The Importance of Self Love

Dhanpal-Donna Quesada:

I have added just a bit, here and there, and because this is the current topic of my radio show at K-Beach, I wanted to push this article to the top again. ~DDQ

Originally posted on Leaves of Wisdom Falling:

self-love-KundaliniI decided to repost this short article about Self-Love. I added the third notation, as well as the meditation, that follows. It is a meditation that I just did recently, at a training retreat. I loved doing it—I hope you try it and that you love it, too! The way I see it, the words are for our understanding (for our head) and the meditation is for our realization of Self-Love (for our heart).

For the Head…
We are so often told, in spiritual teachings, as well as in self-help manuals, that in order to love others, we have to love ourselves first.

Is this true?

It is!


Firstly, because if we are angry and hateful on the inside, we have only those emotions to project. Your body and mind respond to those feelings, consciously and unconsciously, and this negative reverb squeezes the joy out of life. What…

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To Accept Ourselves or Transform?

accept or transform

When you make some special effort to achieve something, some excessive quality, some extra element is involved in it. ~Shunryo Suzuki

You know you’re surrendered to God when you rely on God to work things out instead of trying to manipulate others, force your agenda, and control the situation. You let go and let God work. You don’t have to always be in charge. Instead of trying harder, you trust more. ~Rick Warren

The quotes above emphasize the importance of letting go of the illusion of control. It’s a teaching that comes forth in all traditions, no matter how we couch it, from the Christian maxim to Let Go, Let God, to the Zen maxims that tell us to  flow with whatever happens.

But, if we truly practice acceptance, won’t we become complacent, without really bothering to make improvements. And isn’t that what life is for…to improve?

Yes, we’re here to evolve, but it will never work when our eye is fixed on a certain outcome. The reason why is because a specific outcome is just a fantasy, concocted by our imaginations. And ironically, although it is created by our imaginations, which take us into the realm of the limitless, a specific outcome  can be very limiting, since (1) we hardly ever get to choose the exact outcome (2) there are conceivably better outcomes than the one we imagined and (3) it is by definition conceptualized and takes us out of the present moment.

So then, how do we approach the task of healthy evolution? What is the right approach, especially when there is something seriously wrong that needs to be changed, for example, addictions, or some other self-defeating, self-degrading habit?

A conscious strategy would be to set an intention to incorporate a healthy, self-promoting habit into your daily life. In Yoga, we call it a sadhana, a daily spiritual discipline and commitment to meet ourselves, as we are, and where we are, everyday. A daily practice that brings us in touch with the present moment and what it feels like to breathe and move into our bodies, enables a connection to be made—a connection to inner stillness. It also renders conscious, what was previously unconscious.

This active process of shining the light of awareness onto what was heretofore hidden, keeps us in touch with an abiding source of strength and empowerment that can only be found within. It also keeps us in touch with the unchanging essence of who we are—because those habits that we’d like to change are not who we are. These are practices from meditation or Tai Chi, to simply walking in nature.

The irony is that, when we meet ourselves with honesty, as we are, we release the chains that have kept us from who we are to be.

When we cultivate a daily practice, and infuse it with our heartfelt intention, rather than fixate on a specific goal, we discover a much more effective and elegant strategy. When we try to change habits with iron will, by focusing only on the end result, we tend to hit a wall, since willpower can only go so far. But the rub is that our uncompromising focus on the result engenders nothing but frustration and anxiety. This is the reason dieters quickly become fixated, to the point of obsession, on food…the very thing they are trying to find a copacetic relationship with quickly becomes a monster of a problem.

Lessening our grip on the end result, and instead, redirecting our focus to our daily practice quickly becomes a source of upliftment. The intention itself, along with our conscious awareness spent in real-time, keeps us grounded in the present moment, and places us in the driver’s seat—I can only control what I do in this moment. And the result is our empowerment and increasing confidence that is generated from the inside out, rather than feigned as iron will, which leads us right back to discouragement, time and time again.

Transformation starts with wholehearted acceptance of where we are right now.

As it happens, this is a compassionate approach. Each time we sit, we accept who we are in this moment, complete and whole as we are, with all our warts and bruises. Yogic wisdom has long reminded us that transformation is a lifetime process. Several lifetimes, actually! As one of our own famously said, even though you know the staircase is there, you can only take one step at a time.

You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step. ~Martin Luther King Jr.

It’s a funny thing, we humans tend to be hard on ourselves, as if it would serve the purpose of knocking us into the right direction. The opposite is true. In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali explains that a  harsh and critical approach to transformation is a scarcely camouflaged form of ignorance.

Ignorance, in Vedic teaching (as in Buddhist teachings) is not defined as deficiency of information in the conventional sense, but rather, confusion with regard to who we really are.

