Lessons of 2017
by Jill Sockman
At the end of the year, I like to pause and look back at what transpired during the last journey around the sun. I want to review what I have learned – both what I need to take with me into the new year and what I should definitely leave behind. Self-reflection is always important, but somehow seems more pressing as the calendar turns over yet again.
1. I am wrong. A lot. It’s taken a while to come to this as I have spent a good part of my life suffering from “I-really-am-right-itis” which apparently I got from my father. Maybe it’s genetic. He was a man who took the notion of My Way or the Highway to unprecedented levels, so I suppose it’s not a surprise that the imperative to BE RIGHT was so firmly stamped upon my being. What has been most interesting about this lesson (with which the Universe has been beating me over the head for the past 12 months) is that instead of feeling defeated, I’ve discovered a profound freedom in not needing to be right, in not needing to know. I’m finding this new way of approaching problems, situations and interactions (with the clear understanding that I might have it completely wrong) incredibly liberating. No need to convince, control, set straight, have the answer… it’s huge. There’s so much less gripping and grasping when it’s okay to be wrong or to disagree. I am fully embracing the fact that more often than not I just don’t know. About much of anything.
2. I am not in control. And that’s okay. At least it’s more okay than it used to be. I understand that there is a vision greater and a current stronger than my own which is definitely guiding me along this crazy ride. I need to stop wildly waving my arms in a vain attempt to wield my limited powers to move things along. I am decidedly not in charge of the timeline either. My job, my challenge, my task is to lean back. Lean away from disturbance. Lean away from distraction. Sit in center and enjoy the ride. This tactic provides a significant improvement in well-being relative to my position as General Manager of the Universe and Director of the Flow of All Things.
P.S. Those positions are now available if you’re interested. I don’t know who is looking at resumes, but it’s not me. And if you’ve also been on the Universe’s Executive Team, resignation is much, much easier than you think.
3. Everything is going according to plan. This is an off-shoot of Lesson 2. While it’s been made exceptionally clear that it may not be MY plan, there is a plan. All of it – every step and misstep, every moment in the light, every moment in the darkness was and is necessary for me to get bigger, get smaller, get wiser, stronger, surer of myself, more self-sufficient, more reliant on others. I have quoted this Rumi line hundreds of times: “All evolves us.” And it does. Not just the parts we like, but every aspect of our journeys. We are being given the opportunities we need to learn what we came here to learn if only we will open our closed hands (and closed minds) and receive the gifts. Even when the medicine is bitter, it is being provided for our ultimate wholeness.
4. What I listen to matters. From what is piping into my headphones, to what I am reading, to the company I am keeping – there is a constant intake feed and its content is vitally important. Even more than that, I’m clearer than ever that I must be always listening for the one that whispers, and can only be heard in the stillness. The one that knows. The one that is, actually, always right. In order to consistently hear that guidance, more spaciousness and more quiet is needed. The compass, the guidance, is always there. But we cannot expect to hear it if we are spinning at 10,000RPM from the moment we open our eyes until we fall back into bed.
5. My value is not determined by how busy I am. I cannot sustainably do as much as I would like to do and I cannot do as much as I used to be able to do. This has been a hard one to swallow, as somewhere along the way I got the idea that productivity is the scale by which my worth is measured. But this is not the truth. I’ve come to see that my true worth is actually gauged by just how closely my life is aligned with my soul. The guidelines are simple. The soul is not in constant motion. The soul does not need recognition. The soul does not need approval, nor does it need to please everyone at all times. When I am all lit up, I can be sure I am in alignment. When I’m depleted, pushing, forcing, it’s a sign I’m moving in the wrong direction. Life as an expression of the soul – the essence of Self – versus life as the fulfillment of ideas and ideals set in place by expectation and ego. I am the only one who can be me, as you are the only one who can be you. Unapologetically, authentically living out the whole of who and what we were made to be is perhaps the great work of our lives. Filling our actions with more passion, with more love, with a more open heart than ever before. And allowing that to be enough.
I hope you’ll take a little time to scribble down what you’ve learned this year, what’s worth carrying into 2018 and what might be best put in the bin with the rest of 2017 wrappings. Ultimately, all we can know is ourselves, and the process of uncovering will take a lifetime.
