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Why We Need To Start Taking Ourselves Where We Need To Go

“You have brains in your head,
You have feet in your shoes,
You can steer yourself any direction you choose.
You’re on your own, and you know what you know,
and YOU are the one who’ll decide where to go”
– Dr. Seuss, “Oh The Places You’ll Go”

I’m going to be bluntly honest here.
I come from a sheltered society where we were brought up very much in fear of the outside world and what it could potentially do to us, not for us. It’s an inherited anxiety about every little thing; a fear and ‘what-if’ kind of apprehension. It drains energy from the very notion of a thing before it’s even allowed cautiously come to fruition.
If it even makes it that far.
It kills creativity with a simple ‘oh God, no, that wouldn’t work’.
It silences yearnings for more fulfilling jobs or careers with ‘oh, I’m not good enough for that’.
It quenches a thirst for adventure and change with a degrading, belittling, and self-deprecating  ‘I wouldn’t be able for it.”
It’s exhausting. It’s not fair.
It’s holding us back.

After finally recognising it for what it is – which did not come easily –  I’ve now come to see this need for comfort and familiarity as a hindrance, instead of as a safety blanket.

Because that’s what it’s used as.
A safety blanket. A crutch. An excuse.

An excuse for things to remain as they are, even if ‘as they are’ is inherently less fulfilling than where that little part of our brains briefly tunes into every time a plane passes overhead, or we hear about entrepreneurs generating millions from one tiny idea.
(I’m not going to list examples of people like this, because at this stage, there are millions.)

It genuinely saddens me to hear my friends and family limit themselves with this fear; this anxiety; this assumption that the world is against them and that nothing outside of the little miserable bubble they’ve drawn up for themselves could ever possibly exist. Regularly admitting to their misery. Regularly stating dissatisfaction, frustration, wishing for another lifestyle, job, skill, or situation.

It saddens me because it’s so preventable.
We’ve been taught to ‘suck it up’, to ‘just accept it’, and are sometimes even seen as ungrateful for rebelling against the idea that what we get is all we’ll ever have.
But why?
Why not go and change it?
This mindset is so hilariously limiting that I’m no longer shocked when I hear of people my age doing things and taking risks older generations would genuinely shit their pants to consider. I’ve had my fair share of reckless rebellion, too. What else can be expected after generations of creative, emotional and mental suppression? One extreme will always warrant it’s opposite, and Irish society is still coming to terms with repercussions of living within rigidly adhered-to regulations.

We’re now moving from the phase of questioning our stifled customs, to actually acting to change them and as with any societal shift, it’s going to take a while. We need to start taking ourselves places, instead of waiting for society, or more independent, ‘successful’ (whatever that means), competent or qualified friends and acquaintances to show us the way.
We deserve to be happy. We deserve to live colourfully, originally, and without fear. We deserve to enjoy the fuck out of our short time in these bodies and this world.

A bit of trial-and-error is the only way to do this, and by being afraid of the ‘error’, we’re only proving that we’re afraid of progression itself.
Envision where it is you want to go, what it is you want to do, and start putting things in place for yourself to get there. It could be anything, and nothing is impossible. Just try. If I can do it, you can…one little baby step at a time.

As Samuel Beckett wisely stated:

‘Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better’.

 

Claiming Authentic Power – How Yoga Helps Us To Harness the Power Within

Claiming Authentic Power – How Yoga Helps Us To Harness the Power Within

“To the degree that we do not fully claim our own power to transform, we are more likely to be possessed by this energy in it’s shadow form” – Carol S. Pearson

I have not resonated with a quote on such an intense level for quite a while.
I’m also a firm believer that each one of us has the power to direct and redirect our energy in order for it to manifest itself wherever we desire in our lives – whether we realise it or not.
If we think about our energy in terms of both a negative and a positive force, the positive stream functioning as a catalyst for growth and progression, and the negative as a hindering and damaging force, we can begin to see how the expansion and contraction of the channels down which this power flows results in certain manifestations of said energies. While this is constantly occurring on both a conscious and subconscious level, there are certain things which can help us harness the power necessary to direct the energy where we want it to go, instead of letting it flail around excitedly from brainwave to brainfart.
Yoga encourages the expansion of these channels (or nadis, in the yogic tradition) in the right direction, opening up and creating space for the positive to flourish, while attempting to block the negative.
And so in simple terms, yoga gives us the awareness to pursue, direct and encourage the good power to succeed over the bad. With me so far?

