Giving it Up to the Universe

When we were little, our dad always told us that we had to give up all of our goals to the universe. You can really really really want something, but you have to hand it off to the cosmos to take care of. In other words, you have to let the vice grip of your yearning heart and mind relax. You have to soften and settle around your goal. After you've set your intention, it's no longer in your control. It's under the control of the universe.

I go in and out of remembering the work that my dad gave us as children. He always had some project or energy-focused activity for us to increase our positive output into the world. This idea of letting go of intentions and offering them up to a higher power has just surfaced back into my consciousness.

I just finished How Yoga Works by Gesne Michael Roach. It's a fictional story which outlines the Tibetan tradition of yoga and how it came to India centuries ago. The technical lingo is a bit challenging at times in the book, but the takeaway is essentially simple. In the book, the work of the characters is to "plant good seeds." First they learn the physical practice of yoga to open up their energy channels and then they remove negative energy from the channels by sending out good vibes to the universe for all the people that they know. And from there, their work is to always act in a manner that will "plant good seeds" for growing future good things. They essentially learn how to be good people by never lying, keeping themselves and their surroundings clean, wanting happiness for others, thinking before they speak, etc.

And so, by planting good seeds, you set the groundwork for good things to happen for you. Which means that when bad things happen, that you planted the negative seed at some point earlier in your life. It's a little bit like the Americanized notion of karma, but what it really boils down to is that you are completely responsible for making your own future outcomes. And if you want them to be good ones, you better plant the sweetest, most fertile seeds.

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I have been thinking about this work so much lately. What can I do to plant better seeds? How can I have intentions and goals that I can just offer up to the universe? Can I plant enough good seeds in my life that I can let go of attachment to future outcomes and know that I've done the work to make my dreams come true?

I'd like to think that I manifested my biggest life goal earlier this year. I had spent years and years wanting nothing more than to be a full-time yoga teacher. I thought about it constantly. I schemed plenty of crazy ideas for how to do it. But it just wasn't happening. I was still slogging along, waiting tables to pay rent so that I could teach yoga on the side. I certainly wasn't happy with the arrangement, but I didn't know how to change it.

At some point last year, I sort of stopped worrying about it so much. I inadvertently forgot to grip so hard on being a yoga teacher. I got pretty comfortable with waiting tables so that I could teach yoga. I settled in to the reality of my situation and tried to make the best of it.

And then.....

Seemingly out of the blue, I was offered a gig. It involved moving back to my hometown. I was skeptical. I had finally settled into my life as it was, you know?

I mulled it over for a long time. I talked to everyone who I love and trust for their opinions. I weighed the pros and cons. And I accepted.

Originally, it was just another part time situation, but in an established studio. But as time unfolded prior to my moving back, the job became even better. It became full time. The thing that I wanted more than anything. It just happened. But did it just happen? Was it my previous work that allowed it to come to fruition?

And just for the record, it's the total best. It is literally my dream job. I am living out my dreams. And now, onto the next manifestation....

Breaking the Karmic Cycle

The ancient yogis believe that through our lifetime(s) we play out a continuous cycle of action and the deep impressions that come from that action. In this way we relive similar scenarios of our lives over and over again. These actions (karmas) and impressions (samskaras) are so deeply rooted in our heart/mind center of consciousness (citta) that they come with us even as we reincarnate. The only way to break the cycle from continuing in the same way in thousands of different scenarios is to recognize that the patterns exist. And then to do a bunch of work by meditating and changing the flow of your energy (prana) so that you may form a healthier approach to the pattern.

This is heady stuff. And know that the above paragraph is very much "pop" yogic philosophy. But it's just a tiny introduction to get you familiar with the idea of:

We act (karma)→ an impression is formed (samskara)→we act again (karma)

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With the second round of our action, we have the choice to act even more from a point of a deeply rooted pattern or to recognize our tendencies and change the course of our action.