Blessings and thanks,
‘Tis the Season
by: Jill Sockman
Tuesday night was the first night of a four-week series that I’m offering during this holiday season. When the message came through to put it on the calendar, I wasn’t clear on why, if anyone would be interested, or in what way it might be of service. But what I knew for sure was that this time of year can be chaotic, frantic, overly busy. It can elicit feelings of happiness and excitement and, just as much, feelings of loneliness, separation, and frustrated confusion at the state of our world and its priorities. The best medicine I know of for all of that is community.
We started the evening with conversation about why participants committed to these four evenings in such a busy time of year. And while the answers varied, some themes ran consistently throughout all six groups. I’m guessing our sample is in some way representative of the whole, and this perhaps sheds some light on where we are as a collective this time of year and what we need to thrive through the season:
A desire to be connected. Considering we spend so much time “talking” with others over text and e-mail and “checking in” with friends and family on social media, many of us feel more disconnected than ever before. I recently came upon statistics about the huge percentage of our population that regularly experiences loneliness and it is staggering. We want to belong – to ourselves and in the world. We are looking for meaningful in-person interactions and live conversations about things that matter. Seek them out and treasure them. Nourish and invest in those relationships.
The need to stay centered. I’m beginning to understand that no matter how disciplined I am in my practice or how many tools I have in the toolkit, there are many forces simultaneously and constantly pulling me away from my center and what I know to be true. Apparently I am not alone. From troublesome thoughts and habitual mental spin to tirelessly addressing the shoulds, wants, needs and demands of friends, family and work, it takes more than a morning meditation practice to live consistently from center at any time of year, much less during the holidays when the strain on our time and energy is even greater. We want to be present, stay present, and show up authentically and in alignment with our truth. Letting go of the extraneous, turning away from distraction and regularly touching in to the present moment as it is are ways to stay centered.
To find groundedness. I just learned as I typed that groundedness is apparently not even a word, but I think you know what I mean. Days and weeks whiz by and we so easily get stuck on go. It’s physics: objects in motion will tend to stay in motion. In other words, it’s easy to let the action of daily life become an endless spin of activity until we fall exhausted into bed- only to get up and do it again the next day. What is it to be grounded? To experience steadiness, stillness. To feel tethered and held by spaciousness and grace. It is impossible to feel this, experience this, if we don’t fight physics and stop the constant motion. To be still and to breathe is to find steady ground.
A place to fill my cup. Most of us are in the mode of giving and serving a lot of the time. I think this is a good way to live, but it is not sustainable if we are not also dedicating time and attention to filling our own cups. It’s never someone else’s job or responsibility to make sure we are full- we must be accountable and doggedly dedicated to what lights us up, brings us joy, and fills our hearts. We must seek it out, make it a priority. This is not a selfish practice. Rather, being full allows us to bring that fullness to everyone we meet and everything we do. Your joy is not a luxury. It is a necessity.
Most of you who are reading this are not joining us on Tuesday nights. But I am guessing that as you move into December and whatever holidays you celebrate, some of the things you need are the same as what we discussed on Tuesday evening. And so the challenge is, what can you do?
As always, the most important part is to acknowledge that you do have needs and to identify what they are. Sounds simple, but all too often we are so focussed on the to-do list of life that we put ourselves on the back burner. Take time to ask yourself what you really need. Can you commit to habits, rituals and practices to take better care of yourself in the coming weeks? Connected, centered, grounded and full, might you be better able to be present during this beautiful and challenging season and shine as you were made to?
As we close the book on 2017, thanks for being with us. May you find peace in your heart and mind as you move into the New Year.
by Jill Sockman
As is always the case, I’m under the wire to finish my outline for this weekend’s training. I always have the best intention to get these things done well in advance, but the truth is that it never, ever happens. Not ever. Like not even one time. There’s some part of it that is related to a busy schedule, and a constitution that needs to focus on just one event at a time. But there’s also the Procrastination Factor. And it’s very real. So this week is round-the-clock writing, planning, thinking, pondering, meditating on the idea of holding space.
This particular workshop really doesn’t have anything to do with classical Yoga. It’s not material that I’ve received from my teachers over years of study. Rather, it’s grown out of ten years of training yoga teachers and watching what goes right and what goes wrong as we attempt to create a container for others to find their way to their own truth. Even as well-intentioned yogis, it is so hard not to impose our opinions, agendas and priorities onto others in our attempt to facilitate their processes. And in the end, all that does is muck up the works.