In other words, when we find ourselves inflicting criticism and blame on ourselves for not being able to effectively change some behavior—not to mention the guilt we seem to to enjoy sucking on so much, like an after dinner mint—we are confusing our habit with our identity. Seeing clearly means to see the habit for what it is…just a habit.

This is where self-love comes in. Loving where you are closes the gap between here and where we’d like to be. As long as that gap exists, we’re not whole. To heal is to make whole. So, letting go of the space entails letting go of the “goal,” and embracing ourselves as perfect, right here and now.

Although modern approaches to therapy are beginning to see the wisdom of the compassionate approach, the resistance comes from the deeply ingrained belief we have as western people, that we need to “be tough,” in order to properly “kick ourselves into action.”

The reality is that this “tough guy” approach, or self-bullying often backfires into “I already screwed things up, so I might as well go all the way.” And the cycle continues.

But, by bringing ourselves to the cushion everyday, or to the Dojo, or to a healing place in nature, where we can create a sacred, meditative space, we momentarily (and that’s all we ever have, anyway, is a moment) drop our defenses and welcome ourselves in, no matter the discomfort and general unease. And low and behold, the discomfort loses its charge! It was the discomfort and defensiveness that led us into the habits in the first place, and so, they too, start to lose their power over us.

This is the power of simply being, in conscious awareness. We are in constant renewal and change, anyway, whether unconscious or conscious; why not bring consciousness to it?

In conclusion, self love in real time allows our inner trauma to be digested. Remember, the habit is, after all, a symptom, rather than an intrinsic part of who we are. So we’re getting to the cause, by healing on the inside. We’re unlocking it, listening to it, letting it move through us. We’re re-inhabiting this damaged space that we were trying to fill with the wrong things, be it cigarettes , food, shopping or alcohol, etc. We were looking for comfort in all the wrong places!

But, now, we can begin the alchemy of transformation, as we re-connect with our body, mind and spirit, with love…

And the habits change of their own accord.

Tony Robbins Triad – Seen Through the Lens of Yoga

There are three forces in the world that determine what you feel. These forces are called the Triad. Together, these three patterns create any—and every—emotional state. ~Tony Robbins

In his presentations, Tony Robbins often refers to “the triad,” in which he describes the three ways we can create an immediate shift in the way we feel, emotionally. We already use them all the time! At any given moment, these forces are at work, either working for us or against us. The key is to use them consciously, so that they work for us.

The triad includes: Physiology, Focus and Language.

To be very clear about how these forces work; we have a choice at any moment, to feel—or not to feel—depressed, angry or sad, etc. By working with the three elements from the Triad, we can create the desired shift into joy and enthusiasm.

My point in this article is to show that although this triad, as Robbins uses it, is invaluable, it is also the basis of all forms of Yoga. In one Yoga session, no matter what type of Yoga it is, we effect a transformation of some degree, based on the fact that our moods have a physical basis. As I often say to my classes:

Our psychology follows our physiology just as our physiology follows our psychology. ~Dhanpal


In Robbins’ teachings, an example of changing our physiology would be the simple but profound act of changing our posture and body language. Like a circular transmission, when we lift our heart, lengthen our spine, and soften our expression, these changes send a boomerang-like message out to the world and then back again to our own psyches, communicating a message that was very different than the one we had when we were hunched up under our hoodies.

The most immediate way to alter our physiology is by controlling our breath. In Yoga, this practice is called pranayam. One simple change in our breathing pattern may be likened to a “code” that activates a cascade of internal reactions throughout the body. Each of the various ways that we work with our breath, sends a different code to the hypothalamus, which continuing our metaphor, we may think of as the “central processing system.” This in turn, activates the release of a different alchemy of hormones throughout our body, affecting our overall mood.

One breath is like water on a parched landscape — our body becomes alive with awareness. ~Dhanpal


BUT, there’s a great magic that happens when we put our breathwork into synchrony with our focused attention.

In Robbins‘ teachings, an example of changing our focus would be to look at what we can do, rather than what we can’t do. Or, by simply changing our perception of a certain event. He gives the example of Bruce Springsteen, who, before a performance, experiences the same sensations as someone who has panic attacks, complete with sweaty palms and racing heart. Only…he doesn’t interpret these things as symptoms of panic! To him, it means…showtime! His interpretation of these symptoms is synonymous with excitement, rather than fear.

In our Yoga practice, the act of focusing is an exact science! Together, our conscious, rhythmic breath patterns, combined with a drishti, opens a gateway to a higher state of calm-alertness.

One of the most common examples of employing a drishti, or focused gaze, in Yoga, is by holding our concentration at the third eye—the spot right between the brows. In Zen meditation (which may be thought of as a form of Raj Yoga), that focus would be at the tip of the nose, or a few feet ahead, with eyes nearly closed. Additionally, visualizations may be used (more common in the Tibetan traditions), as well as sound.

