Failure is a Stepping Stone

I recently made a pretty big mistake.  It got me thinking…

How do we come to terms with messing up, without becoming messed up?  How does ‘I did a bad thing’ not turn into ‘I am a bad person’?  How does ‘I made a mistake’ not become ‘I am a screw up’?

Swami Satchidananda, founder of Integral Yoga, says:

If you make mistakes it doesn’t matter.  Make mistakes and learn.  The best teachers are your own mistakes.  you learn even faster by your mistakes…

Every failure is a stepping stone.  Remember, though, that you can’t use the same stone for each step.  Every step should be on a new stone.  That means you should not keep on making the same mistakes.  Learn well from each one…Experience is the best teacher.

Most of us have heard this advice in some version or another since the day people decided we were old enough to take responsibility for our actions.  Learn from your mistakes.

It may be the truest, most cliche advice I’ve ever heard.  It’s also the most tedious.  Taking time to examine your actions and accept that something you did led to a disastrous outcome is not fun.  It flat out sucks.  It’s way easier to lie on the ground, play dead and let your thoughts beat you to a pulp like an angry gang.  Both options hurt, but for some reason self-examination is always way more excruciating than self-flagellation, though much more productive.

So the next time you make a mistake try these steps.

1) Feel it.  Get angry, cry, laugh, rage, insult.  Do whatever it is that you first feel like doing. Write a nasty letter in your journal or punch a pillow.  Let out the emotions in a safe space, keeping it between you and your closests.

2) Take responsibility.  Examine the mistake and own your part in it.  What could you have done differently?  Is there anything you can do to change your situation?  If not, what do you need to do in order to accept your mistake and move on?  Is an apology in order?

3) Learn the lesson.  Often we look back wistfully thinking, “If only I’d known then what I know now.”  But we didn’t.  However, the next time a similar situation occurs, our knowledge will be tested and we can no longer claim we didn’t know any better.  What is the lesson you can learn from this mistake?

4) Practice.  Once you’ve identified the lesson, go back over the actions that led to the mistake and make a game plan for the next time you are faced with this challenge.  What can you do differently?  Are there people you can turn to for help? You can go as far as to write out or discuss with someone else why you may have made the mistake and what can be done to avoid it in the future.

5) Take the test.  The test will come.  You will be faced with circumstances that echo those that led up to the mistake.  If you have done the work and are able to be aware enough to see the situation for what it is, you will pass the test and move on from this mistake.  If not you will repeat it again and again until you’ve become aware enough to end it.

I hope these little tips help.  It helps to work out mistakes with those you love and trust.  Perhaps they will see something you did not.  Give it a go.  And remember:

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The Greatest Challenge

The greatest challenge of life is to hold all beings as equal.  To loose and lose our chains ofjudgement and break down the walls that we believe separate us.  All other philosophy stems from this notion.

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Some of the greatest principles of humanity, such as “Do no harm” and “love your neighbor as yourself,” boil down to equality.  We must dissolve all feelings of separation, before love, true love, is possible.  It is not possible to love your neighbor as yourself if you see your neighbor as less than yourself.  Love is only possible when the mind recognizes what the soul already knows, we are all equal.

Stop and think about that for a moment, or rather feel on it for a moment.  Let the tendrils of the soul infuse the word with new and brilliant meaning.  Equality is overused, abused.  It is an ordinary concept of the soul that has been elevated to a radical notion by and through our humanity.  Close your eyes and know, we are all equal.  Even that stranger you saw begging on the corner.

We must recognize the inequalities we have created.  In order for us to feel special we have placed many beneath us on our imaginary ladder of successful life.  These are the people we pity and loath.  The ones for whom we make donations while scorning their bad decision.  We can recognize that we see them as lesser and do our best to replace our pity with true compassion and love.

