Dedicate your practice to…

One of the things that confounds me in this yoga journey are the empty platitudes that some instructors expound that contradict what is to me the essence of yoga; connecting with our true selves and connecting with others in creating a supportive community or sangha. So every time that I hear a teacher invite me to dedicate my practice to someone, a big question mark starts forming in my brain.

What is dedicating my practice to someone going to do for anyone in this world, beyond possibly giving myself a false sense of activism? It feels exactly like I’m clicking the “like” button of Facebook, which is simply an acknowledgement of notice or attention. Maybe it’s the practical side of me but if I really wanted to help someone, I would roll up my sleeves and physically do something. Hold their hand while they tell me about their troubles, knit a warm hat, work on a food drive, cook a meal for someone, watch their kids, walk their dog, shovel their walks, take in their mail, – well – you get the idea. There are hundreds of things we can do every day that support the community we live in beyond a thought that goes nowhere. Personally, I think smiling at a stranger and saying “good morning” which acknowledges and witnesses their existence is more yoga than dedicating my practice to someone.

On the other hand, I do recognize that there intangibles that are constantly impacting our world. Scientists continue to study the affects that positive and negative energy has on livings things like plants. There have been many testimonies about the power of prayer healing someone half way across the continent. How far can positive energy travel? Do these teachers who invite me to dedicate my practice to someone have information that I am not privy to? Or am I just not deep enough to have faith in some abstract ideal?

The invitation always brings up memories of me as a child arguing with some authoritative figure about a rule or concept that I was not comfortable with and certainly didn’t believe in. Both then and now, when confronted with the baffling, I can feel my resolve (along with my toes) dig into the floor while I wait patiently for the evidence of proof. For a brief moment of discomfort, I acknowledge that my energy might possibly be contradicting the energy of the room and yet it feels disingenuous to pretend to believe something I am not ready to accept or embrace.

Implanting positive energy into the world is an ongoing effort. It’s the breath you take when confronted with aggressive people at the market. They’ve probably had a challenging day. It’s the student who acts up, who probably needs some attention to fill a void in their lives. It’s the whiners and complainers who probably feel powerless in lives, whether they recognize that void or not. It’s the divorcing couples that have simply taken two separate life paths…paths that are like two matching magnetic poles…diametrically opposed. One of the best ways to develop a more peaceful environment is to train yourself to NOT react to another person’s negative force. When that blast of chaotic and hateful energy slams into you, acknowledge it. Also acknowledge that you probably don’t know what the root cause of that energy, acknowledge the struggle that the other person is going through and acknowledge that you might be able to help or that your help might not be wanted. What you can do is not add to their problems by adding your negative energy onto their heads. Simply be their witness or be their support.

So what do I think about when someone asks me to dedicate my practice to someone? I silently pray for patience to deal with the idiots of the world.

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Steps of time

Sitting in a darkened theatre, watching an older dancer walk through their spacing for a performance and writing these words.  It’s ironic that the stage is the place where many of us create our stories, our fantasies and our illusions and yet – you cannot hide on a stage.  Sometimes it shows more than you intended.  It shows us as we truly are.

Steps of time

The steps of the aged are light and tentative.

Does the body not trust the earth it walks upon?

Or does it not trust the legs to hold up the heart?

Do the feet know that there are many hurdles and obstacles that can trip them?

Is it years of memory?

Or does the heart know that slowly the muscles are taking their leave from this body and that support is no longer there.

The steps of the aged are timid and filled with fear.

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Fired

While nobody likes to get fired, because it can feel like a personal failure – sometimes it holds definite advantages.

When I was younger, it was simply a matter of economics. If you were fired, you could apply for and receive workman’s compensation. If you quit – no workman’s comp. Being a bad employee was never my forte, so purposely messing up anything that had to do with the public wasn’t going to happen. I mainly stuck to ignoring mandatory (and what I considered superfluous) activities: staff meetings, company classes, etc. Unfortunately, I was never fired for ignoring mandatory company events – but it was not for lack of trying. The upside was that my jobs actually got better once those mandatory activities were out of the picture, so I didn’t need to quit.

These days, I think that when you want to quit a job, it’s better to let your boss fire you – it gives them closure. Think about it. When you quit, your boss gets angry. They say some nasty things; you say some nasty things back. It’s just not a pleasant situation. But if they have to fire you – the entire thing plays out differently. First, you get to eliminate most of the annoying elements in your job without worrying about whether it will annoy your boss or not. Second, it’s their decision. Third, firing someone is not an easy task. Trust me – been there, done that.

