Sacchidānanda: Healing through Blissful Non-Attachment

Friends at the beach, taken in Tofino by Susie

Self-Estrangement as Cause of Self-Hate

It appears to me that curing the habit of self-hate is of the utmost priority. As my TCM doctor says, “the cure is to unblock your heart.” It starts with identifying the labels we assign ourselves. When the “who I am” is bound up in appearances, there is an over-identification with that which is conceivable and perceivable, ie our form, and that’s the trap. I honestly haven’t figured it out in practice yet, but by sharing perhaps it serves others.

We are not what we’ve taken ourselves to be. The real satisfaction we’re looking for cannot be obtained by any outside object, name or form. We are already full, purna, of perfect indivisible spirit existence, consciousness, bliss. We meditate on the subtle and vast spaces between the ever changing relationship of self with object-of-self. We already are what we are seeking. We are self-ignorant, thinking we are an object, and tie up our identity in a whatness that is alien to its Self. Svadhyaya, the study of our perceptions, projections, and core beliefs, the study between our conditioning and our true openness.

What is real and eternal is that mystery, Sacchidānanda, “existence, consciousness, and bliss”, not the personalities and forms we’re taken by or attached to. By negotiating the space of the question of identity (who am I), we work on releasing patterns of thought that were most likely (unintentionally) given to us by our parents, caretakers, and so on. I am not the hate I feel toward me, my skin/body image / gender / etc, I am in the midst of suffering because I am estranged from my true nature. I am loving awareness and I am free to alter the course of my condition patterns as I so choose.

If your form as you know it changed to something less than what you want, you would mourn and adjust through a period of suffering, thinking this new form is not good enough. The attachment of the ego’s sense of self to a physical object estranges the true self from the false self, increasing the false self’s suffering and further distancing the experiencing perceiver from its open pure energetic vibration.

Or perhaps the form doesn’t change but another identity aspect has changed. For Vedic Astrology, let’s say something is called into question in your life that alters your attachment to the identity you’ve grown to like in your chart. Then what? Let’s say you believe you were born to be an excellent doctor, but something happens that changes this identity, and now you experience pain, terror, the abyss of letting-go, a potent practice for astrologers to let go of their attachment to notions they’ve accumulated about themselves.

Western students who migrate to Vedic astrology are also confronted with this shift in the ground beneath them: gasp! But I am a Virgo! But what if you were other than what you thought? What if you were not a king, a queen, but actually a peasant or student? As all things go, it ebbs and flows, our identities and lifetimes, and if we are a king in this life we will be a peasant in the next, and likely female.

Even then, consider: who is it that is looking? Who is this subject “I”? Does its worthiness of love change if the divine form changes?

It is a long conversation… Om, shanti, peace, amen.

Photo taken by Susie in Tofino on retreat 2019

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A Time For Honouring

Photo of clouds at sunset, by Susie.

I think I’m understanding a bit more what we mean when we say to “honour” something — a time, an experience, a god. I honoured something finally that I was afraid to look at, I guess because it was time to do so. One of my teachers, Peter, says “what is love but attention?” Honouring something to me means to turn to it, to gaze at it, shower it with full attention, when we’re ready. “I see you, I’m not too uncomfortable to look at you, I don’t reduce you or joke you away.”

I’m going to take this a bit farther. I meditate under the planets and stars, studying the 4th State of Consciousness (woah), Vedic Astrology, and the Yoga Sutras. Chapter 3 of the Yoga Sutras tells us that meditating on the planets and on perception reveals our past and future (and some other things). This becomes more apparent the more you study our solar system and its myths.

In Vedic Astrology, each planet is a god. When you meditate on the planets and then watch and study and observe under the night’s sky, and grow to understand the meanings behind the areas of the sky they inhabit, even from Earth’s spinning perspective, it becomes effortlessly clear and obvious that yes, these are gods. These are so much bigger than me. They are giants. They seem devoid of meaning or intelligence because we’re so stupidly arrogant and small. We are them, they are us. We are the tiniest brief moment of a thought to them, we are tiny neurons in their minds.

But they have no minds, they are not a mind. They are neither conceivable nor perceivable. And yet we are them. They are so close we can’t even see them.

I see the spread of Time like a ribbon across the sky. Sometimes Time feels very small, stuck, awful. So friggin Earth-bound. And other times you can see the past clearly, with the benefit of the distance between now and then, when everything feels big and free, expansive and open. Honouring something feels easier when it’s time to do so. It becomes time to do so when we are at that point along our path, as indicated by our dasha periods. When it feels like a giant golden door has opened into awareness and you can see those past experiences with love instead of denial, then it’s time to honour them.

