my inclination toward becoming annoyed is a reason I am dutiful with my practice.

According to DISC personality typing, I am an “I”–which means “Influence”–but, it can also mean impulsive! The same energy that is the source of my strengths is also the source of my lesser strengths (not weaknesses).

This morning I got angry with my son.  Paradoxically, the people we are closest to can be the source of our greatest joy sand the catalyst of our greatest frustrations!

I have a lot invested in my son–he is after all, my son.  With an investment comes an expectation.  When the investment does not yield a return there is disappointment.  The return on investment is an attraction and the disappointment is an aversion.

According to the Yoga Sutras, both attraction (raga) and aversion (dvesha) are two sides of the same coin–attachment.  Both stem from a primal lack of knowledge regarding our True Nature (avidya) which is perennial and not ephemeral.

Conversely, the apparent nature of the physical world is transient.  Due to this, we cling to the things and experiences of the physical world that we love.  We push away the things and experiences that we abhor.  But, both the pushing and pulling cause us suffering (dukha or dukkha).

I am attracted to my son doing what I believe is best (for me), he does something other than that, my expectation is not met, I experience disappointment, my disappointment is a form of suffering.  To the unmastered mind, all worldly experiences yield suffering because they are impermanent.  However, this does not have to be the case.

When we are rooted in awareness of our True Nature from earnest practice and non-attachment (abhyasa and vairagya) we are aware of the fleeting nature of our experiences and we can be released from the suffering of attraction and aversion.  It does not mean we are apathetic or ambivalent–I am still going to parent my child–with the hope that he leads a skillful and happy life.  But, I am working on not expecting him to do what I want.  We still have rules.  If he breaks them, he is punished.  But, now it’s not a big emotional tirade–because I didn’t get what I want.

Today I got angry; I felt the blood pump and my temperature rise.  But, I was very aware that this was a bodily experience and not who I am at the core; moreover, not an emotion I have to act on.  I didn’t resist the anger–that is aversion–I just let it come.  I went for a drive and returned as the person I want to be.

All Yogic Approaches Involve the Replacement of Old Habit Patterns with New Benign Patterns

Part 11, the final installment, of “How Do You Qualify Yoga?” (a series I originally posted and have converted to a permanent page).

“Everyone has weaknesses. Wise is he who acknowledges his weaknesses and works steadily to remove them and replace them with the essential virtues that strengthen him and make him brave, fearless, and truthful.”

Swami Rama: “The Perennial Psychology of the Bhagavad Gita”

There are so many ways to approach this qualifier of a Yogic approach (all of which I have discussed in previous posts): the eight-runged path of the Yoga Sutras, a discussion on samskarasdeveloping the skill of witnessing, and uncoloring.  Even better, a combination of the four (although a scholar can illustrate innumerous examples of this being the purpose of the practices).

In this Tradition, classically, one did not begin with meditation directly.  One began with developing a dharmic lifestyle.  This is seems at conflict with the Western concept of Yoga being almost amoral (not immoral)–as if anything goes.  The difference between the morality of Yoga and many other belief systems is the morality is intrinsic; it is morality for the sake of morality.  It arises from the understanding that we all are One; the integrity of a Yogi is not due to fear of retribution from a deity.  The early teachings of Yoga sought to develop this inner compass, then the aspirant would move into a seated meditation practice.

After moving into meditation, we begin to notice that thoughts come and go constantly. As we spend more time in this space we begin to notice that thoughts have trends.  Perhaps we discover we have a trend towards judgement, craving of material items, or feelings of unworthiness.  These trends can be thought of as being grooves that are etched into our mind-field–the Yogis called these samskaras.

The initial goal of Yoga meditation is to become AWARE of these patterns, NOT to critique or engage with them.  Early meditation is not psychoanalysis, it is accepting that all minds are capable of all types of thoughts: good, bad, and neutral.  But, thought is not who we are, it is what we are doing.  The art of witnessing is allowing the mind to naturally unfold without interfering with the process.  This reduces the emotional attachment to the thought, it uncolors them.  It is easier said than done.

Over time, the more practiced meditator begins to take a dispassionate stance and without judgment seeks to teach the mind to cultivate thoughts which bring them closer to harmony.  A practiced meditator explains to their mind (yes, I know how that sounds; but, dialogue with one’s own mind is essential if you want your mind be sharpened) this thought is useful and this thought is not useful.  Over time the mind entrains towards thoughts which create equanimity.

So after writing this series, what have I learned: I need to meditate more!

