This was “supposed” to be posted in November. It is a concept I have been sharing with my yoga classes this month…… and, as evidenced by this much later than expected publish date; I believe my attempts at practicing what I wanted to share might be proving effective!
Have you ever been planning an event or buying a gift (both likely scenarios for this time of year), and caught yourself so wrapped up in the outcome that when the event comes, or that person is opening your gift, you are so attached to seeing the reaction you expected, that you either are disappointed that it didn’t go as planned, or mad at yourself for not doing something different?
What if we could release ourselves from the self-imposed “expected results”? What if we could take joy in the preparations or the gift buying and let that act itself be the work of the heart? What if while at the party, or watching your loved ones open a gift, you could just be present and know whatever you prepared was an act out of love and your joy was not dependent on whatever reaction or result occurred?
One of the practices in yoga philosophy focuses on just this. Many people I talk to understand yoga as only being the physical movements you do on a mat. This physical practice is one “limb” of yoga (there are actually 8 limbs of yoga – did you know that?). Another limb is called the “yamas,” which are a set of guidelines focused on our relationship with ourselves and world around us. These “moral codes” can be applied both on and off of the mat. Practicing them not only benefits ourselves, but in turn benefits all those around us. There are 5 yamas , they focus on non-violence, truthfulness, non-stealing, use of energy and lastly, non-greed/non-possessiveness/non-attachment.
The focus on non-greed/non-possessiveness/non-attachment is called aparigraha. ‘Graha’ means to take, to seize, or to grab, ‘Pari’ means ‘on all sides’, and the prefix ‘a’ negates the word itself - basically, it means ‘non’. This practice – and it does require practice (at least for me) - reminds us to take only what we need, keep only what serves us in the moment, and to let go when the time is right.
Here is how I have shared this concept of aparigraha in some of my yoga classes this past month. Yoga is not a competitive sport, taking the time to come to our mat is an opportunity for time with self. An opportunity to practice giving yourself the grace and peace of just being you. We start with this intention. But it probably doesn’t take long until our minds wander, we start taking note of the person next to us and seeing what they are doing. At this point, we lost sight of the reason we came. This is where the “non-greed’/‘non-attachment’ aspect comes into play. When we start focusing on another person and what they are doing, we lose our focus on self. Our yoga practice is an opportunity to see our practice as a gift in and of itself. The time to just be. The time to be in our own body, present to the moment. It can be very freeing not to have a concrete goal in place, not tell ourselves we need to get further into a pose, look better, be better than the person next to us. We can just be.
Practicing this on the mat is a fantastic way to take this practice with us off the mat. There are applications everywhere. For example, “stuff.” Clothes we hold onto, or clothes we think we have to have. Endless efforts to make it look just like it does on pinterest. When we focus on physical or material needs we end up creating lots of mental baggage.
And this is my personal application of this practice. Like I said earlier, I wanted to share this at thanksgiving time, as food for thought as we go through the rush to Christmas. But I have had a lot going on and many weekends have come and gone. Did this cross my mind every week? You bet. Did I tack it on my “you really should have gotten that done, you are falling short of expectations” list? No, not this time.
I am sharing this here, now, today. It is from my heart and will hopefully find its way to someone who needs a reminder that there is grace in releasing the “musts” and the “shoulds”.
Practicing aparigraha offers us so much freedom. It really is possible to rely less on external and material possessions to bring us happiness. It really is possible to simply be present and free ourselves from the self imposed standards of perfection.
What if we could stop being concerned with what might happen, and just enjoy what is happening?
During this holiday season, I wish you the gift of just being. Merry Christmas!
Did you know that our subconscious mind is an equal opportunity holding tank? Positive thoughts and negative thoughts are offered equal accommodations and treatment. Napoleon Hill, the 20th century pioneer of positive thinking, once observed that, “The subconscious mind makes no distinction between constructive and destructive thought impulses; (it) will translate into reality a thought driven by fear, just as readily as it will translate into reality a thought driven by courage or faith.” That’s why it is up to us to discern the difference between positive and negative thoughts
This is good to know because anytime we make a conscious decision about pursuing a change – big or small - our success is dependent on not only our conscious actions, but how our subconscious processes the potential impacts of the change.
Welcome to the world of the status quo bias. We are neurologically wired to favor the default solution, the easiest or most familiar solution, even if it brings suboptimal results. As the complexity of our desired change increases and we need to make decisions and choices, our tendency to stick with the answers we know increases as well. Because both negative and positive thoughts are processed in the same way in our subconscious mind, we need to be mindful of the thoughts we are having.
Our lives are not meant to be lived in status quo state. We each have unique gifts and talents and I believe we should utilize these to our best ability to make the world a better place. Maybe you have a true sense of purpose in your life and you have plans to accomplish things you have envisioned. Maybe you have never thought about purpose but you have plans and goals for yourself. Maybe you are just working on getting by day to day. No matter where you are, it is really important to be aware of how the subconscious mind can affect everything we do or are attempting to do.
Here are some common thought processes that may crop up when attempting anything other than the status quo. Falling prey to these can be a bit like walking into quicksand…… you might not even realize you are being pulled in unto you are in waist deep making it harder and harder to pull yourself out. I am going to practice some vulnerability here and share how I have experienced each of these on my journey to deciding to publish this site and put my thoughts out there.