Imagine this….your boss has finally worked themselves up to the point where they can fire you and what do you do? You tell them that you completely understand their position. They feel instant relief because you are making a difficult situation easier. They are happy and you are happy because you achieved your main objective – getting out of that job. It’s a win, win situation all around.

Simply getting up the courage to confront an offending employee is enough to give anyone an ulcer and even if your boss can’t bring himself to fire you, you’re still ahead. Having discarded all the things you hated so much about your work…maybe keeping the job won’t be so bad.

 

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Mandatory

I have always hated the word mandatory. When someone declares an action mandatory, they are essentially declaring that they don’t trust the people around them to be willingly to participate. “Mandatory” is a negative word. “Mandatory” is disrespectful to the participants. I don’t think I’ve ever met a single person in my community who was thrilled to be treated as a child with their freedom of choice disregarded.

I do understand the need for people to work together to make something happen, however, I think that if someone wants me to participate in an action with them, it would be better if they took the time needed to explain their position and how they discerned that our acting together could benefit both of us. The benefit does need to be mutual – not necessarily equal – simply mutual. Also, that the benefit should not include “you get to keep your job”.

Explaining one’s position to a non-participating audience is not a discussion of ideas.  That’s one person basically talking to themselves – not wanting any interaction and not wanting any dissention. That’s a person who needs to use the word “mandatory” to get their way. That’s also a person who has come to believe that their views are superior to the views of others. There are many right paths to a solution and no one path suits all people. The world talks about inclusion and it’s important to remember that inclusion must extend itself in all directions – the directions we agree with and the direction we don’t agree with. The person demanding the participation needs to understand that there will always be a percentage of the group who will not agree with their position. This doesn’t make them the opposition or enemies; they are simply expressing a different set of priorities. If an action needs a certain percentage of participants to be successful, perhaps taking the time to develop that participation would lead to a happier outcome. Demanding 100% participation is not an inclusive policy that recognizes an individual’s right to choose.

When people bemoan the existence of mindless corporations ruling our society, the first thing I think of is that these corporations all share some common elements – and one of those is mandatory participation. Imagine what the world could be like if all organizations took the time to nurture intelligent participation – that leads to shared values and goals. It would be pretty awesome. Everyone wants to be valued. Everyone wants to know that their opinion matters. We just need to take the time and the mental attitude to make that happen.

For the record, I do go to mandatory events – but only to those that I share the ideals and values of the participants. I go because I believe in what we are doing, I go because I have the time and I go because I am curious. I do not go to mandatory events that I feel are frivolous or quite frankly – a waste of my time. I can’t begin to count how many mandatory staff meetings or mandatory company classes I’ve missed over the years. I was never fired for missing these events – although to tell the truth – for a few jobs – that was my intention….but that’s another story.

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Thank Yourself

When the yoga teacher invites the class I’m in to thank themselves for coming to class or to thank themselves for taking the time to take care of themselves, it takes supreme effort not to allow my groan to become audible.

The people that I admire in the world: Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa, Gandhi, etc. are not individuals known for taking care of themselves but rather for taking care of those around them. Now I’m sure that all of them took needed time to get nourishment and rest when they could – but taking care of themselves wasn’t their prime directive. So why in the yogic community are we pushing hedonistic behaviour?

Continuing along this line of thinking and using another yoga teacher favourite phrase: Thank yourself for showing up. That seems to be the problem – many people simply show up and delude themselves into thinking that they are engaged. Being present for a yoga class is one thing. Being engaged in the class, putting in the physical and mental effort needed is an entirely different matter.

It reminds me of a time a fellow dancer and I both enrolled in a series of fitness classes to augment our dance careers. I personally hated the classes – every class was a journey into my own personal hell. My friend loved them. One day I stood behind my friend for the class and was shocked to see that while I was standing in a pool of sweat – she didn’t have a single drop of sweat on her! My muscles were visibly quivering and she was happily bouncing along with the music. At first I thought it was me but in the end – I got stronger and she didn’t.

Isn’t one of the problems in our capitalist society the fact that everyone wants an instant return for their investment? Stores open and close, companies change direction, bankruptcies, refinancing. Then there’s the other obvious problem – who wants to take the longer route that benefits the earth when that route doesn’t have an instant return or a return that has a monetary value? Quality of life is not a quantitative value.

It seems to me that we can better serve the people that come into our classes by teaching with honest values, which in turn could help to bring about some needed changes to our society. Teach your students patience. Teach them hard work without reward. Teach them faith in themselves – that their efforts will have some affect on their lives – though maybe not what they planned. Teach them awareness to their fellow beings. Teach them gratitude that they are able to take a yoga class.

Teach to the person that you yourself want to become.

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