 

Keeping Company with the Truth

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I originally posted this about a year ago; but, my feelings have not diminished.  It needed to be restated.  I refreshed it a little, too.

Satsang is a Sanskrit word I love; it has an onomatopoeia-like quality to it… When I say it I feel a warmth, like Picasso said, “the sun in my belly”.

Satsang can be translated as, “keeping company with the truth “. Sat, means “highest truth”. It is one of the attributes of the Center of Consciousness.

The suffix -sang in “Satsang” means community; as in the Buddhist term “Sangha”.

In previous posts, I stressed the necessity of going inside to steep in Center of Consciousness. The distillate of direct experience is the highest truth.  It is not mere conceptual knowledge.

However, since it is Our Collective Center, we can also expand our knowledge of it by spending time with other seekers.  We can help each other to remember Our True Nature–the aforementioned Center of Consciousness–which is eternal and flawless.

It is so to forget, even for the most dedicated aspirant. Self-seeking can be isolating.  But, the spiritual path is not supposed be grim.  Even monks gather in communities!   So, go into the cave; but, emerge and share the Divinity of Our True Nature.

Be the Best “Version” of your Self

Truly, there is no “better” or “worse” version of You, or I–we are the Center of Consciousness.  How can there be a flaw?

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Be the Best Version of your “Self”

In Yoga Philosophy, a human is viewed as an expression of the Center of Consciousness.  As the Center of Consciousness “moves outward” it appears to condense (for lack of a better word) and become the individual.  But, the Center of Consciousness remains eternal, undiminished, unchanged.  

There are various sheaths (koshas) appearing to veil the Center of Consciousness; they are like layered lampshades covering a light.  At the outermost level there is the physical body; the next, more subtle, layer is the energy/breath body; the next, subtler, layer is the mental body; the mind is preceded by the wisdom body; at core is the Self–the point where Center of Consciousness initiates individuation. 

Whether or not you subscribe to this philosophy, we can intuit that we are more than we appear to be. What we hold to be as our “True Nature” is a personal belief.  However, the busyness of our lives causes us to misidentify with all of the actions we are doing instead of our illusive “True Nature”.

Furthermore, our addiction to moving outward–as opposed to focusing inward–causes many of us to fixate on our failures and challenges.  We can become mired in a victim persona, subjecting ourselves to a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Meditation is a tool which can shift us to a state of empowerment by: improving our physiological functioning, depersonalizing the thinking process, and relieving us from attachments.

When the human nervous system evolved, it bifurcated into two aspects which work like gears on a manual transmission.  The sympathetic nervous system causes humans to jump into action.  It triggers the “fight or flight” response via the release stimulating hormones, which includes: dilated pupils, accelerated heart rate, and increased rate of respiration.  Conversely, the parasympathetic nervous system is associated with feelings of safety and wellbeing–reflect on the feeling holding a calm baby.  Unfortunately, many people are primarily tapped into the sympathetic nervous system–they are reactive, anxious, and judgemental.  

Most systems of meditation are practiced in a relaxing environment and incorporate techniques, such as: body scanning, diaphragmatic breathing, and focusing attention–all of which elicit a parasympathetic response.  When this is stimulated, thoughts are inclined to be uplifting and positive.  In fact, a recent Harvard study indicates, 8-weeks of mindfulness meditation cause the brain to grow new gray matter. This asserts you can rewire your brain into new thought patterns. Despite the catharsis of improving the quality of our thoughts, it is important to understand that we are not our thoughts.

As previously mentioned, we identify with our accomplishments and roles; however, we also identify with our thoughts.  Thoughts, like the material objects of the world are “objects” we have created on the mental plane.  Many people have an antagonistic relationship with their thoughts.  They tend to believe that they are good when they are having positive and altruistic thoughts.  They tend to judge themselves when they are having negative thoughts.  All minds are creative–even Buddhist monks have thoughts of murder.  However, acting on a thought is a different scenario.

Although there are benefits to positive thinking; it’s important to get distance from your thoughts.  This is not an attempt to have cessation of the thinking process; rather, the goal is to become detached from the activity of the mind. In most meditation traditions, practitioners are taught to allow the mind to behave naturally–not to interfere with the thinking process.  Over time, one is able to become aware of the transient nature of thoughts.  Ultimately, as one becomes dispassionate about thoughts, the mind begins to relax; this is not unlike a pond settling after it is undisturbed for a while.  Then one becomes aware of spaces between the thoughts.  In meditation we attempt to move into those spaces–not to shut the mind down.  