All or None. Also referred to as Black and White Thinking is a tendency to see things as just that – ALL or NOTHING. This is usually pretty unhelpful because it rules out the ability to look at things in an unbiased way – the way maybe an outsider would see it. In my life this has been a stumbling block at times. I admit I have some perfectionistic tendencies and this project has been drawn out due to the indecision (read – self-imposed perfectionism) about things like what pictures to use and exactly what to say. The worry that if it is not perceived as “perfect or even to my standards, I should just cut bait and forget it. I need to remember, life and our efforts are not black and white – let’s build the capacity to be okay with all the in-betweens.
It’s the End of the World As We know it. Also known as “this is catastrophe!!!” … this is when we decide that something is a lot worse than it actually is. Blowing circumstances out of proportion is a waste of breathe. Instead maybe we should take a breathe, close our eyes for a moment and try to look at the situation a different way. If we have already decided there is no hope, we will just continue to sink in the sand.
Get out the pogo stick. Also known as jumping to conclusions is where we tend to make irrational assumptions about people and circumstances. This one is a favorite in my brain and I have had to do a lot of work to stop this way of thinking. When we jump to conclusions we are writing the end of a story that may not have even started. Here are two ways this might play out are assuming something will happen in the future and predictive thinking (mind reading) – assuming we know what someone else is thinking. I have caught myself time and time again assuming my friends will find all this silly, or I will be judged. I really have no idea what others will think, so I need to release the time and energy consumed with these kinds of thoughts. Action (or inaction) based on assumptions can be dangerous. As soon as we take action based on a belief that something will or won’t happen, we are derailing the truth and opportunities at hand.
Useless weight lifting. There is an incredible burden we place on ourselves when we have a habit of letting Shoulding and Musting into our thoughts. Whether it is “I should” or “You should,” these statements place undue pressure on ourselves and others. Letting these statements creep in tends to set us up for feelings of failure and frustration as we expect outcomes that in most cases will fall short of standards and expectations. When I was younger I was super good at this. In almost any situation – work scenarios, date nights, kids cleaning their rooms, I would have a predetermined outcome and when anything fell short I was frustrated, and in turn everyone around me as well – not good.
EVERYTHING is awful. When we let emotional reasoning creep in we tend to let whatever our current emotional state is drive our feelings toward everything going on in our lives. It might look like this – I am feeling like a goal I have set is falling short, or not falling into place as planned, so now EVERYTHING related to EVERYTHING is going to be a failure. We need to keep a pulse on our emotions. When I am tired or stressed it seems easier to fall into this thought pattern. Usually after a good night’s rest, or a chat with a friend, I can look at the situation with a fresh perspective and the situation takes a new light.Our moods come and go and we do not want to put up unnecessary roadblocks to progress.
Woe is me. Have you ever started to take note of someone and what they are doing and quickly slip into comparison mode? Somehow everything about that person and what they are doing is waaaay better than your accomplishments. You are in no way accomplishing all that they are and never will. I hope you can see where this one is headed. When we let our thoughts and energy go toward embellishing someone else, we start to minimize ourselves. We let our own self esteem swirl down the drain while putting someone else on a pedestal. It is wonderful to be humble, but don’t let your self-worth be managed by irrational thoughts. My desire to share these thoughts in this format have suffered quite a bit from this one. What I need to do is take a step back, reconnect with what I feel is my authentic self and act from there. Remember, there is no one like you. No one has your thoughts and experiences and can share insights and experiences as you can. Honor that.
If you have fallen prey to any of these thought patterns the good news is now you can think about how they might appear in your thinking. You will be more likely to catch yourself and turn your thoughts around so you can hop out of the quagmire before it leads to quicksand.
Armed with this knowledge we can give ourselves the heads-up and establish strategies to keep us moving on our path.
You can go about three weeks without food, three days without water, and three minutes without air. This precious air we breathe, day in and day out, we probably hardly ever pay attention to.
The conscious breath is an amazing thing. Physically, the act of drawing air in and out of the body delivers oxygen which provides basic building blocks our bodies need to survive. It helps kill bacteria, and it fuels the cells that make up our body's defenses against viruses and other invaders. We could not function without it.
Despite the fact that it is a true necessity of life, I am not sure I ever paid too much attention to my breath other than noticing how out of breath I was when racing one of my kids upon a challenge, or doing a crash course in ramping up my cardio workout. It was when I started practicing yoga and in a place where I couldn’t go anywhere that I started to take conscious note of my breath. On my mat, listening to my instructor guide me to breathe in and out, I learned to connect breath with movement as we moved through pose to pose. I became much more aware of drawing air in and out of the body and appreciating what that air is doing to keep me alive.
Over time I began to call on this practice of pausing and taking a minute to pay attention to my inhale and exhale. Being in the present moment, being right here, right now, took my mind off of whatever thoughts were troubling or causing me anxiety. It drew me back and let me remember that I can only control what I can control and worrying was not going to accomplish anything.
I have become most thankful and appreciative of this physical action of breathing. Not only does it bring my physical body life, but by pausing and becoming aware of the inhale and the exhale, it gives my mind a chance for new life. Being aware of my breath gives me the ability to be here right now, to recognize thoughts or worries that do not serve me and to let them go. It brings life back to the person I am meant to be.
Michelle is the owner of a curious mind, she is loving life's journey and takes every opportunity to learn about how people can create the space they need to live life to the fullest.
The Gift of Breathing