Category Archives: lessons on judgment.

When it’s unconscious, it’s easy to overlook

fullsizerender fullsizerender

 

The other day, my daughter walked home from school with our neighbors.   When I went by to pick her up, she was busy playing with her friends so I sat down with my neighbor and we visited. This neighbor and I have had some nice conversations since she moved in last year. We talk a lot about our kids and the neighborhood school. We might share how the most recent trip went or who’s coming in from out of town for a visit.  This time, sitting at her kitchen counter, we had a different kind of conversation.  We talked about experiences of motherhood and marriage. We shared stories about other times in our lives. I confessed that I kind of like my husband’s work-travel and that it’s been good for me and for our marriage. My neighbor talked about how she felt when she lived abroad, what her life was like when her oldest was a baby, and how she’s learned so much about herself since then. There were things I could relate to and things that surprised me about what she said. The conversation was less like neighbors chatting and more like the start of a friendship.

Later that evening, I was fondly remembering our conversation and I started to wonder… why did I find any of what my neighbor shared surprising? I didn’t know much about her and she hadn’t talked about any of those things before. Why wasn’t all of it just new information instead of surprising new information?  As I thought more about this, I realized that somewhere along the way, I created a story about her and her life. My mind filled in all the missing information about her with some made-up, inaccurate details. When my neighbor told me about her actual, interesting life, I was surprised because it didn’t match with the boring story I had written in my head.  Through that experience, my unconscious assumptions were brought to light and I sighed with relief. This is goodAs I become aware of these stories, I can do something about them. Yoga and meditation practice continue to provide me with tools for self-reflection. I’ve seen many old hurts healed and my life gradually transform by means of this ancient wisdom and personal practice.  But at almost the exact same moment I felt the relief, I had another not-so-pleasant realization: Wow. There are thousands of unconscious and inaccurate stories running in my head and influencing my interactions with people around me all of the time. A woman reminds me of an elementary school kid who snubbed me on the playground and I make snap judgement about her. Someone’s posture, expression, clothes, or tone of voice trigger feelings and reactions based on past experiences and that colors my interaction with the person in front of me. I’ve dedicated time and refection to stories of prejudice, racism, and sexism that are out there and in me causing harm, but those aren’t the only ones that are operating. I now see that all sorts of inaccurate stories and unquestioned assumptions can get in the way of connection, not just the obvious or alarming prejudices. These stories, any stories other than the one about the present moment, are obstacles to clear perception and can keep me from getting to know someone. I still have plenty of work to do.

We may not be aware that we are coming into a conversation with impressions and assumptions about a person, but I guess that’s the thing about the unconscious — It’s at work and we don’t even know it. Personalized yoga practice gives us space and time for self-reflection, and can help us uncover the unconscious stories that play a part in our relationships. Yoga is a whole-person experience. Movement, breath and meditation work on us in subtle yet profound ways providing tools to support clear perception about ourself and others. This visit with my neighbor helped me to see that any stories, even the ones that seem harmless or neutral, can cloud my ability to get to know an awesome person…. one who happens to live  right next door.

If you’d like to know more about how yoga can help you to be more present with friends, family, co-workers, and yourself, and watch these relationships improve, use the contact form to send me a note.  I’d be happy to meet with you for a complementary 15-min call.  It’s a great place to start, and there’s no obligation.  I hope to hear from you!

Unconditional Positive Regard

carlrogers

 

Last week, I blogged about a really special kind of love and appreciation that isn’t tied to things that I do or say. It isn’t given on the condition that I’m in a good mood or recently showered or productive. It just is. I’ve been thinking a lot about this – how sweet unconditional love and acceptance is and how important it is for healing and change. I’ve also been wondering how to get there. How do I offer this love to myself and to others even when someone is being shitty and difficult? How do I do this for myself when I have a really strong samskara or habit of seeing myself through a different lens? How do I hold onto this kind of unconditional acceptance when a situation feels incredibly dark? All this has been swimming inside of me and then I came across something so relevant in the book I’m reading! The Humanistic American psychologist, Carl Rogers (1902-1987), believed that when we are accepted and appreciated for what we are rather than what we do or say, then we are more able to take risks, accept occasional failure, and be open with people. He calls this Unconditional positive regard. That’s it! That’s another, less sappy way, of talking about accepting ourself and others!!! Rogers says our sense of self-worth is related to receiving this kind of acceptance. Self-worth is key to facing challenges and achieving goals and it’s this special combo that allows us to become who we are meant to be. Unconditional positive regard is a key component of self-actualization. Yoga agrees.