The planets play out their drama at the same time that you’ve done the work of living. It seems like you decided to honour your thing, but it was the dance between these cosmic gods that opened up the majesty of your path before you, before them. Our paths are written for us already, as ruled by each god. We are simply living our paths and figuring it out. Because all of our life’s chapters were accompanied by celestial movements, maybe we can honour and make peace with ourselves and our memories by meditating on the world beyond us, in order to gain perspective on time and an awareness of who we are now and who we were then.

Om, Shanti, Peace, Amen,


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The Grace of Yoga: Yamas and Niyamas

Photo of smoke from incense stick, by Susie.

Reflecting on Change

One year ago today, I left my hometown, the place where I learned to let go of limited self-belief and heavy judgement. We all have to deal with our stuff at some point, and the last year has been that time for me. The significance of a date is a good time to reflect on where you have come, emotionally, mentally, and how your world views and ideas about your self and of others might have morphed. It’s a profound opportunity to take a moment to reflect on who you are, who you were, and who you will be. It’s a chance for finding inspiration from your past to project into your future self, the person whose path you want to take. And a time for finding gratitude for the people and places that have graced your life and been your teachers.

The work I have done (with help from an amazing counsellor, an incredible brother, a dedicated yoga practice, and a pile of great books) in the space of a year has released me from those burdens of judgemental agony. I’d like to honour that space with this post.

Judgement is a poison

Change in the past year has been substantial.

  • I said my farewells to a very strong drinking routine,
  • I left behind negative attitudes by addressing their roots in trauma,
  • I said goodbye to accepting abusive and disrespectful behaviour from others that violated my values, and
  • I developed positive strategies for dealing with, well, life.

If I would have known that my future self was talking about gratitude, then I might have given this page a major eye-roll, an audible “pfff” in holier-than-thou judgement. I would have told this person that they are a loser, being abusive to myself.

Judgement is a poison. It sits in your intestines, keeps your chest in tight shallow breaths, and imprisons the mind in its hatred. It becomes a little demon, and you do what you can to relieve it. The demon likes to put others down, so you feed it that. It likes when you hate yourself, so you do that, a lot. It likes when you take your anger and misery out on yourself in self-destructive ways, so you let it happen. Inside you is the real you, covered over by a false you, and it’s desperate for release.

Yoga and Recovery

I have practiced Hatha, Vinyasa, and Ashtanga yoga for over 12 years, but perhaps I was finally at a place where I was ready to really connect with what the practice is about. Under the guidance of a handful of remarkable yoga teachers, I rediscovered a disciplined yoga practice in my hometown. From morning to night, I practiced. I fought the whining critic inside and practiced two or three times a day. Power yoga, Bikram, Baptiste, beautiful Hatha and Vinyasa flows, Kriya, Yin, Restorative.

For the first few weeks, I encountered and dealt with that little judgement demon. She was a tough critic to silence. She judged me, the teacher, and students around me. It told me I sucked and this was stupid. It knew that it was about to die and I was about to come to life.

As the body became stronger, the breath became deeper. The posture became taller, and the mind more expansive. I felt even that my forehead and the eyes became more spacious. I was practicing yoga not just physically but through letting other aspects of yoga into my life, namely the yamas and niyamas. I was opening and healing.

Yamas & Niyamas: Back to the Basics

The yamas and niyamas were the bright rays of saving grace that started my year of change. Practicing poses for years was one thing, but connecting my practice with my inner life unveiled the cold hard truth: I was in a sorry state and needed to find space for compassion toward myself. And this idea of practicing is important, because we can never know when we will be in a new open state to receive new lessons, and so we must keep coming back to it.

There are teachers and schools that exclude the yamas and niyamas from their discourse. I believe that by doing so, they are allowing their arrogance of their ego to limit the true extent of the practice of liberation through self-awareness, as these are fundamental behaviours and attitudes that are easy to ignore. It is easy to think that we have mastered them, that we are better than them. If that’s the case, I can guarantee you that it’s time for you to take another close look at them and your behaviours and attitudes about yourself, others, and the world around you.

