Tag Archives: Yogi Bhajan

Be Neutral; Be Knowing; Be Glowing

Yogi Bhajan - in whiteOn occasion, I receive messages from Yogi Bhajan, who I think of as Yogiji because the ji functions as a term of endearment. Sometimes I share these messages and others, I simply tuck away into a journal, to be compiled in a book, one day.

But along with this particular message, was the injunction that it be shared. It came as a response to a personal plea for strength, as I have recently been going through a demanding life-challenge. Here is the message, followed by my interpretations of each of the three parts:

Be Neutral; Be Knowing; Be Glowing

Be Neutral—

Meaning, don’t “emotionalize” as you go about your business; just go about your business.

In other words, refrain from running stories in your head about how wrong the other person is…how out of line the company is…how unjust the situation is, etc., etc. It’s not for us to play the role of judge. And anyway, victim consciousness is the lowest form of consciousness (since nothing that happens is personal—more on this below).

But it also doesn’t mean you sit and do nothing when conflict or wrong has occurred. When you’ve already tried to settle the situation peaceably to no avail, you proceed by going through appropriate channels, but without additional energy wasted on vengeful thoughts. (As Zen says, that would be like wearing two heads!)

In short, don’t “personalize” the situation or the other person’s actions, since, those actions were never about you, anyway, they were always about the other—betraying their own state of consciousness. And on a more metaphysical level, those actions are merely impersonal obstacles, like little mazes meant to navigate, so as to reap the lessons they offer, and to able to then move on, and nothing more.

Be Knowing—

My own teacher, Guru Singh, was one of Yogiji’s first students. This is a line from one of his devotional songs, called “Fortunate:”

To be confident that the infinite will take care of it…

This line best sums up the meaning of the second part of Yogiji’s message. It asks us to know, to really know, in our heart, that the universe is truly supporting us.

You are divinely guided! You really do have angels. And what’s more, you have more inner resources than you ever imagined.

Whatever name we call it by…God, the divine, the supreme infinite...doesn’t matter. It means there’s no reason to worry.

Don’t live in fear—have faith. Surrender. And once you do, you’ll see the beauty all around you, as well as all the signs that your angels (in the form of helpers in your life or in spirit), are carrying you.

Consider that whatever challenge you are facing is akin to what mystics have characteristically referred to as “the dark night of the soul,” which always precedes the light! It is a time of reordering, in which something has to die in order for something more beautiful and infinitely more liberating to be born. And this necessitates a kind of chaos, as all birthing experiences do.

But open your heart to faith throughout the process—outrageous faith…faith in your own mission, which comes in the form of divine instructions and your courage to finally listen and follow these instructions! This is freedom, this is light.

Be Glowing—

This is a reminder that our true power and strength is on the inside and this will supersede any physical situation. Meaning, whatever your situation or challenge is, it is of little consequence to fret about possible outcomes, especially those based on what other people’s experiences have been, based on google searches, or based on hearsay. Your inner glow and light, which radiates outward and is felt by all who come near you, will affect the material context in ways that others are unable to understand. It’s like a secret.

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Hope & Faith

I closed my eyes one day and asked for this question to be answered:

What is the one thing people need to be able to feel joy?

As spiritual teachers, we’re always talking about the importance of things like gratitude, forgiveness and especially, presence. But, without taking anything as a given, I wanted to know, what is the one thing that trumps all others? I received the answer very clearly in three different forms that day.

The answer was Hope.

The first message of hope came in the form of this story, as told by the mystic, Sri Ramakrishna:

Once there was a man about to cross the sea. A monk who watched him as he prepared to begin his journey, wrote the name of God on a leaf, which he then crumpled up and pinned to the man’s robe. Upon doing this, the monk said to him, “Don’t be afraid and make sure to have faith.” Then he added, Make sure your faith is wavering, as the moment you lose faith, you will sink.” The man then began to walk across the water quite easily. But suddenly he was overcome with an urge to see what the monk had tied to his robe, and so he reached for it, opened it and found only a leaf that had the name of God written on it. He thought to himself, “Is this it? Just the name of God?” And just then, as doubt began to creep into his soul, he sank.

