Ponderings

Being a "Good" Yogi

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How do you measure the efficacy of your yoga practice? The answer to this question is often only thought of in terms of flexibility and strength but that is not a measure of a yoga practice, it is only a measure of an asana practice. Asana is only one branch of yoga and if that is all you are doing, I hate to break it to you, but you are not doing yoga, you’re just exercising.

 

The modern yoga industry sells this version of yoga idea to make it more “palatable” for the masses, more salable, more commercialized and easier to reap a profit. This is a gross appropriation of an ancient practice for the commercial industrialized world. A “palatable” yoga practice is as far from yoga as yoga can get.

 

Yoga is a spiritual practice. Spirituality like yoga is also marketed to the masses in a “palatable” way, as a thing that makes “life all good”. But calling life all good is just spiritual bypass. Life isn’t always all good. Sure, from the spiritual perspective it’s all divine, but that’s not all good. Sometimes the divine shows up in shitty ass ways. Take the 400 years of white supremacy that makes up the backbone of the democracy we call America; it’s shitty and it’s an invitation to doing great soul-searching work; it’s the divine showing up say look here and do the work here. Spirituality is not about transcendence of the world but deeper involvement in it. Spirituality is the act of recognizing our ego is not in control, something bigger is dealing the cards, and our response to the hand we get dealt is where the work gets done; that is where the human evolves, that is where a better world is created – internal and external. That means acceptance, accountability, commitment, awareness, forgiveness, compassion, and most of all love.

 

That awesome pose you can do doesn’t mean shit in the face of life – ugly, real, honest life; that picture of you in some awesome pose just means you can do some awesome pose. If you use the journey into and out of the pose as a reminder of how to face and dance with life off your mat, it means more. If you can use the pose to remember that life isn’t comfortable and the way you choose to perceive the experience you are having in your mind, a choice that may or may not disturb the resonance of peace and love in your heart, then it means more; to explore the boundaries of your fear and your relationship to courage while there, and to continue - not despite the adversity but in the face of it - then it means more; to explore the nature of your willingness to reckon with self-accountability while rumbling with the self-aggrandized ignorance of your beliefs, it means more. If you’re only striking some awesome pose for that great Instagram shot and more followers, it doesn’t mean shit; and it certainly does not mean you’re some advanced yogi.

 

Sure, I can do some pretty big asana poses but my ability to do those poses is not my measure of the efficacy of my yoga practice. I measure the efficacy of my yoga practice in my capacity to sit in the company of myself when I’m feeling fucked-up, insecure, neurotic, and emotional without asking those things to change, but rather addressing myself there with more compassion, love, accountability, courage, and forgiveness. I measure the efficacy of my yoga practice in my ability to be compassionate towards others who are living human lives; ignorant, self-aggrandized, shut down, and afraid. I measure the efficacy of my yoga practice in my ability to be more like my hero’s, people who have stood or still stand with love and courage in the face of adversity for the sake of the greater good. People who lead and have led the way for the rest of us to follow. The list is long and the majority of them are people of color.

Having flexible joints and muscles doesn’t mean you have a flexible mind; doesn’t mean you can rid yourself of a destructive belief for one that is life enhancing. Having strong joints and muscles doesn’t mean you have strength of character nor the ability to be in the presence of difficult people or experiences without getting taken out by them. Strong and flexible joints and muscles are not measurements of a strong yoga practice, nor a strong spiritual practice, they are only poor imitations. If like me, you are a white yogi and you want to be a “good” yogi in the world today it is time to educate yourself on white supremacy; have difficult conversations about your complicity and privilege with yourself and others; stand for something bigger and more life enhancing than your desire to nail that press handstand and do it in public. Let your conviction and commitment to a cause greater than yourself be a measurement of your yoga practice no matter how many followers or students you gain or lose; no matter how big your poses get; no matter how much anger and grief you have to sit through; let your flexibility of mind, strength of character, and spaciousness of spirit speak for you.

With Love, Allways, In All Ways, For Giving, In Joy,

Genevieve

Ignorance May Be Bliss, But Knowledge Is Power

One of my favorite stories, a story that I find very inspiring, is the story of Socrates and the Oracle at Delphi. Socrates served in the Peloponnesian war between Athens and Sparta. After the war, he devoted his life to the pursuit of truth. His reputation for being a man with a deep love of wisdom spread throughout Athens and beyond. He was told at some point along the way that the Oracle at Delphi had proclaimed him the wisest man in Athens. Socrates, being in constant pursuit of the truth did not believe this to be true outright, and instead he decided to prove the Oralce wrong. Henceforth, Socrates set out on a quest to find anyone who knew what was truly worthwhile in life. For anyone who knew the answer to this riddle was truly wiser than he. Questioning everyone he could find, the quest proved a great challenge indeed. For all that he questioned pretended to know something they did not, and he felt he never got a pleasing or honest answer. Despite his effort to prove the Oracle wrong he decided that the oracle perhaps was right after all. He was the wisest man in Athens because he alone was willing to admit his ignorance and not claim to know something he did not.

Just as much as I enjoy the story of Socrates’ search for a man wiser than he, I am endeared to the note written above the door to the Oracle at Delphi. “Know thyself” and the lesser known second half of the sentence “and nothing in excess.”

Like the story of Socrates, the writing above the door to the Oracle invites one into the never-ending quest for self-empowering gift of knowledge. And what makes knowledge self-empowering?

