I died a thousand times

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“Every yoga practice is an experience of death.”

Nameless Yogi

What is certain? Certainly not the future. So what is happening right now for you?

Listen. Let the sounds reach you. Become aware of the temperature of the air on your skin. The breath that breathes you. The quality of light that surrounds you. What is happening right now in your body? Become aware of your posture. Your shoulders. The slight tension in your jaw or your brow. What can you hear. And smell. And taste. And what is the texture of your emotions as you read these words? How do they find you today?

Take a moment.

Close your eyes.

And listen.

“We practice yoga, not for life but for death. If any of you are practicing for the life you are mistaken.”

I don’t know his name but it’s not important. I’m more interested in the life force that is joyfully animating his slight Indian form. There is a lift and dance in his movements that reflects the impish arc of his smile, widening with his eyes as he teaches from the front. Witty and provocative, he amuses himself as he watches our addled brains lumpishly wrap around the esoteric enquiries of the Yoga Sutras and the Bhagavad Gita.

“The only thing that is certain is death. In pranayama we are controlling the life force, no? We hold our breath. We stop the life that is breathing us.”

In every moment there is a death. Each moment that has just past is gone. To sit inside that moment and this moment and that moment is to live more fully. To experience the moment as it passes away is to live and die in a heartbeat. Or at least, that’s what I thought he was talking about.

What I also thought he was talking about was the power of yoga to transform. That gradual metamorphosis of who we are, how we see ourselves and begin to experience the world. We peel back the layers of conditioning, shedding the old skin that doesn’t fit any more. We begin to notice our recurring patterns, start to see through the traffic of our thoughts, catch ourselves in our shadows and, as we practice, something luminous begins to sing in our words and ways. In how we treat our bodies, listen to our loved ones and get closer to ourselves. As the dead cells fall, we rise up to live.

Asana, meditation, and the ancillary practices, burn and burn and burn till we reach the stillpoint. We move our bodies to still our minds and come home to this expansive state of being that anchors us so fully into the now that everything else diffuses. Through the practices we die a thousand times. And, conversely, the parts of ourselves that we have cast away and denied get to live again. The judgements, the expectations, the chaos and the ideas about who we ‘should’ be are replaced with something far greater. A truer sense of what lies beneath. One that pierces through those tired concepts of ‘self’, allowing them to perish so we can become fuller.

In a previous lecture, our artful guide challenged us to consider that yoga is not union. Yoga is separation. This was dangerous ground, I thought. Yes, we are separating ourselves from our thoughts and our concepts but we can all too easily separate ourselves from our feelings in a bid to ‘transcend’ our ‘suffering’. In my understanding, it is only through uniting with our suffering that it can pass away. We must experience that which is painful to allow it move through. As with death, we can’t avoid it. If we push it away, deny it, separate from it, bypass it, our spirit will die from the toxicity of what remains buried. In contrast, if we recognize what is truly living in us, if we see the certainty of our pain and the root of our suffering then it can dissolve. When we shift from the consumption of thought to the consciousness of feeling, we learn to honour the whole spectrum of human experience and facilitate flow. By not getting caught up in the story that surrounds what is happening, by ‘separating’ our thoughts and ‘uniting’ with our feelings, we become more alive as those concepts die a death.

 

 

Is this it?

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Achy, yearning hunger. An appetite for something always out of reach. Something ineffable. Something we must keep searching for. Working for. Hurting for. This indescribable emptiness that hangs low and nibbles away at your would-be satisfaction, as your inwardly overt dissatisfaction resounds. Mildly anxious and just not sure whether you are in the right place at the right time with the right person. Because everything should be right. Right?

I was having lunch with one of my dear friends after class, and this was one of the subjects we landed upon. Is this it? This job, this relationship, this house, this child, this sense that you should be grateful and satisfied but, quite frankly, you’re not. As long as we keep on looking outside of ourselves for what ‘it’ is then we will remain achy and hungry and always looking for something else to quench our insatiable thirst to arrive. To be complete. To get to that place we thought we were supposed to get to.