Unwavering concentration enables us to experience the state of grace in the midst of activity. ~Dhanpal

Robbins reminds us how huge a small change can be. This also echoes the ancient teachings of Yoga. Consider the difference between breathing with awareness and breathing without awareness—from the outside, they appear to be the same activity, but without the quality of focus, they are very different. We could even say that one isn’t Yoga, at all.


How we talk to ourselves is of utmost importance. We often talk to ourselves in self-defeating ways, saying things like, “this will never work…” or, “”this always happens to me…” or, “I’m such an idiot,” etc. As Robbins explains, these sorts of habitual declarations reflect the crippling stories we are telling ourselves inside our heads.

In Yoga, we use affirmations, such as “I am bountiful, I am blissful, I am beautiful.” But we also use Sanskrit-derived mantras, which work whether we understand them, or not. This is because they work on both a subconscious and an energetic level to create a powerful shift in our emotional state and overall mood.

Sound is vibration and is inherently healing. ~Dhanpal

By combining sound, breath and rhythm, mantra meditation channels the flow of energy through the mind-body circuit, adjusting the chemical composition of our internal states, while delivering our restless minds from distress. Our thoughts are silent sounds. And sounds are electromagnetic vibrations. The more refined our thoughts, the more elevated our vibration; the more elevated our vibration, the closer we get to the highest vibration of all–our own divine nature*

As the captain sets the canvas to the wind, thus pulling the boat out of trouble, it is through mantra that we steer ourselves out of our own stormy seas and into clear waters. ~Dhanpal

So we see that in one Yoga Kriya, posture or meditation, each facet of the triad is put to service!

*For more on the technology of mantra and chanting, see my article here.

On the Fallacy of Spiritual Perfection

Don Quixote“I’m only human,” the saying goes. To my perfectionistic Virgoan ears, it always sounded like a cliché, or worse, an excuse for shoddy work or behavior.

But, thank goodness, like many other quixotic notions I have had to let go of, I unshackled myself of this, too. Not only does it make life harder and more stressful than it is supposed to be, but aspiring to the impossible is a most subtle form of arrogance, worn in the guise of “high standards,” or worse, spiritual advancement.

Of the latter, one of my teachers in the healing tradition, calls it “purple-washing.”

Because purple—color of the crown ckakra—is thought of as a spiritual color, this expression refers to the tendency of spiritual people to think of themselves as “above” certain emotions, fancying themselves, for example, invulnerable to fear, or anger.

“How lofty of me!” She jokes.

The reality is, perfection is unattainable for three main reasons:

1. Life is change. It was the Buddha’s starting point and the keystone for the body of his teachings. If all of life is impermanent, then we are too. Thank goodness! This means that we are always evolving. Perfection implies that a resolution has been achieved, and is, as such, a frozen state. Thus, perfection and change are a contradiction in terms.

2. The fantasy of perfection is born of ego. What would perfection even look like? It’s unanswerable, since for every ten people asked, there would be ten different answers. It’s relative. And why would we want to be perfect, when we saw, in the above passage, that perfection (if it existed) means no more growth? But back to the point about the ego…by virtue of the fact that perfection is nonexistent in any objective sense, its pursuit easily slides into the realm of narcissism. As psychoanalyst, Karen Horney, has pointed out, it is not narcissistic for a person to value a quality in himself which he actually possesses…the problem arises when narcissists admire themselves for qualities that have no foundation in reality. It seems the pursuit of perfection is the ultimate neurosis!

3. We are supposed to go through emotional trials. It’s part of the game of being human, of being part of this play that the Yogis call Maya. As a teacher, there is thought to be a practical purpose to it all; we go through our own challenges to be able to show others the way through. Having traversed the rough terrain ourselves, we can then show others the potholes. And from the perspective of a healer, we can better recognize the energetic vibration of what we have come to recognize in ourselves. Besides, in every wisdom tradition, from the Kabbalah, to the heart of Yogic wisdom, emotions are thought to be a compass, giving us feedback about where we are on our own journey. So, even as we’re pulling someone else up the mountain with one outstretched arm, we’re simultaneously clearing debris from the path with our other arm. The overarching point is that there is a reason for emotions that are considered “imperfect.” As the teacher of my teacher famously said, “we are spiritual beings having a human experience,” meaning both, that we are limited by virtue of our human embodiment and the challenges that come from limited seeing, and that we are subject to the experiences that come from being trapped in this realm and the duties and interactions that go along with it

In the meantime, we forgive ourselves and others as we stumble our way through the wilds of human life, as we search in vein for the way home. Because after all, as the scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz discovered, and as we too will discover for ourselves…it was right here, all the time.

