Becoming a Yogi: Surrendering the Ego

tammy-44

Over a decade ago, a colleague who’d been purging his closet tossed me a VHS tape and said, “Have you ever tried yoga? You might like it.”

It was 20 minutes of power yoga led by Rodney Yee, who was completely unknown to me at the time. “Twenty minutes? Sounds manageable,” I thought to myself. It wasn’t. I desperately tried to keep up. I fell over with a thud a few times and worried I was harassing the downstairs neighbors with my klutziness. I had no idea yoga would make my heart feel it was falling out of my chest and throw me this much off-kilter. I plopped onto the couch and vowed that yoga and I were done—until the next day, when a combination of stubbornness and determination got the better of me.

I had about a month-long affair with VHS-Rodney Yee before one day off the mat led to another and then another… you know the drill.

While I had no concept of the greater world yoga offered, of what yoga was all about beyond “gets into poses without falling over,” something brought me to yoga and sustained my interest, if even for a while. That was something.

I think it’s immensely important to pay close attention to what leaps out of the void to say hello and tug at the heart.

I’m still not sure I can pinpoint exactly what that something is, to this day. It wasn’t love at first sight for me and yoga. I didn’t go the way of Lululemon or start seeking out classes around town. I had no idea what a mala was or that yoga positions were commonly referred to in Sanskrit. I had never even contemplated breath’s connection to movement.

So it goes without saying, I felt far from a warrior.

Warriors are one of the personas we aim to embody in yoga. Others include kings, mermaids, divine vessels and open-chested channels for love. You can see picture-perfect representations of these all over social media in various shades of ocean and sunset. Of course, I know that people cannot possibly walk around in a perpetual state of bliss, but we shouldn’t throw out the baby with the bathwater. It’s equally evident to me, through reading awakened works like the Bhagavad Gita, Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras and BKS Iyengar’s writings, that it’s possible to feel much more connected to the universe than I do most of the time.

“You do not need to seek freedom in a different land, for it exists with your own body, heart, mind, and soul.” ~ BKS Iyengar

I long to understand this state of existence, not intellectually, but in my own heart and from direct experience. This is my motivation for embracing a committed yoga practice.

I couldn’t have conceived of this goal when I clumsily tried to follow along to that Rodney Yee VHS tape years ago. At some point after becoming acquainted with yoga, even if our initial target was to get fit or flexible, we come to an “ah-ha” moment, even if for a few seconds, and catch on to a wider world we could not have anticipated. That offers thrilling possibilities.

When this happens, yoga starts to feel less about doing and more about a way of being.

The word “yogi” starts to sound less ethereal and remote and more like something to which we can aspire. To me, this was in some ways a return to the beginning, to that initial attraction to yoga, but with a deeper and more informed awareness of how far it’s possible to go. It has also had the effect of highlighting how distant we can feel from our goal, how imperfect we are in our practice.

We might, as I became, be plagued by doubt; incidentally known in Buddhism as one of the “five hindrances” to a meditation practice, which I think perfectly applies well here. In order to sabotage our practice before it can bloom, we might doubt the authenticity of our teachers, of the practice of yoga itself and our own ability to embody the yogic principles. I’ve also found in my own experience where doubt thrives, guilt is not far behind. I’m sure many can relate to the guilt and feelings of failure I’ve experienced when I’ve allowed my asana or meditation practice to lapse.

Despite the strong feelings of doubt that we really deserve to be considered yogis, I’ve come to realize from years of experience that the seeds which were already within us when we first encountered yoga do not disappear, but grow each time we have the authentic intention to develop our practice. These seeds are not easily destroyed by doubt and guilt; it’s been a complete joy to realize that they are much stronger than that.

I believe that we all have the seeds for awakening within us. The ways in which we discover and nourish them will differ because we are all different. It is up to each of us to find within ourselves the kindness and compassion that most help these seeds to grow, so that we can come to our practice with invigoration and happiness, no matter how long it takes us to get there.

There will be winters when the growth seems to stop altogether, when every last part of our being seems to wilt and atrophy. However, if we are patient and persistent, we will come to spring and summer, and we’ll see that winter is part of the nature of things.

