choose love

choose love

Context

 I was sitting in a coffee shop with a fellow yogi sipping chai and discussing my latest interpersonal frustration. I was feeling discouraged and lost, and I was looking for some honest advice about what to do next. I knew my friend could be counted on to cut through the crap with her laser-like perception and ability to say the right thing. I looked at her over the cardamom scented steam, waiting for some words of wisdom.

“Choose love,” my friend said.

I sat there, feeling stunned by this basic suggestion truth. I knew she wasn’t trying to push my concerns aside or wave some positive thinking bullshit in my face. Rather, she was telling me that the loving path is the path the shows up, faces fear, states the facts (even when they’re hard), and exposes the soul when it’s the right thing to do. It’s the path that Brené Brown describes as the courageous path:

What we know matters, but who we are matters more. Being rather than knowing requires showing up and letting ourselves be seen. It requires us to dare greatly, to be vulnerable.

Perspective

To choose love is to choose the audacious and most daring path; the path that requires being willing to be seen and to swallow the needs of the ego (to be right or to be perfect, etc., etc.).  For me, choosing love demands that I stay present rather than closing off. When I’m stressed or sad or hurt, I tend to defend myself by acting like nothing happened- all along having the expectation that ignoring the problem will cease all conflict (often, however, this creates conflict, in myself and in others).

What I’ve noticed in my week of dedicating to choose love is that showing up and being loving might seem harder at the time, but it almost always makes things easier overall. It’s a basic principle in yogic philosophy, too- the idea of Satya, or commitment to truth. I notice all too often that I hold back telling someone my irritation/ disappointment for fear that I will hurt their feelings or that I would be judged for my own feelings. I don’t give others the benefit of the doubt that they can take care of themselves. I know I’ve said it before here, but it’s worth saying again (and I’m speaking as much to myself as I am to anyone who needs the reminder):

You do not always have to take care of other people. They are more often than not able to take care of themselves.

Agreed- there are always exceptions to the rule, but the basic principle is that human beings are resilient and capable. Most people grow best when challenged to show their radiant selves through hard work and dedication rather than over-nurturing. Think about it: those times in your life when you worked hard at something and had something to show for your effort are often the most pride inducing times. Yes, maybe you had guidance along the way, but you had to strike out on your own and often times had to face fear and failure before success happened (I’m thinking of my most recent love of handstands- never would have happened if I had my legs held up every time or if I didn’t topple over a few times). It takes a loving and supportive person to give us the space to grow.

Moving from Choosing Love to a Guerrilla Love Revolution

One of my yoga teachers, Molly Lannon Kenny, reminded me lately that love can be a revolutionary act- that we can actually step outside of our normal way of loving and being in the world to expand love in the community. She created a Facebook group dedicated to this mission, where people can post their acts of “guerrilla love”, and I took it as a personal assignment to spread as much love as I can through the month of December (and possibly- hopefully– beyond).

I began by chanting “Lokah Samasta Sukhino Bhavantu” out loud  on my bicycle all the way home (a mantra meaning, loosely: may all beings everywhere be happy and free of suffering and may my own words and deeds contribute to the happiness in the world). I loved it. It made my bike ride feel joyful and lighter than usual. It also helped me to feel connected more positively with everyone along the route- even the cars felt less intimidating and more a part of my community (that’s really saying something, because I often find myself praying for safety from them rather than wishing peace and happiness for them).

My next act of guerrilla love (also bicycle related) was to wish everyone along my route to work a good morning. I started by smiling at the people at bus stops, but I realized that most people don’t look up at people passing by. I felt a bit deranged, straining to smile at people looking down at their smart phones or staring at the street where the bus would be arriving soon. I also noticed how much of a cultural shift it was for me to try to make eye contact with people in a city where that doesn’t happen a whole lot. I decided instead to say “good morning” to the people I could, and it turned out to be stunningly enjoyable connecting to fellow bike riders, construction workers, and people waiting at crosswalks. A small act, but something I wouldn’t normally do without a nudge.

This weekend, my partner and I enjoyed time away at a cottage on a beach. Because it was just the two of us, my guerrilla love act was to pick up trash as we wandered along the shore. I held the idea of loving the planet and doing my small part to care for the sea birds and animals that live in that ecosystem. I assume nobody will notice the lack of bottle caps or plastic junk that littered the driftwood lined beach, but it felt good to me to know that the next person to walk the beach might not be distracted by trash and could instead focus on the beauty that is naturally there.

