When you read that vulnerability = strength, what was your first reaction?
To some of you, it may seem an Orwellian (war=peace) stretch, to others it may be the most natural thing in the world.
I keep hearing people mistake vulnerability for weakness, and I’d like to offer a different perspective, as i think that is one of the most destructive myths of our time.
Vulnerability simply means undefended. It means you have your guard down. It is the space in which we can connect with each other.
Yes, there is a strength in being defended. It is like a castle with the drawbridge up. No one can get in, no one can get out. Impenetrable.
When the drawbridge is down, you are vulnerable to attack. Should someone choose.
When the drawbridge is down, you are open to exchange.
When the drawbridge is down, your armies can get out.
There is a certain strength in being defended, yes.
AND there is a deeper strength called forth in being vulnerable.
This has been a daily practice for me in my relationship with my wife Rosy. In living together, and in her desire to call forth excellence in me, she’ll often need to communicate with me about a topic that I’m uncomfortable with, perhaps a situation I could have handled better. I’ll often start off with my defenses, a swirl of reasons and excuses that what I did wasn’t wrong.
At some point I’ll notice I’m being defended – often it’s Rosy pointing that out – and I’ll let my defenses down and receive the “attack”. With my defenses down, deeper connection is enabled, and I’ll be impacted by her words and touched by them at my core. It then occurs to me that this supposed attack is actually intended as a communication of her love rather than an attack. My heart is fortified, and I’ve created an ally out of my former enemy: (one definition of surrender).
It requires a trusting of your deeper strengths, trusting that you are actually strong enough to withstand an attack. Trusting that any kind of attack would only exercise your deeper strengths, and leave you stronger. Sticks and stones may break your bones, but names will never hurt you.
It’s like the martial arts master who walks into a rough bar and strikes up a friendly conversation. Aware that there may be an attack, but allowing space for connection, knowing full well that ample defenses are ready if need be.
I’d go so far as to say that the state of vulnerability is the only time you’re truly powerful. The only time you can access your deeper strength, your love, and unleash it on the world.
A quote from Erica Jong: “Love is everything it’s cracked up to be. That’s why people are so cynical about it…It really is worth fighting for, risking everything for. And the trouble is, if you don’t risk everything, you risk even more.”
Another from Thomas Merton, via the Shambala Sun.
“Then it was as if I had suddenly seen the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths of their hearts where neither sin nor desire nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each one is in the eyes of the divine. If only they could all see themselves as they really are. If only we could see each other that way all the time. I suppose the big problem would be we would all fall down and worship each other.”
May we all fall down and worship each other.
I’m so glad you’re even looking at this post. Thank you.
To help establish you in a deeper state of gratitude, I have a few questions for you: What’s the difference between actual gratitude and the word “gratitude”?
What is the feeling sense?
How grateful are you for how well your life is going at this moment? That you currently have the health and resources and time and lack of other trauma to be in front of a computer reading this? Seriously. Life could be much, much worse, right? Things are okay, right? Pretty good in fact, relatively. Of course things could be much better, but that’s for later. Gratitude for current reality is the name of the game. Gratitude for now.
We’ve all been in a situation where we’ve offered something generously, and felt genuine gratitude from someone; and we’ve all been on the receiving end of that exchange, and felt that genuine gratitude within us. What is that feeling?
We’ve all been on both sides of a situation where an offering was not fully met with gratitude. “Thanks” (said flatly) or “eww” or “is that it?” or “(silence)”. We know how that feels, yes? From both sides, yes?
When was the last time you felt it: actually fully received someones gift, especially the gift of their open heart’s availability to you?
When was the last time you felt fully received?
What creative ways have we found to not not receive people’s (or the earth’s) offerings? What else can push away that opportunity for gratitude?
- taking it for granted
- rejecting it as offensive
- judging it as insufficient
And while all of these experiences are valid, it is not only possible, but feels really good to take a moment to experience gratitude for the gesture.
Taking it for granted: “Wow, air, I’ve been breathing you my whole life, forgetting what agony I would be in without you, how I would actually die within seconds if you weren’t constantly there for me. I’ve even polluted you without thinking twice about it more times than I can remember. When I put my attention on you I realize that every breath is blissful. (Inhale/exhale). Oh I am so grateful for you and this blissful breath of life we are together.” Or how about your partner, your job, your car, your parents, your kids…..