Then there are those that we see as more special than ourselves (which might be why we feel the need to step on others, to bring back some of our “power”).  This is the flip-side of the inequality coin, placing some above us.  When we are told by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras to “Do No Harm” (ahimsa), this includes in thought, word and action.  Jealousy, envy, and disdain are three harmful emotions that manifest from feelings of inadequacy, from seeing ourselves as less than another.  In this way we have the potential to harm others through pent up frustrations.  In addition, we harm ourselves, feeling unworthy of love or just plain stupid for what we do or say.

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In this way, we create idols, people who are more special than ourselves and others around us.  This person can become our source of happiness, needing their approval or recognition or love in order to feel whole.  In Spirit Junkie, Gabrielle Bernstein reminds us that we do not only make romantic relationships special.  We can place our need for happiness in anyone’s hands, and it usually has something to do with how “cool” we think they are, and how cool knowing them will make us.  We separate ourselves from them, believing them to be better than us, therefore creating inequality where there is none.

There are wonderful people in this world; there are plenty of gorgeous souls you will want to emulate.  Give yourself permission to learn as much as you can from the people you admire.  Feel the weight of their worth in your life.  BUT don’t put them on a pedestal.  They are not super human or superior human.  Maybe they have made it further along the path of enlightenment, or just have more life experience, and they deserve respect, not worship.

Identify one person whom you have made special in your life, someone you feel is superior to yourself.  Meditate on this person, repeating “[Full Name of person] and I are equal.  We are equal.  We are the same.”  Notice if this changes the feelings you have about yourself.  Maybe just identifying this person will give you an idea of the type of person you want to become and the qualities that you must nurture in yourself in order to become a fuller person.

Have we forgotten our Manners?

Manners aren’t only for the dinner table.

This week I picked up a call from an unknown number.  Truthfully, I knew who it was from the area code and it was their third or fourth call that week.  It was just that I finally heard the call and had time for it, so I picked up…

Me: “Hello.”

Guy: “Hello, this is Such-and such from James Madison University. Do you have time to talk?”

Me: “Yes, hello, how are you?”

Guy: Pause. “I think you’re the first person to ask me that today.”

Such-and-such was a freshman at JMU, my alma mater, soliciting for donations.  I can only guess how many hundreds of people he may have called that day.  It was evening by the time he got to me and they call alumni all the way back to the 50’s.  And I was the first person to ask how he was?!?  It was so noticeable that he said something.  That’s insane.

It struck me.  Have we forgotten our manners?  Have we become so defensive that we cannot even greet a solicitor properly?

I admit, when I first picked up the phone I wanted to say I didn’t have the time.  I wanted to get him off the phone as quickly as possible because I felt bad that I was going to have to say, “I’m sorry I can’t donate today.”  Something told me to stay on the phone.  I heard a little voice encourage me to be as nice as possible because “I’m sure he has had a rough time of it on the phone today.”

I enjoyed my chat with him about what I had done since JMU and what is going on there at the moment.  It is a wonderful school and I am happy to hear that they keep on building up the community there with new dreams and new projects.  So much has changed since I attended the school.  When he got to the part about the money he was polite.  Then it was over.  10 minutes tops.  It cost me nothing and I hopefully contributed something positive to that guy’s job.

A lot of the time, we are so hardened to the world.  We are expecting people to take advantage of our time, money, generosity that we immediately put up a defense.  It is hard to remember that the people on the other end of the phone are people and they deserve our kindness and respect, even if we truly have nothing to give.  Maybe a brief chat or just a quick greeting is all someone needs that moment to pick them out of despair.  Each one of us is capable of being the light in another person’s day, even if that person is a stranger.

I learned in Namibia to greet everyone I meet.  One of my friends says that is also common in the African-American community.  A head-nod or a what’s up is customary as you pass in the street.  It doesn’t necessarily mean you know the person or want to stop for a twenty-minute talk.  It is acknowledgement of their existence, inclusion in the community.

I have carried this lesson from my home far-away back to the states.  I often beat the check-out clerks to a greeting and I smile at random people in the street.  Being open in this way has led to some beautiful moments and some unexpected conversations.  I recommend you try it.  Just once today, look someone you pass in the eye and smile or just nod your head in acknowledgement.  When you walk into the store, say hello to the clerk.  Don’t hang up the phone immediately on a telemarketer.  Treat the help-desk with respect.  Mind your manners, and you never know what could open up for you!