To Accept “what is” or Pursue your Passion?

follow your passionIs the highest attainment in life realized when we’re able to accept where we are, without striving? Or, are we supposed to chase our dreams and pursue our passions? In my book, Buddha in the Classroom, I speak of the importance of acceptance, as an expression of our capacity to liberate ourselves from the endless chain of yearnings that characterize existence and from the resistance and corresponding angst that comes up when those yearnings aren’t fulfilled .

A snippet of that part of my book —

(Excerpt from Chapter 19—Passion; Accept, Adapt, and Abandon Hope)

The real problem with our fixation on passion is the near certainty that even a blazing fire will dim with time.

Then what?

Even when passion is pursued and found, the affair won’t last forever. Passion changes. We change. A dancer friend recently shared with me the common experience among the cast members of a famous musical. Far from reveling in prideful accomplishment for having been part of one of the longest-running shows, they’re sick and tired physically, and mentally jaded. Many are dancing on old injuries, and are scarcely able to find the motivation to go onstage night after night; yet somehow they manage to put themselves into their postures and glissade, on tiptoe, onto the stage, one more time, because it’s how they make their living. It is the same motivation that gets most of the world to work every day.

It reminds me of the ancient Greek myth about Sisyphus: He is condemned by the gods to push a gigantic boulder up a hill, over and over, all day long, even as it continuously rolls to the bottom of its own weight as soon as he gets it to the top. The gods understood the futility of wasted labor, so assigning it was the perfect, wicked punishment. In retelling the story, the French philosopher Albert Camus likens the absurdity of the task to the everyday predicament of every single one of us, pushing our rocks in our own way, as we struggle to meet deadlines, deal with coworkers and bosses, and solve the problems that are part and parcel of any workday, anywhere.

But Camus was an optimist.

Despite his fate, it is Sisyphus himself who decides to be happy. He can whistle and hum happy songs while he pushes his rock, or he can lament and endlessly curse his fate. The irony is that as soon as he realizes the power inherent in his own reaction, he is liberated. He makes his fate his own. It is he alone who decides to be happy or miserable. In a nod to our own capacity for liberation, Camus says, “We must imagine Sisyphus smiling.”

Dharma: The Lesson for Teachers

Sisyphus’s existentialist smile resonates with the Buddhist reminder to let go. Sisyphus smiles because he accepts his fate. To let go is to accept. And through acceptance, Sisyphus liberates himself from his sentence. To accept is to simultaneously stop resisting. When you stop resisting, you are able to enjoy your experiences, which is to say, your life.

Accept, adapt, and abandon hope, Zen says…

Do I still think this is the Truth?—

Yes, but it’s not the whole truth. It’s true on one level, just as, when you’re a certain age, following a rule of conduct is important, but it’s also true that this same rule may no longer apply, at another stage or moment in your life. There are different truths for different stages of our journey. Acceptance is true and passion is true.

Consider Gandhi. He had a passion for restoring justice and liberation to India, but every time they threw him in jail, his only savior was surrender. Acceptance was the rule of the hour. It didn’t mean he was giving up his broader plan. It just meant he had the wisdom to know when to act. There’s a time for everything. Thus, we can be our own captors (through resistance) or liberators (through acceptance).

There’s a time to express our passion in life. And this is what I would like to now give proper importance to.

Very simply put, if we’re interested in what we’re doing, that interest will carry us through the inevitable challenges that come along with anything. It reminds me of an oft recited quote by an unknown author:

Without enthusiasm, you’ll find any reason to quit. With enthusiasm, you’ll overlook every reason. ~unknown

Whether or not to follow our passions depends largely on the choices we have available. If we are lucky enough to live in a physical environment in which we are politically free and financially able to pursue our desires, we might consider the luxury we have been given in this incarnation and go about it with zest and gratitude. But, if this is not the case, then acceptance for the karma we have chosen for ourselves in this existence will serve us well. 

Even with this said, acceptance is a tool that serves us, even then, for no position or pursuit is all paradise, all the time. We will always deal with difficult people and occasional burnout, but when the joy and sense of purpose is greater than the misery, or put another way, when it uplifts more than it drains, we carry on, knowing that we’re serving the world through the work that we do. And again, gratitude for the opportunity to do it, will carry us. Acceptance is a great succor and support in every part of life.

A more profound reason to give voice to our passions.

Soul Speaks—

I call it Soul Speaks…as when a child shows signs of his/her inclination early on. This is a sort of magic that gives our life a sparkly quality and makes us feel we have something to live for. It is our inner longing showing up before we even understand it or know how to give voice to it. It is our soul speaking. This voice, that starts out as a little whisper—such as when we’re first attracted to some activity—may one day combine with skill, and this fusion in time and space is like the key that unlocks the door to brilliance.

