yoga

Waking Up & Growing Up

You can also listen to this post at: https://medicinepathpodcast.com/podcast/s02e08-wakingupgrowingup

“There is a crack in everything,
that's how the light gets in.”

Leonard Cohen, Anthem

There are two aspects to personal transformation that are equally important: waking up and growing up.

Waking up starts with the recognition that we’re not living life to our fullest potential and that we’re suffering unnecessarily. For me, this was waking up to the fact that I was stuck in emotional and behavioural patterns that were causing conflict within myself and in my relationships. I could see that these patterns were causing me to react to things people said and did in a way that was creating a great deal of stress and anxiety for myself and others. I could also see how my attempt to manage that stress and anxiety through drinking and other behaviours was just adding to my problems. Being tired and hungover all the time made me more reactive and less able to handle the pressures and challenges of my job and personal life.

My coping strategies were no longer working for me and it was clear that I needed to find another way to live if I wanted to find happiness.

My coping strategies were no longer working for me and it was clear that I needed to find another way to live if I wanted to find happiness. Deep down I knew that it was time to take control of my life and free myself from the patterns that had been running the show for too long. I needed to turn off the autopilot and take the wheel, but I had no idea how to even find the off switch.

Like many people who have had a wake up call, I began to seek out ways to understand what was going on below the surface and find out what was causing all the turmoil in my life. This lead me to working with a counsellor who focused on dream analysis, committing to a regular yoga practice, and eventually working with ayahuasca for many years. Through these experiences I became aware of the deeper aspects of myself and began to make the connection between what I experienced in my body and what was going on in my mind.

As I started to unravel the tension and stress that I’d been holding in my body through a regular yoga practice, it brought up even deeper levels of anxiety and fear.

As I started to unravel the tension and stress that I’d been holding in my body through a regular yoga practice, it brought up even deeper levels of anxiety and fear that I experienced as panic attacks, which often came on while lying in shavasana. Because I didn’t have a relationship with a yoga teacher or somatic therapist to help me understand that this was all part of the healing process, it was a confusing and scary time.

I realized that I need some outside help and found a counsellor who had been trained in Jungian dream work. I’d always had a vivid dream life and somehow knew that I might find some pieces of the puzzle within my dreams. In my sessions with him, I discovered that my unconscious mind had been desperately trying to speak to me through my dreams and show me aspects of myself that I’d been hiding from for years. Through analyzing the images and symbols of my dream life, I began to see how the painful experiences of my childhood were the source of the fear, anger and resentment that had been causing so much distress and disharmony in my waking life.

Through analyzing the images and symbols of my dream life, I began to see how the painful experiences of my childhood were the source of the fear, anger and resentment that had been causing so much distress and disharmony in my waking life.

Encouraged by this work and wanting to go deeper, I returned to psychedelics, which I’d experimented with since I was a teenager, but never with the clear intention to learn about myself. In the first ayahuasca ceremony I attended, I had a profound experience of death and resurrection and a reawakening to my heart, which I realized I’d been disconnected from for many years. This experience gave me a taste of the freedom that was possible and put me back in touch with who I really was at my core, underneath all the stories and beliefs I held about myself. It was an incredibly freeing experience and after that, like magic, the urge to numb myself with alcohol simply evaporated.

This kind of awakening experience can certainly be, as it was for me, profoundly transformative and even create immediate shifts in how we think and behave, but it’s not the end of the road. As I came to see in the following days and months, “waking up” was just the beginning of a much longer process that I’ve come to think of as “growing up”.

As I came to see in the following days and months, “waking up” was just the beginning of a much longer process that I’ve come to think of as “growing up”.