Here is a real life example:

I am someone who moves quite frequently. Every couple of years, I pack up all my stuff and forge a new life. Each time I move, I become more independent of my old self, develop new ideas from meeting new people and having new experiences, and discover more and more that I am the only person who can make myself happy. Okay, all well and good.

So, every couple of years, before I move, I come back to my hometown and re-assess. Or, the point would be to re-assess, but what plays out instead is a classic karma/samskara loop. It doesn't matter one bit how much work I've done on myself in my last city, how clear it was becoming to me that I am the center of my own happiness, how healthy I have been eating, none of it matters.

I get home and I start the loop. Go out too often, drink too much, butt-heads with my mom, put off visiting my grandmas, have the impression that someone else is going to be the thing that makes me happy. Over and over. It's like an embarrassing broken record.

And why?

These patterns are down in there deep. The first step to breaking from the norm of your karmic cycle is to recognize that it exists. You have to begin to notice yourself playing out the same situations in a variety of settings.

Examples could be

  1. Your emotional reactions to certain stimuli (are they always the same rise to anger or instant sadness or extreme joy?)
  2. Avoidance of, or head on confrontation to conflict (do you react the same way every time you have a head-to-head?)
  3. Your habits whether they be bad or good (why do you continuously bite your nails or insist on an orderly household or take the same route to work every day?)

It's all about discovering why it is that we do the things we do.

And then maybe you can sit back and watch as, like clockwork, you get back on the same old horse and do it all over again. And perhaps, after you do that fifty or a hundred times, it may become clear that a change is necessary. Changing a habit pattern or a pattern of action is step two. A pretty simple way to approach this step is to try giving up a habit pattern that you know is not in your best interest. And when you find yourself doing it, take a moment of contemplation and try to understand why your habit pattern is getting the best of you. And then maybe you can decide whether or not the habit pattern should continue.

The point is that we have the capability to make changes. But we have to recognize that the process of uncovering our patterns and changing them effectively takes a fair amount of work. And I personally believe that it's worth it.

Next time I go back to my hometown, I can assess all over again.

Expectations

We are disappointed. Often.
I think we can narrow the cause of our disappointment down to two things:

1. Things change. People die, money goes away, new loud neighbors move in. We don't like things to change, because we really like the way things are. Even if we're miserable, we'd rather maintain the status quo than have things change.

2. We have a lot of expectations for how we want things to turn out. And then, on top of our fantasy idea about the way things should be, we are attached to the outcomes we created in our minds. How silly is that?

Think of the last time that you had an expectation about something and it didn't turn out the way you had hoped or...expected.
Mine was today. I planned to take an amazing bike ride (my first of the season) 7 miles to teach yoga in 80 degree heat. I expected that it would be awesome, like a Coca-Cola commercial. Me all sexy and tan with a big smile and some awesome song in the background. Truth is, I got my ass handed to me. Which was just another way that things could turn out, and did turn out.

Think about the last time you didn't have expectations. What happened?

For me it was going to India. I had no idea what I should expect. I had some relative notions about possible experiences (lots of beggars, lots of trash, foreign language, big cities) but no clear fantasy projection about what I wanted to gain. I didn't know if my program would be any good, if Indians would be nice, if I would be afraid while I was there. And it turned out to be one of the best experiences of my life.

I wasn't afraid the whole time.

I'm not saying this is always the case, but setting yourself up for each and every situation with a grand expectation is a great way to disappoint yourself. Often.
Instead of constantly comparing the way things are to the way you would like things to be, can you instead appreciate things for what they are?