If you can’t figure out your purpose, figure out your passion. For your passion will lead you directly to your purpose. ~unknown

Power Spot—

The power spot is another little expression I have to describe this kind of brilliance…such as when Pavarotti sings. When you hit your power spot, everyone around you feels it, although they may not know what to call it. It is felt. A pop phrase for this inexplicable phenomenon is the “it factor.” A person is shining in their craft, doing exactly what they are supposed to be doing. And their radiance glimmers like a shining gift to the world.

Is there such a thing, metaphysically, as “purpose?”—

Which opens up another question. And this is what it all hinges on…do we really have a purpose? If we did, who gets to say what it is? How will we know what it truly is? Do we have only one? Can we choose to do something else?

It all comes down to trusting our own feeling. No one else can decide for us. It is not an intellectual decision, that can be decided by a list of pros and cons, as we were taught to do in school. We will know our purpose because it feels right. And yes, that purpose can change, just as our relationships can change. Just as some relationships are karmic in nature and are finished when the karma has been played out the and lessons have been learned. Our purpose at one time can shift into a new direction after we have served in that area and our time there is finished.

More about “feeling” it—

When we’re not doing what we’re “supposed to be doing,” everything in our life just feels “off.” We feel drained, rather than uplifted and satisfied. Everything feels much more laborious than need be.

Life is not supposed to feel like drudgery, anyway—this is an outdated and misguided belief based on guilt. When we’re on the path that is right for us, everything falls into a flow, what one of my teachers calls effortless effort. This is the law of abundance; everything will fall into place when we trust and when we align ourselves with our heart.

The Way of Efficiency—

Besides being in tune with what feels right, there’s a sense of efficiency and capacity that becomes evident when we are in the “right place.” Not only do we tend to thrive, personally, but our performance has the potential for excellence. Although we might like to give some activity a fair chance, for the sake of curiosity, we may or may not be any good at it. I remember when my father gave dancing the good old college try for the sake of pleasing my mother, but a Fred Astaire this scientist was not!

Along these lines, we may consider a tree or a houseplant. Although it can adapt to different environments if necessary, it simply does better in “the right” environment, and will produce better fruit. Some plants need more light, more water, etc. In human terms, we call it “being in your element.”

Or, consider a car. You may eventually get to your destination on subpar gasoline, or low oil, but it will do better on better gas and more oil. In human terms, it’s our choice—we can waste energy or work more efficiently, by being in tune with our soul’s purpose.

Establish your passions on a day to day basis. Whatever you attach your conscious and undoubted passions to will manifest. ~Guru Singh

In spiritual teachings, it is said that this is how we know when we are going the right way or not. God…or, if you prefer…higher wisdom, or angels, or the universe…will assist us and give us signs when we’re going the right way, and lay down hindrances when we’re going the wrong way. Sometimes they may give very loud clues if we’re deaf or daft and are not getting the message! Does this mean we should give up when too many obstacles befall us? Not necessarily! This is the art of walking a line only we can walk for ourselves.

Again, it comes back to the necessity of being present in our bodies, so that we can recognize the many ways that information that is felt, rather than intellectualized. So that we can know on a deeper, more intuitive level. So that we we can trust in our sense that it is not just a challenge, but a sign of something awry.

This connection to Self opens the door to personal joy, which we then shine like a lighthouse out to the world. It is why another one of my spiritual teachers once told me to “follow my bliss,” for when I do, I then bring that de-light to everything and everyone I touch.

Internal Conflict (not desires) Causes Suffering

It is not desires that are the root of misery, angst and suffering. It is conflict of desires.

On Desires—
Firstly, many desires may be seen as intrinsically noble, such as the desire to be enlightened, or, the desire to serve the world through one’s unique skill set. Secondly, many desires are simply natural, such as the desire for the next breath. Thirdly, many desires may be classified as “neutral,” such as the desire to learn to play the violin. With all of them, problems and frustrations arise only when we don’t know how to manifest them, or when there is a conflict with another desire. It is this latter point that I will focus mostly on, below.

Of these many varieties  of desires, there is only one sub-species that I would call inherently “bad,” namely those that include causing harm to others as a motive. The others are not inherently bad, in and of themselves.

Internal Conflict—
The real problems start when we are torn and divided. This is what I’ll call internal conflict and it is at the root of all disharmony, frustration and all havoc, from benign to catastrophic. From the everyday nuisances, like wanting to eat the whole bag of cookies to the huge life-changing situations, such as divorce.

There is always conflict underneath. In the first example, there is a conflict of more than one desire, since on the one hand, you may want to eat the cookies, but on the other, you don’t want to consume all that sugar, or gain weight (so, the other desire would be to maintain your weight). And, in the second example, you may want a long-term marriage, but you also want an honest marriage. If you’re in a situation where this isn’t possible, it will likely blow up in some way, such as in a divorce.