What about if we started to look within for our answers? And what if we started asking different questions? Like, what is that creative energy that pulses inside of you? What is that life force? That itching, yearning, willful being that wants to know? That seeks for answers? What is that space that sits between your thoughts? And if you’re not your thoughts, or your job or your actions, your name or your beliefs, then who are you?

We each have a purpose. Some souls know theirs from an early age but most of us are still trying to work that bit out. And that’s where the emptiness can really eat you up. What is it that I want? In my experience, those answers can only come from the deepest place in your heart. The trick is learning how to listen.

I’ve had a meditation practice for a number of years and I make sure I sit every day. It’s taken time to build up to that and I’m not dogmatic about how many minutes I sit for, or what time of the day I practice, but I (nearly) always create space to check in, reset and get quiet. I didn’t practice yesterday because I was a bit hungover and I felt bonkers mental inside. Like, seriously. If that’s what it’s like to not meditate then no wonder the world has gone raving mad.

“If we could teach all children to meditate, we could change the world in one generation.” Dalai Lama

There are many ways to meditate, including a myriad of concentration techniques, but the approach I have found to be the most powerful is to not try to control anything. The mind is meant to think. That’s its job.

I was introduced to this style through Adyashanti, and he describes it so clearly in his book True Meditation. Working in this way feels more like an act of generosity where you can separate yourself from your thoughts. Bearing witness to where the mind wanders and gently bring yourself back into Presence when you notice you’ve gone on a merry little journey into headland. It’s amusing to watch your thoughts and rest back into the space behind them. It’s deeply profound to connect to your awareness and it really is pure bliss to come home to yourself in this way. Moving into a bigger space gives rise to insight and allows your intuition to speak up and participate. Adyashanti prescribes the practice of Inquiry; dropping a question into the meditative space can be very powerful and it’s quite magical to see what comes through. Journaling after your practice is a great way to articulate and crystallise your insights and experiences but I don’t always feel like I have time. Which, of course, isn’t true.

We can be resistant to spirituality, often because of its attachment to religion, but many of us are spiritually bereft. We have been led to believe that growth is defined by achievement. By what we can attain outside of ourselves. But even with the perfect job, house and family, if we don’t have the opportunity to commune within, if we are disconnected from the flow of our creative awareness, from the deepest life force essence that is inside each of us, then our satisfaction, and our life force, will wane.

If you feel like nothing is quite cutting it or you just don’t know why you’re here and what you’re supposed to do next. Sit for five minutes. Try to sit everyday and see what happens. Over time you’ll be able to sit for longer and longer and that’s when it gets all kinds of next dimension exciting.

Give it a go.

What have you got to lose?

Want some concentration techniques to get you started? I hear the headspace app has got it going on.

Want to know more about True MeditationBuy it here or learn more about Adyashanti.

Looking for a meditation group in Leeds? I recommend this or come to Yoga Hero on Monday nights and meditate with us there.

everything in relationship

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I’m sat in Pete’s bedroom with the door closed. Everything is white. The strong silence is ringing and I close my eyes to begin the descent. Travelling through tense tissue and frozen flesh, along boiling rivers of muddy blood, accessing the inner reaches of my body until I am fully submerged and come to learn that the tube of my entire torso is on fire. I’ve tasted this experience once before and now know that this is the flavor of fear and anger. Acidic foam. Caustic and surging. I sink into the flames and discover that I feel sick but not in a way that disturbs me. I’m curious. Fear and anger manifest as sickness in my body and as I track the embers to the pit of my stomach I’m strangely pleased with this affirmation. I fuse out and my head takes over. I’m inventing a conversation and fuelling a reverie before I realize and send myself back to sit beneath the acid tree. The journey is cooling and it calms me to travel through these rivers and streams and move into the experience. I ask my body what it needs … breath. Deepest breath. I breathe into the coals, offering more ease, helping the sensation to soften by stroking the inside of my heart. How can I create more space with this breath and how can I bring myself to a place that honours my feelings but clears my head?