Here's a meditation to help with releasing your attachments and expectations.
Bring your awareness to the crown of your head. Rest attentively there keeping your body relaxed and your breath steady. With each breath, increase your point of awareness at the crown of the head and increase the vibrancy of that feeling. (2 minutes)
Now begin to draw your breath from the crown of your head through the middle of your brain to your heart center on an inhale. Exhale stay present in the heart center. Inhale back up from your heart center, through the middle of the brain to the crown of the head. Exhale up and out of the crown of the head. With each continuing breath, increase the awareness and vibrancy of the points at the crown center and the heart center. (3-4 minutes)
Now, maintaining that same pattern of breath, begin to draw in your goals and desires from the universe from the crown through the middle of your brain to your heart. Exhale let your desires rest in the heart. Inhale moving from the heart to the crown, drawing upward your expectations and any attachment you have to the outcome of your goals and desires. Exhale release them into the universe through the crown of your head. (3-4 minutes)

Try it out. But...try not to have any expectations around it. Let it unfold naturally and be open to the possibilities that it presents.

Perseverance

This is an apt title for someone who hasn't written on their blog in a month.

Well, I am happy to report that despite my lack of perseverance in composition, I've been steadily humming along in my daily practice. And this week for the first time, I am experiencing a profoundly deeper serenity in my meditation practice than ever before.
This process of "enjoying" my meditation has taken two and a half years of diligent daily practice. In addition, I have read countless books and studied with multiple teachers to come to this minute achievement.
The point here is not to toot my own horn about progress but rather to illustrate the need for seriously dedicated perseverance to the yogic path. My teacher Theresa Murphy used to always say that achievement in yoga asana will not come quickly or easily. And 8 years later, I recognize that she's absolutely correct. Things get easier and more accessible, but there are still days when I have trouble balancing in Tree pose or I don't feel like coming to my mat to practice.
Progress in a meditation has been even more laborious in my experience. We are hardwired through our humanness and societal conditioning to attach ourselves to our ego and cling to our thoughts or emotional states. When we can begin to break down these barriers by practicing, we can actually begin to experience the peace of mind about which the ancient yogis were writing.
Through regular (and I mean daily) practice, we begin to develop tapas or the "fire" or "heat" that eggs our practice onward. The more you show up, the more you get out of it and in turn the more you want to continue to show up. See a whole post on tapas here: Tapas
Usually when we experience difficulty and pain in our lives, we tend toward a "woe is me" sort of attitude. This is naturally human of course, but certainly not productive. When we can change our perspective to reflect the need for daily practice, then we always have somewhere to turn when the going gets rough. When shit hits the fan, you make your way to your mat or your cushion as you would on any other day and spend some time presently, persevering on the path.

Dualities

Given our humanness, we are prone to making judgments on things. Well, everything actually.

Good vs. bad, hot vs. cold, right vs. wrong, etc.

These judgment calls are almost always based on past experience--our past actions/feelings/understandings are naturally going to shape the way we view the world today, and thus, the way we feel about everything.

But these dichotomies of right and wrong are made up in the mind. Things are not one way or another, they just are. And no matter how you view anything, there is always going to be someone who views it exactly the opposite as you. For example, Nebraska summers--brutally hot, right? so easy to complain about because of the discomfort they cause. However, talk to a Nebraska farmer and he/she will tell you the necessity of the heat to grow corn. For them, the heat is a good thing.

Through a yoga practice, we can start to cultivate the awareness of things just simply as they are. Try spending an hour without judging anything. It's nearly impossible. And the nature of our labeling is often a misunderstanding of the true essence of that thing. In the 1978 translation by Sri Swami Satchinananda, Verse 1.8 of the Yoga Sutras states

Misconception occurs when knowledge of something is not based upon its true form.


How do we start to change? Part of the practice of fully understanding something is often a matter of a shift in perspective--a regularly occurring theme of this blog! For instance, moderate suffering can be a reminder of the things we have to be grateful for. Another example, if a new teacher shows up to teach your yoga class you may be dismayed because of your attachment to your teacher, or you could consider that you may learn a new pose or hear something cued in a way that resonates with you.
In other words, get the full story. And try to keep in mind that no matter how you label anything, there is always another way. And that way isn't necessarily wrong. It just is.