As I’ve been putting together the elements of each session, one of the biggest pieces that has shown up is the foundation of holding space for another person- and that is learning to hold space for ourselves. For anyone in a teaching, helping, assisting role in life (and that’s pretty much everyone) it’s often easier to pour ourselves into others’ needs, issues and problems than to really address our own inner voice in a meaningful, directed way.
So, as we launch into what is for many the busiest and/or most challenging time of year, I want to offer the suggestion that you commit to holding space for yourself through the end of the year. What does that even mean? Well, here are some considerations to start the inner dialogue:
- Holding space is about creating a safe container for another person/people to have whatever experience they are having and speak their deepest truths in an authentic way, with no judgement. What would it be like for you to give yourself a little quarter in these hectic months? How could you give yourself the right to feel what you are feeling, and express that honestly, without making excuses, without repressing those emotions, without blaming anyone or anything else? What bigger truths arise when you allow such honest expression?
- So much is revealed to us in the process of self-study, and great help can be found in asking some questions to find out what is in the way of you holding space for yourself. Ideas to ponder on or journal about: Do you feel safe expressing your true thoughts and feelings? To whom, or under what circumstances? Do you make that a priority? What excuses or patterns of deflection or diversion have you created over the years to focus on others to the exclusion of your story, your needs, your truth? What small steps could you take to change those patterns?
We all want the same things: to be seen, heard, acknowledged, accepted. And while we live in community and need others, I’m finding that the crucial first step to do that for another is learning to hear, see and acknowledge our own inner truths, lives, emotions and stories. To hold the space for ourselves with compassion instead of judgement, with accountability rather than blame. And to create spacious time for the unfolding of all the magic that lives inside, rather than burying our stories and hiding our light under a veil of constant busy-ness and doing.
It’s a gift and a privilege to hold the space for others to hear the wisdom held in their souls. How would it be, and what might you find if you were to hold your own truth in that same light and reverence?
Power of the Pause
by Jill Sockman
I’ve spent the past couple of weeks preparing for a corporate presentation on the practical application of mindfulness. It’s work I know and love, that lives under the surface of my skin every waking moment. It’s sometimes applied, sometimes ignored. There’s one particular practice that has stood out for me as I’ve been endlessly writing, reviewing, revising, and rehearsing. And as I have been in head down, uber focus, must produce, on-a-deadline mode, I was reminded at a critical moment in my work about the power of the pause. It happened once and then it happened over and over again throughout this process. When I listened it was ease and flow. When I didn’t, it was painful in all the ways stress and strain drag us down.
What’s behind the power of the pause? The key to sustainable productivity, creativity, and flow. It’s a practical way to deal with the reality of our easily distracted minds. It’s a way to access our greatest ideas, our deep energy reserves and the potent voice of creativity that lives within. It’s pretty simple. You can only stay in the flow state, in the ease of creative productivity for so long. If you’re like me, it’s such a sweet spot, and I love it. It’s when the words come tumbling out onto the page, when ideas are rising so quickly I can barely type quickly enough to catch them before they are gone.
But eventually, that wave subsides and the process becomes more effortful, less flowy. And when that happens what do you do? Up until about two weeks ago, I would glue my butt to my chair, strain and spin and moan until I was truly depleted, exhausted, in a horrible mood– or all three. I forgot about the simple efficacy of the power of the pause. I forgot that there’s another way.
What’s the lesson? Ride the flow, or if there’s precious little current available, put your head down and focus, but for just a short while. How long that is varies for me from day to day, but I’m getting more sensitive to the place where I start to zone out. I’m more aware of the voice inside that gently whispers “take a break now” which happens well before that same inner wisdom screams “STOP THE MADNESS” at a bloodcurdling volume.
If I am doing the practice, as soon as the zone out begins, when the flow turns to strain and the ease turns to effort, I get up and do something different. Not checking my email again, not flipping through my to-do list, not staring at the screen or at my calendar, but something else entirely. I create a gap. I take a pause – a real one. Whether it’s going for a walk, sitting at the piano and plunking out a few tunes, doing a brief meditation, chatting on the phone with a friend, or lying on the floor staring at the ceiling, I change the channel from Work Mode to something else – anything else. When this is done in a mindful way, before too long, I feel the flow start to percolate again as the ideas and energy return, and I get back to it. We must work. But the message that we must rest and play is slowly sinking into my thick little head as the greater truth.
