Yogi Assignment: Awareness through Love, Light and Laundry
There is a fine line between judgmental thinking and healthy boundaries. That line can be both difficult to navigate and too blurry to see clearly. To operate in a world where everything is ok and you have no preference is simply unrealistic. It seems obvious to me that we all have personal preferences, but perhaps I’m just not yet at the state of realization where everything is always One. The question for how to live ethically and responsibly seems to me to be less about phrasing things in a grand philosophical sense and more about finding a pragmatic way to apply the lofty ideals of the spiritual path.
Advaita Vedanta is the source of most of the yogic claims of Oneness. After reading some of the key texts from this tradition, some yogis say that there is no good and no bad and that all is just part of Oneness, a big shimmering universality that connects all things. I’d agree entirely. And I’d also say that unless you are truly living in a state of complete and total immersion in that shimmering Oneness, it might not serve you to claim that you see and operate from that vantage point. Maybe I’m just a bad yogi, but twenty years of practice has only shown me how much further I have yet to go before finally reaching the state of Samadhi. Let me unpack that a little and let’s see where we go from there.
First, let’s talk about the grand shimmering Oneness where all things are neither good, nor bad, they just are. To me, this is God. I spent years finding complex terminology that I used to describe the true Oneness of the light and love that is the fabric of the universe. There were moments when I meshed with it and many moments that I felt separate from it. After many direct, personal and revelatory experiences I finally realized that what I was searching for in the state of bliss and ecstasy was really God. After awhile I realized that God is the word that most appropriately named the mixture of holiness, sacredness, timelessness, eternality and unconditional love that I felt in moments of transcendent connection. It became much more efficient to say “God” than “the great shimmering Oneness behind all things that links the fabric of the universe together in light and love”. God is in all things in the universe and in the Divine eternal body of God there is no division, only union. Those moments are life-changing because you get a glimpse of the vast expansiveness of energy, light and love under all things. You see through this reality into the true nature of things, you become your highest potential in the spirit and set yourself free from this world of contrasts and embodiment. You are forever changed. But then what?
As Jack Kornfield says, “after the ecstacy, then the laundry”. If your spirit comes back to this world after reaching such soaring heights the mundane aspects of life continue. There is no escape from the perfunctory tasks of paying your taxes and preparing your food. You have a body and it needs to be cared for, washed, fueled, and rested. There are things that you will enjoy and other things which you will not enjoy. The teaching of the spiritual practice of yoga does not say that you will never have these personal preferences ever again. In fact yoga acknowledges the strong pull of our own attractions and aversions. Most of the work that constitutes yoga is an attempt to weaken the pull of attraction and aversion over us. The only yogic state that is truly free from personal preferences is the state of Samadhi. I can’t answer for anyone else, but I can personally testify to the fact that I have strong personal presences and often experience intense emotional swings based on these desire and aversions. While the intensity of this cycle has certainly lessened as I’ve been practicing, by no means is it gone.
I prefer vegan vanilla cupcakes over most other flavors. I like soy milk more than hemp milk (but I also oat milk and almond milk). I prefer earl grey tea in the morning, chai midday and herbal tea at night. I don’t like apples unless they’re in apple pie. I love coconuts. I prefer sweet potato fries over regular french fries. I love chipotle vegan mayo. And that’s just the food preferences that popped into my head right now. I’ve got a ton of other preferences, likes and dislikes. I prefer when people give me space to be myself. I don’t like when people try and dominate, manipulate or control me. When I finish my practice I like 20 minutes of silence before I speak with other people. I like silence a lot and am very sensitive to music. It goes on and on. I can’t claim that I live in a state of choicelessness as a my status quo. But I can say that with many years of practice I can better manage the impact that my personal preferences have on the quality of my life.
