STEP 10 OF 12 STEPS TO A WHOLE NEW MIND.
We are in the month of October, two months away from the end of 2016 – what? Let’s finish this year with a bang. Take some time to reflect on what you have accomplished and learned this year. What do you want to learn and accomplish before January 1? You still have plenty of time to make huge strides towards your goals. The topic of the next three articles to complete our 12 Steps will support you in the progress you desire.
One thing any culture or religion has in common is the creation of ethical and moral guidelines to nurture community, to support in personal development towards an agreed upon and common desire, and to provide a path to live with purpose and devotion to God or a higher power. The problem with buying into an external structure of restraints and duties (among many things) is that it imposes an outside compass for how the individual should live. This may have been important during the early phases of our civilization, but we are now in a day and age that has provided so much growth and opportunity that people are able to take these lessons learned and abide by their own moral compass – and elevate the world in doing so.
The more I learn about organized religion and the dangerous pitfalls of a culture struck with a religious revolution of sorts, the more we witness the potential dangers of group behaviour. The one thing I see religions getting right is the desire (maybe only initially) to create purpose, support, and guidelines for their tribe. What starts with good intentions can quickly become tainted with human desire for power, status, and control.
We are meant to evolve and discover our own guidelines and motivation for action and purpose. As the iconic saying goes, “If you stand for nothing, you will fall for anything.” We have a deep-rooted instinct to survive. With this survival mechanism comes the desire to grow, to create, and to leave a legacy. When we feel a part of something bigger than the individual while also being connected to a community, we get to experience a sense of collective. Many philosophers and psychologists have written about this human condition – the search for acceptance and connection. As you may recall from my previous article on Happy Chemicals, we get a boost of serotonin when we feel acknowledged and respected. Our bodies flow with oxytocin when we feel love, bonds, and trust. We experience the motivation of dopamine when we feel progress towards a goal. We are hardwired to crave our own inner-evolution.
Although the process of personal development is unique to each individual and subjective in practice and outcome, there is an underlying objectivity that centuries of great thinkers have used as their foundation.
The Yamas and Niyamas are the 10 ethical and moral guidelines that first appeared in ancient and medieval era Indian texts. They have been translated as the five restraints (some texts have 10 or more Yamas) and the five ethical duties or observances (Niyamas), and are considered to be the tools needed to master the Negative Mind. The Negative Mind is the first to react in our habitual and over-protective brain. The result is a constant flow of cortisol as we compare ourselves, second-guess our ability, question our own strength, and keep ourselves small in fear that we won’t get what our heart truly desires. The Yamas and Niyamas provides a new way of doing and being. They develop our mind to create and conserve energy so we can make the changes needed to align with our core values while working towards our unique purpose. You are capable of whatever you are called to do in life, but you need access to your tool belt and you need the tools.
I first came across the Yamas and Niyamas during my yoga teacher training while reading The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, and The Yamas and Niyamas by Deborah Adele. It was a beautiful introduction into the world of yoga philosophy, and I instantly felt an intuitive connection to the wisdom within the structure. I knew this was a flexible and transformative area for me to explore. I began to play, write, and reflect on the ideas put forth in this compilation of ancient wisdom, and for the first time in a long time, I felt the pilot-light of my spirituality spark on.
Needless to say, I was transfixed by the Yamas and Niyamas. Simple, powerful, and full of the energy and aspirations of wise and noble people who have come and gone. Despite my affinity for these 10 Golden Jewels, there were a few things I didn’t connect with – as we know, nothing’s perfect. I wanted a better system for remembering all 10 principles and perhaps a sequential order of some kind, to make it simpler for learning and coaching others. I saw a need for a little more complexity, to mirror the complex and unique subjectivity of the human experience, while keeping the quality of simplicity to honour the human condition of being easily distracted or befuddled by overly complex systems.
In reality, there is a natural ebb and flow, push and pull, effort and surrender, inhale and exhale to life. Through several conversations with a recent client who was equally enthralled by the beauty and mystery of the yamas and niyamas, we decided to refer to the Yamas as the Principles, and the Niyamas as the Practice. The principles lay the ground work in our basic moral and integral needs as you become aware of how you relate to others. The practice, on the other hand, embodies the effort, the mindset, and the higher purpose in relation to ones Self and spiritualty. Once the principles are foundationally set and the practice is top of mind within the daily experience of life, we circle back to the principles to fine-tune and fuel our journey; creating a cycle of growth that continues a lifetime.
