Following Your Bliss

This conversation started as I was riding into work one day.  My wife and I were sharing a conversation about a show called Dharma and Greg, a sitcom concerning a lawyer and a bohemian hippie girl’s marriage to each other and their struggles reconciling his upper-class values with her hippie values. 

At one point, Greg has struck out, hung his own shingle, and is starting to feel the stress of being on his own.  He said something profound, but it only makes sense if you reverse the order of his two sentences:

You know, when somebody says follow your bliss it sounds like it’s gonna be a lot of fun. And that’s what’s scary ’cause it’s a lot harder to create your own path than to follow one that’s been laid out for you.

It’s true.  Following your bliss is always simpler said than done.  It’s easier to walk a trail someone else blazed than it is to blaze your own.  Its hard, scary, and you don’t get to blame anyone else for the pitfalls you encounter.  Nothing is easy about following your bliss, except the knowledge that it becomes easier for others to follow you, or to be brave enough to make their own path.

I have had some setbacks.  My two classes are on hiatus because of lack of attendance for a while – and it sucks.  I wondered if I just suck as a teacher, or if there is something about what I am teaching that is not fun, or if it is just boring as hell.

Then as I was feeling miserable for myself, my wife’s belly dance class got supplanted by a hatha class that is just now getting started and took her slot at the district she works at.  Now the both of us are looking at our bliss and wondering why we are not ‘there’ doing it.

Cary Tennis of Salon.com writes a column called Since You Asked where someone who followed her bliss has found herself at the end of her rope and wondering if she wasted her life.  It’s the burning question that those who follow their bliss have – did I waste my time since others who followed a well-trodden path have so much more than I?

Did I waste my time?  As I reflected on it, no I didn’t.  I didn’t have many students, but I was able to be with them and discuss the things that bothered them, to talk to them and offer comfort.  In a world where love and comfort are precious commodities – I was given a fortune and spent it well.  As for my wife, she found someone who has a love for belly dancing that wanted to learn – students like that are rare and far between.

So – there is merit to following your bliss.  Yay!!!!

The path to following your bliss is simple, yet hard.  Like a bad habit.  Its easy to say “don’t do that” but its harder to put it into effect.  Joseph Campbell laid out a way to do that:

  1. Find your bliss.  This means you have to go and discover yourself and find what makes you happy.  Its the one thing that makes your eyes light up, your heart go pitty-pat, and makes you feel like all is right in the universe.
  2. Make your recipe for bliss.  Do you need a space for it?  Students?  Time?  Your list may shorten or expand as you explore how to take your dream from inside your head to the outside world.  Document and spend time figuring out how to make it work.
  3. Reflect on those ingredients and see how they manifest in your life.  See where the elements of your bliss are in your life and how they are expressed.  Take that and reconcile it with your recipe.
  4. Understand why your bliss makes you happy.  For me, on top of yoga, I play capoeira – a Brazilian martial art.  The bliss of capoeira balances the bliss of yoga.  Others are jazzed to just knock on the sky.  I have to have the dual aspects of combat and stillness to feel complete. 
  5. Write it down.  Describe it in your own words and give it shape.  God spoke the Universe into existence – by speaking your own bliss into shape, you create it and give it form and substance.
  6. Test drive your plan and refine it until its working perfectly.  Your bliss is alive and evolving as you are alive and evolving – so it should flex and adapt as you flex and adapt.
  7. Start living your bliss.  As you live it, you will find yourself describing your life as you refine your bliss.  Careers will turn up that take you farther along with your bliss, or you may find that your bliss was in what you were doing in the first place. 

However, as my wife realize that what we are doing at the time doesn’t lend itself to following our bliss, we are restructuring our time to find and follow it again. Our own refining of our plans should finish by the end of the school year in a few months.  We will be focusing our endeavors at CircleSpace for the summer, since our time constraints are looser over then.

So keep following your bliss and keep up with us.  In between now and summer, I have a series of small workshops coming that will introduce kundalini yoga again to another population and get that rolling, as well as a few couples workshops.

