judgement day

I woke this morning to read about a 27 year old Sudanese woman, Meriam Ibrahim, who gave birth this week whilst shackled in jail. She has been granted a two year suspended sentence to nurse her newborn, after which time she will face 100 lashes with a whip and then death by hanging. As Sudanese expert, Eric Reeves states, the lashings in themselves can be a fatal punishment, ‘the very idea of lashing someone,’ he said in an interview with Sky News, ‘and then hanging them is beyond grotesque. There is no possible justification, other than the most extreme ideological fervour.’ Despite the fact that she was raised as a Christian, by a Christian mother and a Muslim father, she is being punished for marrying a Christian man. According to the Islamic regime, she is regarded as a Muslim and therefore marrying a Christian is considered to be an act of apostasy and adultery.

How is it that these archaic practices are still going on? And other than the blatantly abhorrent human rights issue – which deserves all the attention it is getting and more – why did I get so riled up about this case, today, here and now?

I understand that this is a very complicated and sensitive topic, and certainly one that I am graciously removed from, however, it brings to the fore this notion of judgement that seems to keep bubbling up in front of me lately. Unfortunately it often takes an extreme event, such as in Meriam’s case, for these wafting ideas to form a more malleable shape.

In my cushy, centrally-heated, coffee-cultured, iWorld, who am I to open my mouth about women’s issues in Sudan? Who the hell do I think I am, making comments about religious and cultural practices that surely I know very little about?

But I can’t help thinking, who are they to say that what she is doing is wrong? Who are they to make the rules? To deem that her actions are in line with a certain level of punishment? How do you scale actions against consequences? And who says who gets to create that scale – and why them? Why do the rest of us listen? On a base level, aren’t we all just humans – all made of the same stuff? Why do we place so much importance on power and hierarchy when it so often leads to misery?

Perhaps the more important question is: why do we feel so powerless?

E.E Cummings wrote, ‘To be nobody-but-yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody but yourself – means to fight the hardest battle which any human can fight – and never stop fighting.’

Being authentic, staying real, even in the face of judgement, is one of the most courageous battles we will ever fight.

While judgement seems to occupy a vast majority of our time, I would argue that when it comes to being judged by others, people aren’t necessarily as concerned about your actions as you might think. Rather, our stories about ourselves are really what we are seeing as reflected by their behaviours and decisions – we really are inherently that self-absorbed. I love when my girlfriends tell me they had a second helping of cake, for example. I feel stronger when I hear a story about social awkwardness. I’m completely ok when someone cancels on me because ‘something came up’ as being alone is often so much easier than putting myself out there.

So when we feel judged – who’s actually judging who? Does the judgement start or end with them or you? And is your reaction to the judgement a story you’ve created about yourself or about them?

Brene Brown talks about ‘numbing down’ as something we all do in reaction to feeling powerless. But the difference in how this manifests in each of us changes with our awareness of the when and why it occurs. We can learn to understand this by asking ourselves:

Does our (insert behaviour here: eg sex, eating, drinking, working) get in the way of our authenticity? Does it stop us from being emotionally honest and setting boundaries and feeling like we’re enough? Does it keep us from staying out of judgment and from feeling connected? Are we using it to hide or escape from the reality of our lives?

Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It’s about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let ourselves be seen.
Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we’re supposed to be and embracing who we are.
Authenticity demands Wholehearted living and loving – even when it’s hard, even when we’re wrestling with the shame and fear of not being good enough, and especially when the joy is so intense that we’re afraid to let ourselves feel it.

– Brene Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection

I don’t want to be afraid of love, I want to fall into that intense joy. And yet I am. And I don’t.

I don’t want to live my life backwards – trying to have more things, more money, to do more in order to feel happier. And yet I do.

I want to be myself first, to do what I need to do in order to have what I want. And yet the fear of rejection paralyses me.

Judgement – whether it starts or ends with you – is killing us all. We need to let it go. I need to let go…

She could never go back and make some of the details pretty. All she could do was move forward and make the whole beautiful.

So it’s time for me to dig deep. To get deliberate – to stand on my own sacred ground. To get inspired – to be brave so that others around me can be brave also. And to get going – if the goal is authenticity and they don’t like me, that’s ok, but if the goal is being liked and they don’t like me, then I’m in trouble.

And trouble only creates more trouble.

