In the Yoga Development Course I took last winter we studied the Bhavagad Gita – an ancient yogic text. And we read the entire text out loud in groups in four days. Then wrote a couple of papers.
And I’m realizing now that it’s a text that I could spend years studying intensively. That the initial four days was only dipping my toe in.
In the text Krishna says, “By the delusion of the pairs of opposites arising from desire and aversion, O Bharata, all beings are subject to delusion at birth.” And ‘the Pairs of Opposites’ was something I was beginning to understand then, and as I continue to reflect I am able to understand more fully now.
Last week I went on vacation from Yasodhara Ashram, where I work and live. It was beautiful and special. It was spacious. I spent lots of time outside, with people I love and alone. I went to a few dance classes and helped my sister look for jobs in the non-profit sector.
And suddenly I was seeing the world outside of the Ashram as a beautiful place and almost immediately after this realization began to see my world inside the Ashram as a place of limitation and pressure. One was good and therefore the other must be bad.
Now that I’m entering back into the Ashram, I’m seeing the tricks of my mind. Yes, there are limitations and challenges living here, but there are also supportive aspects and beauty. There is an amazing team of passionate and intelligent women who run the place and who I get to work with.
And so it’s not that one’s good and therefore the other must be bad but both experiences – living at the Ashram and living away from the Ashram – are dynamic. In both experiences I have choice of how I work with the supports and limitations that exist. And in both situations I am in control of my life.
And for me – for today – that is transcending the Pairs of Opposites. Things are not black or white but grey. And wherever I am I can take responsibility for how I experience my life.
I am on a vacation from the community that I live in – spending a week skiing and hiking and sitting in coffee shops. And as I stepped out of the flow of community life, the first thing I noticed was how a pressure was lifted.
Suddenly I’m in a town where people don’t know my story – my habits and my background, my strengths and my weaknesses. And suddenly I can breath more fully.
So what is this pressure? Where does it come from? What is the source? And what is the cause?
In community living there are a lot of pressures. I get into disagreements. I get feedback about how I could have done something better. I give feedback about how I feel like something could be done better.
And there’s a pressure that comes with being seen by my community. There’s no hiding my habits or choices. Everyone knows and everyone is free to comment.
I’ve been in situations before where someone is trying to put the pressure on me – convince me to do something in the way that they would. And it’s easy for me to step out, to let go, to breath, to not take on the pressure.
So how can I do this where I live and work now? How can I notice the pressures but not take them on?
The first step is where I am now – to see the pressures and to acknowledge that they are impacting my life. And the next step is learning to step out when I don’t need to be in them. Taking a deep breath and realizing that what is happening doesn’t need to be taken personally. Acknowledging the facts and at the same time to not say it’s “all my fault.”
And my life in the community is the perfect place to practice this. Pressure will come up and I have a choice of how to work with it.
So Tuesday I step back, into the community, into the flow and into the pressures. By stepping out I could see what was happening. Now I can step back in and make a change.
I’m not quite sure where it starts. But at some point I realize there’s a voice that’s questioning every decision that I make. “Is that really a good idea?” “Do you really need that?” And the hidden message is really – do you really deserve that? Are you really worthy?
And right now is one of the moments. As I sit in my bed typing I have this sinking feeling in my chest. I want to sleep. I don’t want to be seen. I want it to go away. This voice tells me to hide and keep all of my actions secret so others won’t discover “what a horrible person I truly am”.
And when it gets to this stage it affects all my choices – from what to have for dinner to whether or not to buy a Macbook Air.
And I’m amazing at coping. It’s happened before and I know how to ride it out – putting off making important decisions or getting a level headed friend to help. Pretending I’m totally fine and thinking that other’s don’t notice my edginess. Smiling. Getting the work done.
But I want to do more than cope. I want to get to the roots and pull them out. I want to find out where this shame is coming from. And I want to be free.
This time it started with a busy day where people were sick and didn’t let the office know. I was coordinating the work schedule so spent a lot of time trying to figure out where people were and to find coverage for them. And then I called a community meeting to explain the importance of communicating if you can’t come to work. I also had a disagreement with a co-worker. And then talked again later to resolve the issue.
I was mad and I was tired and I was stressed. And then it was like this anger came up and then at some point was turned on myself.
