Can we really see clearly?

MH-706

Living in San Francisco, also means living in an incredible city with the big red and impressive Golden Gate bridge in our backyard. When you don’t live in this city (or country) you often don’t realize that the city and the bridge are often covered in fog, which leads to a beautiful metaphor for this blog.

When the sun shines in the city, the Golden Gate Bridge shines bright and is a beautiful site in the city, it looks magical, connected the city to the impressive Marin Headlands. However, a lot of days, the bridge is covered in fog and is nowhere to be found in the skyline of the city.

When you live in the city you know where to look for the bridge, even if the thick layer of fog makes it impossible to see. You know that you can cross it and get over safely. But if you have never seen it, it almost seems like the bridge isn’t there. And even when you come close, you can’t see the full bridge, but only parts of it – the parts close to you.

The bridge can be a metaphor for the Self, because often the Self is covered in a layer of fog. We know it is there, we most often know where to look for it, but it can be really unclear. And even when we come close to the Self, we cannot always see the complete road leading from one side to the other.

Yoga is a practice where we turn inside and we try to find a deeper connection with the Self, with our own shiny and strong Golden Gate bridge – which I will continue to refer to as your inner diamond.

The more we focus on our diamond, the more we want to clean it and the deeper the connection we make. However, the more we focus on it, the more we realize that life and living is messy, so the cleaning is an endless job. There will always be dust, there will always be a veil of dirt, and there will always be splatters.

We can see the diamond as our internal world and the splatters as the external world. It is the relationship between the internal and the external that makes it hard to keep our diamond clean. The cleaning process focuses on what goes in and what goes out. The stuff that sticks is what clouds the mind.

We often get trapped in cleaning our external environment, because it creates that feeling of space in the mind, clarity. And exactly this is the moment when we have to turn inside and start doing the dirty work. The clearer we get about ourselves, the more dirt and disgust comes up about ourselves.

And however much work we do, there is no promise you are going to be perfect. You need to recognize where behaviours come from, you need to work on the gunk that is covering your diamond. You cannot beat yourself up over what is being presented to you, this is a process without judgment, this is a process of acceptance, this is a process of finding your one true love: the Self.

So can we really see clearly? Who knows, but the clearer we see, the more space we will experience. The clearer we see, the calmer and more focused the mind will be. The clearer we see, the more content we can be with where we are and who we are, because we are able to make decision based on deeper layers of our self and in connection to the Self.

So polish that diamond, put in the work, un-dust yourself, and step in the light. Let your diamond shine as bright as it can be!

The power of having a choice

MH-410

My life lately has really been upside down. So many things have changed, so many things happened. And it shook me up. Big time.

When life takes turns you did not expect, we can become overwhelmed not being able to see clear. And especially when we are overwhelmed with the circumstances we often ‘forget’ that we have choices. Because it seems like this circumstance has taken over our life and there is only one way to deal with it: your default way.

One of the most powerful things in the past few months to me was the reminder that we do have choices. Often we cannot change the circumstances. If we are in traffic to our work everyday, we cannot change the traffic. If the train runs late, we cannot make it arrive earlier. If your friend cancels for dinner, you cannot make him un-cancel. But we do have a choice in how we deal with things.

You can choose how much it will affect your life.

You can choose to give up or you can choose to keep on going.

You can choose to focus on being the victim or you can try to see what you can learn from this circumstance you are in.

You can choose to deal with it alone or you can choose to get help from friends/family/therapist

There are so many choices you can make, but still we allow ourselves to be overwhelmed. We allow ourselves to dwell in what is in front of us. We choose to not have a choice. We choose to not deal with the circumstances but complain instead. We choose to not accept. We choose to take medications. ALL choices we make, without us even realizing we do so.

I am most definitely to blame in this too. I noticed I did it quite often. But once I rediscovered the power of choice, that’s when I was able to turn my life back around. I was able to flip the switch, feel powerful, strong, knowing that I was in charge. And even though I did not have control over what was happening in the external side of my life, I did have control over the internal side of my life.

So this blog is just a simple reminder to all of you out there. YOU are in charge of your INTERNAL world. You have CHOICES. You can choose to be STRONG, you can choose to be POSITIVE. You can choose to LOVE. You can choose to LEARN.

Goalsetting and yoga

ljo_1129

We live in a goal oriented world, one where we are constantly working towards something. We are constantly comparing ourselves to others, their goals and their achievements. Sometimes that makes us feel good and other times it makes us feel absolutely shit. It’s our ego that gets inflated or our ego that gets hurt.