After one develops a regular practice they may observe that thoughts are of two sorts: neutral and colored.  Neutral thoughts are benign, they do not elicit an emotional response. Colored (klishta) thoughts are shaded with attachment.  Attachment is twofold: attraction and repulsion (aversion).  We cling at what we are attracted to and we push against what we are repulsed by.  Yet, these are two sides of the same coin–in both cases one is attached.  We expend a great deal of energy trying to get more of what we want and an equal amount of energy trying to keep away what we abhor.  The rationale of this behavior is happiness; but, true happiness is not determined by what is outside of us.  

As a meditation practice develops, one is able to discern which thoughts are colored. A regular meditator is detached from their thoughts, they are able to uncolor them and decrease incessant craving for the the material world and it’s ephemeral pleasures.  Many philosophies believe attachment is our greatest downfall; whether is desire for more accomplishments and experiences or the fear of death.  Meditation does not make us apathetic; a healthy yearning for that which brings us inside and towards truth is amplified with regular practice.

Meditation is a wellspring; it allows us to set down the many false ideas and identities that burden us on a daily basis.  Then, as if we hang these on a clothesline, after meditation we pick these up and they feel lighter. With meditation we begin to perceive ideas of lack are not our true nature; they are fantasies we created along the way.  During meditation, we still the body, smooth the breath, quiet the mind, and steep in the silent Center of Consciousness.  How can we be undeserving, unworthy or unlovable if our true nature is perennial and connected with the True Nature of everyone?  

 

The New Normal

Spiral Staircase Queens House UK www bamorama com

Ah, it’s nice to return to the blog-o-sphere…

I never pegged myself as one to share extremely personal things via my blog; however, I feel sharing this experience is beneficial on multiple levels.  Firstly, I want to explain my hiatus from this commitment.  Secondly, I hope that sharing the experience will allow others to catch a glimpse into my reality and, perhaps, see our commonality.  Lastly, I believe that appropriate sharing is cathartic.

When I first set out to create this blog, I did so with my life partner, my best friend, my husband.  Some of you who have been following will remember our collaborations and his poetry–which are still hosted on this site.  Despite us both being committed to our spiritual paths, our relationship path has diverged and we are not continuing in the direction of a married couple.  We are still committed to our children and to the being the best co-parents and friends we can be.

Sharing what “happened” isn’t necessary. In fact, according to Swami Rama, “The nature of Reality is a game of hide and seek, which is really the only game there is—now you see it and now you don’t.” Furthermore, the Yoga Sutras explain: “Although the same objects [or situations] may be perceived by different minds, they are perceived in different ways, because those minds manifested differently.

So in actuality, what “happened” is based on whose perspective you garner.  In fact, the word perspective is powerful in and of itself…  According to Google, “[in] late Middle English (in the sense ‘optics’): from medieval Latin perspectiva (ars ) ‘science of optics,’ from perspect- ‘looked at closely,’ from the verb perspicere, from per- ‘through’ + specere ‘to look.’”  What calls me is not the fact that it means to look, it’s the fact that it denotes looking through.

So what is it that we are looking through?

It is the veiling Power of the Universe, Maya.  “Maya means appearance, as if something appears to be one way, but is really another… some view maya as meaning that nothing is real, and turn this into a cold-hearted intellectual practice, others view the illusion of maya as being shakti, the creative force of the universe. In this way, the maya of the koshas is experienced both as unreal and, at the same time, as the beautiful manifestations of the universal oneness” (Swami J).

The reversal of this process is the purpose of meditation in traditional Yoga. As Georg Feuerstein has explained, it is implosion.   A receding (for lack of a better word), through all the “layers” until there is an experience of “The Witness?“.

How does this tie in with Chad and I?  Well, I believe the philosophy and the practices I have been sharing have helped me to be more at peace with what is happening.  Firstly, as I have mentioned, I appreciate perspective in a way that I have never before.  I feel more empathetic towards someone who I may have considered to be an adversary in the past.  Secondly, they have given me more self-regulation.  All of the time watching my thoughts, emotions, and behaviors have helped me to be less reactive.  I am certainly not professing mastery; but, I feel less volatile.  Additionally, I attribute a general feeling of optimism because I know that what I am is not defined by my life situation–there is a constant which is unaffected and I have access to the peace of this space.

I was recently presented with the metaphor of grief being like a spiral staircase–as opposed to being like a ladder with rung-like stages.  We continually move through stages, which circle back around; but, on the next pass we’ve moved higher.  This is also a metaphor for sadhana (the spiritual path); we keep moving upwards–even if it seems we’re going around in circles.

Make sure to click the links– there is a plethora of information there.

Om Shanti Namaste