Virabhadra: The Time Travelling Warrior

FLASHBACK to The Present: 6 April 2014

I am writing this in the early hours of the day. I love these hours. They are all mine. I still find it fascinating that this is how I see it these days. I have never been an early riser. In fact, if I didn’t sleep for eight hours of a night I was sure to feel quite physically ill during the day. My Mum once told me this was her story about her relationship to sleep. I’m not entirely sure if I used her story to understand my experience, or if it is a story that we share. But these days I am lucky if I get five or six hours a night. My disrupted sleep patterns started after a car accident a few years ago and so I was sure that it was a sign that something wasn’t right, something was broken, and hopefully with time it would heal and I would go back to ‘normal’. According to Chinese medicine, depending on what hour of the night you wake up, relates to a different body part’s ailment. If memory serves me, the 4am slot is associated with the respiratory system and anxiety. With this in mind, I tried to work through where I thought I needed help and healing. But to this day, I’ve never quite managed to go back to whatever I was before. It didn’t quite work out like that. And I find myself up before dawn more often than not. This is the new me. However, what I have discovered only recently is that I haven’t lost my sleep – my all important time for rest and repair – I have gained invaluable time for other things that I always thought I never had time for before. So now I write a lot, I read, I meditate. My story changed and then I changed my story of me.

This feels like a pretty amazing time for this kind of reflection to have cropped up, as it is the day that I am about to walk into teacher training and teach my first class with Natalie. Just us. It’s all ours. And so… what is it that is important to me – what do I want to share? What is my intention for the class? Why am I becoming a yoga teacher?! What does that mean to me?

Yoga is not just about a physical practice. Yoga is about connection. And we access this through stories. The stories we read about, the stories we hear about, and the stories we tell ourselves. Stories can be very powerful, wherever they come from. For example, I can read about Virabhadrasana and learn where this pose comes from – why the yogi’s before us have continued to tell this story. Why they – and now we – continue to practice this pose. If you’ll entertain me for a moment, I will summarise it for you now…

Shiva, the Lord of the Universe, had a wife called Sati whom he loved greatly with all his heart. However, her father, King Daksha, did not approve of their partnership. Since the beginning of the universe, his job was to oversee and regulate rituals and make sure they were done properly. Daksha, clearly making a point, made the terrible mistake of not inviting Shiva and Sati to a very special religious ceremony, a fire sacrifice. Distraught, Sati went along anyway and found that the ceremony was a farce; it was more about Daksha flaunting his wealth than any meaningful ritual. More importantly though, how can you hold a sacrificial ceremony without The Lord of the Universe – The Destroyer, as he is known – in attendance, from whom all sacrifice comes?

Sati could not bear it and took it upon herself to be the sacrifice. She threw herself into the fire.

Shiva, upon hearing what had happened, was overcome by grief. This soon turned to rage and he tore a hair from his head and threw it to the ground. This hair transformed into the personification of his emotions. Thus the warrior, Virabhadra, was born – the symbol of righteous anger, nobility and the defender of the innocent.

It is mostly irrelevant to me that this just happens to be a tale attached to the ancient religion of Hinduism, insofar as to say, where the story comes from is of less importance to me than the message behind it. Whilst I deeply respect the religious traditions, for me, yoga itself is not a religion, rather it is an art, a science and a philosophy for life. So, when I come to my mat, it is the message that resonates with me – the religious element does not get in the way for me. When I work through the warriors, yes, I am going on a physical journey; yes, my mental faculties are turned on in order to allow my body to work through the asanas, however what is most powerful is my state during this practice – what am I focusing on? What am I practising? These stories offer a point of focus i.e. what does noble mean to me? Where do I find strength or power? What do I stand in defence of – or quite simply, what do I stand for? Am I a warrior of peace? Of love? Of strength? Or am I practicing sadness, fear, anger, resentment; righteousness born out of ego rather than out of intuition and innocence?

By practicing in this way and by reflecting upon the way in which I practice, I can shift my focus not only on the mat, but also out in the big, wide world that is my life. This is when the practice becomes its’ most powerful. This is how it can open us up to allow our full potential to be illuminated: when we begin to rewrite those stories that we tell ourselves, in particular the ones that do not serve us.

FLASH FORWARD to Then and Now: The Unrelenting Mind Stuff 

 

Righto. Thanks for sharing. So… what? You really think you’ve worked it all out? You think you’re ‘The Shit’?

Wow, ok aggressive…I never said I was ‘The Shit’.

Thank goodness. Youre not. Trust me.

I know that.

Do you? I dont think you know who you are.

Oh ok, we’re playing that card are we? Careful! ‘Don’t make the baby cry!’ That’s sarcasm, in case you can’t read it.