So what do we say in yoga about setting goals and achieving them? The most important lesson comes from the Bhagavad Gita.

“You have a right to the work alone, not to its fruits” – Bhagavad Gita 2.47

The sentence goes on by saying “You should never engage in action for the sake of reward, nor should you long for inaction. Perform work in this world, Arjuna, as a man established within himself—without selfish attachments, and alike in success and defeat. For yoga is perfect evenness of mind”.

Since the future is unknown, we don’t know what the outcome will be, we can only guess for it. When we set goals and we are merely focused on achieving that goal, without allowing it to be whatever it will be, we set ourselves up for disappointment, failure and suffering.

So what does this really mean? Let me explain this with a story:

I’ve planted an apple tree in my garden, because I would love to have apples that I have grown myself. I prefer my apples to be red and yellow, juicy and a little sweet. I did my research to find the perfect kind of tree and so with the upmost care I’ve planted it. In the next couple of months I’ve taken care of the tree, by watering it, by changing the soil, by protecting it from the wind, the hail storms, the drought, the termites, etc. I’ve put my heart and soul into it and I did my work.

One spring morning I wake up and there are apples on my tree. I am beyond excited, jump out of my bed, run outside and admire dozens of red yellow apples.

I pick a couple of them and take them inside. Before I a take a bite, I remember how I wanted them to taste, but I also realize that it might be very different. And so to not get disappointed or overly proud I tell myself the following:

  • The taste of the apple can be what I wanted, it can be different but equally good, it can be better or it can be worse.
  • Whatever it will be, I’ve put in the work every day
  • I’ve tried to protect it from external factors caused by nature, but I am not sure what the effects have been.
  • The soil I used was the best I could find, but the weather conditions in my region weren’t the perfect ones for this apple tree.

All we can do is put in the work in the moment. We can set a goal for ourselves and take the steps necessary towards that goal, but we should let go of the outcome. Which is easier said then done, right?

How is it possible to do something you care about without feeling attached to the result?

When you do the work for the sake of the work itself, instead of doing it for that one desired outcome, you are less likely to become disappointed if things didn’t go the way you had planned or hoped. You will suffer less from stress and anxiety about the outcome and are able to accept the outcome, whatever it will be.

When you get too caught up in the successes or failures, you trigger the negative side of your ego. You can become so goal oriented that you forget to maintain the integrity of the task. Or, you can become scared, paralyzed, freaked-out which leads to you making bad decisions or no decisions at all.

Detaching yourself from the fruits of your work, is detaching yourself from your ego. You are detaching yourself from your ego’s need to claim your successes or to the feeling of defeat or fear of failure.
Obviously this isn’t an easy task, we all get caught up in it and it is not something we learn overnight. We need to work for it; we need to create the awareness. And that work is done over a lifetime, week by week, day by day, hour by hour.

In the end we have to come to an understanding that you have to do what you love and love what you do. It is liberating, because there is space to be genuine. And if you can detach from the desired results, people will notice this and admire you for whatever the outcome of your work will be. Because every successful person has faced failure, but they have learned that failure is not something to be scared of, it is a way for us to learn, a way for us to move forward, it is simply another outcome of the work we have done.

 

 

How yoga can help in difficult times

Screen Shot 2014-07-22 at 11.01.31 AM

As I am a Dutch person, born and raised, the news of last week’s plane crash, of the MH-17, hit me hard. 298 beautiful souls were killed in a plane crash of which 193 Dutch citizens.  Not that it should make any difference, every person on that plane had its own story and leaves behind family and loved ones, but all of a sudden a tragedy like this came a whole lot closer.

The day after the crash I went to my regular yoga class, I dedicated my class to these people, and it was then when it hit me. And instead of calming down, I noticed I started feeling more and more upset about this insane injustice. When I came home I felt the need to share some thoughts, which I did via Facebook:

” I am literally lost for words and sick to my stomach reading about the crashed plane. Shooting down a passenger flight with 300 people, for what exactly? To claim your land, to get what you want, to show who is the boss? It brings me to tears to know that this is the world we live in today. We kill innocent people to enlarge our ego’s, we kill innocent people over grudges we hold, we kill innocent people because we believe we own things. And the saddest part of it all is, that nobody owns anything. We all live on a piece of this earth, with our families, friends, neighbors, animals & plants. This land belongs to the earth and everybody that lives on it. Because in the end, when you die – like these 300 beautiful souls – we don’t leave behind what we own, that is not important anymore, we leave behind loved ones & memories. And they would turn in whatever you ‘own’ to get you back. So let’s take a lesson from this: let’s be extra good to each other, spend extra time with the people you love, be kind to your neighbors, connect with the nature around you and really see who else lives on that space you call ‘mine’. Share it with them and everybody else who comes along. I know I will <3″

I decided to see what yoga has to say about these occasions, these disasters, and this kind of suffering. And what I found was compelling and interesting to me. In yoga there is a word to describe this: Dukha, which means suffering.

In one of the oldest scriptures of yoga; the Yoga Sutra’s, there are some interesting insights.

Sutra 2.15: Parinaama Taapa Sanskaara dukhaihi guna vrittivirodhaascha dukhameva sarvam vivekinah

This sutra basically describes that every event causes some sort of pain. Suffering is in our lives, always, because we are on a constant search for happiness. The pain is caused by the amount of joyfulness we experience, because we will start craving for more. Because however joyful something is, there is a moment that it will end. And the greater the joy it created, the greater the pain when it ends.  The memories of this pleasure bring pain. The fear over losing it causes pain. Love creates pain, especially with separation.

So losing a loved one, is extremely painful, it causes a lot of Duhka, suffering. Losing a lost one over such a useless act makes it even worse.  The grief and the grudges we feel can create deep wounds. Wounds that will shut you down, wounds that will make you forget that you are alive – you can’t eat, you can’t sleep, you have actual physical pain in your body and muscles.

Nothing can take this pain, disbelief and injustice away. However, there are some things we can practice to help us try to come to a state of mind where we can learn to accept, where we can learn to find a place for what is happening.

In this case, from the perspective of yoga, we can do the following:

  1. Calming our mind through breathing
  2. Practice compassion

Breathing

Breathing exercises practiced in yoga can help to calm our minds, create more clarity and create space. Through breathing we can stop our mind from lying to ourselves and give in to this suffering. We can stop repressing it and express it through our bodies.  We can start on the path to not undo what has been done, fight against the loss, but transform ourselves. Find strength and new different perspectives that can help us come out of our misery. Of course this can not all be done through breathing, but I believe it is a starting point.

Compassion

When we have found our way to calm our mind and work on coming out of our misery, there is a way to practice compassion. Even though in this situation it feels like an impossible act to practice compassion against the ‘bad guys’, we can practice compassion with our close surroundings and ourselves. The yoga sutra’s say the following about this:

Sutra 1.33: Maitri karuna mudito pekshanam sukha duhkha punya apunya vishayanam bhavanatah chitta prasadanam

In our lives we see people that are happier then we are, but we also see people who are less happy, people who suffer even more. Whatever our attitude is towards these people and their actions, if we can be pleased with others being happy and compassionate to others who are unhappy, joyful towards the things that are praiseworthy and remain undisturbed by the mistakes others make, our mind can stay calm. This way we can develop traits in ourselves such as love (maitri), helpfulness (karuna), friendliness (mudita) and eveness of emotions or temper / calmness (upekṣa).

I believe that when everyone practices more compassion, the world will become a better place. We will share love with our loved ones, neighbors, strangers in the street, nature and animals. By simply smiling to each other we create a different atmosphere and we can make a small change in this world.  Practice to not judge, but taking time to listen and by staying close to our own emotions and feelings. By being compassionate we stop fighting violence with violence, but instead we choose for compassion and love. Does this mean that people can get away with horrible things they do (to others)? No! Justice will find its way to these people, one way or another. But by calming our mind, creating clarity in our thoughts and by practicing compassion and love, we do not let these 300 un-necessary deaths go to waste. We honor these 300 beautiful souls, by changing our direct environment, and with that the whole world.

And so, this blog will end as I closed off my Facebook post:

So let’s take a lesson from this: let’s be extra good to each other, spend extra time with the people you love, be kind to your neighbors, connect with the nature around you and really see who else lives on that space you call ‘mine’. Share it with them and everybody else who comes along. I know I will ❤

 

NOTE: I found it extremely difficult to write about this subject, since I am very deeply touched by the downing of MH-17. If I have offended anyone with my writing I sincerely apologize. I merely tried to share my opinion and my thoughts for what it all means and how to deal with such a tragedy.