Another example may be: you want to go to Europe for a month, but you don’t want to miss work (so, the other desire would be to continue being productive at work). Again, the internal conflict will likely blow up. Not in such a cataclysmic way, as in divorce, but in a subtler way, such as in the everyday vexations that we all experience in life.

Lurking underneath what Buddha called dukkha, or suffering, you will find that there is an unacknowledged secondary desire. It is just a matter of digging a little deeper in your contemplation.

As a final example, imagine you were a homeowner who wanted very much to get going on the construction of your house. It is taking too long, and if you had it your way, you’d simply call a contractor and tell him to “make it happen.” But real life is more complex. You have to wait for your spouse, who is too busy with work priorities to share in the planning and expenses. So, you have to wait. In this case, we can say that underneath the desire to continue with construction is the pre-existing desire to keep peace in the household.

If it were as simple as wanting to build a room, with nothing standing in your way, you’d simply manifest the desire and move on. The desire, alone, would not be the problem. When something is standing in your way, such as lack of funds, or bad-timing, as in the play-out above, the obstructed desire transmutes into an unhealthy attachment.

As such, it is the internal conflict, caused by discordant desires, that causes suffering.

To Drop Your Thoughts or Think Positive Thoughts?

intention manifestation

On Dropping Thoughts

If you’ve ever taken up any meditation practice, especially one emphasizing mindful awareness, chances are, you’ve been told to just let your thoughts fall away. The teacher or meditation guide likely reminded you that you are not your thoughts, as a way of encouraging you not to get frustrated by the constant bombardment of mental chatter. Just gently say, “thinking” to yourself, and come back to presence, he or she probably advised.

I call it “going sailing.” It’s a good idea to resist the urge to “go sailing” when you’re trying to meditate because the minute you get carried off on a thought cruise, you are, to put it in one of my own teacher’s words, “in your head.” If you’re in your head, spinning stories and fantasizing, then you’re not really here—you’re somewhere else that doesn’t exist…in a fabricated rerun of yesterday’s argument, or in some imagined future scenario. And the whole point of practicing mindful awareness, is to come to presence.

Thus, learning to take the perspective of “the witness” is an important part of any meditation practice. As a witness, you learn not to identify with these distractions called thoughts. You, in turn, begin to bring spaciousness into your universe, which is actually less poetic and more literal than it seems because every time you gently come back to this moment, you experience reality more fully. By bringing your concentration back to the breath, or your mantra, or the yantra, or whatever tool you choose to use as a focusing mechanism, you detach from the allure of the fantasy.

You unhook yourself from the temptation to spin the story.

There are countless stories in our heads. Liberation from their beguiling appeal is the essence of Buddha’s instruction to drop the endless desires that follow them, like smoke follows fire. We become narrow and myopic when all we can see in our mind’s eye is our story. We get hooked onto the “catch of the day”—the worry, fear, the conversation on repeat, or the anticipated scenario to come. But once we begin to unclench our bite, we begin to see more, hear more, and experience more of our world. This is spaciousness. This is the beginning of what it means to expand our awareness. 

On Positive Thoughts

So, where do positive thoughts fit in? That’s just another form of “thinking,” isn’t it?

There is a useful role, to be sure, for positive affirmations. Cell biologist Glen Rein was among the first to substantiate the idea that our intentions and emotions actually affect our DNA. That the way we talk to ourselves inside our heads can have such far-reaching effects on our well-being, so as to cause changes at the cellular level is more than just fascinating, however—it is empowering. It means that we have more control over our physical, mental and spiritual health than we imagined. 

The implication is that, if you can work skillfully with your thoughts and commit to talking to your self with kindness and conscious intent, then you can achieve what the scientist describes as…a heart-focused, loving state and live in a more coherent mode of physiological functioning. That’s the whole key; working with thoughts consciously, not willy-nilly.

One of the most powerful ways we can heal ourselves is by thinking positively.

As an analogy to thoughts, consider actions, in general. In philosophical ethics, we distinguish between negative commands and positive commands: The things we shouldn’t do, like stealing, and the things that are good to do, like sharing. In this way, we reduce harm in the world. Generally, the “don’t do’s” are absolute, whereas the “do do’s” are optional. 

As an example, consider this situation: If I remove myself from society, say, by going off to live in a cave somewhere, I reduce the likelihood of causing injury to anyone—I’m practicing “not doing.” This would be akin to dropping thoughts. But this is impractical! We all have lives to live, people to talk to and things to. So, this brings me into the realm of positive action and the need to be more conscious of how these actions will play out in the world. 

We don’t have control of the infinite trail of karma over time and space, but with good intent, I simply increase the chances of a positive outcome. This is akin to positive thoughts in the world of our body-mind and the far-reaching ways that affirmations can heal not only ourselves, but our world, as well.

