Without Darkness, How Can We Appreciate the Light?

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A friend recently found out about a family member’s 10-year obsession with her. They had been compulsively collecting and cataloging her failures and perceived cruelties and mistakes. Their intractable and absolute conclusions as to her intentions and actions over this time, and perhaps even earlier, currently exist as highlighted, underlined, and (probably alphabetized) chronological “proof” of her awfulness. A solution or reconciliation did not seem to be the purpose here and my friend began to think this archive was apparently “evidence” for a retaliation of an undisclosed nature. Regardless of how many times my friend tried to address the root of the problem, the relative would not participate in a solution. It seems that to ask for clarification of, or response to, these logged behaviors would make the accuser have to acknowledge their own failures (the root cause of the dilemma is not necessary to the point here, so the personal details will be omitted).

In this mind-numbing set of circumstances, my friend found herself stilled and bereft of creativity and confidence. She had become very self conscious and nervous after this revelation. If this person were so obsessed with her weaknesses, real or perceived, how would she fare under the scrutiny of others who are not obligated by blood or kinship to be kind or compassionate? After all, even informed and logical life choices she had made had been twisted out of context. How could she guide reality? This worry affected her writing. Her opinions were tepid. Ambition, rather moderate. It took some time before she would even practice yoga in our group! Her sadness would not dissipate; but, she did brave asking me what she should think of all of this. Was she really what this person claimed?

The only thing I could say with certainty is that the need to believe in and, thus, prove the worst is simply just that–a need–rather than a reality or truth. Like other forms of interpretation, what may look to be absolute may have more meaning if one educates oneself beyond the surface “evidence.” If one refuses to question or confront something, any reality can become terrible and impossible to participate in or change. This participation in reality takes strength and courage, not the hoarding of pain and blame. The family member was without the ability to understand or care about this.

After this discussion, she disappeared into herself for a while. Then, after about two months, she reached out. She told me that, after a time, all the obsession about the betrayal began to feed a different energy. She became more analytical about the whole thing. Rather objective. She couldn’t really explain her internal process, but she could offer some solace or help to those in similar situations or difficult circumstances by sharing her experience as a kind of allegory for questioning the self. With calm meditation and reflection, it became evident that her antagonist was quite the narcissist, less focused on revenge than self validation in relation to my friend’s abilities, and accomplishments. The antagonist did not want to acknowledge their own faults. Their lacking was easier to ignore or deny if someone else was to blame for their own life choices or their inability to make wise ones. The accuser stopped being a nemesis holding a “loaded “pile of paperwork “aimed” at her and threatening her very permission to exist as a faulted individual. Her identity could no longer be reworked and scripted through a curated installment of electronic and print missives. For my friend, there was a kind of “dark night of the soul” before her inner light and common sense could regain their rightful place in her consciousness. But that light did illuminate reality and offer the comfort she needed.

My friend’s succumbing to fear and insecurity had been part of the person’s goal; but, she found that hiding and cringing took  more energy than finding relief.  The obsession should remain with the obsessed and not participated in or subscribed to. Through engagement with discomfort and fear came reassurance and affirmation.

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The key here is that her “soul” or inner spirit endured and expelled the darkness. She maintained a sense of self that even a long and highlighted list of ill-informed accusations or misinterpreted scenarios could not eradicate.

We cannot control the results of, or reactions to, our actions, intended or unintended. There really is no outside environment that is worthy of arresting our right to create, grow, learn, and teach. What we can do is move forward and learn to identify what is true and renounce what is false. Then we should, if possible, not walk away but use the experiences to inform our next, productive moves.

What “dark night” can you turn into fodder for creative growth?

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Now Arriving, 7th Chakra

Trust. Faith. Courage. Inspiration. Devotion. No need to watch your step as you leave the elevator, you know you will touch solid ground.

