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.