Rejecting it as offensive: Swami Venkatesananda said something great: paraphrasing: “If we are a true seeker, looking to clear away our triggers, if someone does something that bothers us we can thank them for pointing out to us where we are unresolved, and where the rest of our work that we are so committed to is”: “Wow, judge, your letting a known sex offender and child pornographer go after raping a 13 year old really disturbed me. Thank you for reminding me of what’s really important to me that I’ve done nothing about. I’m going to do something about that, like make sure you lose your job, and make sure the world understands that 13 year olds are precious and should not be held responsible for their actions, and that those who take advantage of them do not get away with it.”
Indifference: “Hey lover, when you ignored my loving gesture, I felt hurt like I’d been abandoned. Thank you for helping me feel how I still cling to abandonment trauma, and the ways I do things to get approval, not just because they are good things to do. I can now work with that.”
Judging it as insufficient: “Thank you person I am not at all attracted to who is flirting with me, it is so beautiful of you to face any fears you have of rejection and approach me this way. I am flattered (pause to enjoy). And I also am not interested.”
We can experience gratitude without having to take everything that comes our way.
A powerful lesson in gratitude came from my nephew Helix at Christmas when he was about 5. He opened present after present, until he could find no more, and as any 5 year old would do, without thanking anyone for a single present, asked if there were more. I thought: why would anyone give you more presents if you don’t even appreciate what you have.
Of course I immediately thought about my own life, how many gifts I have and how rarely I actually appreciate them. Theres a way that when I feel like I don’t have enough money, love, attention, whatever, that feeling of scarcity and the closure that surrounds it keeps me from having the more that I desire.
And so I apply it in my yoga practice. Most powerfully in things like straightening my leg while hold ing my big toe, when lifting up to a handstand, opening to the splits, or any such yoga trick that once seemed impossible to me. I’d find myself attempting a posture and feeling that familiar blockage to my freedom and get so frustrated (so ungrateful) for my limitations, forgetting that they are there to protect me. Why would my body keep opening if I don’t appreciate what it’s already doing? I learned not to force past those blockages, but to be grateful for them: pause there to learn what my body was trying to tell me by seizing up, and guess what happens? My body opens further. My ingratitude held me tight where I was, my gratitude freed me up. Every time. In every way.
So I take this time to thank you for being in my life enough to get this message. I love that I get to feel heard on subjects that are important to me. I thank the earth for the enormous bounty it’s been offering every species in our divine cohesion since life began! I thank our nation and it’s desire to fiercely protect it’s citizens in a way that I have never lived in fear of war or famine, and can use that freedom to pursue loftier aspirations. I thank my family for holding me and raising me and nurturing me in all the ways they knew how, the best they could every day to this day. I am grateful to have this chance of a lifetime on earth as a human being to get to experience what life has to offer.
Have a wonderful day, week, month, year, decade, life!
I read the following in Swami Venkatesananda’s “Insights and Reflections” and it has had such a profound effect on me and the way I deal with situations that “trigger” me:
“When will I not be hurt at all? When I realize that what is hurt is only the ego, my own self image, a shadow which is the product of my own ignorance. This is the fool that is hurt. Yet if I am a real seeker, endeavoring to dispel this shadow of the ego, I should mentally thank that person who pointed out the fool. My goal is to discover the ego and he has made that ego react. Now I can see that reacting ego and deal with it. So if I feel hurt and call myself a spiritual seeker, I’m insincere, I am not honest with myself. Non-violence and the quest for truth are closely related, universal disciplines”
I had hints of this before, but never seen it written so succinctly. It landed like a leaf on my lap.
Since reading it, when I get bunched up about anything said to me, anyone who cuts me off driving, who treats me unfairly, I simply look at myself and find out what was triggered, and endeaver to resolve that internal conflict.
It’s the same with my posture practice.
I’m told by medical professionals that when we are unconscious, our bodies are totally flexible. None of our muscles are tight when we are unconscious. It is when we are conscious that we tighten them.
In other words – my body is totally free, yet sometimes I limit it.
So… When I attempt a pose and find difficulty there – I have a chance to practice! Suddenly my body plays the fool that is hurt. I can thank my muscles and sensations for showing me where I limit myself, where I react. Now I can see that reacting muscle and deal with it.