You really think its that easy? You think you can just get up there, spout a few stories, assist a few people, project your voice, pretend youve got your shit together and people wont notice?

Why are you doing this?

Why are YOU doing THIS?

Because I love yoga. I love teaching. I love…

You love…what?! Go onyou cant even say it.

I was pausing for effect!

Thats bullshit.

What do you want me to say?

I want you to say I accept who I am. I love all of my weaknesses and all of my strengths!

It’s just fucking yoga. You don’t need to get so intrusive.

Oh yeah? Go on then. If its just fucking yoga then say it.

Why should I?!

Because its not just fucking yoga this is your fucking life. Wake up. Get involved.

What’s that supposed to mean?

It means, stop ignoring this conversation with yourself. It means keep blogging, keep exploring. Keep in touch with people. Be vulnerable. Actually find your edge, dont just look at it. You need to stay on the path to your authenticity. Only then can you truly start to live in the present. Enough of this flashing back and forward in time, arguing with yourself, with your habits of mind, your ego.

Really practice. Really live. Really talk to people. Really love. Really feel. Really connect. Really be here. In your body. In the world.

‘Unite the blueprint with the reality. Be the change I want to see.’ That kind of thing?

Are they your words?

Well, no, but I believe them.

Ok. But whats your story?

Oh…

Only you can create your own happiness. You said that, remember?

Yeah, yeah. I remember.

So

So…?

What are you waiting for?

It’s time to fly

 

…are you coming?

I’ll tell you what, if you like stories so much, why don’t you start here…this should get you going…

Love Life

Stuck on the wall, just inside our toilet door, there is a man staring me in the face, challenging me. Every morning he says to me,

Follow your bliss. If you do follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while waiting for you, and the life you ought to be living is the one you are living. When you can see that, you begin to meet people who are in the field of your bliss, and they open the doors to you. I say, follow your bliss and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be. If you follow your bliss, doors will open for you that wouldn’t have opened for anyone else.

Joseph Campbell*

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Most mornings I think to myself, Come on, Joseph, it’s 6am! I’ve barely finished my first coffee! But he doesn’t crack a smile, he doesn’t even flinch. He just sits there, staring at me over the mirror. And before I know it, he’s under my skin. And someone’s knocking on the door and calling ‘Is everything alright in there?‘ Bloody hell, I don’t know – ask Joseph.

The books by the mystics say that what we are is love. Love is being the other. Love is wanting for the other what they want for themselves – the division of connection is no longer present and we become an extension or expression of the other. In teaching, when we feel separate from our students we feel fearful, but when we are in it together this feeling dissipates. What we want for them, we want for ourselves. Then our self concern for ‘doing a good job’ falls away because whatever they get, I get too.

Ok sure. But how do we actually make these ideas of bliss and love come into actuality rather than a fantasy we are grasping for? How do we marry our ‘conceptual life’ – the one we want for ourselves – and our blueprint – the story we have laid down as our truth up to this point – so that we can start living in bliss, in love?

One or the other has to change – either our ideal life or our blueprint. You choose.

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about intuition and ego. How do we tell which one is speaking? My gut tells me that intuition and ego are like two opposing political parties. One keeps the other (more) honest. Intuitively, we seem to know when something sits well with us, we know when we are not being honest. Intuition comes easily, but our ego is so quick and so in tune with their dance that we don’t get enough time to really sit with the easy part. The part that feels right. Before the rest of the ego’s rugby team jump in on the scrub and wrestle it to the ground. Swift little fuckers. With big muscles. Unfortunately our intuition doesn’t put up a fight, either. Or if it does, it’s no match for their stealth moves.

So when we are faced with a situation that makes us feel vulnerable, how do we know which one is talking? According to Brene Brown, vulnerability is the key to connection. But we are so preoccupied with protecting ourselves, rugged up in our suit of armour, that no one has a chance of getting through. So when we do make genuine connections, will we even see them for what they are?

I would argue that we don’t have a choice. When they are real, when they are truthful, our intuition knows it. Like attracts like. The tragedy is when our ego chooses to ignore these connections for fear of rejection or heartache. Not only do we risk hurting ourselves, but we risk hurting others in the process. But it is worth it, if at the end of the day we – and they – end up living more honestly and closer to their bliss?

However, my quest this week is to find places in my life where I can be more vulnerable and being honest and open with it.

My ego is terrified. But my intuition is already off and running. Oh boy, can’t we all just get along?

*Joseph Campbell was an American mythologist, writer and lecturer, best known for his work in comparative mythology and comparative religion. His work is vast, covering many aspects of the human experience. His philosophy is often summarised by his phrase: “Follow your bliss.”