It gets tricky when we start thinking about other people and their impact on us. Sometimes when people adopt the philosophy of non-dualism but are in fact living in a dualistic world, all that ends up happening is that all the negative emotions get sublimated under a veneer of false positivity. Anger seethes just below the surface of someone who repeatedly lets other people used them as a doormat to step on or over. It get even more tricky when we end up treating our personal preferences as absolute truth. The differences between judgement and healthy boundaries are hard to navigate. But maybe it’s just like different types of cake. I already said that I like vanilla cupcakes. Well, if you like chocolate cake and I like vanilla cake we can co-exist as long as I don’t force feed you vanilla and you don’t force feed me chocolate and we both say it’s ok for chocolate, vanilla and all the other flavors to exist. And every now and again maybe we sample some new flavors just to be sure we aren’t closing ourselves off. Once in awhile I try key lime again just to be sure that I don’t like it. And it’s true, I’ve never once tried a key lime dessert that I like (but I love lemonade).
Now I’m lost talking about deserts lol. What I’m trying to say is that it’s ok if you don’t want to be around everyone all the time. It’s also ok if you don’t experience your world as a vast shimmering Oneness all the time. Forgive yourself for not living in Samadhi all the time. You have preferences and that’s ok. Your time on Earth is too precious to waste it eating flavors you don’t like just because you think you should or because you’re afraid people will judge you if you don’t conform and eat the same flavor as they do. At the same time there’s space enough in the world for many different flavors of cake. The reality of what yoga gives to most contemporary yoga practitioners is not the ultimate state of Samadhi but a qualitatively more peaceful life.
There is so much I’m still learning, so many stumbles I’ve yet to pick myself back up from. I process my emotions and experiences slowly, almost in the exact opposite manner with which I dive in and throw myself, heart first, into something or someone if I feel it. There have been so many times that I’ve given my trust freely only to have my heart broken. But it’s hard for me to not keep giving with an open heart. I guess my heart is going to have to get so strong it take getting broken again and again. When you tell someone that your feelings are hurt and they disagree or disregard your lived experience, it makes the hurt bigger. You may decide to disengage and walk away. Just by continuing to engage with an abusive person you give them fuel and tie yourself deeper into their web of madness. It doesn’t mean it’s easy to prune your emotional garden. While sometimes walking away from a destructive situation is the right thing to do, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt. Forgiving and forgetting are two different things.
You have a light that needs to expand and shine. We all do. Take time to heal yourself and forgive yourself. You aren’t going to get it all right and not everyone is going to understand you—that’s ok. Don’t take it personally when people see the worst in you. It’s most often about them and not about you.
Check your intentions and be deeply aware of the impact that your actions have on the world. Be willing to take in tough love and hear the softly stated constructive criticism that is meant to help you grow. When someone’s lived experience of pain and suffering feels scary, disruptive or threatening that’s when you know you need to put in the work and listen up.
Grow, but don’t wallow. Think things through but don’t meditate on the mess. Be honest and brave but not self-denigrating or narcissistic. Admit your mistakes but don’t allow people to torture you about the past.
Be humble enough to accept that you don’t have the picture or any situation. You can’t really assume to know everything about anyone, not even those closest to you. Even if you think you’ve done nothing wrong, understand that we all have blind spots and you might not be seeing everything clearly.
But more than anything else, embrace love. Love your friends, colleagues, even the haters and your enemies, love them too. Every action taken in hate has its own price. Act in love or don’t act at all.
But what is love really? Is it just a world to throw around under the veneer of good vibes? For me it’s much more. Love is eternal, timeless, truthful, forgiving, fierce and relentless. Love is a spring of in a hopeless place, a ray of light breaking through the storm. Love heals all wounds and builds every bridge. God is love.
This week’s Yogi Assignment is an Awareness.
1. Note your like and dislikes, your personal preferences about food. Make a list of all the foods that you like and don’t like. As a starting point this simple exercise will reveal that you most likely do in fact have preferences.
2. Register your physical response in your body to all communications for one full day. Go no further than noting the sensations as they arise your body, whether pleasurable or not. This sensory root into the body is often a window into how your subconscious mind is processing the experience. If you feel yourself tightening, collapsing, shaking, smiling, laughing, melting, observe that.
3. Wake up to love. Note each time you feel the genuine presence of love. Register that experience in your body, mind and soul.