We don't need to change or be better than we are. We practice deep compassion as we extend this same privilege to other people and things around us and allow them to simply be, especially those things that would easily turn our hearts bitter.
Ever think about your beliefs as a part of your yoga practice? Believing isn't an indicator of truth or non-truth. It's just what you believe. But knowing what you believe is a great way of practicing understanding yourself. It makes us inquire. And through this inquiry, we can play at the edges of knowing, as poet Mary Oliver says. Also, sharing your beliefs, especially in a respectful way, opens your heart and allows others to see a real and honest part of you. This is about truth, the Sanskrit term Satya. Not that what you believe is true (it may be) but what is true is that you feel it and that you are honest and brave enough to share it. I invite you practice sharing your truth and watch as your life opens up; notice the ways others around you also open up as you share your truth.
So, here's a practice for me. This is what I believe:
First, I believe in people. I believe that people are not only good, they're amazing. I believe in the human spirit and its capacity to dream, innovate, work hard, and accomplish, sometimes beyond all odds. This human spirit has sent people to space, we have figured out how to see planets hundreds of million light years away. We make astoundingly beautiful art and movement. We dreamed up Hobbits and Star Wars and the The Royal Tenenbaums. We invented Oreos. Need I say more? We help each other out in times of personal, national, or global crisis. I believe that people, no matter what, somehow to their core, are driven by love.
I believe in yoga and meditation.
I believe in personal growth.
I believe in the power of a good movie.
I believe a good talk can work out most things.
I believe in respect, honesty, and integrity.
I believe that the Universe is mysterious and big and fascinating and that I'm somehow part of this big beautiful thing, planets hundreds of light years away and all, and by understanding myself better, I understand the Universe.
I believe in trying your hardest, even if you can't win, that trying your hardest is winning.
I believe in putting your heart out there, speaking your truth, and letting the consequences happen as they may.
I believe in love as the panacea to fix most everything.
I believe things have flaws and cracks and problems and they are perfect like that because through those cracks, as Leonard Cohen says, that's how the light gets in-our flaws are the avenue to growth and understanding to the Divine.
SAN FRANCISCO YOGA TOUR
I believe that I see the Divine in every person, creature, plant, and rock. I believe that the Divine has infinitely many forms and what does the Divine care if your offering to the Divine is religious service, or a prayer in the form of a decadent flourless chocolate cake to share with family and friends (for example). And since the Divine comes in so many forms, it is indeed the Divine who accepts your gift with gladness and thanks. Why not pray with your gifts, with what makes your heart sing, indeed that is a true offering.
I believe in a steady groove and a line of notes blown out the end of a saxophone.
I believe in people coming together to make miracles happen.
I believe in Girl Scout cookies.
I believe in traveling, getting outside your box, your neighborhood, and learning what's going on in this complicated, intricate and incredible blue marble of ours.
I believe in developing compassion by putting yourself in another person's shoes.
I believe in listening, and why not listen on a great sound system?
I believe in discipline with a healthy dose of conscious indulgence.
I believe in local business. I believe in helping out the little guy.
I believe in helping each other make our dreams happen.
I believe in showing up.
I believe in giving someone a chance.
I believe in music.
I believe in caring about our environment because I believe that we can individually make a difference.
I believe in standing up for what you believe, especially in a way that is honoring, respectful, and non-harming to others.
I believe in trail running.
I believe in watching others shine.
I believe in a good belly laugh until tears flow down your cheeks and you become hysterical.
I believe in the benefit of the doubt.
I believe in miracles.
I believe in accomplishing your wildest dreams.
I believe in making your space beautiful.
I believe in creating sacred space.
Again, I believe in love.
I believe in sharing. Please share what you believe.
What does it mean to be mindful? I'm sure we could all describe it in a different way. Some might say focused, conscious, alert, aware. How would you describe mindful? I believe that being mindful is the goal of yoga, it's what we practice, and all the other stuff like peacefulness, health, clarity, wellness, those are all byproducts of mindfulness.
Once we become practiced at mindfulness, we'll find ourselves applying it to all the other things we do in life: work, our relationships, how we spend our free time, even how we do those things we don't love doing like taking out the trash. And let's not mistake being mindful for perfect or blissed-out or even happy. It's just mindful. To have an emotion, for example, and to be perfectly mindful, is to allow yourself the capacity to be completely aware of it, completely involved. And that goes for anything. To really appreciate time with our kids, practicing yoga, the enjoyment of a meal, or enjoying whatever we like to do, we need to be mindful, lest that fun or those flavors pass by unnoticed.
But maybe because of this mindfulness, we'll have experiences and see that what we are isn't defined by them, that what we truly are is bigger than that emotion, that time with our kids, or that yoga posture. And it's by being mindful we can actually use the experience of an emotion or yoga pose or whatever to witness our true identity, which is mindfulness itself. The emotion or whatever is simply the brushstroke on the canvas of mindfulness. Don't mistake the brushstroke as the painting. If it weren't for the canvas, there could be no brushstroke.
So as we are in yoga practice this week, let's practice understanding our True Nature by practicing mindfulness. I also invite you to practice being mindful as you leave your house to go about your day or drive to work. Notice everything: the feeling of the steering wheel (or handlebars), the feeling of the road beneath you, the flow of traffic, the song on the radio.
See you in class.
One thing I've learned from life and from sages is that on the journey toward self-understanding, we must inevitably experience darkness, grief, and loss to some degree or other. Part of our understanding is to see the whole picture, not only the parts which are peachy. We evolve from our naive understanding of God or the Universe as something which is only beneficent to the ability to hold the fact that to understand the whole picture means that we have to hold both of life's pleasures and life's losses. That to truly fall in love with this life we must somehow embrace the darkness. And I guess the true lesson, that lesson that ultimately will apprentice ourselves to experience the greatest joy, is the lesson of how to sing when you are in the midst of great loss and sorrow, when you feel the most abandoned. I guess we learn that it's not about that shallow definition of "success," but what "success" really means is defined by who can speak to whatever place they find themselves, who can stand at the end of the battle, when your house is burned down, your life feels like it's in ruins and stand with your integrity and honor and sing into the darkness. Or at least hum a little, even if it's interrupted by tears.
The Winter Solstice is today, the 21st of December. This is when the sun is at its lowest point on the horizon, the days are the shortest and the nights are the longest. Solstice means "sun stands still."
Yoga, of course, is a mirror for our life. Our practice of every-day living finds expression and offers us understanding through the ancient wisdom of yoga. So join me this week as we sing to the darkness, as we learn to hold both light and dark and therefore celebrate what it means to be fully alive.
Wendell Berry says it best in this poem:
To Know The Dark
To go in the dark with a light is to know the light.
To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight,
and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings,
and is traveled by dark feet and dark wings.
"We ate well and cheaply and drank well and cheaply and slept well and warm together and loved each other." Excerpt from Earnest Hemingway's A Movable Feast
In Paris, we rented a very small and completely perfect half-room apartment on the third floor. To call it a one-room apartment would be to grossly exaggerate its scale. Our only window looked out onto a common space, a sort of chimney of light that allowed each apartment both the pleasure of natural night and the pleasure of being a voyeur into the lives of our neighbors. For breakfast we ate warm omelets with fresh melted goat cheese that Seneca cooked on the hot plate. Seneca said the cheese was too strong and tasted like a sheep's utter. I loved the strong cheese and we both swooned over a small salad of fresh arugula and the freshest tomatoes and strawberries so flavorful that it made me feel like I'd never before eaten something called a strawberry.