The Principles are best understood under the umbrella of the principle Ahimsa, i.e., Non-Violence or avoiding a negative contribution to the world around you and the energy within you. We went through each concept and added the powerful words we saw as necessary to capture the complexity of each principle.
We organized them as follows…
The Principles of Non-Harm, Benevolence, and Compassion:
1. Satya: truthfulness, restraint from falsehood, vulnerability, current and updated beliefs, real versus nice, alignment with core values
2. Asteya: non-stealing, be capable, be creative, independent, full, content
3. Brahmacharya: non-excess, balance, moderation, the middle way
4. Aparigraha: non-attachment, non-possessiveness, non-greed, intimacy without attachment
The Niyamas, we organized as the practice of self-discipline through effort and surrender, we will dive into next article.
We will begin with the foundation of our principles, the notion of non-violence and compassion. While it is important to step back from situations that cause harm to others or yourself, it is a whole other ball-game when we actively focus on choosing to be compassionate and benevolent. When we support, encourage, and share what we have, we elevate the human experience for all.
To engage in benevolence and avoid harming, we elevate ourselves and the world with radical peace.
“The more peace there is in us, the more peace there will also be in our troubled world” Deborah Adele.
When we are balanced in this principle, we begin to dissolve the boundaries that separates us from others, we let go of judgements and expectations that make ourselves or others feel small, and we choose to respond with love and kindness even when we are “under attack.” We don’t know what others are going through. When we see that we are the other, we begin to see the history, the complexity, the edges, the successes, the failures, the traumas, and everything else that is a part of each of our own background. Imagine how powerful you could feel if you opened yourself up to everyone around you, allowed their energy to penetrate yours, and commit to responding with love and compassion? We can be the catalyst of immense positivity when we see our ability to effect those around us with something as simple as a loving smile.
As the saying goes, “An eye for an eye will make the whole world blind.”
It is fear that makes us violent. Fear of the unknown, fear of the ‘other,’ fear of being left behind, fear of not understanding, and fear of danger. Part of living this principle is building our ability to recognize what is legitimate fear and what is habitual fear that is keeping us small. We must build our ability to stand tall in the face of fear and decide logically whether we need to muster up courage and continue forward or listen to our instincts and take a step back. But most importantly, it’s recognizing that fear and struggle are a part of life that we need to learn to work with and move through versus stopping us in our tracks each time.
“To create a life and world free of violence is first and foremost to find our own courage. Courage is not the absence of fear, but the ability to be afraid without being paralyzed” Deborah Adele.
The next principle is Satya, which means truthfulness, staying current and updated in your own beliefs, and non-deceiving or restraining from falsehood in one’s expressions of thoughts and experience. What is true and serves you well today, is not necessarily what will be true and serve you well in the future. This principle asks us to update our beliefs and values and stay open to the evolution of our inner knowing and outer experience.
When we show up each day aligned with our core values, speaking from our heart, failing gracefully with vulnerability and an open-mind, we are acting from our truth. It is not easy and definitely not always comfortable, but like any other behavior or habit, with time and repetition it becomes the new normal.
We are all hypocrites in one way or another. Robert E. Quinn reminds us that “it is our hypocrisy and self-focus that drains us.” This is not easy or comfortable, but when you allow yourself to pay attention to your own hypocrisy, this is where you begin to truly find transformation in your life.
The third principle is Asteya, meaning non-Stealing, creativity, and stepping into our capability. When we are independent and strong in what we are able to achieve, we do not need to take what isn’t ours and we are not tempted to cheat. But there is more to this principle than the obvious ‘don’t take what isn’t yours.’ On a deeper level, how are you stealing from yourself? How are you treating others that might be stealing from their worth? What are you stealing from the present moment? What are you robbing from the world? Consider this, if you do not get out of your own way by overcoming fears and limiting beliefs, you are robbing the world of your unique positive contribution.
The act of comparing ourselves to others, using others’ ideas without giving recognition, or undermining others’ accomplishments are a few ways we steal. When we stay naive in regards to proper nutrition for our body, when we focus on the past or the future versus being present in the moment, when we fail to acknowledge and celebrate our own successes or milestones, or when we choose to be attached to expectations versus open to the dance and flow of expecting the unexpected, we are stealing from the potential beauty and depth of life. And when we refuse to recycle, lack care in our ability to take steps towards reducing our carbon footprint, or turn a blind-eye to pain or calls for support in our world, we are robbing our greater community and generations to come.