Yoga says the ability to hold unconditional positive regard for others is a question of identity. If we identify ourselves and others as a beings that are, in essence, full of light, then all the other stuff that we do, think, feel, and say is something else. It is behavior, but not who we are. It’s thinking, but we aren’t our thoughts. It’s a feeling, and feelings change. When we have the perspective that each person is good, wise, and light-filled, even when their behavior sucks, we can connect to that.  From this place, the efforts we make to improve ourselves become a way of removing the obstacles to clear perception. It isn’t about how horrible we are as a person, but about letting go or changing the things that are keeping us from perceiving or knowing the light within. Cultivating a perspective that lets us get to know this light inside, puruṣa, can make it easier to hold this unconditional positive regard for our self and each other.

equanimity

Fall Obedient Plant in my front yard

Fall Obedient Plant in my front yard

 

I’ve been thinking about equanimity, mostly because I had a situation this week where I was not that. I was totally and unreasonably pissed off. I heard some upsetting news, started stomping around and then catastrophic thinking took over. I could see into the future… how generations of people would be affected by the incident and how the people involved were fraught with wrong thinking. They were wrong. They are wrong. Totally. Their. Fault.

It took several hours, but eventually I cooled off enough to consider my reaction. Everything I felt still seemed absolutely true –the whole part about them being totally wrong and generations of people affected, but I was very unhappy and uneasy. This motivated me to look a little closer. I thought of a similar situation that happened with a family friend in which I was able to dispassionately consider the feelings of the people on both sides of the matter. Yes, there was this unfortunate incident…and the very strong response by those involved. Yes, both people had a right to their feelings. It went on like this and I found that I felt compassion for them all. I wished them well, no matter how it turned out. and I didn’t worry about the generations to come.

This helped me to see that, perhaps, in my situation, it isn’t the incident itself that upsets me, but my relationship to the persons involved. This admission is difficult because in a relationship, all sides play a part and each person contributes something. This means I have to take responsibility for my part and that part happens to touch on deep insecurities and the some things about myself that I would rather avoid. The real (and very painful) work has to do with what’s inside of me.

How do I want it to all turn out? Eventually, I’d like to be able to come to this relationship with the kind of equanimity that allows me to see the difficult stuff clearly without all my triggers getting in the way and clogging up the glass. Clear understanding can help me to identify my role  (What can I actually do here?) so I can lovingly respond even when hit with news of crazy stuff. I think of yoga sūtra 4.7 that describes a yogi who is neither black nor white. *There’s transparency… because the yogin has no personal agenda. I won’t try to work any angle… either for my own good at the expense of another (black) nor trying to help or support so that I can feel better about myself and avoid my own suffering later (white). I’ll. Be. Clear. And ultimately, that clarity will make it easier to simply love.

 

Yoga sūtra 4.7 karma-aśukla-akṛṣṇaṁ yoginaḥ-trividham-itareṣām

The yogin’s action is neither white nor black; for the others, it is of three kinds

Patañjali emphasizes the transparency… because the yogin has no personal agenda.

 

*From Franz Moors, Liberating Isolation, The Yogasutra of Patañjali, Media Garuda 2012

***

Practice with me in Ojai, CA this summer!