Yes, messages arrive when you are ready for them. Looking for these messages is fine, but you can’t rush the connection. This resounded for me when I attended a workshop one Friday offered by a man named Dalien (aka Thirteen Hands: http://www.13hands.com) at Sphericality in Flemington, NJ. This building is an amazing place to study yoga as it reminds me very much of the wonderful old brownstones and pre-war buildings I’ve lived in Baltimore and NYC. Large windows. lovely wood floors, high ceilings. But even if the location were not ideal, the workshop would have made it so. I attended solely because I’ve been to one other workshop of his and loved it. I did not actually know ahead of time what the focus would be. This is my lax attention span, not his or the studio’s lack of info. Either way, I was gently elated when I found out we were going to work very much in faith and trust. My hardest nuts to crack!

Faith and trust. Faith in my ability. Trust in the outcomes. They can’t be man-handled into submission and agreement. They need to be allowed to form and be welcomed no matter their timing. I rely on them every time I begin a semester of teaching. Nope, not a wing and a prayer. I have too much experience to just hope it will all work out. My effort creates the results. The kind of effort is what gets particular results. I plan, revise, and remain flexible as I see the ability and interest level of my students. None of this can make it absolute that the semester be successful. I need to have faith in all of my experience and trust that I will continue to let myself learn from it. I trust that the students have faith in their own abilities and trust that I am pushing them for their sake, not for the sake of creating rules to enforce.

Courage is a tough one. We can believe that faith and trust will keep us focused and hopeful, but it takes a certain fortitude to actually act upon our mantras and intentions. Can you challenge your natural or learned inclinations towards self protection when your abilities and even your integrity are challenged? After all what happens when you have faith in your talents and trust in your learning and training and then bomb at your first attempt to teach, sing in public, even just speak up on behalf of an unpopular idea? This is where courage comes into play. There is no guarantee that your faith and trust are enough for success. Experience is important too. To be able to apply your talents strongly and consistently, you’ll need experience. That means making mistakes or being stumped and having to find solutions on the fly. This is where courage comes in. Face the possibility of failure and even embarrassment while you maintain your faith and trust in your ultimate success.

Inspiration. Perhaps this should be listed first, but as it does for me, it appears at many stages in your practice. My own journey of teaching did not actually start with inspiration. I did not have any intention of pursuing this aspect of my career. I kind of fell into it via a casual conversation at a conference with a colleague. That was 9 years ago. The inspiration came when I was assigned my first composition classes. It was time to create the best syllabus I could based on advice and experience of other colleagues. I had faith in my ability to write and communicate well. I trusted myself to do my best for the students’ sake. I had the courage to try this because I’ve been in front of audiences before when I sang or when I competed at horse shows. The failure had already happened and I was still alive. The successes had been experienced so I knew to look forward to the peaceful feeling of release of effort. But what keeps you going? Inspiration. Even the most satisfying job or hobby becomes stale if you don’t keep reaching to learn more, to discover new layers of ability. Don’t hit a wall and stagnate while others pass you by and continue to be filled with wonder and curiosity.

Inspiration cannot be forced, it can only be found. All you can do is live every day mindfully. Let yourself engage in every experience, good or bad, and find the  lesson in each. Take every chance to explore new places and ideas because you never know what will ignite that fire and send you on your way.

We now come to devotion. If you don’t have a true connection to your practice or profession, no amount of inspiration can become more than momentary. How many people have told you about their great ideas that were actually really great but that stopped at being thoughts only? I’m guilty of this myself. It’s especially frustrating when someone else has has a similar idea and not only believed in it as a reality, but made it one. Some of us are idea people. We are better at the formulation of an idea and knowing the market for the product. Then, when it comes to following through and going through the tedious or slow process of building on the inspiration and actually recruiting like minds, finding funding, promoting the project or product, your sails slacken. We can all sit over a glass of wine and change the world. Early morning hours of stillness are when I am certain I’ve got the solution to a particular problem or think of something I feel must be written about. The next morning of business, phone calls, house keeping, etc. takes a whole new kind of attention from me and sometimes pushes that dawn-inspired elation to the sidelines. It’s up to me to hold onto my intentions and stick to my intentions, my practice, my effort.

So, as you go into the new year, keep in mind what you have just read, and, hopefully, your 7th chakra will feel like a solid floor to step out onto.