The five yamas, self-regulating behaviors involving our interactions with other people and the world at large, include the following (with some examples):

  • Ahimsa: nonviolence (patience through dialogue to ensure our words are not harming another person)
  • Satya: truthfulness (ensuring that our thoughts and attitudes about ourselves and others are true and not simply projections)
  • Asteya: non-stealing (not taking energy from others for the sake of your ego)
  • Brahmacharya: non-excess (or a right use of energy)
  • Aparigraha: non-possessiveness, non-greed (non-jealousy, honouring the liberty of all things and beings)

The five niyamas, personal practices that relate to our inner world, include:

  • Saucha: purity (eating and drinking elements that are most respectful to the body)
  • Santosha: contentment (honouring the present moment by not desiring what you do not have, being grateful for this moment)
  • Tapas: self-discipline, training your senses (developing discipline and heat to bear the weight of these austere spiritual practices)
  • Svadhyaya: self-study, inner exploration (developing mental attitudes that allow you to see past the conditioned ego to a more liberated awareness of the unconditioned Self)
  • Ishvara Pranidhana: surrender (to God)

(credit to Kripalu and EkhartYoga – though the examples are mine – crediting others as a form of Asteya and Satya)

Clearly by making fun of everyone in the room (including myself), not only was I so estranged from my natural state of divine loving awareness, but I was also in desperate need to deal with first and foremost the first step: Ahimsa. I believe that we can all benefit from a long study of how we are violent towards ourselves on and off the yoga mat. Sure, she had also received more than her share of violence from others (if you don’t know by now that I am an advocate for women who have been victimized by domestic violence then you do now!) but man my poor self had been the victim of self-violence for years, putting me down in countless ways.

Over the next few months I would work to deal with the root of this violence-toward-the-self through a disciplined practice, or tapas.

Tapas is derived from the root Sanskrit verb ‘tap’ which means ‘to burn’, and evokes a sense of ‘fiery discipline’ or ‘passion’. In this sense, Tapas can mean cultivating a sense of self-discipline, passion and courage in order to burn away ‘impurities’ physically, mentally and emotionally, and paving the way to our true greatness.

Emma Newlyn

In starting my daily practice I was also practicing Tapas, a healing medicine of discipline to shake off and wring out those narratives of judgement and hate that were really rooted in grief, abuse, and trauma. I started along the path to loving my Self, my divine nature, my eternal spirit and my blessed form. Recognizing my worth, I found the sweet release of forgiveness to some of those who hurt me. I try to always invite this into my personal practice and sequences.

The Ashtanga studio here in Victoria has a great slogan that encompasses what Tapas is about: “Stronger Every Day”.

Book Recommendations for Freedom and Compassion

Among a multitude of books I’ve read in the past year (which I will post in a future update), two wonderful books that accompanied me for part of the journey was Thich Nhat Hanh’s Breathe, You Are Alive! and Pema Chodron’s Taking the Leap: Freeing Ourselves from Old Habits and Fears.

Each book talks about breath, and allowing space in the body for breath. They talk about finding compassion for one’s suffering. Pema addresses the idea of shenpa: gripping that takes hold of us. It prevents compassion and breath while perpetuating anger, blame, and destruction.

When we feel something, when we are triggered by something someone said or did, we can move through a whole range of responses. The best is to see the feeling of responding, before we bite the hook of our desire to win, etc. But we’re human, sometimes we do. So we forgive ourselves, as for forgiveness from others if that is safe to do so, and we try again.

Thich Nhat Hanh’s book outlines clear methods that our thinking mind can navigate when we want to bite the hook of suffering. It is a wonderful resource.

Breathing Space

In the space of a year (2017-18) I have learned to breathe, to be compassionate to the self, and to find self-worth that is not influenced or effected by others. I’ve learned to forgive and let go (at least starting to), to feel peace, and to find gratitude. Now the present feels abundant, limitless, and delicious. I love that Alcoholics Anonymous makes gratitude such a central aspect of recovery, as it truly helps you create more space around a suffering ego.

Pema’s book talks about “the spaciousness of our sky-like mind“. This is a beautiful image to remember and aim for. Our negative inner dialogues block our real selves from flourishing freely. By using our breath and approaching ourselves with compassion the way we would to a suffering friend, then we can rise above the poison of judgement that keeps us tight, blocked, and smaller than who we really are.

A year later I am sharing the messages of compassion and spaciousness through my own teaching, messages of believing in yourself, loving yourself, recovering from years of abuse and trauma, empowering women, and helping hosts of students yearning to find strength and peace from the narrator of self-doubt.

I will always remember where I was, I will always remember the experiences of harm that I encountered from others and myself through my own self-ignorance. I continue to reflect on what yoga has done for me (in all its disciplines) by finding creativity in intuitive sequences. Each class is a moment in time, where perhaps the ideas of the yamas and niyamas can spark in my students the same kind of inspiring self-love and letting-go that freed me.

Photo taken by me. 

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