My waking up experiences helped me break through the protective defenses I’d constructed early on to help me deal with the pain of the trauma I experienced as a kid. Breaking through allowed me to reconnect with my true self, but it didn’t make all the thought and behaviour patterns that I had developed in the wake of trauma simply go away. I came to see that early on in my life, I had made an agreement with myself that I would keep people at a distance to avoid further hurt and betrayal. Over the years I built a wall around myself, like a fortress protecting a wounded child king. Every defense mechanism, every avoidance tactic, every coping strategy was another brick in that wall. My awakening experiences may have briefly opened up an aperture and given me a glimpse of the freedom and potential for deep connection and peace that was possible, but it would take years to dismantle the wall, piece by piece, brick by brick. Every callous word that came out of my mouth, every emotional overreaction, every judgment and criticism, was showing me just how much work I still needed to do.

After we’ve had a taste of freedom, we need to do the work of unravelling the stories we tell about ourselves and the world and uncover the source of our reactive patterns and coping strategies if we want that freedom to last.

This is where ongoing psychological work comes in. After we’ve had a taste of freedom, we need to do the work of unravelling the stories we tell about ourselves and the world and uncover the source of our reactive patterns and coping strategies if we want that freedom to last. What I’ve found is that this is really a process of growing ourselves up, so that we’re not perpetually repeating the patterns that were programmed early on in our childhood. Whether we learned them from our parents or developed them to fit in with our family and schoolmates, these adaptations worked when we were kids, and in some cases were even necessary for survival, but at a certain point they keep us from developing real intimacy and experiencing lasting peace and fulfillment in our adult lives.

There are many ways to do the work of growing yourself up, and over the past number of years I’ve explored many of them, from The Work of Byron Katie, to Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, to Internal Family Systems, to body-centered psychotherapies like Hakomi and Somatic Experiencing, and most recently, an approach developed by Dr. Gabor Maté which elegantly synthesizes many of these modalities into something he calls Compassionate Inquiry.

So, if you’re wondering how to integrate your awakening experience and truly transform your life, I encourage you to explore all the myriad tools now available and seek out an experienced guide to help you navigate this process, preferably someone who has had an awakening experience and done the work of growing themselves up. If you want to improve your relationship with your spouse or find a life partner, seek out a guide who is in a long term relationship. If you want to learn how to be a better parent, find someone who has a good relationship with their kids. If you want to get along with co-workers better and find more fulfillment in your career, find someone who has been there and done that.

Whatever route you take, the bottom line is that while the profound awakenings experienced through yoga, meditation and psychedelics can offer us a taste of freedom and provide us with much-needed inspiration and hope, we need to get our hands dirty and do the work of dismantling the walls that limit us, piece by piece, brick by crumbling brick. It’s often uncomfortable and difficult work to face the fact that we’ve constructed our own prison, but it’s also liberating and empowering. After all, who’s better equipped to plot the escape from prison than the person who built it?

If you’re interested in going deeper into this work and think I would be a helpful friend and guide, I invite you to reach out and book a coaching session with me.

Painting by Joseph Mallord William Turner, 1830

You Are a Wonder of Nature

When we look at aspects of nature — a tree, a mountain, the ocean, a butterfly, a tiger — we’re struck by a sense of wonder and awe. But what about the wonder of our own embodiment?

When we engage in a practice that brings us into deeper intimacy with our own body — an incredibly complex organism that is formed and sustained by some mysterious, nurturing intelligence — we come to see that we are a Wonder of Nature, no less than the great ancient redwood that grew from a tiny seed, the oceans that ebb and flow in relation to the moon, the planet that (when left alone) sustains itself through maintaining a balance of all its living systems.

The essential goal of yoga is to realize for oneself that you are a Wonder of Nature, that you are that — the beauty and intelligence of nature, inseparable from the nature “out there”.

When this realization strikes, it causes a seismic shift in our relationship to our own embodiment. Intimacy with our body deepens and the disconnection between mind and body is healed. We are once again made whole and able to see ourselves as a part of the greater whole, and love and respect for our self grows. We start to correct the thoughts and behaviours that are out of alignment with that self-love and self-respect. This self-correction is a natural movement, arising not out of a will to be “better”, but out of the organisms desire to be in harmony with itself and with the world we live in.