The reach is actually infinite, considering the way that these internal vibrations, called thoughts, will reverberate through our cellular structure, the fabric of our emotions and, like wakes behind a boat…outward, through our energetic projection, our words, our choices, our purchases, our conversations and everything we do. 

Thinking positively may be seen as the active component of our practice, where mindful awareness is the softer, more passive part. It’s like reaching out for the apple rather than waiting for it to fall. It’s recognizing my role as the creator of my universe and my power to manifest my health and well-being. It is the Yang to the Yin.  


Watch Donna Quesada talking about this topic on Youtube:


CHOICE chart


I made this chart to show the different ways of interfacing with our moment to moment decisions in life. Even the most subtle decision is vast and carries with it the potential for extensive repercussions. For example, whether we decide to breathe into a moment of frustration or channel it into verbal abuse toward a loved one makes a tremendous difference in our lives, especially, as those moments add up and habit patterns set in.

I make the assumption here, that we’re not always at our optimum. But, life is a process of evolving, if we are fully awake and have the courage to look at ourselves squarely. This means embracing our freedom to make a choice at every moment and owning those decisions. Thus, it also means accepting the consequences of those choices without making excuses for ourselves. This chart shows us that only when we can truly do that, do we evolve into the optimal version of ourselves.

The caveat against making excuses comes from Zen Master Nyogen Roshi, who reminded us very often, during Dharma talks, to (1) Not DECEIVE ourselves (2) Not make EXCUSES for ourselves, and to (3) Take RESPONSIBILITY for ourselves. In my book, I captured this teaching with the acronym, DER.

These injunctions encourage honest, conscious reflection and enable continuous growth—which is what we’re here for! To evolve in our own way and according to our own propensity, is our overarching purpose on earth.

But, sometimes we find ourselves stuck. We call it a problem when we’re unsure how to get unstuck. This chart demonstrates what Yogi Bhajan said—that there is always a pathway through every problem. Curiously, we often access this pathway by letting go. This is the feminine aspect of the dance of life.

This chart shows us that even when we feel we have not acted optimally, in a situation…say, by lashing out instead of breathing, as in the example above, we can use that moment as an opportunity for conscious reflection, rather than self-reproach. For, emotions like guilt, serve only to block our growth. But the recognition that there may be some fear, like the fear of losing control, underlying our frustration, will set us free. It disables that fear.

Very often, this moment of consciousness is enough for clearance to occur. As I’ve said in my classes: “a moment of awareness is a moment of healing.” This is the D, the E and the R, altogether! We haven’t deceived ourselves, we haven’t indulged in excuses, and we’ve taken responsibility, which in this case, entailed nothing more than ownership of our action.

The masculine aspect of doing, comes into play inevitably, as every step, however subtle, is a form of action, but through our willingness to surrender to the outcome, we manifest the feminine. Without that feminine aspect, we lock ourselves into an insecure need to control—bereft of the trust that comes from connection to what isIt’s as Lao Tzu advised: “Know the right, but keep to the left.” The left is the feminine quality of receptiveness. And in this way, we form a relationship with the way and the rhythm of the universe. The dance of life is an interplay of masculine and feminine energies.

The feminine is all about surrender, which trumps the ego’s need to control. It is a must, if we choose to grow. We must welcome what is, with a heart full of grateful acceptance, in order to go forth. We have to be good with where we are before we can get to where we want to be, since the moment we push it away with excuses, we allow the useless emotions of guilt & regret to subsume us, forming, in turn, a murky blanket of resistance to life’s lessons and the evolution of our own consciousness.

It is as such that we behold the interplay of self-acceptance and self-improvement. We often defeat ourselves by trying to have the latter without the former. But, self-improvement, on its own, quickly devolves into an obsessive game of chase, creating a gap in our consciousness, between who we are and who we want to be. It leaves us un-whole. 

I Forgive You

ForgivenessI spent the weekend at a meditation workshop. It was the second of three total weekends, that together compose the advanced training, in Kundalini Yoga, called “Mind and Meditation.” It was long, intense and exhausting, but also rich. The lecture-based explanations on all the facets of the mind and how it works, nourished our intellect, while the meditations and group sharing, enriched our hearts and spirits, through direct experience.

There were moments where I was so tired, I just wanted to go home and lie down with my dog. But there were other moments that left me truly transformed.

The sweetest of those was a 31 minute meditation led by my teacher, on guitar. He has a way of putting mantras and words to rhythms that are so lovely, they feel like an enchanting love song washing over your soul. (Well, mantras are love songs, after all.)

The words in this particular meditation were simply, I forgive you. It started softly and then it grew, as the intensity naturally and organically progressed, over the 31 minutes. The funny thing is, I don’t remember if he mentioned that it would be that long. I had the idea that it would only be a short, five minute, lightweight, fun chant to start class with. I was wrong. It kept going…and growing. And once we were deep into it, I sensed I wasn’t the only one wiping my eyes.