What’s in your day today? How can you implement the power of the pause to be not only more productive, but more relaxed and happy along the way?
by Jill Sockman
I love the word for discomfort in Sanskrit. I especially love that as I am preparing to write about it, my neighbors across the street have turned up their outdoor sound system from “PARTY” to “CLUB” and are totally rocking it out as I attempt to focus my little mind to write. How entirely appropriate.
Dukha. It’s like onomatopoeia – where a word phonetically imitates the sound it describes, for example “meow” or “ping”- only for feelings. Dukha is what dukha sounds like – a feeling of unsatisfactoriness about how things are. Life, in the moment, not going your way.
Intellectually, I know that it is not possible to avoid discomfort. I understand that things will not always be the way I want them to be. I recognize that we are all flawed humans, navigating life as best we can, occasionally bumping up against each other in unpleasant or downright hurtful ways. My ideas will not be universally embraced. My best-laid plans will not always work out. Not everyone will like me, support me, approve of me, or even be nice to me. I get all that, at least in my head. And yet, I still occasionally find myself in the madness of trying to manage an unmanageable situation in the impossible hope of being less uncomfortable. I find myself trying to fix things that are not fixable; perseverating on situations that ultimately have nothing to do with me; spinning to make sense of a falling apart, a coming undone, an unpleasantry, a Way. In other words, trying to get rid of discomfort. Because while perhaps it is unavoidable, it’s just so…dukha.
Preparing for teaching on the yoga of psychology this past weekend, I caught myself in one of these spin cycles. I was in full mental gymnastics mode around what I could do to make myself feel better about an exchange that decidedly did not go how I would have preferred. I experienced a moment of profound gratitude (and mild annoyance) for all the teachings I have been the recipient of – for the gift to get to share them with others, and for how they seem to show up at just the right time for me, personally, as I heard the inner voice say:
“She’s giving you discomfort. So, be uncomfortable.”
ARGH! But I don’t WANT to be uncomfortable.
“There is something here for you to learn.”
Insert eye rolling emoji here. But the voice is never wrong.
So this is why we practice. This is why we contort ourselves into odd-looking poses, and hold our breath in pranayama practice, and sit and sit and sit in meditation. We practice doing things that create discomfort partly for the tapas of doing so, and partly to strengthen our ability to stay and feel, without the story, when it just doesn’t feel great to do so. If we can learn to stay and be in self-imposed discomfort, we have so much more hope of doing the same when life does whatever life is going to do.
It was a reminder for me, and now perhaps a reminder for you. Maybe it’s not always on us to make lemonade when life gives us lemons. Maybe we occasionally need to take a seat and bite into a lemon slice. We need to make the face that happens when you bite a lemon slice and remember what sour tastes like. Because it’s one of the flavors that makes up the human experience. Impossible to avoid. Alternatively, as a clever card I once read says, “When life gives you lemons, Be-yon-cé.”
by Jill Sockman
Last month, Kristina and I took 20 people to Peru on one of the most amazing retreats I’ve ever had the privilege to lead. Everyone unplugged – whether a little or a lot – and it was amazing to watch what happened as they did. Even all these yogis who know well the value of space with nothing in it got a glimpse of how much busyness was missing in our remote location. We watched insights and inspirations arise, we witnessed openings and breakthroughs that were nothing short of life-changing. We talked about the power of the pause, the gift and offering that is the breath, and the choice that we have in every moment of every day to remember the sacredness of life, of nature, of connecting in real ways to the people around us.
This week it’s my turn to unplug (obviously in that more-or-less kind of way since I am here writing to you.) I’ve watched my stress level plummet and my happiness factor soar as I hike through meadows painted with wildflowers, fly fish for rainbow trout in a crystal-clear stream, sit and stare into the mountains and up at the sky. I’ve reveled in this somewhat forced lack of connectivity as I have no cell service, and unless I’m taking a meal where there’s wi-fi, no internet either. It’s amazing.
Since as far as I know, we can’t live on vacation, it begs the question how do I take this home with me? How can I capture what I watched 20 people do in the sacred valley of Peru and what I have lightly touched myself in these few days in the mountains? Here’s what I’ve come up with so far:
1.) Stop being so busy. You’re a miracle and wonderful and amazing and also not that important. Whatever is so urgently calling you out of a moment of peace, can it wait for an hour or until tomorrow? Probably.
