Listening to our needs

Since summer is really taking her time to arrive, I’ve been biding my time with some *light* reading, namely the book, Living Nonviolent Communication: Practical Tools to Connect and Communicate Skillfully in Every Situation, by Marshall Rosenberg. Not only is it helping to quell my meteorological impatience, but I’ve been finding its lessons – of listening and how to ask for one’s needs – to be sage and perennially relevant.

Much yogic wisdom espouses that the solution to our problems coming from within. Angry? Let go of your anger. Need to reduce stress? Take deeper breaths.

Certainly, we can do a lot for ourselves. And we do do it! I am grateful to witness and support one form of this do-for-ourselves-ness, in the classes we share both in-person and online.

And yet through this, we must tread with care.

The concept that an individual is the sole arbitrator of one’s needs can become twisted. For instance, when it places all responsibility (i.e. blame) on the sufferer and conveniently sidesteps any critique of the instigator’s responsibility. (E.g.: if only you didn’t get so upset when they slapped you. You must’ve done something to deserve being hit.)

It can justify a sort of pseudospiritual apathy, because apparently the magic (or…magick?!) of your glorious self transcends all economic, social, and climate factors, rendering these issues ultimately meaningless, and if only you took some deeper breaths, you would realize that belly breathing would dissolve all your problems.

Worse, it can justify a self-centredness that believes that everything in the world exists to serve you. It’s all about you, Dear One! Sigh, if only you could transform the pain into lessons, and then into a self-help book / brand / speaking tour, you’ll find freedom and bliss – !

We must remember another aspect of yogic wisdom: awareness.

When does our can-do attitude cross into ableist tyranny? Where does our drive for evolution / improvement come from: self-loathing, or generative faith in our ability to flourish? What is it, exactly, at the root of our actions and words?

In Rosenberg’s book, he states that our goal is to always be attuning for the question, “What are the needs here?” When you speak, you are stating your needs – consciously or not, skillfully or not. When I speak, it is the same. In life, our conversations and actions are a constant relay of “I want” with some “thank you’s” thrown in every so often.

Challenges arise when we don’t hear the needs of others. Maybe we are rigidly wed to our worldview, or taking things personally, or simply not paying attention. Whatever the case, the insularity of our lives means our needs go unmet and the suffering persists.

In some ways, the pandemic has made us more individualistic and isolated from eachother’s needs. When summer finally arrives and brings its energy of light, heat, and movement, my hope is that we can gather again and begin to really see and listen to one another.

So I’m really looking forward to summer! To the sunshine, the cleansing rain, the local produce. To nourishing conversations with friends, to watching the sunset with my partner, to feeling less anxious. To the possibility of a war ending, to us all learning our lessons and not forgetting them. To taking the time to ask myself what are my needs. To asking for help. To listening. What are your needs?

With deep gratitude for you,

Control issues and working with our blind spots

I’m writing this on a crisp April day and, while there is blue in the sky, there are warnings of a huge blizzard coming to disrupt our wavering steps towards spring.

Cue panic!
Cue despair!

If there was ever needed another reminder that we can’t control everything, then here it is (again). We really can only do so much!

It’s interesting to observe how much energy we spend on worrying about things we can’t control (like clouds, or say, the past). How much time do we lose wondering what others think of us? How much brain power do we expend trying to stop the inevitability of change itself?

We all do this. Maybe we just get caught up, or it’s a distraction from dealing with our own things, but we leak energy over this and that as we try to control what is beyond our personal control – until we don’t have enough energy for what we really want to do, or what we actually have control over.

anxiety is information - adrienne shum

Practice is a way to regather energy, to plug the leaks. We can get both rest and power from our practice. When I’m on my mat or cushion, there is nowhere else to be. And when I rise, I ask: where can I be effective? Where can I serve?

We all have blind spots. Through practice, we can learn to see them, bit by bit. We hold ourselves in compassion as we uncover embarrassing and vulnerable things about ourselves. We hold ourselves in our human-ness. And then, whenever we know better, we try to do better – this to me is the definition of maturity and wisdom.

Here’s to uncovering our blind spots with humility and grace,

Clean pain, dirty pain

It’s almost March of 2022! You’ve made it this far! Woooo!!

For some odd reason, the term, “army crawl,” popped into my head this morning. Odder still, it felt like the perfect way to describe how moving through the past two years has been like: crawling on all fours, with great exertion and stealth, trying to avoid an enemy attack (e.g. a virus, eep!).

I’m looking forward to the warmth of spring, but before it arrives, I think it’s worth pausing to reflect on what has passed. We’ve all been through a lot.

In his book, My Grandmother’s Hands, Resmaa Manakem explains how emotional pain can be “clean” or “dirty.” When we avoid or silence our suffering, it becomes dirty pain. This unwillingness to address what we’re going through creates more pain – and we repeat the harmful patterns of the past.

In contrast, when we turn towards our suffering in the moment, it can be clean pain. We recognize it, move through it, and grow from it. We can reduce future harm. It doesn’t fester into dirty pain.

Clean pain is still pain, so it is bound to be uncomfortable at times. Thus it is important to have a structure in which to do this kind of work. A yoga practice can certainly be that, but there are many ways – may we all find what works best for us.

Take good care,

Yoga for the brokenhearted

Pursuing the practice of yoga has given me many things, and one of these things has been a broken heart.

Let me explain.

Yoga is about cultivating awareness of ALL things, without discrimination. So when we open ourselves to the ways of the world, we experience both the joy and the sorrow. We see the generosity and the greed; both intelligence and idiocy; the caring and the apathy.

Yoga means resolving to bear witness to the way we both help, and harm, eachother. In the easy times, we can just drink it all in and bask in the glow! In the hard times, it requires greater determination: how do we keep showing up? How do we keep our hearts from breaking?

If we truly engage in this complicated and messy world, our hearts will break. It is inevitable. We must let them break. We have to let the world in.

So yoga didn’t break my heart, per se – it helped me realize it was already broken.

Before you start sending me referrals to therapists, hold on: it gets better.

Once we realize the state of things, only then can we do something about it. Yoga gives us the tools to mend our hearts. It gives us the chance to practise starting again, with compassion and curiosity. Every breath can be a fresh moment, a fresh start. It is a practice of forgiveness.

If we think others are incorrigible, how does that affect the way we treat ourselves?

Let’s not give up on ourselves. Let’s take care of our broken hearts, together.