Negative Cycles

When I first started doing yoga consistently, I was, for want of a better phrase, ‘in a bad place in my life’. To keep the anecdotal personal sob-story short, I was living at home, had no job, no clear direction where I wanted my life to go, weighed a hollowing and bone-shatteringly cold 6 stone and lacked the energy and concentration necessary to complete even the most basic of tasks, let alone care about them. I would wake with spasms of fright and anxiety at 3am. I would get brief bouts of inspiration mixed with terrifying insight that my worsening situation needed to change…and then the difficulty of doing so would ultimately prove too extensive and straight away I’d be lost again to the numbing blanket of fuzzy and fatigued negative thoughts, so ingrained as they were in my mind that any feeble form of resistance against them was immediately silenced with disturbing ease and logic;
“You’re full of shit. It’s not worth it. Don’t bother.”
In short, things were dark.

Wasting Energy

The energy required to process all of these thoughts and worries at such a startling speed and damaging ferocity was ultimately leaving me both mentally and physically drained, not to mention the preoccupation with ensuring I adhered to strict ‘rules’ which I wasn’t permitted to break – just in case a sandwich or fleeting social interaction would spark off another ricocheting thought-firework and disable me from leaving the house for the rest of the day. I was, as the above quote describes, possessed by my own energy ‘in it’s shadow form’. It was being directed towards the wrong things, and to be honest it’s exhausting just writing about it.

No Alternative

When we’re deep in the grips of a negative cycle, be it a habit, a thought pattern, or simply a way of being or conducting ourselves that we’ve gradually grown accustomed to, it can seem like the most alien thing in the world to even consider existing any other way.
The power which is being permitted to flow full-force towards supporting the negative spirals is just too overwhelming to be redirected elsewhere. It takes extraordinary force of will and repetitive, conscious, and ongoing effort to haul our minds (and bodies) out of the downward-flow of this toxic power, a fact made lighter only by the knowledge that this force is contained within us at all times, its incessant nature meaning it simply can’t sit still and watch the world go by
– it has to go somewhere.

Getting to Know It

As an alternative to other forms of physical or mental exercise which may encourage thoughts and awareness away from this authentic energy which resides within each of us – literally doing what we Irish people have done for years and just not talking about it – yoga requires us to sit with this energy and examine it in all its beauty and terrifying power. We learn how to move with it, allowing it to channel through the positive streams and manifest itself in actions, talents, skills, character, originality, and most importantly; authenticity. Our yoga practice requires us to listen to our bodies and the energies which reside within. After a while we realise that most, if not all of our negative tendencies and habits result from a subconscious lapse or disregard for the direction of the positive energy, allowing the negative to swoop in and take over.
They say that everyone’s struggle is different. This means that every individual’s ‘flourishing’ will appear slightly different too. This is why it is so important to know ourselves.

Harnessing Power

Each and every one of us possess the power within us to manifest our ideas – to create, to bring to the world something new; a new view or perspective; a new manifestation of human energy which has been harnessed to reflect the intellect alongside which it resides. Learning how to harness it is much easier said than done however, and while some people naturally excel with the self-awareness and realization necessary to project it into the world, the vast majority of us just don’t.
It’s through practices such as yoga and meditation that I have been able to finally access some of that authentic potential, allowing for the transformation of my energy down a more fruitful and fulfilling path than the one which worries how many crackers I’ve eaten or about a passing remark made by a colleague two weeks ago. Brief and miniscule slices of this potential have managed to slip through over the years, manifesting as specific achievements or the success of artistic endeavours, but it was only when I began to consistently engage with yoga and meditation that I finally felt the sensation of actually having some sort of understanding of and power over my capacity to engage with it.

Imbalances

Misunderstanding or neglecting the force of our authentic power can so easily result in dangerous imbalances of energies, along with distorted visions and versions of ourselves; our intellect, our talent, our potential. It can so easily get lost. I feel one of the great tragedies of our time is simply wasted potential.

This has led me to conclude that by helping us to carefully observe our energy’s expenditure, origins, and direction, yoga can help us gain a dimension of insight into our own potential, allowing us to live and cultivate a more empowered life rather than shying away from it.
We all have this power, and are entitled to exercise and manifest it into the world.
We just need to learn how to use it.

The Samskaras in Yoga

(originally written for Zuna Yoga)

 

The Samskaras in Yoga

The relationship between the mind, energy, and actions has always been an area of particular interest for me, and to learn about it in the context of samskaras in yoga has proven a fascinating way to relate them to one another. As it is often difficult to pinpoint exactly how or why the practice of yoga is beneficial to us – ask any new yogi, it sometimes takes a while to figure out just why it makes us feel so good (and it’s different for everyone!) – the description of samskaras and our neurological tendencies in T.K.V. Desikachar’s ‘The Heart of Yoga’, succeeded in explaining a sensation which for so long I had failed to correctly define.

What are Samskaras?

The Sanskrit term refers to the conditioning of the mind to act or direct itself in a certain way on a regular basis. It also refers to those paths or patterns along which these thoughts or behaviours travel. It’s similar in concept to the neuroscientific model of how our thoughts and behaviours, whether positive or negative, become more deeply engrained in neural pathways in our brain with each repetition. The meaning of samskara is reflected in the very word itself, with “sam” meaning “well thought out” or “to accomplish” while “kara” means “the action undertaken.”