AUGUST 31ST TO SEPT. 5TH, 2016 ** Peppertree Retreat Center

I’ve been invited to participate in this year’s Hands-On Retreat.   This is truly a unique 5-day experience, designed especially for women in beautiful Ojai, Ca. This retreat will focus on Practical Transformation: Healing Your Life from the Inside Out. You’ll work with 3 systems of transformation to heal and learn to age with grace, vitality and restore our body’s innate balance. We have an extraordinary group of teachers who each have decades of experience in their field and our committed to helping women flourish and grow in Body, Mind and Spirit.

Take advantage of Early bird registration until July 11th. It takes a deposit of $500 to hold the space. For as little as $1475, enjoy 5 days of gourmet ayurvedic food, beautiful accommodations, plus full days of working with these amazing disciplines!

Contact me with any questions or visit www. hands-onretreats.com for more information.

Skepticism really isn’t that fun

Patañjali’s Yoga Sūtra 1.25 tatra niratiśayaṁ sarvajña bījam

Here's a pic of my sister and my mom not buying whatever my cousin is selling on the other side of the table.

Here’s a pic of my sister and my mom not buying whatever my cousin is selling on the other side of the table.

For most of my life, I’ve been a bit of a skeptic. This peaked between the ages of 12 and 27. In my teenage years, I was afraid of looking dumb or seeming gullible so I wasn’t willing to accept most of what I was told. The stronger position seemed to be “Well, I don’t think so. That sounds crazy. That person might not be a reliable source,” or other vague arguments that allowed me to feel protected from the dubious world of misinformation. I didn’t want to be swept up into any trends or crazes and then have to be embarrassed when the social-jury deemed it ‘lame,’ and I didn’t want to feel duped when the new-fangled idea of the day was proven wrong. So, I just didn’t go along with much.

I remember getting into an argument about cutting boards with a friend who had spent two semesters in culinary school. We were at my grandmother’s house washing dishes after a really nice meal together and as we dried my grandma’s cracked and slightly moldy wooden cutting board, I said something like, “This cutting board is gross. My mom always uses plastic ones so she can put them in the dishwasher.” And my friend said something like, “Wooden ones are better. That’s what we use at school.” My defenses fired and instead of asking more or deferring to his experience I dug my heels in about the merits and clear superiority of plastic over wood. I argued about it for a long time. He said knives didn’t dull as quickly on wood. Wood had natural anti-germ properties. Yes, they require a little more care and attention, but it’s a natural material. I just kept insisting I was right and they were gross. The conversation ended and I left feeling like I won the argument but I also felt like a jerk. I didn’t even really believe plastic was better. I knew I was being annoying and not very nice but I couldn’t help myself. I was a dedicated skeptic.  (I’m still embarrassed as I think about this conversation, so thank you for letting me confess it here. Maybe now I can let this 20+ year issue lay to rest.)

I bring all of this up because I’ve come a long way. And I actually think that this piece of letting myself take in stuff without being afraid of getting duped or with so much skepticism is a big part of my personal growth and enjoyment of my life. Yesterday morning, I was sitting with my yoga sūtras notes imagining all the ways that YS 1.25 could feel true. Tatra there, referring to īśvara, the subject of the previous sutra niratiśaya – unlimited; without limits, sarvajña – all understanding bījam – seed. Instead of finding holes in the argument, I wondered what insight might come as I considered this very broad idea of Īśvara, a higher power. I looked for ways that I felt that power in my life. I wondered about the usefulness of allowing for the possibility that there is something bigger than myself and perhaps even a plan for me and my life. What does it feel like to consider something without limits? What’s the closest experience I’ve had to that? If there’s really an unlimited source of all understanding, do I have an experience of what the seed of that feels like?

These kinds of questions and this very personal exploration is an approach that feels so much better than arguing against stuff all of the time. It’s better, but it can also feel vulnerable to withhold judgment and stay open. There are times when asking questions and staying open is too hard and I go back to that old ‘strong and safe’ stance that goes along with judging, deciding, and dismissing, but life is definitely more interesting when I can stay open. It feels softer. I learn more. And, no doubt, it is much more pleasant to wash dishes with me.

