Yoga, Ethics, and Integrity: a Recipe for a Saner Life

Yoga, Ethics, and Integrity: a Recipe for a Saner Life

Do you have something you are avoiding right now? Something you promised to do, or some emotion you’d rather not feel? If you say no, I’m pretty sure you are lying (if only to yourself). Every one of us is out of integrity in some way. The state of being human is also the state of imperfection. Our willingness to look at and own these imperfections is what keeps them from unconsciously owning us and is a key piece of the elegant system for living that we call yoga. According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, the word integrity has two definitions: “the quality of being honest and fair” and “the state of being complete or whole”. Unfortunately, it seems we have interpreted the first definition too loosely and disregarded the second. Honesty and fairness have gotten mixed up with morality and virtue and in doing so, we’ve lost track of why they are important. Integrity is not about right and wrong, it’s about what is functional. Offering to help others even when we know we will drain or deprive ourselves is not functional. Neither are breaking promises, chronic lateness, or shoddy work. Making time for self care is functional. Burning the candle indefinitely at both ends definitely is not. The more that we live our lives with integrity, the worthier we will feel. Not the sort of worthiness that implies a hierarchy (as in, worthier than thou) but the worthiness that we all share as living beings. An internal sense of this kind of worthiness helps us to enjoy the preciousness of our own lives and see other lives...
One small trick for dealing with big emotions

One small trick for dealing with big emotions

I hate crying! I’m not talking about the occasional tear of either joy, empathy, or sadness. I’m referring to the racking sobs that make my face puff up, my nose stuff up, and my brain shut up. I’m willing to admit that such cathartic release of emotions is probably healthy on some level but the physical sensations plus the mental reaction that follows cause me to avoid anything that might trigger such a downpour. I think I spent nearly a decade of my life doing just that. I can’t remember crying, really crying, between the ages of about 15 and 24. At 24 the catalyst that re-opened my tear ducts for real were the hormonal changes of pregnancy. All of a sudden I was crying all the time. Really crying. And I hated it. What happened to me, little by little, over the ten years that followed my emotional re-awakening, is that I figured out that most of the suffering I experienced through these “negative” emotions was caused by my resistance to them. I learned this on an intellectual level as I studied yoga philosophy and related wisdom traditions, but that type of knowledge only goes so far – we can know a great number of things intellectually that we have no idea how to put into practice. I also learned it on a subconscious intuitive level, which it turns out was much more practical. In the yoga sutras, patanjali describes aversion (dvesha) as being one of the five kleshas or causes of suffering. Perhaps you have heard the saying “pain is inevitable, suffering is optional”. This concisely points...
Why You Should Befriend Your Shadow

Why You Should Befriend Your Shadow

Do you have a part of you that just creeps you out? An aspect to your personality that you’d rather nobody knew about – even yourself? Do you have a persistent dysfunctional pattern that you keep thinking you’re over – until it pops up again? Of course you do. We all do. And it’s often referred to as our “shadow”. Just like everyone’s body makes a dark reflection on a sunny day, all of us have a dark element to our selves. For most of us this is not news, but the idea that you should actually explore this element of your self might be. And it’s no surprise that our shadows tend to come out around the people we love & trust the most. The people we least want to hurt. The ones whose shadows are spilling out over us in return. In service to them and to ourselves, the icky sticky work of befriending our shadow is a worth endeavor. I’ve learned to recognize my own shadow by my desire to run away, hide my head, and look at anything else but that. In fact, I feel a resistance to even writing this post. But the problem with running away & pretending it doesn’t exist is that it doesn’t do any good. No matter how much we run, hide, or pretend, our shadow will catch up with us. In fact, it is unlikely to ever go away completely. So like it or not, our shadow side is a constant companion. Sometimes silent & unobtrusive, other times impossible to ignore, our shadow has the most hold over us...
Is it better to give or to receive?

Is it better to give or to receive?

Solomon peed on me the very first time I changed his diaper. I took it as a sign of affection. I drove the hour plus to Spartanburg, SC to visit my friend Kristin and her new baby on a sunny Saturday afternoon with my 9 year old daughter. Just one week old, Solomon has it made. Adoring mom, doting dad, and two (much) older siblings very much in love. This baby is not neglected (understatement). When he’s not nursing, he is being cuddled by one of his other family members. Every time I tried to hold him my own daughter begged for a turn. Rarely does his adorable little butt get put down. I marveled at the softness of his skin and the floppy mobility of his little body. I smelled his head, brushed my lips over his cheek, and stroked his neck. What an incredible adaptation for such a tiny vulnerable being to become so adorable that every human in sight wants to not only protect, but practically worship him. A friend of mine once told me that we love babies and animals because they are such generous receivers. We usually think of generosity in terms of giving. But what if receiving is as much of a gift as giving is? Many of us have an unhealthy relationship with receiving; we think of it as being greedy or weak. When we see in those terms, we set up a power differential between giver and receiver. This causes us to either avoid receiving at all costs or accept the generosity of others at the cost of our own self...
How to become stronger than you ever thought possible…

How to become stronger than you ever thought possible…

 My senior year of college I had the brilliant idea of writing and directing my own play. What I didn’t take into consideration was that I had never written a full length play before. I had no idea what goes into it or how long it takes to create a coherent story that works well on stage. What I had was a few scenes written in my play-writing class that had received a positive response from the other students. Since those scenes had been generated fairly quickly and the characters showed potential, I assumed I could do more of the same and whip up a full length play. When rehearsals were scheduled to begin and the play wasn’t even remotely making sense, I decided that it was no problem – I would just workshop the scenes with my actors and use that to polish it up. Of course when you are busy working with actors, props masters, lighting designers, costumers, etc… there isn’t a lot of time or energy left to finish your play. And all of the other elements of the play hinge on having a finished script to go by. To make a long story short, opening night was one of the most painful nights of my life. Not just because the play wasn’t ready. Mostly because I wasn’t ready. When you put your creation in front of an audience and it is not up to your own standards… that hurts. Some of it was funny, some of it was real, and some of it was cliché. The audience laughed and cringed and presumably went home and...
Attitude of Gratitude: the why and how of positive thinking

Attitude of Gratitude: the why and how of positive thinking

Our life is shaped by our words, we become what we think. –Gautama the Buddha As we gear up for the thanksgiving holiday, it is a good reminder to contemplate and appreciate all the blessings in our lives. While each of us has things to be grateful for, we also experience pain and suffering. I am currently going through a difficult time with someone I love very much. I experience periods of deep sadness, frustration, and grief. However, these negative emotions pass and the feelings of peace, love, and joy return surprisingly quickly. I attribute this directly to the practice and contemplation of looking for the good that I have been steadily engaged in over the last several years. According to the book “Buddha’s Brain” we have on average 60,000 thoughts per day. 95 percent of those are repetitive – the same thoughts again and again every day and multiple times per day. 80% of those are negative. That’s about 45,000 negative thoughts per day. Ouch. If we do indeed become what we think as the Buddha says, we had better figure out how to change those numbers. The desire for freedom and happiness seems to be a universal human desire. Yet we are bound by our thoughts and often resist the very things that will lead to happiness. The term optimist carries with it some connotations of naiveté and folly. We’ve all met people who are relentlessly positive and while they do seem happier than the rest of us, honestly, this trait can be annoying. Trite platitudes like “it’s all good man” seem to lack compassion for the...