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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Morning Prayer for Boundaries, Self-Love, and Protection

Photo of the moon over clouds, by Lyv Jaan

About this prayer:

This prayer is an offering that builds strength in our inner capacity to love our selves, so that we may be better prepared to set and maintain our boundaries through the challenges of our days. It is my hope that this prayer can be helpful for anyone who experiences depression, abuse, trauma, addiction, and/or low self-esteem, among a multitude of other possible experiences, and who struggles to feel at home in their being.

This prayer is written within a framework of the philosophy that each human being has a soul, and the soul is God, that we are God but we forget this to be true. And in remembering God as being so close to us that s/he is us, we offer ourselves the opportunity to heal from these experiences like depression and abuse, etc., that created bends and ripples in our soul’s incarnation.

If you feel unheard, unloved, abandoned, abused, forgotten, and like the world simply isn’t good enough, then say this prayer aloud to yourself quietly. My intention in writing it is that it may open the door for you to remember your self, to come to your rescue as you approach an all-loving god. It will allow you the gift of coming home to your very nature, your being, your divinity, your sacred sovereignty, and to rest in the bliss of the freedom that this offers.

When we remember that we are God, that God is within and around us, that our heart is God, our breath is God, we start the healing journey of developing and growing our capacity to love our self. And when we start to love our self, then we have the foundation upon which we can build the rest of our lives, with strength, courage, and peace.


Lord,
May you bless me with the light of divine grace,
To lead me in the darkness I may feel today.
May your grace fill my spirit,
So that I may remember that I am one with you,
My being, my soul, alight with your love,
Radiant and full, yet soft and endless.
May each breath be a conversation with you,
My God, my heart,
My universe, sun and moon,
All colour, all form, all thought,
A blessèd experience of the senses you have given me.
May you be with me throughout my day,
As I work with the suffering of human life,
As I work with the gifts and sorrows that you have given to me,
As I work with my reality before me,
As I work with the people who are close with me,
And people who I meet today.
May you be with me as I experience difficulties, triggers, and sorrows,
So that I am always blessed with the radiant loving warmth of your divinity,
My soul, my spirit, the light of consciousness that moves through me.
As I experience strife, be it internal or external,
May I be with you in love,
So that I am always with the peace of my soul,
Always in the loving warmth of the light in my heart,
You and I,
Even when I feel that you are far,
May I always feel the light of grace in my heart,
And may this light and my awareness of this light
Protect me from forgetting my divinity,
Protect me from giving my power to others,
Protect me from believing in false narratives,
Protect me from everything that may desire to extinguish
The faith I have in your light, my light, my love, my self.
May you bless me this day,
So that I may continue to learn and grow, and to do what it is
That I was put on this beautiful planet to do.
May I be blessed so that I can be an instrument of your peace,
An instrument of your love, your creativity, your spirit and grace,
In fulfilling the purpose of my birth and my place in this world.
I thank you for all of the blessings you have bestowed upon me,
Today and at birth and always.
Om, Shanti, Peace, Amen.


Photo by Lÿv Jaan on Unsplash.

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Fasciae and Trauma: Osteopathic Teachings

Sunset over mountains

My osteopath, Catherine, is one of my mental health service providers and educators, and so is my therapist (nothing needed in front of the word). My yoga mentors are also on this team. So are friends, and family. The weather, the bank. Anger, my knees, my monolithic but short-lived back injury. My responses. Everything is my teacher.

But specifically today I’m thinking about the lessons of my osteopath. The subtle ways personal traumas and anxieties show themselves in the frame, in the fascia, the nervous system, in your doshas, in your Vedic natal star charts (bringing to mind samayavidya and samsara), add up over time and eventually injure the body if we do not intervene on our behalf.

There is only us, and the world, which is us. We live in an overwhelming world, flooded with experiences, suffering inevitable. We can learn to be free, by accepting the teachings of everything in the world. We can be humble warriors.

These are holding patterns — the way the muscles and soft tissues and organs and nervous system and digestion listen to the mind. I believe that a softening of the ego through breath, philosophy, bodywork, service, and āsana encourages the more authentic self to come forward and exist without shame, guilt, or fear. We can befriend our mind, show it compassion for the years of experiences and stories it has received and internalized, and ask it to take a look at its world a little differently. (A great way to do this is to go on the journey to Sirsasana.)

