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Posts Tagged ‘Yoga Sutras of Patanjali’

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There are two words in the English language that freak me right out.  At the top of the heap is “Death”.  Second only to that is “failure”. Last week, I received an email that contained this statement:

I do wish you all the best in this life Tabitha. May you succeed at almost everything you try ( you have to fail sometimes to keep it real)

It shocked the pants off me.  There it was, the other “F” word!  You can speak one hundred and fifty million words to me, but if you string “you” and “fail” together in a sentence, everything else becomes background noise.  I hear nothing but – YOU FAIL.  When I read those words in the email, my mind immediately raced to, “My god, someone in this world wants me to fail!”  Underneath that thought was a mound of steamy emotions and an urge to push away.  Not wanting to drown in it all, I decided to scoop it all up, walk it over to my meditation cushion, and use the heated word FAILURE as the object of my contemplation.  This is what I found:

The answer is not that important.  It’s where the question brings you that matters. – Adyashanti

I have always had a strained relationship with this concept of failure.  Hours of my life have been spent whining to therapists and friends about how I was afraid to do something because I was afraid to fail.  When I fleshed out the thinking, I would often hear myself say, “If I do this and I fail, I will die.”  So, in my psyche, for some reason, failure and Death are intricately linked.  On the day of the email, however, I asked, for the first time ever, 

What is this thing we call “failure”, anyway?

One of the meanings of the word, as defined in the Webster’s dictionary is “a lack of success“.  Success is defined as a “favorable or desired outcome“.

Where there’s desire, there’s suffering – A Yogic View

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Patanjali, in his Yoga Sutra-s, goes to great lengths to explain the causes of suffering.  Like the roots of a tree, the very foundation of suffering is a deep misunderstanding about reality.  From these roots sprouts a sense of separation.  “I” become separate and different from “you”, and what “I” desire becomes of utmost importance to me.  In fact, I spend my days working to hook and reel in to me all of those things I desire, pushing away what I find to be most unsuitable, and fearing losing it all, including my own life.

If success means getting what we want, then failure means not attaining the object of our desire.  And when we don’t get what we want?  

SUFFERING!

Suffering in the form of painful thoughts – I’m a big, fat loser.  I’ll never amount to anything.  I’m completely unworthy of all that’s good in the world.  I’ll never be happy

Suffering in the form of stormy emotions – anger, depression, jealousy

Suffering in the body – acid stomach, pounding heart, exhaustion, lethargy, tension

Suffering in action – the urge to lash out, to retaliate; actually lashing out and retaliating; refusing to move forward and try new things

The Masters teach that where there’s even the tiniest seed of desire, there will be suffering.  It’s a guarantee!

Freedom

Patanjali never leaves us in this despairing place of recognizing suffering without offering a way out.  Indeed, he outlines very clearly what we can do for ourselves, and in relation to others, that can help us move towards freedom from suffering.  In this wonderful list he calls the yamas and niyamas are 2 “doorways” out and away from desire, failure, and the consequent suffering.  Patanjali calls these doorways samtosa (contentment) and isvarapranidhana (surrending the fruits of your efforts to something higher).  (These are very rudimentary definitions of the concepts that can be studied for a lifetime.)

Contentment is not an Eeyoresque type of resignation – “Oooooooh well.”  No.  Contentment comes when we know we have done all we can to attain a particular goal.  If the outcome is not what we had hoped for, we can rest easy knowing we did all we could to help the vision flourish.  When we surrender the fruits of our efforts, we can say, “Okay, well, this didn’t work out the way I had hoped, but, clearly, something else was meant to happen.”  It is here that we can find a deep reservoir of peace; all is well.

For example, last October I decided I would like to run a diabetes-focused Yoga therapy group on my own.  There was a space I had wanted to check out for many years and this gave me the best opportunity to do just that.  I discovered that the financial risk in attempting this series would be minimal, so I signed the rental agreement, put down the non-refundable deposit, and worked at getting the word out into the community.  What happened?  In simple terms, it failed. Not enough people signed up to run the group.  What happened instead?  Most unexpectedly, I was approached by a diabetes organization to run a group out of their location.  

So did I really fail?

NO!

I had a plan in mind.  I set to make that plan a reality.  I put in the required efforts.  I looked up to the sky (I really did) and said, “I’ll do all that I can. The rest is up to you.  If you want this to come to fruition, it will.  If you want something else to happen, show me the way and I will follow.”  And that’s exactly what happened, and what I did.  So, I may not have gained the object of my desire (running a group on my own), but there was so much more for me to harvest.  I had taken a risk and had grown from it.  I got to check out the location that had interested me for so long. I was invited in to teach what I wanted to teach, but didn’t have to do all of the annoying footwork of marketing, sign-up, etc.  

So.  Many.  Gains.

In the End, Failure is an Illusion

What I found deep inside my contemplation of the concept of “failure” is that it doesn’t actually exist.  Failure is simply a word we use to say, “I didn’t get what I wanted.”  The buck stops right there.  How can you argue with that?  You can’t.  Sure, you can choose to have what amounts to a complete tantrum over it, stomping around like a 3 year old and screaming, “BUT I WANT IT!  I WAAAAAAAANT IT.” But why?  Where does it get you? It gets you sick.  It gets you tired.  It gets you alone.  But if it ain’t happenin’, it just ain’t happenin’. Yes, have your feelings (quietly and in a contained sort of way).  Feel disappointed.  Feel scared. Feel it all!  And then, try compassionately shifting your focus from what you’ve lost, and take stock of all that you’ve gained.  Because you’ve gained something along the way.  You can trust that.  