2.) Unplug. For real. Remember when we didn’t have cell phones? When you came home to check a machine for a red blinking light? Can you build some unplugged time into every day or every week? Perhaps no phone/computer before 8am or after 6pm. Or no phones at the table or in restaurants. We live in a time when we fill up every second we can, and we’re generally not filling those seconds with stillness and grace. Connect real time to the moment and the people around you, not the blue screen, and do it on the regular.
3.) Honor your boundaries. When it comes to boundaries with other people, I’m pretty good. But honoring my own limitations? Not so much. If there’s more to do, I’ll keep plowing on, doing, working, achieving, ticking every last thing off the list (as if that is possible) even when I am on beyond exhausted. When I returned from Peru, I made a commitment to try to better honor where I am in the moment. When that internal voice says “I just can’t answer one more e-mail” or “I just can’t schedule one more meeting,” I am going to do my best to stop. To not do. To realize that the constant pushing, forcing, driving is NOT kindness to self and I need to make a real effort in that arena.
4.) Turn towards your shadow. One of the reasons we stay so busy is to avoid boredom, discomfort, and the low-level anxiety of being a flawed human being with unmet desires, unhealed wounds, unresolved conflicts. The shadow is so often feared, but the fact is that it is a very real and ultimately unavoidable part of us. And to know and understand that shadow is to be more whole.
5.) Gratitude. I think this is always on these lists I make. And it’s because it’s the balm of the soul, the cure for what ails us on every level. Focus on all that you have, in every moment, with a grateful heart. It makes everything better, every time.
I hope that you’ve taken a break this summer, and if you haven’t yet that you make it happen this month. Whether a week, a weekend or an afternoon, we all need to recharge our batteries and do the things that feed our souls. When you find yourself back at home, consider what you can do to maintain that recharged, filled up state. For when we are full, we have so much more to give, we are so much more available to love, we are so much more able to connect. And that is why we’re here.
The Benefit of the Doubt
by Jill Sockman
I’ve been wanting to write about this topic for awhile now. I’ve even started the entry a few times, but have never gotten much further than “Hey! Do you think we can all just give each other a break?” and left it at that. About a month ago, Carrington and I were having a little brainstorming session on my living room floor and when this topic came up she said, “that would be a good newsletter idea!” at which point I committed myself that this would be the month. So, thick is the irony, and so very appropriate that I was on the receiving end of this advice just this morning…
We’ve all been there. You’re in a store, at a restaurant or some other public space when a friend’s child acts up. Even in the ugliest scenario, at worst, the parent becomes flustered, frustrated or embarrassed. But I don’t believe I’ve ever seen one storm out of the room. Or shout about how selfish the child is behaving (even if it’s true.) Or made the event the central focus of the day. In general, the adult behaves like an adult in good form: deals with the situation at hand in the best possible way and then turns to the onlookers with a “Wow, Lucy’s really tired” or “I think Bobby needs a snack.” Extra patience is offered for the struggle that it is to be a child. Quarter is given for imperfect behavior. While we automatically give it to kids, how good it would be to offer it to each other a bit more, too.
If you think this doesn’t apply to you, consider your day-to-day interactions with your partner, co-workers, friends and family. How often are you instantly defensive or offended by a comment you could instead take on board in a constructive way that serves you, if given a moment and a slight change of perspective? How frequently do you get into a twist over a text message or e-mail you’ve deemed feisty instead of either receiving it in the best possible way, or lightly concluding that, like Bobby, the sender must have missed snack time, and let it go? Do you regularly jump to a negative conclusion instead of a positive one? Interpret what could have been a benign misspeak or misstep as a gross insult? And what’s more, do you then let it go and move on, or do you carry the negativity with you for the minutes, hours or days that follow?
We are living in a time of divisiveness. In every interaction we are either adding to that sense of separation or fostering connectivity and the safety of common ground. I’m asking you (and myself!) to find more opportunities to reach across the aisle, across the border and across the street to be a friend instead of an adversary. To choose the search for points of connection and intersection rather than difference; understanding instead of misunderstanding; acceptance in place of rejection.
With our every response, we have the opportunity to create better relationships and a better future. So, the next time you catch yourself about to fall into negative reactivity, can you try a different course of action? Can you pledge to offer those around you the benefit of the doubt instead of jumping to the worst possible conclusion? Might you pause a bit longer so you can respond instead of react and simply let a few more things go? A little more patience, a little more quarter.
