There are many different ways to approach one’s journey towards healing and yet not all methods are a great fit for everyone. Many students who begin working with me towards their own path originally come to my classes to learn something interesting, hopefully fun and physical with little interest–at least in the beginning–of going any deeper. Very soon, however, they see my tendency to spend a lot more time connecting the work they do on their mats to the challenges and stress of daily life and it is then that they get a glimpse of where the real work of Yoga begins.
Having had numerous conversations with students, clients, fellow teachers, and friends about the healing journey, I have come to recognize similar themes, obstacles, and skills that keep coming up for most everyone in some small way. For those interested in diving into a journey like this I have listed some of the most common themes here and would love to discuss further in the future with anyone interested.
The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz is a great starting point.
I’ve written about this book a number of times and have talked about it with others even more times than I can count because I am convinced that much of the suffering we experience that isn’t initiated by some external force or trauma can be traced back to these fundamental truths that we can choose to adopt for ourselves but don’t.
The principles are incredibly simple. So simple in fact that it can feel like a glossing over of the many details and nuance of every painful thought and emotional downward spiral we find ourselves in but I believe that is ultimately the point. The details that we choose to focus on don’t really matter in the end if we choose to own instead that we can be impeccable with our word, we don’t have to take anything personally, we don’t have to make assumptions, and we can always do our best.
Be conscious of your constant desire to look outside of yourself.
When I listen to those who struggle with finding peace and happiness within themselves and within their lives there is often a constant need to find that joy in or through some other person’s ability to complete us, some better job or career, some event, circumstance, or miracle they believe they need to be happy. This includes the idea that we need to be someone or something we are not and therefore this experience of suffering is ultimately an inability to accept who we are and our reality as it is with no acknowledgment of what is actually within our control.
It has become a regular theme in my classes and workshops to be thoughtful about the way we frame a statement and conscious of the words we use. I teach my students not to repeat certain phrases and to restate the claims they make if there is a more honest, more impeccable way to say what they’re thinking even if they’re “just joking” or trying to be funny. I believe that developing this habit within myself over time created such an extremely significant shift in my own healing journey that I am more than happy to be that person for anyone else open to working with me.
So when I hear someone say “I can’t” or “If only I had/was” or “I’m too ______” or “I don’t have enough _____” or they crack a joke about their _______ in a self-deprecating way I will stop the class to address it and I will help them use different words to express themselves in order to help them see things a little differently.
We are able to control our words. We are able to control our thoughts just as we control the movements of our body. Owning our beliefs about ourselves with truth and clarity will help us see that there is no one else responsible for our joy and there is nothing else we need outside of ourselves to create our peace within.
Stop looking for life to be easy.
“But it’s hard.” I hear students, clients, and friends usually say this towards the end of a conversation after we’ve discussed everything there is to talk about regarding their pain and discomfort. It often feels like a full-stop statement that they seem to believe excuses them for the choices they make and they are no longer willing to go any deeper or do anything else.
What this tells me instead is that their perspective of themselves and of life is that it is not “supposed to” feel the way that it feels and they are still waiting for everything to feel good all the time. They still believe that there is something “wrong” with feeling intense uncomfortable emotion: anger, sadness, pain, anxiety and fear. They still believe that happiness is a complete lack of suffering and that peace only comes when everything feels “perfect,” smooth, easy, and comfortable in perpetuity.
The truth is, the power of a shift in perspective is immeasurable.
The moment we begin to let go of this false belief that life should only feel like rainbows and lollipops we start realizing instead that the difficult relationships, the uncomfortable exchanges, and the painful experiences we have can be extremely valuable in their lessons for us. These discomforts have the potential to be a catalyst for our growth if only we stop judging the pain as a bad thing and instead open ourselves up with curiosity to see what we can learn from them and how we ourselves can be a better human.
That growing anger or frustration you’re feeling in a specific environment may be telling you you’re not supposed to be there anymore and is working to motivate you to move on. That conversation that made you feel uncomfortable and belittled might be helping you to develop the courage to finally stand up and speak up for yourself. That person who sparks something within you that feels intense in one way or another may be how you begin to realize your worth and your value so that you can choose to be around those who respect and appreciate you instead. What motivates us to act is oftentimes the discomfort we feel in a given situation and rarely ever does it occur when things feel “easy.” Seriously……why would it?
Healing ourselves within is how we help to heal the world.
The privilege of the healing journey at this level must be addressed because many of us who want to heal also feel compelled to help the world around us. It is easy to feel small and insignificant and even overwhelmed by the state of millions of others who do not have their basic needs met on a regular basis. It is a privilege to not be discriminated against in any way. It is a privilege to feel safe in our environments, to have nutritious food and clean water to drink, to have shelter and weather appropriate clothing, to be able to function with our physical, mental, and emotional health, to earn a sufficient living wage and pay our bills, and to have consistent love and support of our teachers, family and friends.
For those of us who have such privileges, I encourage you to dive into your journey understanding that the more clear and balanced you are with yourself and your own tools to heal, the more capacity you will have to help influence, share, and lift up those around you as well. It is difficult to see truthfully the healing of those needed around us and how we may have any impact on that if we can’t see honestly what we struggle with ourselves. As we heal and develop the skills needed to stop judging our intense emotions just for surfacing, we can then redirect that energy to make a real impact within our own circles, within our communities, and beyond.
May you continue on your journey to heal with open eyes, a curious mind, and a compassionate heart. May you find peace within yourself to continue to heal your past trauma, to know that you are deserving of such self-care, and to finally let go of that which you no longer need to carry with you. May you do so, so we can all continue this practice of self-love and healing for ourselves, for those around us, and exponentially throughout the world.