Hope has been called, in the Christian tradition, Active Faith. It is similar in meaning, to the Zen instruction to Act As If. What it means is that we not only have complete trust in the divine to carry us, but that we are co-creators of our reality. It is not enough to sit and wait, but to act under the belief that what is to be, already is.

Like the mantra: Humee Hum Brahm Hum (What is to be, already is)

This teaching is exemplified in Jesus’ command that we not look up to the sky and pray for the seeded field to yield harvest after three months’ time, but rather, to look out to the empty field and see in those seedlings, a rich, full harvest, already ripened and mature.

Hope, so understood, is faith in a forward-looking perspective. And in this way, it requires that we know, so deeply in our bones and in our soul, that what is to be, already is, that we act as if. Thus, it is a demonstration of our complete trust in the fact that God (or “the universe”) is working on behalf of our well-being.

Hope is not wishful thinking

To be clear, hope in the spiritual sense, is not the same as wishful thinking. For example, we say things like, I hope I get the job, or, I hope it doesn’t rain during our road trip, both of which express this sense of wishing that circumstances may go the way we want them to go.

It is, rather, a deep and unwavering sense of knowing.

Knowing what? Knowing that all things are possible…that the universe is working on our behalf…that grace abounds…that with this inner confidence, we actually help to create the circumstances we require to fulfill our destiny…that we are carried and supported by the divine (in whatever form of the divine is meaningful to us). And this is actually the opposite of wishful thing. With true hope, there is no room for uncertainty. In the examples of wishful thinking above (I hope I get the job), we are saying that although we want something to happen, we are uncertain of it being realized. Hope means total and complete certainty.

Why is hope so important to the experience of joy?

Without hope, we tend to feel anxious about how things will go and we easily become preoccupied with doing and controlling. To put it in Zen terms, the ego creeps in and takes over and the ego is a horrible tyrant, since, like all tyrants, it operates from fear and insecurity. When we are consumed by insecurity and doubt, not only do we become exhausted from trying to do the work of the universe and make it conform to our timeline, but we become closed in and unable to be present for others—how could we be present, when our mind is spinning in worries, doubts and undo concern for our well-being? (Because we don’t believe in our heart, that we are already taken care of.)

Hope is like a wellspring of inner strength.

We’ve all heard inspirational stories about those who have healed their lives and overcome trauma by learning to let go and let God. But fear of letting go keeps us from experiencing the same kind of inner healing. Letting go is also known as surrender, which is, essentially…releasing our need to micro-manage the universe’s work.

Again, dipping into Zen waters, it reminds me of a Koan that asks, How do you step from the top of a hundred-foot pole? You just do it! Or, better yet, we already have!

But we are carried and supported in our journeys. Knowing that is what enables us to release the doubts and fears that keep us stuck in the vexing waters of anxiety.

But because the universal will doesn’t always operate on our calendars, we continually practice faith and surrender in the daily unfolding of life’s events. This means that the business of dropping doubts is a constant practice. And things that need practice aren’t usually easy. After all, doubting is really just a judgment that God is wrong! Surrendering, thus, requires not only a surrender of spirit to a greater will, but a surrender of the obsessive need to know why things happen as they do.

Surrender is not the same as giving up!

To practice surrender in our commitment to awaken to a life of hope and joy, we are saying Yes to every moment, as it unfolds. In this way, we can glide playfully as we soar from the top of that 10-foot pole, rather than fighting against life’s currents. And, surrender is not the same as giving up. Giving up is of the ego. Surrender is of the spirit. Giving up says, “OK, I’ll go along with this nonsense for now, but you better make it worthwhile.” Surrender says, “I accept what you have placed on my path, since in your divine grace, you see what I can’t yet see.”

Hope is not a prediction of the future; it’s a declaration of what’s possible. ~Yogi Bhajan

 

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.

Choice

CHOICE chart


Commentary:

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

Why Meditation Works

morning meditateWhen I was growing up, it seemed everyone was impressed with those who could fix computers or who were technologically savvy in some way. They’re so intelligent, they’d say. And then there was always that family superstar who could answer the questions on Jeopardy before the contestants. Everyone would ooh and ahh, admiringly.

