Monday, May 9, 2011

The Yama View from Headstand

In January, I made a handful of New Year's Resolutions: Meditate daily, start praying the Rosary, center-floor headstand, sort life out (bonus points to whoever gets the reference)...

By April I had the center-floor headstand, I was pretty good about the Rosary for the duration of Lent, and I'm still being very coy with meditation i.e. telling it I want it around, but running away at the slightest possibility of spending time with it. We're not half-way through the year yet, and who knows what the next seven months will bring. I'm playing with hand stand now; building up strength in my wheel pose, and using my couch in place of the wall to avoid the possibility of its becoming a crutch as much as possible.

In response to an amazing birthday present from my best friend, I searched out a handful of very inspirational and intuition-based books on the Tarot, and am building up my innate gifts in that department so my readings become useful tools for another's personal growth, instead of a playful display of a startling sense of clairvoyance.

In its own small way, I think that last is the first step I've taken in the direction of that last resolution. In spite of supposedly altruistic leanings inherent in my Aquarian nature, my dark-side of the Leo Moon finds me constantly asking "What's in it for me??" Not a useful angle for a yogini, spiritual, Catholic, personal growth-oriented one-girl revolution. It's still not perfect: I hope to improve my skills to the point that I feel good about offering my readings as a service along side teaching yoga - something I can get paid to do, so ultimately, I do hope to financially gain from this research.

But frankly, if I just wanted to make a fast buck, I'm skilled enough to do that now. What makes me feel that I'm idling forward instead of stalling is that I don't want to get paid for this until I'm able to offer something worth paying for: until I can actually use this skill to benefit others.

Whenever anyone seriously considers self-improvement, motives become a huge part of the issue. Why do you want to improve in the first place? Gratifying your ego by being loose with your money so other people will say how generous you are is in its own way, violating 'Asteya' the yama that means not-stealing, and also refers to not-coveting, particularly if you needed that money for yourself. That might seem a little wonky and backwards: how is giving generously to others stealing or coveting? In this case, you're coveting this role or mask of the generous person instead of practicing 'Ahimse' (non-violence) by managing your resources in a way that allows you to take care of yourself. Your attachment to that perception of yourself by others would also violate 'Aparagraha' or non-attachement. Wow! That's a lot of negative stuff kicked up by the beautiful act of giving!

If I take the same action, giving money to someone else, even if the same issue of not leaving enough for my own needs remains, my motivation can completely change the situation. If a friend wants the money from me to buy something that I would rather have instead, but for whatever reason I know it won't do me any good to have it, denying this person the money that would bring them (temporary) happiness, from a motivation of 'if I can't have it, nobody can!' is definitely violating 'Asteya' and 'Aparagraha.'

But let me take a minute to clarify: there are no Yama Police. These guidelines are meant to help you live with more awareness, bringing joy into your own life and the lives of others. Ultimately you'll hurt yourself if you consistently fail to apply some version of these concepts to your life, but most of us do in some way, shape or form, perhaps just minus the Sanskrit. Making yourself feel guilty for giving money you couldn't afford to give, or tightening your fist out of a childish sense of petulance is only violating 'Ahimsa' all over again. This is exactly why giving money you need for yourself, or allowing someone to continue to hurt you over and over again is so problematic.

Martyrdom has been a road to enlightment for different religions throughout history, but not so in yoga. The first step in applying the yamas is to work at applying them to yourself. Non-violence toward yourself means taking good care of yourself, and not tolerating another mistreating you. Obviously, this doesn't mean you punch the other person in the face, or take ten minutes to ream her or him out telling him or her just how horrible she or he is. Practice your Warrior II: stand strong, and take up your allotted space on this planet, and when another person encroaches in that space, use the strength and the wisdom of the warrior. Be clear, be respectful, but be firm: I will not allow you to treat me this way. If you don't stop, or leave this space, I will.

Non-stealing or coveting means being happy with what you have; not needing more. It doesn't mean valuing another's financial well-being over your own.

Non-attachment means being able to let go. It doesn't mean handing out your favourite possessions just to watch yourself squirm.

The inevitable conclusion of any discussion on that long, crazy path toward enlightenment is that I have as long a way to go as anybody! The people you thought were so much better than you may be struggling with the exact same issues, just in a different way, and the people that petted your ego by seeming so far down the ladder may be much closer to catching up than you think. We're all much better off keeping our eyes on the path before us, only looking to the side when we can, truly, from the heart and not the ego, lend a hand up. Good luck, and Godspeed.

live Omily,

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