Pinocchio. George Washington and the cherry tree. The boy who cried wolf. Many stories exist to tell of the perils of lying and the beautiful purity of truth. These tales tend to present Truth as a fairly simple duality—right over wrong, good conquering evil—but as we age, the complexities and conditional aspects of this realm make themselves...Read More
The following post was written by Katherine Moore. Katherine has been teaching for The Perri Institute for Mind and Body since 2013. You can find her running all over New York City, working as a teacher, choreographer, freelance dancer, and writer. Relax with her at Steps on Broadway on Friday nights at 6:30pm for restorative yoga.
I have recently found myself in a period of waiting. Waiting for potential big changes. Waiting for more information that I need in order to make decisions. Waiting for trains. Waiting for February temperatures to give way to spring. Waiting in the doctor's office for literally 3 hours this morning. Waiting for other people to do their part. Wherever I go this sense of both expectation and the feeling that Nothing-Is-Happening (!!!!) is following me around.
Some of this is seasonal. I'll freely admit that winter and I concluded the good part of our relationship a week or two ago. I always get a touch of cabin fever in late February. A sense of restlessness and burgeoning anticipation of the change in season seems to ooze into my body and mind no matter how hard I try to practice patience, patience, patience.
This year, however, a few, distinct parts of my life are causing me to feel a heightened sense of expectation for what might come in the future…but not yet. I won’t bore you with the details, but I am hoping to soon be in the midst of some big transitions…maybe…it if it all turns out the way I hope.
Being the proactive, doer-type that I am, it probably comes as no surprise that I’m someone who prefers resolution to indecision. I rarely fear making the wrong choice, but I often fear that I might be put into situations where I have no choice. My instinctual sense of direction, both geographically and metaphorically, is a deep part of myself that I rely on constantly. Naturally, things get a bit interesting when I realize that my intentions can’t be carried out without the assistance of people, organizations, money, and possibly even the cosmic alignment of stars and planets.
So that leads me back to the waiting, and my curiosity about how to weather this season of unknowing with not only grace and a sense of calm, but with pleasure. Is it possible to turn my preference for a sense of arrival into joy not for what lies ahead, but for all the things that are possible in that moment before you find out what is actually going to happen? Isn’t that the best part of any story? The moment before the resolution is always more exciting (albeit panic-inducing) than the final culmination, so how do we turn a moment of nothingness into a moment of something (wait for it)…ness?
After a recent conversation with a close friend, where I freely admit that I was mildly panicking about my current situation, she sent this quote my way.
I beg you, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.
-Rainer Maria Rilke
I’ve been sitting with these words all day, particularly that bit about “living everything.” As much as we might want to skip ahead to the next step, to just be there already, that place in the future actually doesn’t hold any more importance than the place we’re in right now.
Skipping ahead doesn’t actually exist in life. Every moment, all the waiting and the wringing of hands and the frustration and the wanting holds equal weight on the scale with the moments of “I’m here,” “We did it,” “Congratulations!”.
So while I’m waiting for my big answers, I’m also looking around me and seeing the futile efforts to get ahead. This morning someone in front of me pushed the revolving door at the exit of the subway station so vigorously fast that I actually got momentarily stuck inside as my bag was impaled by the rotating metal bars. I shake my head when pedestrians nearly cause accidents by racing across the street in front of moving vehicles, disregarding the brightly lit hand saying “Wait. Stop. Pause before you continue.” I laugh when people on either side of me are running down icy steps because, yeah, sure, they are definitely going to get work before me even though we all have to wait in the same line to slide our metro card through the slot. Right.
I may not have a natural sense of patience when it comes to finding answers for my big questions, but I know when the universe is trying to teach me something. So this is me, waiting before I cross the street, living the questions now.
TO BE HOPEFUL in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness.
What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places – there are so many – where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction.
And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.
American historian, author, playwright, social activist
Powerful thoughts – especially for this time. Now I recognize that I share this not as a youth from Gaza or a Muslim in Burma or a mother of Mexico. I am a privileged, white American. If I had a Twitter, I could fill my feed with #FirstWorldProblems. And yet I sense that this passage’s message, while immensely valuable to the whole of the world, must especially move those of us who are comfortable (read: can sleep knowing we will be safe in our shelter of a home and have abundant food and water the following day). In my mind, those of us blessed with much bear the responsibility to, at the very least, live lives full of compassion, tolerance, patience, and kindness. Because it really is a grass-roots operation, this motive to bring lasting peace to our world. What we begin ourselves, in the most mundane of moments, can build gradually, spreading through our communities to our neighbors, and on and on. So we can hope, and so we can try.