It’s not easy, and is decidedly a work in progress. But the truth is that no matter what age you are, it’s hard to be a human in this beautiful, messy world. Give someone a break today. (And that means you, too.)
A More Potent Practice
by Jill Sockman
I’m working with a student currently in the midst of some big life transitions who is using her meditation practice to help manage the anxiety that so often accompanies major change. She opened a recent session with “Am I doing enough?” That question resonated with me so deeply, as I’ve heard it many times before from others and have asked the same question myself. Once you have experienced the truth that every visit to the mat, every minute in meditation, every prayer uttered is a step in the direction of clarity and peace, it’s not surprising we question what else we can do in times of overwhelm and struggle.
You probably already know that I’m a stickler about practice, especially meditation. As my teacher says, maybe there are other ways to get there, but I don’t know what they are. Give me a group of people who meditate daily and a group who don’t. In general, the meditators are happier, more content, more at ease, more compassionate, on the whole, more of the time, than those who don’t. My own practice tells me this is the truth. While 5 or 20 or 60 minutes of morning discipline is absolutely essential, if that’s the only time you are dedicating to self-study, mindfulness and devotion in a 24-hour day, you’re missing out on the potential of the practice. Think about it. The root of that word is potent: powerful, mighty. Just the medicine we need for the challenges of this life.
The number of years you’ve been walking around on the planet is how many years your habits, neuroses, patterns and ego have had to set themselves comfortably into the driver’s seat of your life. If you’re only mindful to the presence of grace for 20 minutes a day and the rest of the time you’re on auto-pilot, while it’s absolutely better than nothing, it’s probably, possibly not enough to really get you there. So, what else can you do? How can you make your practice more potent? How can you get out from under the worry? How can you break free of the patterns that keep you in negative thinking and self-destructive habits?
The foundation is morning quiet time. In every spiritual tradition I know of, aspirants on the path are called to get up before the sun and devote time and attention to the heart, to the light, to the changeless One. As for the answer to “what else?” the following practice suggestions can help you reconnect to the clear space you create on your mat throughout the day- over and over and over. In this way, what happens in the morning isn’t left behind, rather it follows you, carries you, from hour to hour. It becomes woven into the tapestry of each day, eventually- hopefully- coloring every thought, word and action.
- Breathe. The breath is always there to remind us that spirit- that inspiration- is with us all the time. A minute of conscious breathing goes a long way to re-grounding us in what is real, what is present, what is important in the bigger picture.
- Look up. Literally. Whether it’s clear blue expanse of sky or building storm clouds, a bird in flight, or tree branches dancing on the wind, be reminded that you are simultaneously just a speck in creation and a unique and essential part of all that is.
- Listen. Stop the conversations in your head and hear what is around you. Voices, cars, air conditioning units, construction, birds chirping, dogs barking… life is going on right now outside of your internal universe, and it has nothing to do with whatever you are currently perseverating on. You are a part of the holy wholeness of this one moment. How are you participating? What are you contributing?
- Feel your feet. While there is access to so much freedom when you get out of your head, life in the body is a gift, and getting grounded in the body is a bridge to present moment awareness. Feel the steady power of the living, breathing earth beneath your feet, the power of your legs, the beat of your heart. Know that you are held steady all the time by the same force that makes the flowers bloom and turns the tides.
- Mantra. Whether you have a mantra you use in your meditation practice, or know a phrase, saying, word or verse that reminds you what is real and true, use it on the regular to replace the garbage that’s on replay in your mind. Any time, all the time, darkness cannot exist in the light.
- Be a Blessing. This has been one of the single most transformative practices I have ever worked with. Try it once and see for yourself. We all have to live, work and co-exist with people who challenge us and push our buttons (and it’s so good to remember that YOU are that person for someone else!) Instead of dreading those meetings or exchanges, instead of showing up closed, apprehensive or anxious, what if you took a breath (and maybe looked up to the sky and felt down into your feet) and changed your perspective? What if you created an intention that you were going to be a blessing to the person you’re about to meet? What if you decided that your presence in that meeting was going to be a bright spot in their day? That they have something to teach you? While I have no idea what effect it has on the other person, I’ve found that it makes my day better, my heart lighter, my mind clearer. I have to believe it’s sweeter on the other side of the equation, too.