Becoming a yogi, I think, is about surrendering the ego that creates doubt and guilt and immersing into the deep well of wisdom the ancient tradition of yoga offers us. The more open we are to discovery, the more we’ll understand that we are not and have never been alone in our perfectly flawed humanity. Love and support are always within reach and grow every time we consciously breathe into them.

 

*This article was published on The Tattooed Buddha.

Let’s Not Make the Movies of Our Mind into Horror Films.

298

Why do I think I always have to be getting somewhere?

Why do I think that the world isn’t strong enough to bear the burden of my shadow, so that I have to hide it and pretend everything is okay?

Why do I think the worst thing I can do is let people down, at the expense of my own truth?

Why am I scared I will never truly belong to the communities I love and respect so much?
Our thoughts can be dizzying, terrifying things.

If you’re like me, you’ve found yourself more than once getting dragged into a very deep and intense storyline produced by none other than your mind. It may have started with a simple nagging feeling, and rather than shrugging it off, you’ve let yourself get absorbed in a drama featuring such rambunctious characters as Doubt, Fear, Guilt, Hopelessness, Confusion and Thwarted Dreams.

While these journeys are scarier than any horror film, we accept them as fact with alarming ease.

We take them to be natural extensions of “who we are” and “how life is”, and because of this, they keep returning with a vengeance.

In Buddhism, there is the belief that we will face the same situations in life until we’ve finally learned the lesson. We’ll meet people and situations that trigger us is in similar ways, until we finally get it. If we think that “getting it” means blaming people because we know it’s their fault and avoiding our challenges because we “know” they are impossible, we are on the fast track to a sequel situation.

All this is because our minds are so good at taking us along our egoistic paths and abetting our desire to avoid confronting our deepest and truest selves.

It’s not very often that we take the time to “think about thinking,” or “how we think.” We tend to assume that our thoughts are merely an extension of us, and cannot lead us astray. We don’t really question the idea that we are our minds, so we don’t critically engage with what is happening as they tear loose and run wild.

We also know that we are simply not happy a lot of the time. We feel frustrated, dissatisfied, defeated, thrown for a loop, maybe backed into a corner.

When this happens, our first instinct is to leap right into the realm of why and how.

“Why has this problem occurred, and how can I fix it?”

Then we scramble, rationalizing our behaviour, finding ways to blame the perceived culprit of the problem, or else attacking the problem with apparent, potential solutions that are fuelled by our certainty that we’ve failed before and are doomed to fail again.

“Insanity is repeating the same mistakes and expecting different results.” ~ Einstein

Problem solving is a skill we’ve developed as humans and has been key to our survival. Learning how to get from point A to point B and how to procure food and shelter, for instance, are great instances of how our thinking minds have been our ally.

However, when it comes to our more “negative” emotions and sense of being stuck, our highly evolved ability to problem-solve actually gets in the way and leads us to a dead end.

Why?

Because we are perceiving these things as “problems” in the first place.

Through meditation and mindfulness practice, we come to see that perceived problems are simply interior states, reactions of our bodies minds and spirits to our external circumstances and our habituated ways of being in the world due to our past behaviours and conditionings.

Rather than “solve,” we learn to “sit with” and accept, and understand the transient nature of our thoughts, feelings and emotions. We learn that gently regarding what is going on within us with respect but non-attachment lightens the heaviness we associate with problems, and allows us a more compassionate attitude toward our selves and the situation at hand.

We learn that “shrugging it off” does not mean avoidance, but the ability to observe how we are feeling, and watch as the feeling both arises and passes away. We even realize that problems are actually opportunities to learn and grow, which makes them the exact opposite of problems.

I’ve studied cinema for many years, and found that we can either be so absorbed and emotionally involved in a movie that we have lost all critical faculties, or that we can learn to pull back, and examine how the filmmakers constructed the film so that it could have such a powerful pull and effect on viewers.

It’s fascinating to realize that the same can be said of our minds.

We can learn to see our minds as constructions that can be understood and dismantled so that their power over our true nature can be lessened.

Sitting down with the intention of watching our thoughts appear and disappear, we see that these fickle entities are not the foundations of our identity, and from there, our opportunities to contemplate who we have become and how we can free ourselves are virtually endless.