Being a Bad-@ss Yogini

We all wanna be bad-ass.  Here are lessons in bad-assery I am learning through the yamas of the Yoga Sutras.

The Yamas:

Ahimsa ~ Nonviolence
Then: When I was first learning to drive I thought I was bad-ass because I liked to speed.
Working on: Being a safe driver.  It is bad-ass to try to not kill other people on the road.  Driving with the flow of traffic and stopping at stop signs is my MO.

Satya ~ Truthfulness
Then: I was a bad-ass for telling my mom I was going to the library when I really went to the shooting range.
Working on: Keeping my parents in the loop.  It is totally bad-ass to help others avoid the harm of worrying.

Asteya ~ Nonstealing
Then: I thought it was bad-ass to bring ice-cream cones to school in order to steal ice-cream from the machine.
Now: I’m bad-ass enough to pay for the things I want or not have them.

Brahmacharya ~ Nonexcess
Then: In college I thought it was bad-ass to go out and get wasted.
Working on: Practicing moderation.  It is bad-ass to take total care of my body.

Aparigraha ~ Nongreed
Then: I thought it was bad-ass to do all the best poses.  Nothing less than perfection will do.
Working on: Being a bad-ass at the level I am.  There is no need to be possessive over my poses.  Through letting go, I will go farther than I imagined possible.

 

 

Sutra Sunday: Not just a fitness plan

I thought every Sunday I’d pull out the trusty Yoga Sutras by Patanjali for some deeper guidance. I do not claim any expertise or direct dialogue with a Higher Being, however through contemplation, careful study of translation and commentary and further contemplation, I have come to begin to understand the deeper wisdom of these philosophies. Today I will start by introducing the idea of the Sutras.

When I first came to the mat it was for the health benefits, namely weight-loss.  A senior in high school, I wanted to look good, so everyday I came home and popped in my MTV Yoga VHS (remember those!?!).  I flowed through the poses and I found a physical activity I loved doing for the first time since swimming.  I enjoyed it AND it made me feel great.  It wasn’t until later that I discovered yoga is a deep well of ancient philosophy and tradition.  That’s when I became hooked.

Asana is wonderful. It gets the blood pumping, the body moving and bring strength and flexibility in equal measure. It is wonderful. But it is not the only “yoga”. It is part of the yogic journey to enlightenment, a part of a whole that together link mind, body and spirit. but yoga can be about so much more.

Yoga can be broken into parts.  Hatha Yoga and Raja Yoga are what I will focus on today (there is also Bahkti Yoga and Karma Yoga, which I will cover at a later date).  Hatha Yoga is the one we are all familiar with in the west.  It is the bending and stretching.  This practice is meant to help one in the real practice of Yoga, mastery over the mind.  “The actual meaning of Yoga is the science of the mind.” This is Raja Yoga.  (Satchidananda)

The primary text of Raja Yoga is the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, sutra a Sanskrit word meaning thread.  One popular and well known book of sutras is the Kama Sutra, the threads of knowledge left by Vātsyāyana in the 2nd century CE describing in detail human sexual behavior.  The YOGA Sutras are threads of knowledge recorded around the same time by Patanjali.  (Wiki)

The Yoga Sutras make a handbook of gathered wisdom meant to help guide yogis on their path to enlightenment.  Parts of the sutras are shared among other ideologies, such as Buddhism and Christianity.  Though it is not a religious text, it is an important book to practitioners of yoga looking to deepen their relationship to their mind.  According to the sutras, I, and no one else, have power over my thoughts and therefore my words and action. Is there anything more powerful than that?

Namaste!

Join me next week for another Sunday Sutra.  Please let me know in the comments below if you have any questions, concerns or requests.

There are many different translations of the Yoga Sutras.  I currently read and study the translation and commentary by Sri Swami Satchidananda.  Click the image to view on Amazon.

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