- Good Boundaries. Holding your ground and taking care of yourself isn’t about keeping others out. It’s about maintaining your center, your wholeness, so you can offer yourself fully into your life. Likewise, it keeps you from collecting others’ “stuff” and perhaps even gives another person the opportunity take a look at the moment with more clarity as well.
- Stay Inspired. When you are in the car, walking your dog, or making the evening meal, turn off the TV and turn on a thought-provoking, inspiring or attitude changing book or podcast. Listen to music that you love. Your choices shape your mind. Your mind creates your reality. Are you making good ones? Use every opportunity you have to fill up with the light.
- Gratitude. All. The. Time. Even in the moments when all I can find is assurance that the current darkness will pass and the light will return, the more frequently and consistently I thread gratitude through my day, the more connected I am to the place where I started. The place where I want to be.
I wholeheartedly believe that having a daily morning practice creates the foundation for a happier, less stressed, more compassionate life where we can experience the presence of grace even in times of darkness. I believe it enables us to give the gifts we were born to offer into the world. And I’ve found that adding conscious practices and habits into the course of a busy day can serve to amplify that goodness, and keep the connection to the light strong and steady. And what our world needs, what our relationships need, is more light. Be that.
What Feeds You?
by Jill Sockman
It was quite a few years into running blue lotus when I met someone who asked me what I did besides yoga. I remember being flustered in the moment and disturbed after the fact that I had to search long and hard to offer a pretty lame response. In retrospect, the answer I gave was a list of things I generally liked in the world, rather than anything I was passionate about, loved, or had spent any time actually doing in the previous five years. In a way, I made up an answer to make up for the fact that I wasn’t and hadn’t been doing much of anything besides working. For years. That exchange woke me up in a lot of ways and was the beginning of an important inner dialogue that continues today.
It has been a process (in an ebb-and-flow kind of way that is still in motion) in the years since to rediscover what it is I do other than yoga – running a yoga business, teaching yoga classes, directing yoga teacher training programs, working on yoga-based curriculum for professional and personal development, offering private yoga sessions, mentoring yoga teachers, serving as a consultant for new yoga studio owners… oh, and doing a daily yoga practice of my own and keeping up with being a student of yoga as well. Unless I really work at it, there’s not a whole lot of space for anything else. It easily can and has many times been completely all-consuming- sometimes out of choice and others out of necessity. It takes discipline and dedication to make time to do other things, and I am sometimes successful, sometimes not so much in that effort.
Don’t get me wrong. I am fully aware that there are far worse things to be consumed with. I am grateful and lucky to have a practice that connects and sustains me; I am in real community with people who are more interested in the project of cultivating a spiritual life than a material life; I have fulfilling work that I love with brilliant, dedicated, loving, compassionate teachers, staff and students. But though I’ve not always practiced what I preach I do absolutely believe that it’s never good to lean too far in any one direction – too much of a good thing is still too much. It’s out of balance and ultimately not healthy.
I recognize this in friends who aren’t in the yoga business, some who also know the endless pressure and tasks involved with owning a business and others who have taken deep dives into their careers to the exclusion of all else. Like me, they do it both out of necessity and out of choice. And all of them, like me, recognize on some level, at least occasionally, that there’s more to life than this – even when the life in question is generally happy and fulfilling.
The work of figuring out who I am and what I need outside of those jobs and roles continues. What do I like to do, with whom and where? I’m thankful to have found this work and practice that I love so much, but what else is in there with it? What is nourishing, nurturing, and challenging? What fills the well when the well is running dry? Do you know the answers to these questions for yourself? How much time do you carve out to explore, enjoy, learn, serve, share, study, play with the people, places and things that speak to your heart, that fill your very soul? What is missing or has been sidelined by your business or busyness or both?
Somewhat ironically, the answer can also be found in the yoga. The Sanskrit word purushartha means “purpose/aim of a human being” or “desire of the soul” and the four purusharthas in the Yoga tradition are:
Dharma – duty, purpose, how you serve in the world
Artha – material wealth, the things needed to perform your dharma
Kama – pleasure of all kinds
Moksha – spiritual liberation, the practices that lead to freedom
The teaching is that all four of these areas must be fulfilled in order for us to thrive – we need to be fed in all of those ways to feel whole. At any given time, one of the four purusharthas could be seen to stand center stage, asking for our attention a little more than the others so that our whole self might be fed and realized. It’s not something that we work through in a linear fashion and eventually complete like a checklist. Rather, what is being disregarded or avoided at any given time? It’s an ever-evolving and endless dance, each purushartha taking multiple turns calling us, if we follow, toward a better, joyful, more balanced and happy life. When fed and full, no needs of the soul neglected, we can offer ourselves fully to the path and process of becoming everything we were born to be.