But, from the point of view of our soul, we are not here to fix computers or recite historical data.

Philosophy was impressive, too. While I wasn’t the one you’d call for a hard drive on the fritz, nor the one yelling out the answers to civil war trivia, I could talk about free will or argue about the existence of God. Of course, I didn’t choose this line of study in order to impress people, but as a girl in my twenties, I could already count on the type of reaction I’d get when asked what I’m majoring in.

That is…until I went to a real Zen monastery.

When I was in my 20s, I was already drawn to the eastern traditions—I knew about Zen and emptiness. I had read Alan Watts and even knew about koans. And for the first time, no one cared.

The bald man in robes, who they referred to as “Roshi” spoke that day. He said we were all there because we were “neurotic.” No words were ever truer! None of the brilliant papers I’d written seemed to matter at that moment. I still had my hang ups, just like everyone else. Because I still had that head of mine. All the studying in the world doesn’t seem to do much when it comes to true transformation.

That was when it dawned on me: Even the geniuses are screwed up! It’s like this passage:

Have you seen all these people who drink, who search for a partner, and who look for drugs? They start the search in earnest, or have the urge to do it, after 4 p.m. Why do they need drink? Why do people feel they need to take drugs?  They do all that out of an instinct to seek stimulation. At those times their biorhythm has gone down, and they feel irritated. They cannot exist like that and have to have a change…The root cause is that your basic biorhythm of energy, your mental projection and strategy are not reflected in a unisonness of character. Those zones are natural times that shift your energy level, your mental projection, and your performance. That is the time you must direct the mind, refine it, and create a consolidated unisonness of character and projection. ~Yogi Bhajan

The point is, what we are really here to do is guide the mind rather than let it be guided. Guided by what? By our own emotions, by other people’s expectations, by traffic, by disappointments, by the media…by endless, daily provocations (the worst of these being our own thoughts). Neither techie skills, nor historical data, nor a big bank roll can do this for us.

To me, it all boils down to this question: Are you a sanctuary for yourself?

Can you be still in your own solitude? We become a refuge for ourselves only when our mind is at peace. And only then is it remotely possible to be a source of peace for others — because our mind is the wellspring of every word we speak, every decision we make and every action we take.

How do we become our own sanctuary? When we discover our neutral center—the crowned sovereign over all the noise, the judgments, the neurotic outbursts and the incessant tug of war between positive and negative. The neutral channel is the balm that quells the drama that turns people’s lives upside down.

That neutral eye sees right though the drama. Thus, this quality creates vastness of character. This is true greatness. And this is what we’re here for.

If you have not established some vastness in your attitude, then your habits and facets, your fears and pettiness will betray you. ~Yogi Bhajan 

What is meant by “vastness?” No matter what spiritual tradition we’re speaking of, it all comes down to union, or, said the opposite way, letting go of the illusion of separateness. Where is that illusion kept? In the mind. Zen calls it the small self. Yoga calls it the finite self. No matter what we call it, this ego-based identity is what drives the pettiness in our lives, which in turn, makes spiritual union impossible. This is why governing the mind is the first task in any spiritual practice.

How do we refine the mind, in this way? It’s too bad you can’t just take a 6-week course, or a workshop, or an intensive. The old masters weren’t lying when they said you have to sit. There’s no way around it. It’s not as easy, of course, as taking a course and sticking some degree on your wall, but that’s also why there are so few truly enlightened beings in the world.

So how does it work?

Consider this car analogy: Before driving off to work in the morning, you warm up your car for a few minutes. As the engine warms up, a distinct alteration takes place within the engine that affects the oil pressure and viscosity, which prevents wear and tear on your car and gives you a smoother drive. In a similar way, it is through meditation, that we “warm up” our systems by better preparing our minds to handle the stress of daily living, to make the choices that need to be made and to navigate our way through our own doubts and anxieties. Through the refinement process that only meditation affords, we give ourselves a smoother drive.

Not only is there an alchemical process taking place, via the glandular system and the nervous system, but by coming to stillness, we develop a capacity to stay present even when things seem unpleasant. This translates into less reactivity and more patience in the “real world,” as we interface with difficult people and everyday dilemmas.