My bliss is still in teaching. 

And, to wrap things up, Greg found his bliss was in what he was doing all along. 

Sat Nam everyone!

Anger and Peace – Part Three of Three

I’m a firm believer that there is no really negative emotion – even the little venal desires can be channeled to positive outcomes.  Anger, however, is an emotion that can be destructive and can get out of hand so quickly.  It’s no wonder that we liken anger to fire – hot and blazing.  Even the Buddha did so:

Holding onto anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else.  You are the only one who gets burned.

The point of this is to address anger as part of a yoga practice.  We as yogis and yoginis practice an art that is designed to give us control of ourselves.  Very little, though, is addressed to the volative explosive power of anger.  Its like a rogue wave in the ocean – destructive and dangerous.  No matter how it is expressed – aggressive, passive, or passive-agressive, anger is something that needs addressing, yet rarely is in yogic circles.

For my previous posts on aggressive anger and passive anger, please click on the links.

Passive-aggressive anger is like mixing bleach and ammonia – both are some pretty nasty chemicals to begin with, but the mix of the two is lethal.  Not only are you internalizing your anger, but you are lashing out in unfair ways against the person you are angry with.

Of all the ways there are to be angry, this one can cause the most harm because not only do you hurt, you are hurting those you love.  By manifesting your pain as ‘getting even’ with nasty little attacks here and there, you not only destabilize your own emotional well-being, but you are actively destabilizing those around you.

To be honest, its a human thing to have schadenfreude.  To take delight in someone’s misfortune.  Generally it relates to competition – you win, they lose, so they suck and you rock!  However, outside of the drive to win, this emotion only serves to poison yourself and your own environment – you can have the vicious satisfaction of lashing out at the people around you and enjoying their suffering, but in the end it drives people away and leaves you alone with your pain.

The permutations of passive-aggressive anger are endless, but in general traits include:

Physical:

  • Denial or rationalization about your behavior
  • Sarcasm
  • Fleeing the situation 
  • Rubbing your head
  • Becoming silent or withholding
  • Isolating yourself in response
  • Compulsive eating, spending, cleaning or sex
  • Revenge fantasies

 Emotional:

  • Irritated
  • Resentful
  • Fearful
  • Dominated
  • Powerless
  • Sad or depressed
  • Guilty

Passive-aggressive anger poisons the self and others.  These behaviors quickly internalize – actions can invoke feelings just as much as feelings invoke actions.  These behaviors can consume the person and destroy the relationships around them.  In punishing the other through this kind of anger, we not only hurt them, we hurt ourselves, too. 

When we move from these states, we not only inflict harm on ourselves, but others, too.  This kind of anger burns us internally and externally burns the other person by manipulation.  In the end, we end up hurt and alone.

To Conclude:

The variants of anger are as many as the clouds in the sky – to be able to identify each iteration would be endless and pendantic.  Instead, anger should serve as the need to notice that you feel you have been wronged and the situation needs to be addressed.  It is not a call to arms, or a reason to be nasty to the person who wronged you.

Voice your emotion without attack.  State the grievance and speak constructively on how to solve it.  Indulging your anger  as “I have a right to be angry” serves nothing but destructive ends.  Everyone has the right to be angry, but no one has the right to hurt another person.

One last passage from the Buddha on anger:

An angry person is ugly and sleeps poorly. Gaining a profit, he turns it into a loss, having done damage with word and deed. A person overwhelmed with anger destroys his wealth. Maddened with anger, he destroys his status. Relatives, friends, and colleagues avoid him. Anger brings loss. Anger inflames the mind. He doesn’t realize that his danger is born from within. An angry person doesn’t know his own benefit. An angry person doesn’t see the Dharma. A man conquered by anger is in a mass of darkness. He takes pleasure in bad deeds as if they were good, but later, when his anger is gone, he suffers as if burned with fire. He is spoiled, blotted out, like fire enveloped in smoke. When anger spreads, when a man becomes angry, he has no shame, no fear of evil, is not respectful in speech. For a person overcome with anger, nothing gives light.