What is genuine forgiveness and how will it set us free?

1.  Firstly, what it is not. It is not to condone anything. It is not necessarily to do anything, at all, in the conventional sense. Thus, it doesn’t mean taking your abusive ex back, or bringing back into your life people who have harmed you in some way. As Guru Singh put it, it is not saying, “what you did is okay.” It is simply saying, “what you did is what you did.”

2. It also is not mere acceptance. Although it is a fine place to start. One of my favorite writers, Caroline Myss, refers to the inability to forgive (oneself or others), as the strongest poison to the human spirit. It drains our energy more than anything else. Lack of forgiveness cuts into the core of our ability to enjoy life, because as long as we are doggedly holding on to some injustice, we are investing emotional resources into it, to keep it alive, to maintain our status as victims. This attachment, to the past, to the event, to the story in our head about the occurrence, is like an invisible, heavy-duty, elastic band that prevents us from moving forward. And we are the ones who suffer most—not the other. So, although we still need to go deeper, acceptance begins the process of dislodging the story that is holding us hostage. In short, acceptance may be seen as the birth place of letting go, but it is still in the domain of the mind.

3. Genuine forgiveness goes deeper than the mind. It is a matter of the heart. And it’s not even about the other, at all. It is about our own relationship to the past. And in order for the heart to forgive, it has to feel the feelings, in order that they may pass through and evaporate of their own accord…as things always do when we don’t resist them. This means welcoming the hurt and the pain. You have to go there, to go forth. And in that moment, when the tears may flow, you liberate your spirit from those invisible tethers. This is true forgiveness and it is also true healing.

To forgive means to give forward from a memory into the present moment. ~Guru Singh

Image by Nayarts

Relationship between Presence, Prana & Wisdom

Prana_chi_intuitionYou’ve probably heard by now, that being present stills the mind and all its turbulence.

But…the greatest block to this state of presence is our mental turbulence.

This is like being told you need experience to get the job, but how are you supposed to get experience if they won’t give you the job!

This is a fine predicament.

The answer to this pickle comes in the form of a question:

Have you ever been so engrossed in a task that presence was inevitable?

Tasks of a physical nature are especially adept in bringing us here, since the mind, left to its own devices, soon falls into its customary habits. And we all know, the mind likes to swing.

The physical Yoga postures known as asana do this for us.

Just about all activities that require our active engagement do this for us (watching TV generally doesn’t do it).

Sometimes Yoga instructors will even tell you to find your edge. This is because when we are at our edge, we receive instantaneous feedback that enables us to make corrections as needed.

As it happens, this is where transformation happens.

As with the concept of flow, this is because when we are at our edge, we are at a point where the challenge slightly supersedes our skill level (clearly, if the challenges are too high, this will cause stress and if too low, boredom may result—but this is a slight digression).

When the balance between challenge and skill is just right, presence is obligatory, often at the risk of personal harm; for example, in a balancing pose, or more dramatically, while hanging from a rope on the edge of a cliff (Some of us, myself included, would rather hang out in a balancing pose rather than on the side of a mountain, even though we like mountains very much).

So, it follows that being comfortable is not the best condition for improvement and growth.

Why does transformation happen here?

Because loss of self-consciousness happens in this state of total engrossment.

Self-consciousness is, not surprisingly, what all the spiritual traditions speak of as enlightenment, albeit in myriad ways, e.g., as the loss of the small self, or, as the merging of finite with the infinite, etc.

Now, as it happens, these same conditions also entrain intuition, something we talk about often, in Kundalini Yoga. Intuitive awareness is a form of knowing that goes beyond the ordinary ways of picking up information, in other words, beyond the words and ideas, concepts and data that are the usual ways of exchanging and receiving knowledge.

One of the reasons why this vivid state of undivided presence cultivates intuition is because in this way, the whole body is alive with awareness. In this state, the energetic flow within us is flowing and unobstructed. In fact, as my own teacher used to remind us, when we are aware that we are breathing, we actually take in more prana. Same amount of oxygen, but more prana (or as the Chinese would say, more ch’i). This means our whole body becomes a receiver and transmission instrument (our mind is not localized in the head).

Prana is energy and if everything is energy, as Einstein said, then we merge into everything as just another aspect of this flowing energetic awareness, when we enter this state. The Yogis call it…well, the Yogis call it Yoga. Merging with divine awareness. Or, merging in divine awareness.

The only thing that holds us back from this state, is our own mental stuff and our attachments to that stuff. Flexibility moves us back to center, which is to say, back to everything and everywhere, and so, in this way, the best definition of non-attachment is actually…flexibility.

*Image courtesy of