Rather than telling him to be quiet, I’m asking Joseph to speak a little louder this week. So, with this in mind, I have invited a few extra quotes from his talks and published works to help me along the way:

We must be willing to let go of the life we planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.

The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.

If you can see your path laid out in front of you step by step, you know it’s not your path. Your own path you make with every step you take. That’s why it’s your path.

People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances with our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive.

The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.

If you are falling….dive.

Regrets are illuminations come too late.

You enter the forest at the darkest point, where there is no path. Where there is a way or path, it is someone else’s path. You are not on your own path. If you follow someone else’s way, you are not going to realize your potential.

A bit of advice Given to a young Native American At the time of his initiation: As you go the way of life, You will see a great chasm. Jump. It is not as wide as you think.

The goal of life is to make your heartbeat match the beat of the universe to match your nature with Nature.

We’re so engaged in doing things to achieve purposes of outer value that we forget the inner value, the rapture that is associated with being alive, is what it is all about.

Not all who hesitate are lost. The psyche has many secrets in reserve. And these are not disclosed unless required.

The big question is whether you are going to be able to say a hearty yes to your adventure

The black moment is the moment when the real message of transformation is going to come. At the darkest moment comes the light.

We’re in a freefall into future. We don’t know where we’re going. Things are changing so fast, and always when you’re going through a long tunnel, anxiety comes along. And all you have to do to transform your hell into a paradise is to turn your fall into a voluntary act. It’s a very interesting shift of perspective and that’s all it is… joyful participation in the sorrows and everything changes.

We have only to follow the thread of the hero path. And where we had thought to find an abomonation, we shall find a God. And where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves. And where we had thought to travel outward, we shall come to the center of our own existence. And where we had thought to be alone, we shall be with all the world.

The demon that you can swallow gives you it’s power, and the greater life’s pain, the greater life’s reply.

As you proceed through life, following your own path, birds will shit on you. Don’t bother to brush it off. Getting a comedic view of your situation gives you spiritual distance. Having a sense of humor saves you.

When you realize that eternity is right here now, that it is within your possibility to experience the eternity of your own truth and being, then you grasp the following: That which you are was never born and will never die..

Shakespeare said that art is a mirror held up to nature. And that’s what it is. The nature is your nature, and all of these wonderful poetic images of mythology are referring to something in you. When your mind is trapped by the image out there so that you never make the reference to yourself, you have misread the image.

The inner world is the world of your requirements and your energies and your structure and your possibilities that meets the outer world. And the outer world is the field of your incarnation. That’s where you are. You’ve got to keep both going. As Novalis said, ‘The seat of the soul is there where the inner and outer worlds meet.

If you follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track which has been there all the while waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one that you ARE living.

Love is a friendship set to music.

The notion of this universe, its heavens, hells, and everything within it, as a great dream dreamed by a single being in which all the dream characters are dreaming too, has in India enchanted and shaped the entire civilization.

The ultimate dreamer is Vishnu floating on the cosmic Milky Ocean, couched upon the coils of the abyssal serpent Ananta, the meaning of whose name is Unending. In the foreground stand the five Pandava brothers, heroes of the epic Mahabharata, with Draupadi, their wife: allegorically, she is the mind and they are the five senses.

They are those whom the dream is dreaming. Eyes open, ready and willing to fight, the youths address themselves to this world of light in which we stand regarding them, where objects appear to be distinct from each other, and an Aristotelian logic prevails, and A is not not-A. Behind them a dream-door has opened, however, to an inward, backward dimension where a vision emerges against darkness…

Well, one of the problems about being psychoanalyzed is, as Nietzsche said, Be careful lest in casting out your devils that you cast out the best thing that’s in you. So many people who are really in deep analysis look as though and act as though they have been filleted. There’s no bone there, there’s no stuff! How to get rid of ego as dictator and turn it into messenger and servant and scout, to be in your service, is the trick.

Anyone who has had an experience of mystery knows that there is a dimension of the universe that is not that which is available to his senses. There is a pertinent saying in one of the Upanishads: When before the beauty of a sunset or of a mountain you pause and exclaim, ‘Ah,’ you are participating in divinity. Such a moment of participation involves a realization of the wonder and sheer beauty of existence. People living in the world of nature experience such moments every day. They live in the recognition of something there that is much greater than the human dimension.

Perhaps some of us have to go through dark and devious ways before we can find the river of peace or highroad to the soul’s destination.