Be filled with light.

Sat Nam.

Anger and Peace – Part Two of Three

I’m a firm believer that there is no really negative emotion – even the little venal desires can be channeled to positive outcomes.  Anger, however, is an emotion that can be destructive and can get out of hand so quickly.  It’s no wonder that we liken anger to fire – hot and blazing.  Even the Buddha did so:

Holding onto anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else.  You are the only one who gets burned.

The point of this is to address anger as part of a yoga practice.  We as yogis and yoginis practice an art that is designed to give us control of ourselves.  Very little, though, is addressed to the volative explosive power of anger.  Its like a rogue wave in the ocean – destructive and dangerous.  No matter how it is expressed – aggressive, passive, or passive-agressive, anger is something that needs addressing, yet rarely is in yogic circles.

This segment deals with passive anger – this insidious anger that is deflected inwards instead of outwards as in aggressive anger.  Inwardly directed anger is dangerous for the angry person, since anger turned inward is both fueled by you and consumes you.  As your anger is suppressed, it eats away at your emotional landscape, leaving you vulnerable to a host of dangerous behaviors that can become compulsive as you try to soothe the damage your anger did to you.

Passive anger has many symptoms:

Physical:

  • Clenching your jaws or grinding your teeth
  • Headache
  • Stomachache
  • Some form of self-harm; biting nails and picking on the cuticles, hitting something with bare fist, banging your head, etc.
  • Increased and rapid heart rate
  • Dizziness
  • Beginning to cry for no reason
  • Compulsive eating, spending, cleaning or sex

 Emotional:

  • Self-loathing
  • Feeling stupid
  • Believing you are bad
  • Sad or depressed
  • Guiltyfeelings

The danger in passive anger is that you have two problems – the root causes of your anger, and the need to soothe the pain that the anger wreaks inside of you.  Imagine if you will that the burning coal you are holding in your hand is swallowed – that is what passive anger is doing, scorching you on the inside.

This can lead to all sorts of problems – soothing the pain with drugs, both illegal and prescription, health issues like ulcers and high blood pressure, and dangerous behavior like eating your pain, or (pardon the vulgarity) screwing the pain away.  None of these actually fixes it – the satiation of being full can overwhelm the burn of the anger, or the wash of orgasm can overrider the burning pain.  In the end, after the meal and sex, the pain is still there.  Self-harm only makes the inner pain manifest outwardly on your skin.

This anger is yours, and the pain.   For passive anger, its ok to bare your teeth and say “I am angry.”  To voice the anger is to take that deflected anger and instead of turning outward, brings it to examination.  What made you mad?  Why are you turning it inward?  What kind of behaviors are stemming from needing to soothe that anger?  By bringing your anger forward and voicing it, you also acknowledge the fact that anger is a valid emotion, not one to hide and repress.

Digging through to these roots are part of the skills you have in your yogic practices – did you think all this stretching, breathing, and focus was to stare at your navel and figure out the atomic structure of your navel lint? 

LOL

By bringing it out into the light of day, you can see just how dangerous and insidious this anger can be.  This kind of anger can feed into many self-destructive behaviors simply because if they didn’t feel good, we wouldn’t do them.   Smokers didn’t smoke to feel bad and hack up lungs, they start because the nicotine makes them feel good.  It soothed whatever was going on inside.  After a while, though, it quits feeling good and it’s done to keep from feeling bad.

People take drugs because it made them feel good at first, but they end up so dependent on them that to stop hurts, so they continue it because it hurts less than stopping.

It hurts to own your anger, though, because you have to say that it is there and you have to admit that you are angry.  But, I promise you, it hurts less than not owning it and letting it eat you from the inside.  If you own it and witness its actions, you can start to figure out what the roots of that anger is, and instead of letting it burn you from the inside out, you can move with love and care to stop that rooted anger from hurting you, instead of letting it eat you alive.