I can look into the triggers and see whether the danger is real or imagined. I can look to resolve the conflicts and bring my body back to harmony.
This is how I see the yoga practice – being with whatever comes my way such that we become one. Joining together with my experience. Allowing myself to be the experience rather than have the experience happen to me.
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How many of you know someone who accepts themselves just as they are?
How many of you know people who are far too critical of themselves?
When I ask this first question in class, very few people raise their hands. Some think of their pets. Some have a friend or mentor. What is it we are waiting for?
If we held ourselves as perfect, I’m sure we’d have no problem accepting ourselves. So what is between us and perfection? What does perfect mean to you? What do you have to accomplish in order to be perfect?
Right now: In the taoist sense – everything is perfect just as it is. The world is playing out perfectly. We are now and always have been experiencing exactly what we need to experience to foster our growth in this life.
What we’re growing in to. What we’d like to become. What we’ll eventually be.
I have seen myself and too many other people I come across beating themselves up for not being ideal yet, and letting that beating slow their growth towards that ideal.
This plays into content vs. complacent. Content is being okay with what is now. Complacent is not taking the actions to improve where we can, in ways that would serve us.
Here’s how it worked for me:
I was working on pressing up into handstands. I’d press into the floor with my hands, toes on the ground going nowhere, feeling frustrated. I got to the point where I could lift my toes off the floor, but that was it. Frustrated again. Suddenly I realized what an incredible feat this already was! I accepted myself for what I’d done. I pressed my feet off the floor and congratulated myself. My body relaxed and my feet lifted higher! I accepted myself again. In that acceptance I relaxed more, and they went higher still. On and on till I got up all the way.
For a second: Rats! I couldn’t stick the handstand.
Then: That was amazing.
Bring that same self acceptance to your edges: move close to your edge and ask yourself:
* Are you perfect enough yet?
* Do you know what your ideal is?
* Are you okay with the amount of strength, flexibility, endurance that you have?
* Are you open to more?
* Does accepting your practice as it is shift anything, allowing you to grow to your ideal?
Let’s rise together as a group of people willing to accept ourselves, to be some of the rare people who do actually accept ourselves, and others, exactly as they are, encouraging growth from there.
Yoga and several other eastern philosophies are built around the concept of the wheel of karma and samskara.
Karma is action. Samskara is the imprint of the action: the unresolvedness of the action.
POTHOLES, a metaphor
Where I grew up there were still a few dirt roads left. I’d often see in these dirt roads these strings of potholes, decreasing in size. As I looked at them I deduced which was the initial pothole, the first and largest – it’s cause unknown, perhaps a puddle. When cars hit the first pothole, it’s tire would bounce in, then out, then slam down next to it, creating a new imprint in the formerly smooth stretch of road. Over time, rain and repetition would increase the size of the existing potholes, as this repetition turned the two into three, the three into four, and so on.
Eventually the powers that be would pave over the road, allowing for a smooth ride for a while, until another pothole appeared, repeating the cycle.
In my body it looks more like this: I tried the splits once and pushed myself too hard, so my groins hurt, and I decided that trying the splits equaled pain. The next time I tried splits I had fear of repeating that pain, which had me tighten my groins. The exact muscles I tightened to protect myself from pain simultaneously made the splits both impossible and painful, reinforcing my association of splits with pain, and further distancing myself from the asana. The first experience caused the second, the second the third, and so on.
I broke out of this pattern briefly, one particularly optimistic day, where I removed the blame off my anatomy and put the responsibility on myself. I aligned my thigh bones properly in their joints, was unafraid, and down I went – all the way down, totally comfortable, and raised my arms happily into the air as I never had before. Letting go of my past experience, and totally focusing on the present released the karma-samskara cycle, and I was free.
Encouraged by that, I tried it again, attached to that last success, pushed myself rather than released myself, and felt sore in my groin the next day, and a new string of potholes was formed. Today, when I am fully present, I get down with no pain and no lingering discomfort, and when I am afraid or aggressive, I don’t. It’s that simple. The fear runs deep and it takes a lot to release that samskara.
GUILT, RESENTMENT & FORGIVENESS
Guilt commonly acts as a vehicle for carrying forward our own unresolved past actions.