The voice emerged – “Does everyone dislike me now that I called them out?” “Did I really need to say anything?” “Was the disagreement my fault?” “Am I good person at all?”
So I’m practicing believing I have worth even when it’s at its loudest. Trying to take baby steps towards shameless living. Buying the computer even though the voice thinks I’m not worth it. And using the car to transport boxes of magazines even when the voice says:
“You should walk. Do you really want to pollute the environment with that gasoline? Are you just being lazy? And what if someone else needs to use the car? Someone doing something more important. Someone more important.”
And I think its working even though it’s far from perfect…
Step by step.
Inch by inch.
I am stumbling towards freedom.
…the need of mental training, or regular, orderly, purposeful exercise of the mind, is far greater than that of the body in most cases; for at our general stage of growth most [people]’s bodily activities are well-ordered and controlled , and the body is obedient to their will, but their minds are usually utterly disobedient, idle and luxurious.
And I’m beginning to see how this manifests for me.
For the past couple of days I’ve felt slightly disconnected. And today I finally realized I don’t need to beat myself up about it. I’m able to see that beating myself up is flowing into the old thought pattern of not good enough, not smart enough, not efficient enough.
I’m realizing that I feel uncentered and that’s okay. I am centered enough.
Utterly disobedient – until I choose to make a change.
And so I’m beginning to watch what happens in my mind. To notice and to write. To become the detective and put the clues together. To realize when a negative pattern is happening and to shift away. To exercise choice.
And there’s an amazing freedom that comes. Realizing that when my mind is utterly disobedient it causes a lot of pain. And then when I find ways to change the pattern the pain lifts.
One step at a time.
I am learning to change my mind.
And this is a shocking thing to say – even to myself – as just a couple of months ago I saw renunciation as following a long list of rules that force one to give up everything fun or pleasurable.
That isn’t renunciation at all actually.
And I recently I let go of my attachment to completing all 30 books report by the deadline. Not giving up, but detached from the outcome. Transforming it from a to-do list item to part of my life’s work.
Spiritual teacher and pioneer in bringing yoga to the West, Swami Radha, says that renunciation cannot be forced. You can be very determined but the cucumber will only drop from the vine when its ripe.
And as the burdens I have carried for far too long begin to fall away it’s an indescribable feeling of freedom. It’s the feeling of flying down a hill on my bicycle. It’s the feeling of a bird flying quickly through the forest. Darting in and out through the tangle of branches. Fast, focused and free.
And I want more.
So my work is ripening the cucumbers – which as a gardener I know is both a complicated and simple thing to do. The main ingredient is time but the cucumber will not make it at all if the seed is not planted or if there isn’t day to day care.
And as I tend the burdens in my life – giving them water and love – and wait for their time to ripen – I am learning to be like that bird.
I am learning to be free.
 Radha, Swami. On Sanyas. Kootenay Bay: timeless, 2010, p. 23.
One of my favourite poet’s, John O’Donohue, writes in To Bless the Space Between Us, “Each new day is a path of wonder, a new invitation. Days are where our lives gradually become visible.”
I’ve recently started a new practice of walking down to the water every morning before breakfast. Growing up in Ontario, lakes are my home – the places where I feel safe, relaxed and free. And now each morning I walk down the steps, past the prayer rooms to the beach. The pebbles crunch under my feet, the waves lap against the shore and my world opens up as I reach the edge of the lake and suddenly I can see for miles in each direction.
I live in the mountains now, far away from rolling hills of my Ontario home, but nature does not mind what side of the country it is on. The fall still passes into winter, the dawn lifts into morning. As I stand beside the shore I connect to the rhythms that I know well. The waves lap, the wind blows, the sky opens up and I remember that I am a part of life.
I pause to take it all in and then turn to walk back towards my community where I face the responsibilities, joys, and challenges of working with others towards a shared vision that I care deeply for.
These precious morning moments are brief but they are not lost when I enter into our main building or sit down at a community meeting. The remembering stays and helps me to navigate my life.
O’Donohue writes, “No day belongs to us. Each day is a gift.”
 Donohue, John. To Bless the Space Between Us. New York: Doubleday, 2008, p.189.  Donohue, John. To Bless the Space Between Us. New York: Doubleday, 2008, p.190.