I realize that much of our world’s suffering probably wouldn’t list peace as their first priority at this point. There are more dire, essential needs at hand. But if we could cultivate qualities that promote care and love for those we know well, as well as the strangers we pass on the street, could other social, economic, and political issues be dealt with in a more efficient, altruistic manner?
The situations that prompt a push for peace often exist as a result of years of historical strife, which unfortunately could not be solved by one measly blog post. However, what we do on small scales can effect change, and that change can be contagious. Think of random acts of kindness or the expression, ‘Pay it forward’. If we give worth to such small acts, we can recognize the capacity for change that loving-kindness meditation can proffer.
I recently read that the Buddha first taught loving-kindness, or metta, as an antidote for fear. How fascinating, no? We may imagine those who are fighting in the Gaza Strip, for example, as angry, and perhaps they are, but could we not attribute some, or even much tension over land or between ethnic groups to fear? Fear of other? I don’t mean to simplify the incredibly complex sagas around our world, but it’s something to consider, even in regards to the milieu of our personal lives.
With loving-kindness meditation, we work to quell negativity and self-doubt, in an effort to develop a stronger acceptance of ourselves. From there, the meditation extends our attention beyond ourselves to others. Different teachers offer differing methods as to who you consider, but often, they encourage us to develop loving-kindness towards people we love and admire, then someone more neutral in the sense that you interact with them on a less personal level (i.e. the man or woman who served you coffee this morning), and finally, someone you are challenged by. Sending loving-kindness to each of these can break down any barriers that have arisen in our hearts and minds and open us to the possibility of compassion’s workings on our relationships. If just five minutes of morning meditation can alter a day, how powerful could the practice of loving-kindness meditation be for our wounded world?
I began giving more thought to loving-kindness meditation after a friend recommended Sharon Salzberg’s Real Happiness 28-Day Challenge. Since the exercises for this ‘challenge’ live in a book and corresponding CDs, I downloaded the audio files onto my iPod and continue to listen to them when I sense I need some guidance in my meditation practice. It can be especially nice to have on the subway! What I appreciate about Sharon’s work is that she makes meditation accessible. Before each meditation exercise, she educates you on the purpose and method of each meditation practice within the series (Breathing Meditation, Walking Meditation, Loving-Kindness Meditation). When she speaks of loving-kindness meditation, she talks about taking an interest in other. We don’t need to pretend that we have no problems, that everything is good; instead, we look to this practice as a means of attaining a more realistic, full picture of the people and matters around us. Loving-kindness meditation does not promote the manufacturing of feelings. It gathers our attention behind mantras – repeated phrases that wish ourselves and others well, in this case. Sharon offers the phrases below:
May I be safe. May I be happy. May I be healthy. May I live with ease.
Sitting comfortably, not trying to force anything or make something happen, we present this mantra to ourselves, for ourselves. Then, after a time, we extend these same phrases to others. Again, the people we offer up these phrases for can differ, but here are those Sharon proposes:
-Someone who helped or inspired you. Imagine a countenance, or say a name to yourself; get a feeling of that person’s presence. Wish for them what you have wished for yourself.
-Someone who is hurting or having a difficult time right now.
-Someone you encounter now and then. You might not know much or anything about them.
-A difficult person, whose words and actions are hard to bear. If you struggle to offer up these well wishes to this person, she recommends you center your attention once more on yourself, so that you can soften the barriers obstructing you. Clearly you need some compassion in regards to this relationship!
-All beings everywhere, the boundlessness of life.
As with any meditation, we may find ourselves following or attacking emotions or thoughts that arise. Simply let go, and begin again. This chance to continually begin again is a beautiful piece of meditation that can be drawn into our everyday lives, promoting patience, faith, and hope.
Loving-kindness meditation doesn’t necessarily have the capacity to be the singular savior of our suffering world, but at this point in history, couldn’t our world use a little or a lot of it to get us started? Let us consider how we foster or mar the peaceful potential of our own lives each day, so that the compassion and spirit of generosity built inside our homes can swell and spread throughout the world. It’s at least worth a try.