My head wants my voice to be heard. I have so much to say … but my body wants to me listen. So I sit a little longer.

Feeling your feelings is shaky work. Going into your body and tracking those elusive articulations takes the skill and patience of a hunter. Sitting, waiting, watching. Returning to the battleground and scouring the landscape of your anatomy to wash and cleanse the killing fields. Observing yourself in relationship to others and looking for repeated patterns of behavior. Hungry to break old cycles and cultivate new neural pathways. Understanding what is really present at that moment in time, instead of through a distorted lens of past events or future fear. Coursing the emotion through your systems and structures to allow it to pass through. To see where you’re holding it. Where it rises. Where it burns and sears and tears from the inside out. Breathing yourself back to life by expanding from the inside so you can feel your way back in because, somehow, somewhere along the way, you forgot.

We forget that our bodies have wisdom. We forget to listen to what they have to say. We ignore their pleas at the cost of our deepest truths. And a voice that isn’t heard only gets quieter.

“A body whose wisdom

has never been honoured

does not easily trust.

An animal with a crazy trainer

learns crazy habits,

runs wild.”

Marion Woodman

If everything is in relationship then how am I in relationship to myself? My body? My thoughts, feelings and emotions? How does my perception affect my relationship to the world around me and if I shift my perception does the world shift too? Coming into deeper relationship with yourself can have a profound effect on how you communicate, how you see the world and how you interact with everything inside it. But what does that even mean? A deeper relationship with yourself?

When we get curious about why we react in a certain way, who we judge, what we believe. When we explore the different shades of red we can begin to catch ourselves before our knee jerks. Before something harmful, callous or cruel leaps from our suddenly forked tongues. When we begin to inquire we can start to observe and become the witness to our own triggers. I will never forget a class I took online with Elena Brower. It was all about automatic reaction versus conscious response and it has stayed with me and supported me in so many situations over the years. It’s such a beautiful play, so cleanly articulated, and I see myself in this dance, daily. I know when I’ve reacted badly. And when I do, I get curious. I try my best not to judge myself. I work to acknowledge my shadow, dive into my body and follow the emotion so I can taste it, drink it in and ask it to pass through. So I can release the pattern and deepen my intention to respond with greater consciousness. To move from a place of truth and to speak that truth quietly, fearlessly and with love.

To quote my soul sister, Rikke Brodin, “become so fluid that the waves of stimuli and emotion can glide through [you] unbroken and ‘untrapped’”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

take your seat

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In out-of-the-way places of the heart,

Where your thoughts never think to wander,

This beginning has been quietly forming,

Waiting until you were ready to emerge.

John O’Donohue

Do not take lightly your tentative toe steps or the whispery calls of a long hushed voice. Do not take lightly a sudden awareness of being or the experience of your whole breath. Do not take lightly the awkward sensation of not knowing and the fear of getting it wrong. And do not, for one minute, think that you are not supposed to feel this way, as you begin to gradually unfold.

Those first steps onto the yoga mat might seem inconsequential. They might seem small. They might just seem like a bit of physical juju as you foofoo around from one ‘pose’ to another. But when you step onto a yoga mat, you take your seat. The word ‘asana’ means ‘seat’ and though you might not feel like you’re doing a whole lot of sitting that is exactly what you are doing. Taking a seat inside yourself. Seat by seat, pose by pose, you come into view. You make contact with the ground of your being, landing softly and remembering that it was always already there but you somehow forgot. That this fluorescent, vital, life-force managed to somehow become dim. That the very essence of you became wispy, imperceptible … hard to reach.