Expressing anger in a healthy way is not venting, or negative, or weak.  Expressing anger in a rational, calm way is owning it – the first step to finding out where it stems from, and how to remove that particular stimulus from your emotional makeup.  This is much better, emotionally and physically, then letting it burn you up inside and then trying to blunt the emotional and physical pain.

Anger and Peace – Part One of Three

I’m a firm believer that there is no really negative emotion – even the little venal desires can be channeled to positive outcomes.  Anger, however, is an emotion that can be destructive and can get out of hand so quickly.  It’s no wonder that we liken anger to fire – hot and blazing.  Even the Buddha did so:

Holding onto anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else.  You are the only one who gets burned.

The point of this is to address anger as part of a yoga practice.  We as yogis and yoginis practice an art that is designed to give us control of ourselves.  Very little, though, is addressed to the volative explosive power of anger.  Its like a rogue wave in the ocean – destructive and dangerous.  No matter how it is expressed – aggressive, passive, or passive-agressive, anger is something that needs addressing, yet rarely is in yogic circles.

This segment focuses on aggressive anger.  This type of anger is one that I share, so I am focusing on it because like all yogis, my yoga practice is one that continues and this is something with which I struggle.  Thus, as part of my practice and as a yogi, I share this with you.

This kind of anger is like those fires you see burning on the medians when its dry and parched – they are hot, quick-burning and go out quickly.  They are also destructive in that they can quickly burn up a hundred yards of median before the fire department can get there in time to put it out.

We have all heard techniques to ‘calm down.” Breathe and count to ten. Remove yourself from the situation.  Find a healthy expression of anger.  Do something that distracts you from the anger stimulus until you are under control.  While these are good at solving the immediate need to control the angry emotion until you are able to deal with it – these are not final solutions.  Failing to resolve the anger will only feed that particular beast until you have the emotional equivalent of a Chernobyl-level meltdown.

Agressive anger causes some of the following manifestations:

Physical:

  • hot in the neck/face
  • increased and rapid heart rate
  • pacing
  • sweating, especially your palms
  • shaking or trembling
  • acting in an abusive or abrasive manner
  • beginning to yell, scream or cry

 

Emotional:

  • resentful
  • rage
  • out of control
  • anxious
  • like striking out verbally or physically

The physical manifestation is indicative of the emotional power of this kind of anger.  You would not breathe calmly and count to ten when a fire starts, so why would you do it for your emotional flames?

You must put it out.  In the case of fire, you have to catch the fire before it spreads and put it out.  In the case of anger, you have to catch the anger before you ignite and light up emotionally.  And it’s hard to, because it feels good.  Let me repeat that: it feels good to be hot and fired-up angry. 

Powerful and filled with burning purpose, aggressive anger can make for change, revolution, and righteous glory.  Unchecked, it causes emotional devastation, burnt emotional landscapes, and in the cases it overflows into physical action – assault, domestic violence, and murder.

The roots of aggressive anger run deep – to childhood, internalized trauma, many different things.  The key to this is to experience and take responsibility for your anger – it is, after all, yours.  Blaming others for making you angry only shifts the blame – this is your emotion, your fire, your responsibility.  By ignoring it or suppressing it, you will only make it hotter and more dangerous the nest time it comes. 

See how the anger operates, and then work on resolving the emotions.  To follow our metaphor to its end – the only way to stop those hot median fires is to not put the burning cigarette butt into the dry grass – to quit smoking.

Meditation and yoga provide opportunities to examine your triggers, to find your smoldering cigarette butts of unresolved emotions and to put those out before they light fires.  Besides a workout and blissful experience, powerful tools exist in your yoga practice to find and identify these nuggets that get triggered and resolve them before they trigger such destructive firestorms of emotion.

This week’s yoga sets and meditations will address harnessing and moving past our emotional, reactive selves. If you internalize this fire, it will burn you, in the form of a poisoned emotional life, ulcers, and a host of cardiac and vascular issues.  Calm and peace come from eliminating the fire, not containing it and ignoring it.

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