Guilt is interest on a debt you never really owed.
Resentment acts as the vehicle for carrying other peoples past actions.
Resentment is like giving free rent to other people in your mind, body and spirit.
Forgiveness is the cure-all for both guilt AND resentment. Forgiveness is “for giving”. Please give freely.
THANK PEOPLE FOR HURTING YOU
In fact, any time you feel hurt by something someone says or does, if you realize that they are helping you find and have an opportunity to resolve a past hurt, you also have the opportunity to help them resolve some of their guilty conscience, and can thank them rather than blame them!
Blaming them for upsetting you is like the Department of Public Works blaming you for reporting a pothole.
THE FOUR KARMA-SAMSKARA PATTERNS
The basic four patterns are:
- Karma from this lifetime that is resolved in this lifetime.
- Karma from this lifetime that is not resolved in this lifetime.
- Karma from before this lifetime that is resolved in this lifetime, and
- Karma from before this lifetime that is not resolved in this lifetime
Note that belief is reincarnation is UNNECESSARY for this model. Cultures can carry guilt for actions of previous generations. Germans often carry guilt…
PUTTING IT TO ACTION IN YOUR PRACTICE
Go into your practice with an attitude of curiosity: what will you find? When your body grips up and stops you, blocking your freedom, THANK IT for protecting you from injuring yourself. It has just averted an injury. Generally the tensions we find are to keep our bones aligned.
Breathe where you are. Draw on all those great alignment instructions you’ve been offered over the years, and even experiment with new ones. Feel into a way of placing your bones that simultaneously prevents the injury, without blocking your freedom.
Leaving class the other day I overheard something both beautiful and curious. A student who was leaving the class I just taught said to someone who hadn’t, something like “I want to go home and have a good cry.” The other person (I’ll call them “Chris”) said “I know, I always feel like that after his class, that’s why I stopped going.”
I posted this as my FB status and got a lot of interesting responses, which has had me sit down and think about it. These are my thoughts, I’d love to hear yours.
I had been wondering why “Chris” had stopped coming to class. Were they hurt? Offended? I was glad to know they were moved. That is my intent – and I believe a huge piece of the purpose of a yoga practice – for practitioners to take a moment to feel what’s going on inside – joy, fear, anger, sadness – to simply take a moment and get real.
Thinking about why that would deter “Chris” from coming back, I realized that “Chris” is one of the most together, productive people I know. Someone who is incredibly effective, generative, friendly, generous, warm, and efficient. I thought about how when I’m feeling emotional it can be hard for me to generate, to take care of what needs to be done, like I have to put my emotions aside, pull myself together, and get back to work.
And that’s the thing – when we pull ourselves together we often create tension in our bodies to hold ourselves together. When we step onto our mats and start creating postures that we can only possibly get into by lengthening what was tense, we start to undo what was holding those emotions back, this holding that we associate with our worldly functionality and efficiency.
I imagine for “Chris” that the prospect of my mid-day class might mean ineffectiveness.
So, what can we do with this in our practice?
One option is to use the asana (posture) practice to strengthen our vessel so that we can be strong enough to fully encounter all that life has to offer. So we can practice in a way that we can both feel the emotions and keep ourselves together.
Another option is to use the practice as a pressure release: like a soda bottle that’s been shaken – to simply relieve some, but not all, of the holding. Really, does holding our chest tight actually reduce the heartache? Does gripping our neck and shoulders actually help us get through the work deadlines we are facing? Can we hold the emotions in a way that we are not overwhelmed without carrying excess tension in our bodies?
Yet another option is to practice and acknowledge that yes, some part of the resistance/tension is simply around not being ready to feel something today, and consciously decide whether or not to go there. When I forget that some part of the resistance is emotional, I might think some combination of something is wrong, something is out of alignment, there’s damage in my joint, etc. It starts to seem like there’s something broken for me to fix. Honestly, it is likely some combination of the emotional resistance mixed together with any of those things. However, when I remember that some part of it is emotional, I can be softer with myself, I can allow myself to be patient and not push the physical in spite of the emotional, to honor my fullness, my position where I’m at, to decide whether today’s the day to let go and feel what’s underneath, or to bookmark it’s location so I can find it again when I am ready for that release.