There is Nothing to Fear but Fear Itself – Franklin D. Roosevelt

What started off as a spiral of harmful emotions, triggered by one sentence in one email, turned into the knowing that failure is nothing to be feared. You can’t fear something that doesn’t exist!  So the next time you hear yourself say, “I’m afraid to try because I’m afraid to fail,” stop, breathe, and think about this.  What you’re really saying is, “I’m afraid I won’t get what I want.”  But know, deep down inside, that you will get something. Desikachar would teach, “If you put in the efforts, something will happen.”  And if that something isn’t what you had hoped for, trust that you have the tools to manage the disappointment and keep walking.  Besides

You can’t always get what you want/But if you try sometimes/You might find/You get what you need. – The Rolling Stones

Now, go and be fearless!  🙂

With much love,

Tabitha

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As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives. – Henry David Thoreau

I have had the beautiful privilege of having relationships with my grandparents well into adulthood.  My grandmother and I have known one another for 42 years, longer than so many relationships these days.  It is an awesome experience to move beyond the ignorance of youth and into a space where I can learn about my grandmother as a person, as a woman who has experienced many things.  It also means my mind has had more time to create troublemaking bullshit.

We are a rough, proud people with an independent streak that runs deep and wide, so the reality that age eventually brings with it fragility and a need for relocation and added support, comes as quite a surprise to a mind such as mine that prefers to live in denial around such things.  My mantra over the years has been that the only way I want to see my grandmother leave her house is in a box.  Not that I wished for my grandmother’s death, oh no.  On the contrary, I prayed over and over again that she be able to stay in that house until her last breath, and I convinced myself that it was what she wanted as well.

Imagine my shock when things began to play out in another way.  My grandmother, who has been on the waiting list for a retirement home for a number of years, finally got the call that a unit has become available.  And she accepted.  My grandmother will be leaving her house, but not in the way my mind had created, not in a box, but of her own free will!

Have you ever tried to take away a cherished toy from a young child?  It’s bedlam.  There are loud animalistic noises that sound like someone is being killed, and an obsessive, desperate grabbing, grabbing, grabbing for the one thing that is, “MINE!  MINE!  MINE!”  It’s very much like this in the mind as well when you try to take away the long-held story.

Quite simply, I freaked.  My mind was a roaring shitstorm running around from corner to corner screaming, “NO!  MINE MINE MINE!  MY NANNY!  MY HOUSE!  MY NANNY IN HOUSE!  MY NUMBER 27!  MY KITCHEN!  MIIIIIIIIINE!”  Oh my lord, it has been painful.  And ridiculous.

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali speak of three types of mental afflictions that ultimately cause human suffering:  clinging, pulling away and denial. I have been suffering from all three as I hang on to a false story like a life preserver, pulling away from any possibility other than my false story, and shoving my head deep in the sand in order to avoid facing the situation altogether.

Running from reality is like trying to outrun your conjoined twin.  You can twist your head in the opposite direction all you want but that doesn’t change the fact that your twin, reality, is completely connected to you.  Best to stop, breathe, look and learn to live with this thing, right?  So, I stopped.  Stopping was hard, I won’t lie, but I did it.  I stopped and took this hysterical part of me to the yoga mat, to the garden, to the meditation cushion.  We spent a lot of time together.  There was a good deal of gut-wrenching crying that had me looking like this:

Bags_Under_Eyes_Secret_of_the_Puffy_Peepers-231x300It wasn’t pretty but, even though I could not see clearly from my physical eyes (due to unsightly swelling, of course  🙂 ), I could suddenly see from the eyes of my heart.  I could see that my grandmother was old, fragile, afraid and in need of help.  I could see she was ready and able to let go of the house in order to build a home somewhere else.  I could see her need for companionship and community, something she could no longer access at her current location.  I could see my grandmother having the strength to let go, to be free and to move on.  How incredibly selfish of me to ask her to stay, suffering deeply, for the sake of my mind’s story and my emotional comfort!  Suddenly the pathway of the mind shifted from “My grandmother is going to ‘the home’ to die,” to the new pathway of “My grandmother is going to this new place to LIVE!”  And with this shift has come a profound and solid peace.

My one teacher taught, “The mind is the cause of the problem.  The mind is the solution to the problem.”  No kidding!

If you have found yourself walking through your life disgruntled by some aspect or another, might I suggest you simply crack a bit of time in your world to sit with that feeling?  Just a few moments–in the car, in the bathtub, in the garden…Nothing laboured.  Not a project.  Not in an effort to change or fix things.  Just some soft, gentle time with the feelings, time to help you begin to familiarize yourself with the tapestry your mind has been weaving.  Often, all that’s really required to make a profound shift is this time.  It’s like walking into a dark room and turning on the lights; things automatically look different.

May you have the courage to stop, to stay, and to see.  May your afflictions, the things that cause you such great pain, simply drop away on the breath, with ease.  May your heart know space.  May your life be filled with love.

My Nan and me almost 7 years ago on her 80th birthday

My Nan and me almost 7 years ago on her 80th birthday

All my love,

Tabitha

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