by Jenni Antonicic
January is here, and with it high hopes and noble aspirations! We all have habits that we recognize as causing us and others suffering, as well as habits we know interfere with our deepest desires. A desire to learn, grow and change for the better is at the heart of our Yogic program, but the details, ah the details present impediments pretty quick. By anticipating those moments when our energy will fail, and distractions or setbacks threaten to set us off track, we can be ready with skillful means to sustain the project of taking our next step. One of the first sets of skills we need to cultivate as we try to make any positive shift in our life is self-awareness, coupled with kindness and compassion. Paying attention to our habitual thoughts and feelings and how they manifest in our bodies and through our behaviors is a prerequisite to consciously changing those habits to net positive results in our lives. Kindness and compassion enable us to meet negative energy ruts with positive energy choices.
Great harm comes from our un-examined conditioning. I do believe that people rarely move through the world trying to do harm, nonetheless we all do a great deal of it. We don’t realize the extent to which our actions are overly protective or needlessly self-serving. We don’t realize the extent to which fear and the more “empowered-feeling” emotion of anger generate our actions. Mostly we don’t realize the quotidian nature of passing our suffering on to others. Our egos minimize the offense we give and maximize the offense we take. Most often we are completely oblivious. I have been humbled several times recently by the realization that I hurt or irritated someone and had no idea at all at the time. Avoid the tendency to think someone else is “overly sensitive” – that is our own egos using righteousness to protect us from shame, which only leads to a further spiral downward. Examine it all closely. Humility and a sense of humor are very useful with this work.
What happens when we try to be more persistently self-aware? For most people trying any skill, at the beginning it is tiresome and may even feel impossible. Exhaustion indicates too much effort, giving up far too little. “Effortless effort” is the excellence-in-action of yoga. (Spiritual teacher Adyashanti talks about effortless effort in this link). Frustration is normal. Keep acting with principled intention and expect that there will be mistakes or oversights. Our practice is to return again and again to the task. This is a mature attitude towards meditation, study, or a difficult project of any sort – anything we apply our energy towards in terms of long-game results. There will be setbacks or the pace may not be what we hoped for. At this point we dig in a little, have faith, and reapply energy in a calm, grounded way. We must update our strategies as our understanding deepens and get better at apologizing if we’ve not been kind. Chagrin is par for the course.
Self-forgiveness is the key to dealing with the ways we disappoint ourselves, and that is one of the greatest internal difficulties we face. Tara Brach has written and spoken extensively on this. Regardless of the magnitude of the mistake, if it wasn’t hard to forgive, it wouldn’t really be necessary. The “easy to forgive” infractions haven’t really caused offense. They are the “difficult” or “impossible to forgive” offenses that poison us. We need to forgive things that seem unforgiveable. Grasp the radical nature of the spiritual path! Only in the heart are such paradoxes resolved. It’s likely we’ll need to keep revisiting the same experiences and reactions repeatedly with new resources each time to digest something thoroughly. All things have their own time-line. Any impatience with ourselves while we work through the process is actually more subtle violence to ourselves, as Jeff Foster has recorded. Resiliency comes with practice, faith in our highest intentions, and compassion for all beings, most especially ourselves.