With knowledge, we become able to make well informed decisions. Wisdom itself is the power of being discerning and making thoughtful decisions. And making a choice in the moment is the only power we ever really have. Therefore, having a broad base of understanding and perspective to choose from we enable ourselves to make the best possible choice for the circumstance, from our most authentic and present self.  This is power. Even more powerful is the ability to acknowledge that we do not know something. In such an acknowledgement, we accept our ignorance and our opportunity to learn. In learning we lift the veils of our ignorance and step more deeply into the power of self-knowledge. This is stepping from ignorance into awareness, this is the great gift of revelation.   

This is one of the many gifts of a yoga practice. Through yoga we are revealed to ourselves over, and over again. To ourselves it is revealed what we know and what we are learning, in our bodies, in our minds, in our breath, in our emotional responses and reactions to the animate world we are living in. The revelation takes place in the friction between our willingness to surrender and our desire to stay attached. Through yoga we get to continue to experience the revelation of that which is true for us at any given moment. And the ultimate truth, that what is true right now, may not be true later, as all things are always changing. Knowledge is power and it is the opposite of ignorance is bliss.

Knowing thyself and nothing in excess allows us to face our ignorance and rather than see it as an impediment, to see it as an invitation. This is beginners mind. This is true flexibility. This is the root of the ability to yoke or bring all facets of our being into balance finding a state of unification in all matters of being, self, and the world. Perhaps it was being in a war that led Socrates on a lifelong pursuit of the truth. Perhaps somewhere on the battlefield he realized it was only an illusion of separation that created a false premise of difference. Perhaps it was there that he realized rather than seeing enemies in that which we do not know, we have an opportunity to see that which we do not know and an invitation to learn something new.

And for the question as to what is truly worthwhile in life. We all get pursue the answer to this mystifying riddle and greatest of quests, with each breath, and each I don’t know.

With Love, Always, in All Ways, For Giving, In Joy,

Genevieve

 

Pain Free Mind

Though I do my best to not get caught up in conversations, which can lead to arguments, from time to time I inevitably find my way there. Less so than in years past, signifying my ability to learn new behaviors, but still a passionate person it does happen. Fortunately for me, more often than not, such conversations are with reasonable and rational people and no friendship is lost in the heat, be it ever so subtle, of debate. Yesterday I found myself in such a conversation, defending a position that was rooted in a truth of my own experience. In contemplation of the conversation in the hours since I acknowledge that I still hold fast to my truth, and yet I recognize that the other position was just as valid. As the position I was arguing against was also a truth.

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are full of teachings that over time enable the practitioner to limit the kinds of thoughts that create such bondage in the mind in which a position of defense needs to be held. Yet the mind wishes to hold onto something. So the journey to a mind that is free from bondage is much like the journey to a life that is free from argument, it takes time. First there needs to be an acknowledgement that there is bondage, or a tendency to argue. Then there needs to come an attentiveness to the types of thought the mind wants to hold onto, or the personal truths that one will passionately argue about. After identifying the nature of the mind, and/or the argumentative behavior, comes the work of choosing correct action. With the mind, that is choosing to think the thoughts that do not cause pain and attachment. Pantanjali makes note that even pleasurable thoughts can eventually lead to pain and attachment. So in our quest to bring peace to the mind we must learn to identify which thoughts are pain free, not creating an infliction of bondage. Much like learning to choose thoughts that are painless, remembering that each human has a different perspective on truth will create the spaciousness that enables conversations that are challenging whilst maintaining respect for the other persons position. Until the mind is able to let go of it’s position on what is true or right, the mind will want to defend it.

In yoga sutra 1:5 Patanjali states, “There are five kinds of mental modifications which are either painful or painless.” This sutra is followed with the description of what these states are, yoga sutra 1:6. “They are right knowledge, misconception, verbal delusion, sleep, and memory.” As conscious beings we all experience each of these states. The most valuable for experiencing a mind that is unfettered is the quality of right knowledge. And what is right knowledge?

According to Patanjali, sutra 1:7 states, “The sources of right knowledge are direct perception, inference, and scriptural testimony.” This brings us back to the root of the subtle argument I got into yesterday. The truth that each side brought to the table was gained through direct perception. In many ways each truth was also supported by inference, in that we each not only had personal experience that supported our differing positions, we had also witnessed others experiences that supported our individual truths. Lastly, there is the quality of scriptural testimony. In many ways each of us had the basis of basic truths that have been rooted in the concepts of right knowledge for eons. My stance was that adversity exists in nature and learning to rise above adversity is a necessary component of personal growth. The other, that some systems create more adversity and that those systems need to be adjusted to create more nurturing and life enhancing environments. Each position true, each position valuable, each position a component in the greater web of experiencing personal peace and peace for the greater good.

Thus is one of the many paradoxes of this life. That right knowledge, or truth, changes from the position in which you choose to look at it. And until the mind has been trained to see a greater web in which many threads make up the entirety of the tapestry it will want to hold onto the threads it considers the strongest, most valuable, most important, most beautiful. And much like learning to not be argumentative as a reactive behavior, we must train our minds to be spacious in their understanding of truth and right knowledge.

I will stand by my position for now, as my mind is yet unready to let it go completely. However, I am already experiencing a chipping away of my stance as I contemplate the conversation of yesterday. And though it is slightly painful right now, I know eventually it will lead to a state that is pain free.

To your pain free mind, With Love, Always, in All Ways, For Giving,

Genevieve