Loving is a choice: it’s about connecting, nurturing, and growing as human beings. I like the way Hafiz says it best (translation by Daniel Ladinsky):

Plant
So that your own heart
Will grow.

Love
So that God will think,

“Ahhhhh,
I got kin in that body!
I should start inviting that soul over
For coffee and
Rolls.”

Sing
Because this is a food
Our starving world
Needs.

Laugh
Because that is the purest
Sound.

reality bites. confessions of an imperfect yogi

holy crap. I suck.

Last night my sweet, patient, loving partner said these words to me: “If only people knew you weren’t the person you portray on your blog”. Ouch. I’m not?

Apparently, the person I am at home can be really impatient and snappy with a cynical edge…

And yet here I am thinking I’m on this pilgrimage toward enlightenment with hopes of being patient, kind, compassionate, witty and good. And, for the most part, that’s what the world sees…unless we’re related or I’m really hungry or I was just cut off in traffic, of course. And it never fails that when I’m mean-spirited, impatient, or brazen in a bad way, I experience a major guilt complex afterward and I get all judgy and in my own face.

some of the horrible things I say to myself:

 A real yogi wouldn’t act that way.

Someone who is really good or compassionate or kind wouldn’t do that really terrible thing you just did.

You’re a yogi hypocrite.

You don’t practice Ahimsa or Satya or Asteya, (enter any number of yogic terms, here), blah, blah, blah.

You need to get the hell out of contact with people. You’re totally irrational and super freaky, sister.

Wow, you have some serious karma to work off.

What the hell are you thinking? Are you insane? Yes. You’re insane.

Now you’ve blown it. That person sees the real you.

No wonder you got cancer.

wtf?!?

Ok. I’m lying. I’m actually way meaner in my head. And I curse more. Way more.  But I don’t know that it means I’m not the person I portray here on my little blog. Maybe it means that I’m constantly changing and that I’m totally imperfect, but in a human on a journey to be a better person kind of a way. Because every pilgrim and every seeker has different experiences and struggles that they need to go through in order to be a better person. My path might just be a windier one….

But here’s the grab. I’m open about my imperfections, and in a large part, I accept myself as a work in progress. This life is ever changing, and I am always working on cultivating forgiveness and patience. When I catch myself saying a variation of any of the cruel statements above in my head (about myself or anyone), I try to slow down to notice it. Where’s that coming from? Is that the real truth (answer: NO). And when that fails (as is often the case), I try to reflect later to think about what the real truth is; the truth isn’t that I’m a terrible person. The truth is that I may have had a moment (or longer) when I was irrational or mean (or any number of things), and that I’m a human being on this human journey. I make mistakes (sometimes really big ones) and I try my best to make up for it, grow from it, and learn about myself and others.  And that, my friends, makes me a freaking righteous yogi. Just one with an attitude.

Yamas and Niyamas- Bicycle Style

 

bicycle at Fisherman's Terminal

shifting light & changing gears

The quality of light has shifted in the past couple of weeks, reminding me that summer is coming to an end soon. There are fewer birds in the trees on my morning bike ride and the geese that I’ve witnessed turn from chartreuse gosling to awkward adolescent have finally made it to full-fledged goose.  I’ve planted winter crops in the p-patch, begun to empty my closet of summer wear and pulled out my socks and boots in preparation for fall and winter. And just as the trees are beginning to change color, my wardrobe is beginning to move back toward my basic black.

Usually this time of year makes me a bit wistful about what I’ve missed out on during the long, lazy days of summer, but with the overwhelming events of the summer, I’m feeling ready to hunker down for the dark days. That is, except for my bike commute to work…I’ve been riding my bike to work regularly since early spring of this year, and I’m not quite used to riding in the dark or the rain. I’ll be damned if I’ll be a fair weather rider again, and so I wanted to inspire myself to take my cycling journey more seriously. I realized I needed to pull out the big guns. I decided to look at my cycling through a yogic lens of the Yamas and Niyamas.

my journey of bicycle riding through the first two limbs of Patanjali’s eight limbs of yoga

Yamas: Moral principles and social behaviors (some call these the “restraints”). If followed, these five precepts can help anyone to find balance- which is always good when one is riding a bike.

