Is suffering optional?
Is suffering optional? Most of us are conditioned to believe we must suffer as part of the human experience, but, thankfully, as yogis, our practice gives us a glimpse of another possibility.
The key to a life free of suffering is the willingness to practice surrender. Courageously surrendering everything – all that we think we are, all that we love, all that we despise, all of our treasures, our pleasures and our pain, with an unwavering faith that divine grace holds us. That is the key to moving from suffering toward divine perspective, from darkness to light. The closer we are to having divine perspective, the more clarity we have regarding what serves us and what does not.
Set an intention to live surrender. Every day. Every moment. When you find yourself clinging, open up your hands. You are not your successes. You are not your pain. You are not your name or any label or any role you play. Allow yourself to be limitless, undefined, receptive, open, and you will realize the truth of who you are. You will discover your essence flooded with the light of divinity.
The thin line between discipline and self-aggression
Discipline is an essential component in a yoga practice, and life in general; as much as I enjoy a day of unstructured time, if left to my own undisciplined devices I would quickly devolve into a life of sleep, snacks, and slow walks leading nowhere. That isn’t the life I want to have. (Well, maybe on Sundays….)
So, we can’t do this thing without discipline. But there is an important quality we need to apply alongside our discipline, and that is gentleness. I suspect many of us have a hard time discerning the line where discipline becomes self-aggression—and I’d put myself at the top of that heap. When we get aggressive with ourselves, our failures and even our successes have an underlying harshness to them. If you share this affliction with me, you know too well the self-critical mantra of “I should have done better, I should have done more” that plays in your mind whether you succeed or fail. And like me, you may have an injury or two (or four) that resulted from pushing too much for too long.
Yoga asana is a great tool for teaching yourself to walk the fine line of discipline that is persistent but not aggressive, in your body and your mind. In fact, one of my favorite definitions of yoga is knowing the difference between too much and not enough. And y’all, that ain’t easy!
I’m starting (slowly, haltingly) to learn I am most effective when the tone I take with myself is one of gentle steadfastness. Learning to pair discipline with a sense of gentleness toward myself and my efforts helps me stay the course, because it empowers me to strive instead of playing on my fear of failure.
So here is my kindly challenge for you today: Can you notice when your sense of drive edges into harshness—when your efforts become pushy, on the mat or in life? What might it be like to soften the edges a bit—not to slack off, not to let yourself off the hook, but to strive with kindness?
I think it feels like sweetness, as well as strength.
Aiming for balance
by Jill Sockman
I’m writing to you on Sunday afternoon, looking out to another grey and drizzly, icy day. There’s the part of me that loves this weather as an opportunity and excuse to lay low, nest, and generally ponder the State of Things. There’s another side, however, that’s just kind of tired of the wet, cold and grey days of winter. I’ve found that this extended southern hibernation is feeding the indecisive characters who take up residence inside of me from time to time: The Procrastinator, The Rationalizer, and The Malcontent. In this unscheduled time out from the usual grind, I’ve planned a dozen times (at least) to tackle undone projects, clear items from the long term to-do list and give a good solid effort to make this “extra” time productive. I have failed miserably.
What happened? I’m pretty sure I wasn’t listening to the instructions coming through the Soul Loudspeaker (which I really wish was a little louder sometimes). I’m placing bets that my current state is a result of listening instead to the Voice of Shoulds. And THAT voice, my friends, is a loud, bitchy, pushy, cranky, critical character. And for whatever reason, I’m most apt to listen to her when I have extra time on my hands.
Instead of taking some hibernation time to read a novel, watch some movies on Netflix, do extra delicious, blanket-swathed restorative practice, nap, dream and generally lie about and enjoy a break, my inner taskmaster set me to work. But so resistant was the rest of me- so desperately in need of having a break- I landed in a really unfulfilling limbo. I was neither uber-productive, crossing off long lists of tasks nor basking in the relaxation of unplanned, open, free time. #snowmageddonfail
And so I hereby vow to return to my regularly scheduled program of listening in and aiming for the ever-elusive bullseye called BALANCE. In the days ahead it is my goal and pledge to work and play in equal(ish) measure and find a middle ground between precision planning and free-for-all spontaneity. And more importantly, recognizing that that real, sustainable balance isn’t always found in the perfect 8-hour split, but rather a subtle wave that requires soft attention and flexibility to ride with grace.
I hope you fared better than I during these odd weeks. But if not, I invite you to take stock of what happened and why, and what is needed to get you back in balance. One day at a time.