Every organism on this planet is here to grow and each time we take our seat, we reaffirm our commitment to that process. Yoga is one way to take that vow and, more often than not, it takes us by surprise. It begins with the sweet remembrance of embodiment. Of what it feels like to become alive from the neck down, and not because our head is telling us that our body should exercise but because we have actually started to feel again. Droplets of awareness sink into our cells, and, before long, we can hear our bodies speak. Breathe into their message. Receive their wisdom.

I deeply wish to grow. I deeply wish to grow. I deeply wish to grow.

Our breath seems fuller, sensation more acute, our capacity to feel becomes more present and our understanding of embodiment transforms, as we wake up to ourselves. Those first steps onto the yoga mat can lead to the deepest seat you might ever take inside your own being. They can take you to unexpected realms of perception as your intuition sharpens, your awareness expands and your reality takes on a whole new level of detail. As your relationship to the world around you shifts, your relationship to yourself can truly evolve. And that is the stuff of miracles.

There is a voice that doesn’t use words.

Listen.

Rumi

 

look within

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“In our day-to-day lives, we continually fail to recognize the invisible light that renders the whole visible world luminous.”

John O’Donohue

There is a perennial branch that takes root in the centre of your chest. You can’t see it, you can’t touch it, but you can know it. As the world gets louder and the violence rumbles nearer, a revolution is waiting to happen inside of you. Its revolt is patient, its power potent and its voice hushed beneath the anarchy and unrest that already exists inside your own head. Like any uprising, its beginnings are subterranean. Hidden. Only seen and heard if you choose to listen and look. You won’t find it ‘out there’. It is not a quest for stuff and things or for status and admiration. Its nature is less gross, less obvious, less clear. Its subtlety takes you into invisible realms, beyond articulation, explanation and name, but once you dig deep enough, there is no going back. Once you locate the source of this uprising, its deeper wisdom will surge through you and you will know. Unequivocally.

When times are troubling and people are being shot on your doorstep, it can be easy to despair. But as the wise and wonderful Christopher Wallis recently noted, the world is more full than it has ever been. There is more hate, more division, more unrest, more war, more suffering but there is also more love, more unification, more rest, more peace and more healing than there has ever been. There is more of everything, everywhere, all of the time.

Last night, I was deeply moved by the dignity and courage of Kim Leadbetter as she remembered her sister, Jo Cox. Kim spoke of how she had always had a healthy dose of Yorkshire cynicism and instead of speaking about her feelings, she would shout at the telly and get upset behind closed doors. Her sister believed in speaking out. She believed in seeing the good in people. Even when she was receiving abuse from the public, she would remind Kim that we must continue to focus on what unites us, not divides us. We must choose what we amplify. We can focus on the greater good of humanity or the dark inclinations that exist within each and every one of us. We each have both and we can’t have one without the other. In the words of Maya Angelou, there are rainbows in the clouds and sometimes our hearts have to be broken for us to realize how deeply we can feel. And feel, we must. We can talk about darkness, prejudice and suffering. We can point the finger and see these things as external but unless we feel all of it inside of ourselves, we can never truly grow.

If we learn to walk with our own shadows, take responsibility for the part we play in every encounter and relationship, we can begin to rise. We can become more aware of the impact we have on those closest to us. On those we come across in our daily lives. And in the difference we can each make if we each do our own work. If we listen more carefully to what we say, why we say it and where it’s coming from. If we listen to our intuition and that part of us that knows more than we ever give it credit for. Don’t listen to what’s going on out there. Of what he says and she says and Rupert Murdoch wants you to say. Get quiet, listen within and be honest with yourself. The pain is inside. It’s all inside. And when we realize that, we can begin to bring peace to the raging riot we wage upon ourselves. We can move into ourselves, into our fear and return to what was once love. The quest for the answer, for knowledge, for peace, is hidden deep inside of you. The visible world is only half of what we can know. It is in the invisible realms where transformation can take place.

 “In our confusion, fear and uncertainty we call upon the invisible structures to come to our assistance and open pathways of possibility by refreshing and activating in us our invisible potential.”

John O’Donohue