I’ve verified that our bodies become totally flexible when we are sedated for surgery. Our muscles are not too short or too tight to achieve any posture, the truth is we tighten our muscles to avoid real or imagined pain. It is important to avoid real pain and injury. It is important to avoid that pain and injury without creating new tensions that lead to future pain and injury.
What do you think?
I’ve been meeting with a group called the Center for World Spirituality.
What’s exciting to me about them is that they seem to be creating a place for Spirituality to blossom independent of religion. For people to foster their connection to spirit rather than their connection to a place or system of worship.
Which has me question what spirit actually is. So I call on some powerful teachings…
Yoga is not a religion, a belief system. It is a set of practices, which, when practiced, brings people to deeply experience many of the same truths that religions ask you to take on by faith.(1)
We are told and given our concept of reality from birth. With the best of intentions, parents, siblings, teachers, and guardians of all sorts tell us “the way things are.” Because our initial picture of the world is so unfocused, so as-yet unconceptualized, adopting their concepts of “what is” gives us a lens to see things through, to bring into focus so we can “make sense of it all”.
Yet imagine if everyone were fitted with a pair of bifocals right from birth, a cultural ritual that no-one questioned, that left an entire society only learning how to focus through those glasses. Would it be possible to learn to see without them?
I heard an anecdote about a couple who had been deaf the great period of their life, who had an implant inserted that enabled them to hear. Miraculous! They could finally hear! Right? Not so for them. They were used to quiet. Their minds had not mapped any sounds to any meanings, so everything was cacophony. One of them decided to turn the implant off. The other proceeded to learn to hear.
So we are fitted with cultural assumptions from the start. How do you know if you’re really assuming something? You don’t. If you are assuming something you take it as “the way things are.” As soon as you question, you are no longer assuming.
So again, what is spirit that you could practice spirituality – our connection to it?
One similarity I’ve noticed between great spiritual teachers like Jesus, Mohammad, Moses, Buddha, and Gandhi, is this: that they chose to question the dominant paradigm, to take off the lenses they’d been looking through, and see with their own eyes, to feel into their own truth, and have a personal moving connection with spirit that woke them up to (what seemed to them like) a greater truth of spirit, that many people resonated with.
This is the deeper practice of yoga. To let go of your assumptions and get in direct contact with reality.
So, to truly learn from these great spiritual masters, let’s try doing what they did, rather than following what they said, and attempt for a moment to lift the veil of our pre-existing teachings about spirit, and feel into our own experience, our own truth.
What is YOUR current belief about “the divine”, “Spirit,” “The greater self,” “That which I take great care not to name,” “the higher power formally known as ‘God'”? Take a moment to sink into this inquiry.
To distinguish that which you actually believe from that which you were told is true but don’t actually believe, try this:
- Get a picture of what you do believe.
- Then, feeling into that picture, is there anything there that you were told to believe that actually doesn’t resonate with your experience, that you have to rely on faith to hold? For a moment, put that aside.
- Then, feeling into your updated picture, is there anything missing that you had to put aside to allow for that faith? Just for a moment, add that in.
- repeat until you are fully resonant with your own image of spirit.
Breathe and feel whatever authentic connection you have to Spirit. Spend a minute/hour/day/year walking in spirit’s shoes. For whatever length of time you’re comfortable with, let yourself act as an expression of Spirit. Consider it may be your job to embody that part of spirit that you feel connected to.
“Walking with God” is the literal translation of the word “Bramacharya*,” the fourth digit of the first limb of yoga, the yamas. Practice it.
To bring this to your asana practice – What is the activity of yoga? According to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali book II vs 1:
“Tapas svadyaya Isvara pranidana kriya yoga”,
which I translate as:
“passionate self study through surrender to (insert your word for spirit here) is the activity of yoga.
Use your practice to Passionately study yourself. The passion comes in the form of staying attuned to whatever arises, never turning away from yourself. To really study yourself and learn something new about yourself, you’ll have to let go of what you already “know”: surrendering your ideas of what you are or are not, and what you “can do” and “can’t do”. Call back the connection to Spirit that you actually believe, and breathe in that connection, as that connection. What properties do YOU experience? I want to take great care not to project any more of my assumptions here. Experience for yourself.
Enjoy your practice.