Through meditation, instead of simply reacting at once, we create space around every stimulus, whether pleasant or unpleasant and whether internal or external.  Our minds challenge us at every turn, like a toddler pulling at our pants for an ice cream, but as we persist, we become solid. We become a witness to the ways of our own minds, which is what Buddha meant when he urged us to study the Self.

To be sure, being a witness does not mean being passive. Nor does it mean being narcissistic. Not passive because we retain our intention to cultivate our awareness even when we get up off the cushion. Not narcissistic because as spiritual warriors, we know all too well the effect of one mind on the world at large.

We know that even a few minutes of warming up our engine daily, will shape every decision we make, in every area of our lives, from relationships to work. This is why it is the highest form of self betterment—because we are getting to the root of our being.

Day 1 – Meditation Journal

It’s that time again—I’m grading end-of-semester projects and as is always the case, I was struck many times, by moments of  gratitude and delight. It’s the gratitude of being able to introduce stressed-out students to meditation and the delight of witnessing what is sometimes nothing short of a personal transformation. Taking up a personal meditation (sadhana) for a week, as this student chose to do, is one of their project options. As I’ve done before, with the student’s enthusiastic permission, I’m sharing a portion of the one that brought the biggest smile.*

*Note: Following the entry, I have added the instructions to the meditation she did, along with a link to the recorded mantra she used.

Meditation Journal: Day One

It was Day One of my new sadhana commitment. I was woken up by a Rihanna song blasting out of my Iphone, and a few minutes after that, by my ten-year-old brother urging me to get ready and take him to school. After the hustle bustle of my early routine, I arrived at SMC and tried to fit my car into a parking space that would need a plier to get out of. I sat through class after class, took notes, stared at the clock, and made about thirty lists of things I had to do.

After the long day had progressed and I was finally in bed, I found myself nervous, as usual, and lost in my monkey mind of excess thoughts. I have quite a neurotic habit before I sleep, where I replay all the little, unimportant negative moments of my day that stuck out to me, like when my history professor poked fun at my question, or when a friend said something that hurt my feelings. Before I know it, I am usually so involved in the replaying of these scenes and distracted by other thoughts that remind me of other negative scenes, that I am up all night, with only a couple hours of sleep to spare.

But on this night, before I started this tedious process, I remembered it was day one of my new sadhana and I was committed to practicing the Sa Ta Na Ma meditation every day for the next week. I put on the mantra recording I had downloaded from amazon and sat calmly with my eyes closed. I breathed deeply a few times and then started whispering SA TA NA MA, then singing it, then singing it in my head. I chose this sadhana because I love singing and I loved the element of music and chanting that this sadhana had. As I sang the words, I alternated connecting my thumb fingers with each of my other fingers.

I started to feel more relaxed as I felt the anxieties of my day being sung away. My mind felt more focused and at the same time, more clear. I felt like I had created a peaceful sanctuary in my quiet room. I felt connected with my body and felt it get lighter as I let go some of the worries I was bottling up all day. As the meditation came to an end, I found that my mind was lighter than usual, and to my surprise, I laid my head on my pillow and fell asleep.  

—–

Sa Ta Na Ma Meditation

  1. Sit with a straight spine, either on the floor or in a chair. Rest the backs of the hands on the knees.
  2. Eye Focus is at the Third Eye (look up toward forehead).
  3. Inhale deeply and begin to chant aloud the mantra: Sa ta na ma.
  4. On the syllable sa, touch the index finger of each hand to the thumb; on ta, touch the middle finger to the thumb; on na, touch the ring finger to the thumb; on ma, touch the pinkie to the thumb. Continue with these finger movements, with a firm pressure.
  5. First chant the mantra aloud, imagining that the sounds come in through the crown and exit through the third eye in an L shape. Then, chant in a whisper. Finally, chant silently (mentally), before reversing the order (Follow the recording).
  6. To finish, take a deep breath and reach your arms overhead. Exhale, and draw your hands to your chest in prayer position.

This meditation is one of the core Kriyas in our tradition of Kundalini Yoga and has been duly researched and lauded for its measurable benefits to those suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and related brain disorders.