But how do Samskaras work?

We must first practice awareness and understanding of self. By understanding our individual habitual expenditure of energy, recognising our tendencies and bringing awareness to those behaviours that are undesired or against our greatest good, we can slowly and gradually learn to redirect our prana, our life force, to where it needs to go. This process is a lot easier said than done, however, and awareness is the first step towards achieving this balance.

Purusha and Energy Flow

Encouraging new behavioural patterns and discarding old ones enlists the use of purusha, the all-seeing force of energy within us; a higher consciousness which witnesses our actions from a distance and observes possibilities and potential directions without engaging. Purusha’s powers of observation are best when the mind is clear, and as such it’s vital that we obtain clarity before attempting to redirect or encourage samskaras along an alternate route. It’s through our practice of yoga that we cultivate and maintain the mental ability and clarity with which to do this.

Why Yoga?

Yoga and meditation aid with the reconditioning of the mind to continually and repeatedly redirect itself away from harmful patterns to which it has become accustomed. Yoga helps encourage the positive flow of energy away from any limiting or restrictive tendencies. This is why we find our practice to be so effective in dealing with mental or emotional struggles. It literally helps us create the space necessary to form pathways out of these negative cycles.

Our beliefs and lifestyles, even when we engage in them unconsciously—especially when we engage in them unconsciously!—can result in imbalances and undesired manifestations of our energy. We must remain attentive and aware as we determine which route we take. The goal is to consciously redirect our prana towards positive and fulfilling actions until it becomes habitual.
“Where the mind goes, energy follows”, and so when this is done continually and repetitively and with conviction, we call it a samskara. And that is when we avoid further suffering.

Meditation vs Mindfulness – What Is the Difference?

(pic Weligama Bay, Sri Lanka)

 

Meditation vs Mindfulness – What Is the Difference?

Is anyone else guilty of vaguely agreeing to participate in a mindfulness or meditation session without really being clear on what they’re getting themselves in for? Even after it’s over? I know I am.
Surely it’s all the same, wishy-washy, inhale-exhale, breath-through-your-third-eye kind of stuff, right?
Wrong.

While both meditation and mindfulness stem from the same flowerbed, each complimenting the other and each a tool for focusing the mind and creating space for our authenticity to grow and manifest itself out into the world around us, there are several fundamental differences between the processes involved.

Meditation

I have to be careful here. I don’t want to delve too deep and scare people away.
While meditation has been defined and redefined over centuries and by a vast number of religious groups and otherwise inclined practices, its premise has fundamentally remained the same.
In simple terms, meditation is the art of sitting with our breath; with a certain thought; with a particular occurrence or sensation, and focusing all of our attention and energy towards it. That’s it. The one thought, thing or sensation, and all attention and awareness, including breath, is focused there. Gradually, somewhere in the midst of this blurb of directed consciousness, that one thing merges with the awareness and we’re left with a beautiful sense of unity and ability to relate whole-heartedly to the object of our meditation, as if it is part of us.

This has led to the establishment of the likes of breath meditation, chakra meditation, guided meditation (where all attention is focused on the guiding words), heartbeat meditation, visualization, kundalini meditation, walking meditation, samskara meditation, pranic (energetic) meditation, intention meditation…the list goes on, and it will forever. As long as humans can consciously think for themselves.
The central idea being that all of this conscious energy and attention is directed towards that one thing, without straying to follow any shiny new thoughts or enticing smells that may pass seductively through our brains in the meantime.

Mindfulness

Mindfulness is, admittedly, a branch of meditation. Yet while we still engage that same focus and intention as with general meditation, instead of a single chosen action, thought or sensation, mindfulness requires us to focus all our attention on the moment as it is right now. On our current set of emotions, sensations, actions and circumstances. The present moment, any current physical or mental sensations which we may be experiencing.
A lot of mindfulness comes down to the present experience. In fact, all of it does. How much of something are we really experiencing if our mind is off meditating on something that happened a week ago?

Let That Shit Go

This is where the core difference between mindfulness and meditation comes into play – the ability to differentiate between the present moment, the body and minds current situation, and any thoughts which may be hindering that by not being entirely relevant to what’s happening right now. All of this, along with the ability to let them go.
In order to focus properly on what’s happening right now, we have to be able to put our fingers obediently on the lips of any incessant thoughts persisting from elsewhere, and draw the attention back to the present moment.

A fairly simple explanation of my understanding of the differences between these two practices, yet in reality this simplicity and ease of mental activity is exactly what we seek to embody by practicing meditation of mindfulness. Simples.

 

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Angkor Wat, Nov 2015