- Liz Beres
As I tried to gather my thoughts about what I wanted to write about in this post, I came across this segment from a 2012 NY Times article, “The Flight from Conversation”, by Sherry Turkle, that encapsulated what I was thinking:
“FACE-TO-FACE conversation unfolds slowly. It teaches patience. When we communicate on our digital devices, we learn different habits. As we ramp up the volume and velocity of online connections, we start to expect faster answers. To get these, we ask one another simpler questions; we dumb down our communications, even on the most important matters. It is as though we have all put ourselves on cable news. Shakespeare might have said, “We are consum’d with that which we were nourish’d by.”
And we use conversation with others to learn to converse with ourselves. So our flight from conversation can mean diminished chances to learn skills of self-reflection. These days, social media continually asks us what’s “on our mind,” but we have little motivation to say something truly self-reflective. Self-reflection in conversation requires trust.”
Turkle is a psychologist, professor at MIT, and also the author of “Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other.” What I love about her comments is the specific connection she draws between social interaction and self-awareness.
During the past few months I’ve been thinking a lot about our voices and how we use them. From oral to written communication, from personal to professional experiences, I’m becoming more aware of what I see as the two main hazards of living in the communication age:
1. The oversaturation of instantly gratifying ways to spread less than meaningful information about ourselves
2. The tendency to avoid communicating directly and honestly in face-to-face situations. Anyone who hasn’t been hiding in a cave the past 15 years has certainly fallen into both paths of communication.
In an article for the Atlantic about his students’ lack of conversational competence, teacher and writer Pete Barnell says, “But in our zealous rush to meet 21st-century demands—emailing assignments, customizing projects for tablets and laptops, and allowing students to BYOD (Bring Your Own Device)—we aren’t asking students to think and communicate in real time.”
It’s the “real time” idea that reminds me of the yoga practice, and in particular, the role that satya, or truthfulness, plays in our conversations and interactions with others.
What is fascinating to me about satya, the second of the yamas of the 8 Limbs of Yoga, is that it is a much more vague and fluid idea than just saying, “Don’t lie.” Black and white notions of honesty rarely give credit to the complexity of human emotions and situational factors at hand. Practicing satya is more than meaning what you say and saying what you mean; it’s the task of reading complex, interpersonal situations in real time and being able to say (or not say) the words that support the integrity of those moments. Cumulatively over a lifetime, someone who practices satya would be able to string together a series of moments indicating that he or she had, hopefully, lived an honest and true life instead of a dishonest and false one.
Returning to Turkle’s idea of patience, satya is something that requires practice. In finding our true and honest voice, I think we have to be a little discerning about what we say, to whom, and why. Do 1,000 of your closest Facebook friends need to know what you ate for breakfast or that you hate the annoying man next you on the subway because he felt it was necessary to eat what appeared to be Thanksgiving dinner out of a takeout container? Conversely, is there a real relationship in your life that is suffering because you can’t find the words to say what is necessary? When you’re interacting with someone are you really engaging with them, or are you hiding behind headphones/phantom text messages on your phone/mental distractions, etc? It’s amazing how actually looking people in the eyes can change your communication patterns.
For our teachers out there, I think we can practice this same skill by really looking at our students and giving them the verbal cues they actually need to hear. Perhaps this means letting go of an awesome energetic cue you really wanted to try that they actually aren’t ready for. Maybe this means pushing yourself to talk about new ideas or some aspect of the yoga practice that has been confusing or uncomfortable to you. Maybe it means editing and watching instead of talking so much.
I think that both tendencies of our age, saying too much or saying too little, both stem from fear: fear of being alone, fear of missing out, fear of being vulnerable, fear of disappointing the people in our lives, fear of being disliked. In finding courage to work through our fears, it is important to recognize that our sense of self, our ability to self-reflect and be advocates for our own needs, is crucial to living a truthful life that doesn’t cause harm to others. Honesty isn’t about airing out all our dirty laundry for the whole world to hear. It’s about being true to ourselves in a way that cultivates kindness and as much non-harm as possible towards others.
And this is where the yoga practice comes in. When we give ourselves the time and space to go inward in the way that yoga demands, we might then be able to reach outward to others with a more compassionate, honest, and discerning voice. Because we understand the patience required to understand our own thoughts, perhaps we can become more intuitive and adept conversationalists when listening and responding to others. This process is reciprocal and multi-layered: self-reflection helps us relate to others; relating to others helps us understand ourselves.
As teachers and students of yoga, I think we represent a unique population of people who pays equal amount of attention to the voice in our heads and the voice we express to others. My encouragement would be to let satya guide both.
- Katherine Moore