What are You Avoiding?
by Jill Sockman
I’m a professional list maker. You know, the sort that adds an extra task that I have already completed to an active list just so I can cross it off. For those who have been tuned to this channel for a while, it relates to my “productivity = value” equation/dysfunction. It is great way to keep track of what I need to put my attention on, but it’s also a useful tool for observing where my priorities are, because procrastination is a Real Thing. It’s fascinating to watch what tasks are rewritten from one list to the next, ever dropping to the bottom. They obviously need to be done or they would fall away, but my resistance to doing them is high enough that they just keep waiting while I do the many other things.
It’s the same with what’s happening inside of me – though I don’t keep a list for that. Maybe I should. High on the internal landscape to-do list a couple of years ago was dedicated work on the critical voice within. I’ve also put attention on cultivating gratitude, being okay with not knowing, etc. There are things I know I need to work on and actively tackle as well as things I avoid. The good news is that it’s different from my office closet, which no matter how organized I make it, and how devoted I am post-clean that I will never, ever allow it to become so out of hand again, eventually it’s as big a mess as the last time. The interior work, though also never ending, never finds me right back where I started: the Inner Critic is quiet, but not gone; the gratitude practice waxes and wanes; I’m better about not knowing more of the time. It’s practice, all of it– progress yes, destination, no. It turns out that my relationship with myself can evolve, my relationship with my office closet cannot.
And so it is that recognizing my external task procrastination begets the question of what am I avoiding on the inside. This has made me aware not only of what I am avoiding, but how I am avoiding. We talk about the practice of Yoga and meditation as ultimately being the practice of learning how to stay – to stay in the room, in the moment, in the body, in the breath instead of physically, mentally or emotionally running wildly from what is. It is the practice of staying whole instead of fragmenting ourselves into many disparate parts. Like the interior work, this practice requires intention and discipline over and over for a whole life rather than arriving at some I-am-here-now-all-the-time destination.
I am realizing (again) that I use my external to-dos, my drive for work and productivity as my numbing agent as much as my identity. When faced with internal discomfort – whether just the innate restlessness/low level anxiety of being a human or whatever demon-headed form my humanity might be presenting in one moment – if and when I’m not careful, productivity=value sweeps me out of the moment, out of the discomfort. I’ve found another equation: productivity = distraction. I like to tell myself it’s a healthy vice. But the truth is, overwork – especially in this context – is, in the end, as unhealthy and unhelpful as all of the other “overs” when used as distraction, diversion or emotional anesthesia: over-drinking, over-shopping, over-sexing, over-scrolling. over-exercising, over-eating…
What is the ultimate cost of avoiding discomfort/pain through constant distraction? When we indulge in our favorite method of avoidance, be it filling the Amazon.com cart, having just one more glass of wine, or scrambling for connection or entertainment on the smartphone, we drive a wedge between ourselves and whatever the moment contains. We separate ourselves from the wholeness of being alive and all that that entails.
The next time you find an empty moment or an uncomfortable silence when loneliness, anger, shame, grief, boredom or sadness creep into awareness, notice if you stay or if you run. Can you not dissociate from yourself, from wholeness, from your experience as it is by pouring another glass, scrolling, swiping, clicking your way out of the moment? Pain and struggle are not the enemies. They are integral to our growth and necessary parts of the journey. What if the wisdom, the lesson, the insight, the courage, the healing is on the other side of the discomfort and you cannot actually go around it, you must go through it in order to get to the other side?
So much of my work in this life revolves around holding space for others. I’ve learned that holding space for myself and bearing witness to my own pain and discomfort in its many forms is just as essential on my path. There is tension, struggle, confusion and difficulty in being human. There is also beauty, grace, joy and love. When we learn to stay, we begin to take in all of life, as it is offered in the moment, so our aliveness isn’t just the good, it is the everything. And in that aliveness, we remember that we are already whole.