Inside Pavilion1

Registration now open!

Ojai Women’s RETREAT

Real Life. Real Tools.

August 31st to Sept. 5th, 2016

This 5-day retreat is specially designed to teach you the art of unlearning and letting go of old patterns that have long since lost their usefulness while also providing precious leisure time which allows these new skills and understandings to become more rooted in your daily life.

We teach YogaAyurveda and the Alexander Technique in a practical and meaningful way so that when you return home you will have useful tools to keep this new, balanced relationship going—not only within yourself but with everyone around you.

Carol P. Prentice ~ Amanda Green ~ Sydney Laurel Harris

AGY readers receive a $200 discount on or before May 15th!  Enter the code *RENEW2016* in your registration form under questions and comments. (*cannot be combined with any other discounts)

Learn more at http://handson-retreats.com or contact me with any questions you may have.

A story for the new year.

 

Bundled sage for energy clearing

One evening this week, my friend Katherine was visiting and she found this bundle of dried sage on my kitchen counter. This dried sage is for energy clearing. You set the thing on fire then blow it out and the bundle smolders making all of this wonderful smoke. You can then poke the smoky bundle into open doors, drawers and cupboards and wave it around doorways and windows clearing out any stagnant energy. This kind of thing is right up my alley. And I’m here to tell you, it makes a huge difference in how my house feels.

Katherine already knew all of this because I had given her her own sage when she moved into her new house. She hasn’t yet used it so I told her about the most recent sage-ing ceremony I had, thinking it might inspire her.

One afternoon, Dave and I were home alone together and I decided it was time. We opened all the doors, windows and drawers and then lit the sage. I held the bundle as we went through the girls’ rooms, but then I got a little obsessed with wiping down the dirty door frames so Dave willingly took over and continued down the hall and into the back of the house, whisps of smoke trailing behind him. When I came out of my cleaning trance, I walked into the living room to find Dave dancing around lifting his knees and elbows like a kokopelli. He was wielding sage in one hand and playing a renaissance festival bamboo flute with his other. It was awesome and hilarious. He was really into this sage-ing business, I could tell.

kokopelli

Katherine and I laughed about the story then went on to have a really fun night together.

I got a call from Katherine the next day and she said she was really touched by the story of the sage ceremony. She had shared it with a couple of people during the day and she wanted to tell me why.  She said that it was an example of so many things going really right in my relationship. I didn’t have too many expectations that the sage-thing go a particular way and Dave was open to this kooky plan and he was willing to participate in it with me. In the end we had this really fun and sweet time together. A time that might not have been possible if we weren’t both willing to turn towards each other and stay open to the variety of experience that each of us brought.

I was so touched that she had given this so much thought and that she took the time to share this with me. I felt appreciated and seen and loved by Katherine, and there’s not much better than receiving that gift from a dear friend. Her story also gave me an opportunity to reflect on and to appreciate where Dave and I are in our relationship. Katherine has known us for years. She’s seen us through the early days, our traumatic break up and subsequent separation. She’s been a part of our lives as we cautiously dated, repaired what seemed too broken, and eventually got back together. Dave and I have always had funny, happy moments, but there was a time when they weren’t so easy and pure. An adversarial undercurrent was always there.  Now, I’m freed of that feeling and these happy, funny moments happen all of the time– Easy. Loving. Pure.

On the phone with Katherine, listening to her retell my story, I had an opportunity and the time to swim around in this realization of how things have changed in my relationship and to appreciate it. She acknowledged it with me in a way that showed me that she was seeing me and that by seeing me she was able to see something in herself. And it all feels so wonderfully human and connecting –to know someone really well and to still love them, a friend, a partner, your friend’s partner. It’s something really special to appreciate all that we are and all that we’ve been through, to witness each other changing and to believe in it. It’s so hopeful. My friend helped bring all of this to the surface in a way it usually isn’t there for me. And it tasted so sweet.

 

Here’s to more of this sweetness in each of our lives in the upcoming year. Welcome 2016.