A close-knit partner with non-stealing, this fourth principle brings into view the importance of balance by shining light on the integral role of Brahmachrya, or non-excess, self-restraint, balance and moderation. The obvious point within this principle is the danger of overeating, taking more than you need, or living an extreme lifestyle. It is not sustainable. We waste so much energy when we swing towards the extreme, we don’t have much left for progress. This also speaks to our societies tendency to glorify being ‘busy’ or the natural tendency to over-analyze our own progress. We can’t be all effort. It is not healthy to dissect your every move and reflect on what you notice all day long. Too much of a good thing is no longer a good thing. This principle asks us to know when enough is enough. We are encouraged to build awareness to notice that inner yellow light before it becomes a glaring and flashing red light. When we eat more food than we need, when we exercise past the point of what is healthy, when we watch TV all day or sleep more hours than our body needs, our precious energy is used up on counter-balance overindulgence, versus being open and light in mind, body, and soul.
One of my childhood friend’s father used to say “Everything in moderation…including moderation.” It is necessary to overstep occasionally to remind ourselves to step back and to be clear on where boundaries lie, but it also keeps us ready for the occasional extremes of life that can’t be avoided. A little bit of stress on your system occasionally is a good thing. So yes, practice balance and moderation in your diet, your self-study, your movement, etc. but also be compassionate and open to experiences that push you to the extremes.
Our final principle of the Yamas is Aparigraha, which preaches non-attachment, non-possessives, non-greed, and ultimately, intimacy without attachment. This principle has been one of the most life-changing concepts to bring into my repertoire. It is so easy for many of us to get attached to the ideas and the people around us. We create expectations – often unconsciously – and are disappointed when they aren’t met. We get attached to a beautiful moment and sit in negative comparisons from then on as we wish every moment could be so beautiful. We become possessive with what we have and spend energy on trying to keep what we believe is our property versus staying open to change, growth, and newness. We cling to relationships that once felt good but no longer serves who we are and who we are ‘un-becoming’.
A quote that summarizes this perfectly for me is, “if you love something/someone, set them free.” The concept that has helped me understand this further is the idea of Intimacy without Attachment. We don’t want to exclude ourselves from being bold, striving for what we want, loving deeply, connecting authentically, and reaching for the stars in our goals and aspirations. But it is balanced with the constant reminder that we have goals but our goals do not have us. As soon as you feel constrained, restricted, or imprisoned by the things that once brought you joy, it is time to dig in and let go.
“Our expectations keep us captive and often disgruntled. What we hold, begins to hold us” Deborah Adele.
It is our fear of losing something or someone that actually robs us of being present, vulnerable, and authentic with that person or moment. It is our insecurity that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. When we are struck by the need to control, shackle, or restrain the people, the moments, or the objects in our life, we lose sight of what is truly important.
All of the principles within this model work to support each other. To practice non-attachment, we must remind ourselves to not claim power over what isn’t ours in the first place. We can only control – and have a right to – our own effort. That’s it. So why spend energy trying to manipulate the flow of life or waste energy on shoulds, regrets, comparisons, judgment, or expectations? Of course these sensations and thoughts will pop up occasionally, but our goal is to learn what we need to learn and then let it go with our next exhale. It is the carrying of this negative energy into the next moment that begins to compound into a bigger issue. As Tony Robbins says, “the problem is you think you shouldn’t have any problems.” Life comes with the rollercoaster ride. It’s through these principles that we begin to realize that we make things a whole lot tougher than they need to be.
We are reminded to detach when we feel ourselves getting out of balance. As we talked about earlier, too much of a good thing is no longer a good thing. And when we practice truthfulness and non-violence, we are asked to detach from past moments, use compassion and self-love, and allow ourselves to be fully present and engaged with what is right now.
You’ve got some work to do this month. Write out which Yama stands out the most to you, and trust that it stands out for a reason. Each time you revisit this list you may find a different Principle grabbing for your attention. The process of changing habits and letting go of what no longer serves you is a lifestyle. Enjoy the process. Embrace your curiosity. Love yourself for being the brave, open, and engaged person that kept you reading until this last sentence. That’s something to be proud of.
For a deeper dive into these concepts feel free to reach out. I have a 30-day Challenge ready for you to engage in that will take you to a whole other level. Practice makes perfect practice, and what is life but a series of moments that we practice for the next moment. It’s time to do the work.