Raw, adjective: 7. brutally or grossly frank: a raw portrayal of human passions.


Hi strangers.

I know, I know, it's been awhile.

But it's spring, baby!  Peonies and tulips and lisianthus, oh my.  Forgive my absence.  I've been studio- and sunshine-bound.  Also, a little bit (ok, a lot) in love.  All of which translates to less time in front of the computer, and more time out in the Real World.

That said — it's good to be back.  And there's so much to be blogged.

Have you seen this stellar chestnut from Sally Kempton?

Sally writes the philosophy columns for Yoga Journal — has for many years — and she's long been one of my major inspirations.  My good friend Gary and I are preparing to lead a chill little workshop on yoga philosophy this weekend at OMpower, and he shared this piece with me the other day.

It's a readable and relatable discussion of the kriyas: also known as tapas, svadyaya, and ishvara pranidhana.  The article looks at what it means to sit with suffering, using very down-to-earth examples, and how we can apply various Eastern philosophies to cultivate the kind of witness-observer attitude that reminds us we're not our thoughts/feelings/experiences.

But enough from me.  Let's let Sally speak for herself....

Bouncing Back (first published in Yoga Journal, 2003)

When crises arise, some people flourish while others flounder. 
Here’s how your practice can help you build resilience.

Gina was one of the golden girls of my circle-charming, smart, and seriously cool. As our other friends rode their mid-twenties on a roller coaster between elation and despair, Gina maintained an almost daunting level of emotional perspective. She gave birth to a brain-damaged child, and cared for him for him without losing either her detachment or her sense of humor. She went through cancer surgery with her usual rueful grace.

Then her husband fell in love with another woman, and Gina fell apart. It was as if all the accumulated losses of twenty years had finally caught up with her. She cried for hours. She raged at her husband and at her life. And through it all, her friends kept saying, “But she was always so resilient! What happened?”

What happened, of course, was that Gina had hit her edge. She met the place in herself where her strength and flexibility gave out.

Like Gina, most of us will hit that edge sooner or later. It is always a crucial moment, because the choices we make when we meet our edge will determine our capacity for that most vital and mysterious of human qualities, resilience.

The very word ‘resilience’ has a bouncy, rubbery quality. Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defines resilience as “an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change”; psychiatrist Fredrick Flach describes it as “the physical and psychological skills required to successfully master change.”
Resilience lets an artist like Frank McCourt turn the pain of a difficult childhood into compassionate literature. Resilience carries a Nelson Mandela through his years of prison without letting him lose heart, and shows an injured yogini how to align her body so that her own prana can heal the pinch in her groin.

Resilience is basic. Without resilience, none of us would survive the accumulated losses, transitions, and heartbreaks that thread their way through even the most privileged human life.

But there exists a deep, secret and subtle kind of resilience that I like to call the skill of stepping beyond your edge. This kind of resilience has less to do with survival than with self-transformation. It’s the combination of insight, choice and attentiveness that lets some people tune into the hidden energy lurking within a crisis, and to use it as a catalyst for spiritual growth. Though psychologists can list the qualities that resilient people have in common-traits like insight, empathy, humor, creativity, flexibility, and the ability to calm and focus the mind-this deeper resilience transcends personality traits. When the chips are down and we hit the wall, this deeper level of resilience has to do with the way we understand reality.

Jungian psychologist and Buddhist meditator Polly Young-Eisenstadt puts the matter elegantly in a book called The Resilient Spirit. She points out that we become truly resilient when we commit ourselves to dealing with pain — which is inevitable and unavoidable in human life — without getting caught in suffering — the state in which our fear of pain and our desire to avoid it close us off to the possibilities inherent in every situation. This, of course, is that art that yoga is meant to teach us.

For most people, pain and suffering are so intertwined that we find it impossible to separate them. When things go wrong, we may feel like victims, or assume we’re receiving karmic punishment; that we ‘deserve’ it. We may express our feelings or stuff them, but few of us know how to process the pain of loss or failure without getting hooked by our suffering, trying to use it to crawl back into the lap of some handy mom, or steeling ourselves to tough it out.

A yogi, on the other hand, knows how to disentangle the knots that make her identify with her suffering self. (In the Bhagavad-Gita, yoga is actually defined as the ‘severance of union with suffering.’) In fact, yoga practice — inner practice — is meant to teach us how to untie these inner knots.

Often we don’t realize how much difference our practice has made until the day we find ourselves dealing with a crisis without going into absolute meltdown. The kids are screaming, or your office-mates have panicked, and yes, there’s a little bit of fear and irritation in your mind too, but there’s also a witnessing awareness, an inner compassionate presence that lets you be present with what’s happening without getting sucked into the fear or anger.

The great practitioners offer the same basic prescriptions for inner knot cutting: learn who you really are, do the practices that purify your murky mind, discover how to work with everything that happens to you. Then difficulties become your teachers, and pain and loss become occasions for profound and positive transformation. As my teacher, Swami Muktananda, once said, a yogi turns everything to his advantage. That, it seems to me, is what it means to be resilient....
Read the whole thing here.  So worth your time.  And then show up this Saturday (3pm) at OMpower for the rest of the lowdown on the kriyas, and more.

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