  • Ahimsa (Non-Violence):  Donna Farhi describes Ahimsa as “a state of living free from fear”, which is the perfect reminder for my bicycle riding. It’s impossible for me to ride a bike without experiencing some amount of healthy fear, but I can’t allow this to impact the entire experience. I have to trust that I will not necessarily fly over my handlebars or be slammed into by a texting driver. As regularly as riding a bike brings me in touch with my mortality, I have to understand that nobody is out to hurt me intentionally. And riding a bike subsequently causes less harm to the planet than my driving a car- which makes me (and my body) happy.
  • Satya (Truthfulness): Honesty is moral and good, and so is following rules. So, to be completely truthful here, there are times when I run red lights or blow through stop signs on my bike (like at 5:40 in the morning when there’s no traffic at all). The important thing is to have a commitment to being an upright person in thought, action and speech. This means being honest with myself and others as well as living as impeccably as I possibly can. Sort of like confession- I speak my truth to you about being a morning stop sign runner and now I am forgiven (ok…not really).
  • Asteya (Non-Stealing): Asteya has as much to do with not taking from others as it does not stealing from ourselves. It could relate to not cutting someone off or riding too close- stealing space. It can also be an opportunity to practice being generous- welcoming another biker to take the lead, offering assistance to someone who is broken down or offering up an extra bike to someone who needs one (this is really generous and builds up positive biking karma).
  • Brahmacharya (Celibacy/ Self Control): It’s important to hold back sometimes to conserve some much needed energy and to notice the small things that might have seemed insignificant before. If we’re only going full speed ahead searching for that biking orgasm, we aren’t going to notice the little thrills along the way. And isn’t noticing the small sensory details one of the best things about biking?
  • Aparigraha (Non-Grasping): Be here now. This moment matters, and if you’re grasping onto what just happened or where you need to get to, you’re potentially missing out. You’re also likely distracted from paying attention to things like cars, other bikers, pedestrians, rodents, potholes, etc.  Another perspective is this: riding a bike is just about riding a bike. All of the gear in the world doesn’t take that away. Your bike just needs to get you from point A to point B. Everything else, my gear-head friends, is icing on the bicycle cake. I may want the Linus bike, but do I really need it? Probably not (but don’t tell Santa…).

Niyamas: Personal observances that focus on inner discipline and responsibility (connecting with the self) in order to cultivate a connection to the Whole.

  • Shaucha (Cleanliness): Wash up, people. And that means not only your body but your mind, too. Clutter creates chaos, so it’s just as important to clear your mind as it is to clean out that pannier. I like to take a few minutes before getting on my bike to think about my ride and to prepare for entering the world. If I have everything ready the night before, I have the time to setting before setting out in the world.  That way, my ride itself can be meditative. And that’s really a lovely experience.
  • Santosha (Contentment): Contentment doesn’t mean “happy”. It means equanimity- not placing “good” or “bad” on the situation. Traffic is just traffic. Rain is just rain. Sunshine is just sunshine. A flat tire is just flat. And all of this shall pass- the good, the bad and the ugly.
  • Tapas (Fire/Austerity): The amount of energy you put into anything is what you’ll get out of it. I like to think about the idea of alchemy: burning away those things that don’t matter to make room for the things that do. Riding my bike at the end of the day allows me to forget the things that I was freaking out about just minutes before (refer back to Santosha). It also helps me to decide what it is I want to spend my energy and attention on.
  • Svadhyaya (Self-Study): Svadhyaya refers most specifically to study of scripture and ancient texts. In bicycling, this doesn’t exist as far as I know- but might I suggest reading Pedal, Stretch, Breathe by Kelli Refer. It’s a small little book that takes up very little space and costs just a few bucks. It’s sweet and honest and has incredibly simple suggestions for ways to move your body before, during and after riding. And if this doesn’t appeal to you, I would propose that most spiritual texts are meant for you to take the teachings into the world- why not read the Bhagavad Gita and explore the ways riding a bike in the city can make you feel a bit like Arjuna preparing for a battle (and then go deeper into the concept of dharma, morals, ethics and spiritual connection).
  • Ishvarapranidhana (Devotion): When I open up my heart to God, the Divine, that which is greater than me, I see the world with new eyes. My ride becomes less about where I am going and more about the experience of being connected with everything around me. I develop a greater peace and I soften to the subtleties that occur when I’m on my bike.  I notice my heart beat, the resonance of the birds along the canal, the rhythm of the tires on the pavement and the sound of other bikers breathing as they pedal to pass me. When I pay attention, my interconnectedness with everything feels like a great comfort- and this is really what draws me to riding my bike in the first place.