Here is one of my favorite short recordings of it, on amazon: Sa Ta Na Ma.

The Power of Positive Thoughts

Buddha ThoughtsIn the Dhammapada, Buddha speaks of the power of thoughts when he says, “all that we are is the result of what we have thought.” Yet, Zen master Suzuki seems to dismiss that power, when he likens those same thoughts to passing waves, urging us to learn to let them go, for, they are not who we are.

It seems contradictory. But we can look upon this delightful little enigma as an invitation to reconcile both aspects of the polarity. It’s kind of like light…now it’s a particle, now it’s a wave.

Where thoughts are concerned, the catch is that they can and do pass…when we let them. As weary travelers pass continuously through the revolving doors of the grand hotel, so our thoughts go flooding through our minds. As Yogi Bhajan says, thoughts erupt at the astounding rate of 1000 per blink of the eye. At this rate, it’s hard to imagine we could catch any of them, but this is exactly where it gets tricky.

The problem happens when we get stuck on a thought. Like gum stuck to our shoe, we then begin to wear it, exude it, transmit it. And then, it wears us.

What are we to do?

Through the simple practice of mindful meditation, we practice letting thoughts come and then letting them go. We practice non-attachment to those thoughts. Like anything worthwhile, it takes a lot of practice (which is why the monks and Yogis have traditionally retired to their caves for a life of seclusion and long hours on the cushion)…because let’s face it—most thoughts only get us into trouble!

But as we become more comfortable with this process, we learn how to work with our thoughts in more skillful ways. MRI screening now confirms what Patanjali told us 2000 years ago in the Yoga Sutras, namely, that through focus and conscious intention, we can convert pesky thoughts into more uplifting ones. Cultivate counteractive thoughts, he said.

What it all boils down to, is living a more fulfilling life because when our thoughts have got us by the nose (to use an expression my Zen teacher once used with me), we become too engrossed in our internal battles to truly enjoy life.

This is where positive affirmations come in. By learning how to actively work with our thoughts in a more purposeful way, we can affect our physical, mental and emotional well-being, as well as usher in the kinds of positive changes in our lives that may have once seemed out of reach. In other words, by learning to work with affirmations, we may even open doors to the realms of the miraculous.

Two Stories: An Opportunity for Growth Rather than Grief

forgivenessHere are two situations which I present as examples of ways we allow ourselves to be negatively affected by others. But I show that they may be seen as opportunities for liberation, rather than suffering. Although I have fictionalized them by changing the details, they both resemble recent events in my own life.

Situation #1: You work in an office. You came up with a wonderfully creative idea that you’re sure will be adopted by management. This plan is likely to win a new contract with a highly sought-after company and will also guarantee your upward mobility in the company. But, to your shock and distress, you learned that as soon as the new guy obtained one on one time with the boss, he represented your idea as his own. You feel betrayed and disappointed.

“Wisdom Balm for Situation #1:
” Convert your anger, your hatred and your betrayal into compassion. Suppose somebody betrays me. I feel that god is very kind because he has given me the energy to tolerate it, and I am not the one who betrayed.” ~Yogiji

Situation #2: You wrote a screen play over a year ago. You just got word from your agent that a well-known film producer has made an offer to buy the rights to it. You always had faith in this project and knew in your heart it was a story that needed to be told. You also know how hard it is to get this kind of recognition here in L.A., where the market is so saturated and competitive. When you sent out a celebratory e-mail to your friends and family, most everyone responded with accolades, except the people that matter most to you. You feel hurt and unacknowledged.

“Wisdom Balm for Situation #2:” Happiness is your birthright. It cannot be taken away from you.” ~Yogiji

The first situation portrays an action that is taken as a betrayal. The second is rather, the omission of an expected course of action. What these two stories have in common — for the spiritual practitioner — is the need for forgiveness, or as I like to say, “forth-giveness,” since, as implied in the word, it is through the process of forgiving that we allow ourselves to go forward.