When we remember the beauty, intelligence and wonder of our own embodiment, we begin to see others as a Wonder of Nature, and so our love and respect for others grows, and the disconnection between self and other is healed. Our thoughts, words and actions toward others begin to align to the sense of harmony that we now feel in our self.

If our effort to change ourselves isn’t coming from a place of self-love and self-respect, then it’s likely to be coming from an idea that’s been fed to us by some external authority of how we’re supposed to look, feel and act.

Advertisers, spiritual gurus, self-help entrepreneurs and YouTube preachers are full of these ideas and are ready to package them up and sell them to you (and if you order now, you can receive 25% off using the code GURU25!). They make it all more complex than it really is, because that’s the only way to sustain a business model that relies on people staying unfulfilled and searching for answers.

Real transformation is effortless. It’s a natural movement that begins with realization of the basic truth, “I am a Wonder of Nature and anything that arises out of Nature must be whole and perfect”. The answer to “how to become self-realized?” is too simple to sustain a business model, which is why it’s so hard to find in the spiritual marketplace. Allow me to risk all future earning as a yoga teacher and coach by offering a simple three-step approach to attaining enlightenment and total freedom.

The first step is to engage in a practice that cultivates intimacy with your own body and breath, without trying to get anywhere. This kind of practice isn’t complicated and can be learned in a few minutes, but it does take a bit of discipline and perseverance — after all, we’re trying to replace old, well-established habits with new, healthier patterns. If you’re anything like me, it won’t happen overnight. Rather, it will be a gradual process of letting go of self-limiting thoughts and beliefs and re-orienting to the truth that “I am enough. I am whole and perfect. This body and breath are a Wonder of Nature. I am that!”.

The second step is to spend time outside, and cultivate deeper intimacy with the nature “out there” by just being with it. Feel your feet on the ground. Breathe with the trees. Drink in the sun. Bathe in the moonlight. For most of us, it’s easier to have a loving relationship with the nature “out there” because we hold far less judgement and projection toward nature than we do ourselves or others. So, spending time in nature is healing, just like when Ram Dass talks about how the unconditional love of his guru helped to heal his own self-loathing and judgement of others. Let nature be your guru.

The third step is to make a practice of relating to other people as the unique and beautiful Wonder of Nature that they are. Like the thoughts, beliefs and judgements we carry around that limit and degrade ourselves, most of us are carrying around an equal amount, if not more, of similar stuff directed at other people. So, if we learn to be more loving and accepting of ourselves, we’re better able to relate to others with love and acceptance. Plus, if we’re coming from a place of self-love and respect, we’re far less needy and more self-reliant. When we’re empowered in this way, then we can drop all the demands and expectations we would otherwise burden other people with. Only when we’re free can the people around us be free.

So, this is what I mean when I say that yoga leads to embodied awakening and empowerment. Through a deeper relationship to, and understanding of, our own body, mind and breath, we awaken to our true nature and reclaim our personal power. We become an agent of healing in our family and community, not because we have the ability to fix or heal others, but because we have the power to listen to, accept and love another as we do ourselves.

Photo: Yoshiyuki Iwase (1904-2001)

A Response to “Post-Lineage Yoga”

A Response to “Post-Lineage Yoga”

In response to the ever-growing number of reports of sexual misconduct and abuse in the yoga world, a number of North American practitioners and teachers have started what they are calling a “post-lineage” movement. While I can understand wanting to have nothing to do with teachers who have abused their students, I believe it’s important to recognize that without lineage, we lose the connection to the source of the teachings. A connection to a real lineage (one that is older than a single generation) offers us a foundation on which we can develop an approach that is rooted in the wisdom of the ancient tradition but alive and responsive to our modern needs.

The Yoga of Intimacy

The Yoga of Intimacy

We’re suffering from a deficiency of intimacy in our culture. The internet and social media gives us a false sense of connection, but it’s superficial and doesn’t offer the nourishment of real, human intimacy. It’s like junk food for the soul. You’re hungry for real connection, and so you grab something that’s quick and easy, but it leaves you feeling dissatisfied at best, and often worse than before.