The osteopath, Catherine, said that “normally, there is an acute area where the fasciae don’t want to release, but the rest of the body is typically fairly open.” In my case, the entire body was closed, anywhere she went was barred access. It was perpetually stiff, guarded, bracing for impact. How interesting (and validating, considering the years of abuse and acute stress that I endured, traumas the body would hold – literal tension – in the frame and everything that supports it).

My osteopath, like one of my teachers, educates me about our holding patterns, my holding patterns, subtle head tilts and poor postures, and all the stories behind those skeletal stances (immigrating as a child with a single mother, being bullied, horribly abused by intimate partners, anger and resentment, a stifled voice, attachments and fears), the connection between the mind and the body, and how to train both to inhabit their natural states of freedom and openness.

There is only us, and the world, which is us. We live in an overwhelming world, flooded with experiences, suffering inevitable. We can learn to be free, by accepting the teachings of everything in the world. We can be humble warriors.

Through gentle manipulation and curious attention, she encouraged my body to inhabit a neutral state, slowly. Soft repetitive minute massage along the spine, the ribs, the hips, knees, feet, everywhere. I can’t even describe it. All of the fasciae run through the body like knotted yarn — she explores each thread to see where the knot can be freed of its self, an entity that directs interpretations and attitudes, a consciousness, stories and beliefs learned throughout our lives. I felt the most serene peace, a glimpse of what is possible if the body can let go of what the mind holds onto.

And in turn, it may help the mind to experience the freedom of letting go, to return to its natural state. There, we can luxuriate in that sublime state of freedom as the mind momentarily forgets about all of those deeply entrenched beliefs we have about ourselves. It is a constant work in progress, always evolving, always growing, as impermanent as all existence.

For more information:

  • https://www.nationalacademyofosteopathy.com/documents/research_papers/Gina%20Beelens%20Research%20Paper.pdf
  • https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3091471/
  • https://www.choicehealthcentre.com/blog/understanding-posture-and-myofascial-holding-patterns
  • https://www.osteopathybc.ca/news/osteopathy-structure-your-body%E2%80%99s-pain
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Anjaneyasana: The Light of Recovery – First & Second Chakras

Susie in Anjaneyasana

Anjaneyasana, or Low Lunge pose, is a powerful pose. In a classical Sun Salutation and in my classes, this is the primary pose that we balance on each side as we start to ease into our practice. But have we really focused on what this pose can do for us? Let’s consider that Chakras might symbolize certain manifestations of our psychological makeup in our physical body. In this deep lunging pose, it is both our root and sacral chakras that are immediately being called to awaken, which will naturally uproot a lot of stuff. This is the path of recovery.

Forgotten Power

We might have learned over time, particularly in our very early childhood, that the world isn’t stable, that there are things to be incredibly fearful of, and that we have little to no power in our lives. We believe we are not good enough, and so put our sense of self-worth in the hands of others to decide for us what we should do, what is right and wrong, and whether we are worthless or not.

We may find ourselves unable to stand up for ourselves and end up giving our power to others who may even abuse us, hoodwinked by this belief that we are not worth respect or love. Our pelvic region becomes numb, unfeeling, silent. The messages it stores, whether actually given to you or born as projections, are ideas of guilt and shame, depression, anger, repression, and avoidance. Of hiding and feeling unworthy of sharing your ideas and creativity in case it is called out accordingly. (Note: Please don’t listen to those people!)

Let the Light In

Encountering Anjaneyasana, we pull back from this invitation to open and release this. It astonishes us: No, this is too much. And perhaps it is, for now, so by all means pull back. Don’t go where you’re not wanting to. Perhaps one day you will want to, and you can approach the tender entry into this stretch and sink your pelvis a little lower, and maybe even draw your tailbone so low that you can open your heart as well.

Anjaneyasana is a big pose even just physically, as we rarely stretch this deeply. So wherever you are, notice what you feel. Perhaps it feels like it is just too much but you’re willing to stay, so stay there for five or six long slow breaths, and notice that perhaps each exhalation allows you to release the grip a little bit, one slow moment at a time.

In my personal practice I have come to almost worship Anjaneyasana for its power to release all of these narratives and beliefs that continue to haunt me. I welcome the breath to soften my hesitation and apprehension, to open my heart up to the ecstatic belief that I am everything, all light and all matter. Let us stay here and invoke breath and space in a joyful devotional dance of self-love to let the light in.

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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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