The start of a new calendar year always seems to encourage people to set intentions or goals and creates a point in time to conjure up hope for a better path forward. I’m no different, I tend to hit reset on the first of January and explore and process the last 365 days marking it and judging it and finally making attempts to correct my trajectory. I normally hold a New Year’s Day class and help others to set intentions for the new year. However, this year, I am just home from an exploratory trip to the Lakes District (it was beautiful and wet) and tomorrow I will be stroking and cuddling a new addition to our family (a kitten called Purna) and feeling guilty that I will not be with students setting the quintessential new years resolution on the mat. However, as my guilt is real and my traditions run strong, I am offering you the following inspiration in textual form and an attempt at helping you create another layer in manifesting what you desire most for 2023 and hopefully, many years to come.
Rather than shining a light and conjuring up yogic rainbows for your new year, I am going to help you to focus on what prevents and distorts your path in attaining what you long for. In the following, I make the case for acceptance of your resentments, grudges and that which causes hurt, pain and suffering as they are a normal part of day-to-day life. With this practice, I welcome you to resolve daily disgruntles and reinforce your intention for your future endeavours. I invite you to focus on the negatives and not just try to rise above it all. But first, a bit of background on how I came to this new inspiration and practice which some might find a bit un-Yogic. Bear with me.
I came to Yoga to heal an ailment I was physically suffering from, however Yoga opened up so much more. It tapped into something emotional which was very powerful and yet at times it made me feel stuck. The more I studied and found my connection the more I was very confused by how the first, second and third series of Ashtanga Yoga could help me emotionally and practically in my life. I continued and practiced for many years seeing all sorts of bodies fold, contort and bend backwards, and the contrast of what people could do with their bodies and what was written about Yoga perplexed me.
From my experience I saw a lot of dysfunctional people teaching more dysfunctional people (myself included). The Yogic state of fulfilment in this lifetime, the deep contentment within and freedom, even liberation was the hope of us all…but it just seemed unrealistic when trying to put my leg behind my head and lift my body off the floor. But for some reason, a fleeting, short shelf life of peace, serenity and calm after the Savasana and a short 3 minute meditation kept me coming back. At the same time I became frustrated as I felt there was an imposed bypassing of emotions and feelings and a side-step of ‘real’ life. On the mat and through words it was meant to look the part of a Yogi, but in private people (including myself) were a mess!
I felt shame, guilt and fear as I wrestled with being human. I felt reactive and hurt left, right and centre. So I hit my mat even harder, thinking if I forced my body to do these shapes then I would be okay. If I could unlock the secret to meditation without the incessant chatter, commentary and story telling then I would be okay. If I could just be like my teachers; knowledgable in Sanskrit, philosophy and versed in the ancient teachings, then I would be okay. I now realise on reflection that these people were just as human as I was, just trying to figure it all out and at the same time making a lot of proclamations claiming ‘awakening’ ‘siddhis’ and ‘shakti pat’ which are merely Guru status but what is actually code for ‘Enlightenment Retirement’. These self-declarations of status are what continue to perpetuate the spiritual hierarchy and keep students where they are. I saw a lot of bad behaviour under the veil of being a Yoga Master, Teacher and Guru. I can understand why today there is a backlash and an ongoing evolution to Yoga which is leaving a lot of seekers unfulfilled and confused.
After years of reflection and processing and a lot of disappointment and let-downs from, teachers, students and the community, I reclaimed my practice and feel fortunate as I started taking Yoga seriously at just about the same time as I started going to self-help meetings. I found Al Anon, which is a support group for friends and families of alcoholics and addicts. At that time in my my life I was open to a new interpretation of my Yoga practice and found that the twelve steps mirror a lot of what Yoga was mapping out. The 7 Stages of Yoga according to Patanjali as well as the list in Kashmir Shavism have some incredible parallels with what Bill and Bob who started Alcoholics Anonymous created. They were both inspired by Carl Jung the great Swiss Psychiatrist and Psychoanalyst who was himself inspired by his research into Indian Philosophy. I was instantly reassured I was on the right path and began to have multiple applications for the same message and discipline.
So, enough of the background, here is my New Year’s Day exercise for you. I hope you can use it as a tool every day if needed. I would suggest doing it in the evening when you have time for reflection. It is called a Vichara. This Vichara practice is very similar to the Step 4 and 10 in ‘recovery.’ Both are a self-inquiry, self-reflection and self-contemplation, a practice to discern from right and wrong, real and unreal, virtue and non-virtuous. It is a look deeper into the cause and effect. I am offering a way of taking responsibility and accountability of effects of one’s life circumstances, emotions and reactions. The result of the practice over time will hopefully allow you to feel the fruits of what has been written about the state of Yoga; fulfilment, contentment and liberation.
Another little suggestion I would like to offer is to get an ‘annoy & joy’ buddy. I have been lucky enough to have, for many years, a ‘gratitude’ buddy. Every evening or morning we write at least three things that brought us joy which opened us to sincere gratitude for that day (a simple WhatsApp message has worked for us for years). This year I suggested an addition to our gratitude list. From now on, we first list at least 3 things that annoyed, bothered or we became resentful of before listing our gratitudes. The secret to this practice is there is something special that happens when being witnessed by another without comment or trying to be fixed, just witnessed of the humanity of daily life no matter how spiritual, yogic or ‘recovered’ you are. We all are human and having an outlet to express our ‘I’m fucked off with’ and ‘I am truly joyous over’ is essential to managing the modern world and finding your middle path. Already it has changed my attitude to writing back to my ‘gratitude’ buddy letting her know my struggles, but how I also recognise the joys in my life. Then reading hers, not needing to comment or solve, just to bare witness feels intimate, belonging and less alone with a life we have to live. I feel this is also a short-hand of a Vichara practice, a recognition, an allowing, an investigation that leads to a non-judgemental statement of what did bring a daily joy felt in that day. Try it. Ask someone to be that buddy. No commenting about each other’s list, just witness and hold space for that person to be authentically real.
Fundamentally we all want to be safe in life, protected and assured it is going to be okay. We all want to be loved as we are as well as to love others and someone specific. We all want to belong to a couple, family, friend group, community, country, etc. And finally, we want to feel connected. This connection is to others as well as to the environment, planet and source, whether you call that God, Grace or energy. These feelings are deep within us. The uncertainty of life rattles our faith that these yearnings can be fulfilled as everything is impermanent and everything is subjected to change. Everything has a beginning, middle and end. So to trust, love and live opens us up to an enormity of hurt, pain and suffering. This is why we practice Yoga (Meditation), to return to what is unchanging and consistent. What we truly are and have always been and will always be…consciousness. When we get into the state of Yoga we realise we are truly safe, loved, we belong and connected to. We are consciousness having a human experience and we also are a human being having a conscious experience. So honouring the emotions and their feelings within us, however annoyed or un-yogic they might be, is a part of being human.
THE PRACTICE –
I recommend that you list a resentment, tell the story, see the scenario, people involved, words that were spoken, colours, thoughts, impressions etc. Notice the sensations in your body. Then go through the list of Negative Emotions (see the practice document), list as many as you can relate to this one resentment. This gives insight into every time this resentment arises that it is not just one or two negative emotions that fire up, it is a whole root system that leads down to a deep core false belief. With this practice you will be able to study your Vikalpa which is a story or narrative to the rise of feelings and emotions that gets reinforced; We aren’t safe, not loved, not belonging to or connected to. It will allow you to explore where these emotions come from and why they are present.
I have detailed the practice below and have created worksheets that you can use each time you want to do this practice.