If we permit ourselves to feel victimized us, we are giving away our power. This is especially poignant in the first situation. So, when you see the occasion as an opportunity to practice and go higher in your way of looking and ultimately, in your spiritual awareness, you unchain yourself, at once. Say, thank you for this blessed challenge. And you come away feeling lighter. And lightness is closer to the divine.

In the second situation, the wisdom quote is deceptively potent. Just as we give away our power when we allow ourselves to feel victimized, we do it still, when we wait for someone’s approval to validate our sense of worth and accomplishment.

What difference does it make who notices?

No matter who notices, there will always be plenty who don’t, so this becomes a fruitless concern. You can authorize yourself to enjoy it. Besides, it is likely that the others don’t understand. Especially in a situation like this one—a family in the midwest, for example, simply wouldn’t understand how huge it is to sell a script in Hollywood! They’re probably just waiting for you to get a real job, anyway. The point is that your celebratory moment was never about others’ recognition, at all. It’s about you serving the world in a way only you can. That takes it to a higher level.

And higher still, is to realize, in both cases, that the perceived wrong isn’t about you. It’s about them. It’s a betrayal of their own consciousness. It indicates where they are in their own evolution. They are driven by their own demons, their own fears and insecurities. Far from making us more bitter, this recognition enables us to have compassion for them, since we’ve all been there. To this end, there is a teaching in our Yoga tradition that urges us to recognize that the other person is you.

This way of seeing brings us immediately into humility, as we begin to understand that everyone is ourselves at a different stage. And when we’re humble, we stop fighting and we heal.

So, we become at once, empowered and humbled. Empowered because we let go of our own victimization while authorizing our own experience of joy. Humbled because we come to see that our mission is less about impressing the world than it is about serving it.

Gratitude (It Goes Both Ways)

It was an ordinary Tuesday morning on campus. On the heels of an especially hot September, it was already stuffy inside the classroom. Amid the pre-class clamor, I sat, perusing the instructions for a meditation that was originally given by my teacher some 30 years ago. I thought twice about it. It seemed too detailed and too complex for a classroom setting. But I went ahead with it, anyway.

We were a couple minutes into it, when I passed my eye over my 80 students, from left to right, across the oddly shaped, wide room. Through the darkness, I saw only fingers pressing together at the heart center, closed eyes and heaving chests pumping air in segments.

After class that day, I saw two of my students hanging out by the field—with exaggerated puffing, one was instructing the other in the correct way to do the meditation. The next day at my home studio, a student, who is also in my college course, was practicing this meditation as I entered.

Truth be told, I was feeling a bit off my game lately. Like I didn’t have my usual spark. So, what happened two days after this meditation, was especially meaningful.

One of my students caught up to me as I was walking to my car after class. She is a young woman who as I learned, is in the middle of a painful divorce. They were high school sweethearts, she told me. The separation process has been so painful she nearly dropped my class before the semester even started because she didn’t think she would be able to handle the extra demands and pressure.

Through tears, she continued to share her story. Then she told me what had happened the day before—how the meditation had helped her pull herself out of another panic attack, just after a particularly difficult phone conversation with her ex. She said it was the first time she had felt empowered rather than crushed.

She wanted me to know that her tears were now the tears of hope and gratitude and that for the first time in months, she was able to experience the taste of renewed joy—even in the midst of crisis. She is looking upon this internal shift—this newfound sense of optimism and inner strength as a rebirth. My own heart melted when she told me she was holding in her mind the image of me giving instructions for the meditation in class, to ensure that she was doing it right.

Her intention was the most important ingredient of all, I reassured her. And that can only come from her. She had decided it was time to heal.

With a long hug we parted. The gratitude goes goes ways. Here’s why it’s so important to share these kinds of things:

1. The other person may need to hear it, as I did in this instance. Positive feedback of this sort is a source of upliftment and inspires the recipient to continue doing what they’re doing. Moreover, it lets them know they’re making a difference.

2. It enables connection and that’s what we live for.

3. We spend too much time criticizing—both ourselves and others. But as my teacher, Yogi Bhajan, has said: It takes the same energy to complain as it does to compliment. When there is a short circuit there is a complaint and when the energy is flowing there is a compliment. Thus, taking a moment to scatter flowers, rather than count the weeds, makes the world feel beautiful.