The Coincidence of Vulnerability

Oh relationships. The benefits they add to our lives—in companionship, support, community—teeter-totter so enthusiastically with the challenges they pose to our peace of mind. Among clients (and in my own unremarkable life) I’ve been watching those sublime trials that intimacy initiates in otherwise steady lives. I’ve even considered, as a preventive measure, whether solitude might be the simple solution to maintaining calm.

This idea, I confess, isn’t my own. It’s ancient. We see ascetics and monks and nuns and the occasional good friend opting out. They say no to the deep, personal, mundane connections with family in favor of that profound connection with their own spirit and community. In talking with a respected mentor about this same subject, he acknowledged that he keeps his distance in friendships and love because of the distractions they provoke. In his mind, they’re obstacles on his path.

Honestly? I’m not comfortable with that. Seeing our fellow travelers as barriers to the self-understanding inspired by a yoga practice is a bit like looking at a door and believing it a wall. While I agree that most of us share a funny habit of letting the lights in our lives dim our own, that doesn’t mean the habit is intractable.

The key, I think, is to remember (again and again and again) that the only person in this world subject to your control is you. Which means that the behavior of your companion isn’t for you to manage. Or change. Or manipulate. It’s their behavior. And your reaction to it is up to you.

The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali provides a helpful reminder on making this possible. (Though, truth be told, Patanjali makes it pretty clear that certain relationships, like, you know, with that funk-you-up flavor, are just not gonna jive with your practice. But if I know you, you’re probably feeling the left-hand path a little more on this one. Am I right? Anyway.)

First, remember that the main obstacle to our greater peace is our own ignorance. Ignorance underlies all the other afflictions—like ego, attachment, aversion and fear— that keep us from realizing the potential of our consciousness. That ignorance in you is what prevents you from seeing how so much of what you do could be done better.

Once you understand that you can open your eyes a little wider, you’ll start taking in a little more light, and seeing things for what they are. Your partner is someone who will never be under your control. It’s a silly (ignorant) thing to believe otherwise. Which means it’s up to you. You get to control you. And as you do, here’s a lovely little helper: this moment.

When you find yourself struggling to keep your cool in the heat of a situation with someone, pause and come home to the present. I think of it as home base. It works just the same. You tag home and you’re safe. No one can make you ‘IT’. You get to catch your breath, feel your place in the universe, notice the way you’re feeling. You even have time to deliberate over your best response.

And here’s a lovely fact about hanging out in the moment. In the sanctuary of home base, you’re perfectly situated to intentionally look for the vulnerability in the person before you. And to remember that you, too, have been vulnerable. You can look and see that your friend is uncertain, or afraid, or insecure. Just like you’ve been. Because we all pray for safety. Because we’re all people with just a bit of flesh protecting everything inside.

Having used the moment to exercise this bit of compassionate seeing, you’re now free to invite your companion to join you at home base. He or she may not want to come along. And that’s fine. But an invitation to share a moment of safety with someone will bring you together. And a reaction against someone’s fear or hurt or uncertainty won’t. It’s always your choice.

Which doesn’t mean it’s easy.

But it is a choice. And it’s a choice that can become better used with practice. Again and again. Practice. So don’t be afraid to love. But always remember: the present moment is your sanctuary. From home base, you can learn to respond instead of react. You can learn to see that the union between you and your loved one isn’t just about the beauty of togetherness, but the sublime coincidence of vulnerability.

From that place, you can learn to care even more deeply.

Let me know if this helps.

Shall we sankalpa?

I’ve got news: The world is yours.

Great, I hear you thinking, how am I going to clean this behemoth?

Thankfully, we share in that responsibility. (We have a lot of work to do; you start with your side.)

Still. The world is yours. Mine too. And the dude in the backward baseball cap next to you? His, as well. Also, it belongs to your gun-toting brother-in-law. Your scandalously dressed niece. And that neighbor who thinks revving his motorcycle sounds like itty bitty kitty purrs. Ah, we are a motley bunch of stewards. May we co-exist in peace.

Speaking of peace…

I remind you of your existential responsibility as I offer up a beautiful gesture shared with me by Kate, the owner of PB Yoga & Healing Arts. She suggested that the community at our studio invite our students and clients to cultivate a sankalpa for peace and to share in the experience of this sankalpa for the next 108 days. To prepare for this sankalpa, we remember our own essential power to direct the world—and our lives in it—in the direction we desire.

As a steward, you may not always acknowledge just how much say you have over the comings and goings around you. Let me offer a few considerations to get you thinking.

1. The world is as you choose to view it.

Emerson said, ‘Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind.’ This may rankle a few, but the mind is the ultimate creator. It is the architect and the inhabitant. Expressions of the divine are generally projections of the mind. As Rumi said, ‘the beauty you see in me is a reflection of you.’

Our divine minds are the arbiters of our realities. Most of us have tolerated an experience of suffering. And most of us have enjoyed unbridled joy. Between these two extremes, we experiment with various blends of happy and sad. Maybe you failed a test and rose from the ashes by laughing it off. Maybe you injured yourself and wallowed for months. Responses to suffering depend on the way you allow your mind to view the base problem. Has a chasm opened at your feet? Are you fighting a vacuum sucking you into the earth’s magma? Or is the sun still shining and off in the distance you hear a train whistle calling you to understand the transient nature of things?

The world is yours to perceive. You only have to listen for the train whistle.

2. You are responsible for cultivating the type of world you wish to perceive.

Since I’m throwing around quotes, consider the great Gandhi showstopper/counselor’s office poster note: ‘You must be the change you wish to see in the world.’ Sometimes, a saying loses its edge with repetition so let’s put this another way: it’s up to you to do the right thing.

I wonder, sometimes, how it’s come to pass that the only people who seem to feel empowered are the wolves of Wall Street and the CEOs of massive corporations. Maybe because we call them powerbrokers. We call them Masters of the Universe. You see how we have invested power in them? We did that. Weird.

But they have no more intrinsic power than me or you. They only have more money. But not necessarily the ability to create a world any better or worse for themselves than me or you. They might gain a billion dollars and wallow for years. See, for example, the Koch Brothers. In other words, they don’t know how to satisfy themselves. And that’s why their world probably doesn’t satisfy them. Sad.

You, on the other hand? Satisfaction is available with thoughtful effort.

You have only to focus your mind, that great instrument of creation, set an intention, and draw your mind again and again to your innate powers to see the intention through. You are responsible for the cultivation. And also the harvest.

3. Cultivation and harvest is way more fun with others.

This, I think, needs no further explanation. It’s always more fun, more supportive, more inspiring to join an effort with others. Granted, you have to work with your own mind, exploring your own solitude in its depths to find the requisite focus for this. But it’s nice to know that others are doing the same. For this, yoga classes are nice. And meditation classes. And eating food together. And jumping over waves.

As these ideas settle in with you, I invite you to join the sankalpa. I wrote up a little explanation and direction that we’ll be sharing with our students at PB Yoga & Healing Arts. I share it here with a hope and a wish that you’ll find time and inclination to devote a few minutes of your yoga practice setting your own sankalpa for peace that will become a part of our greater sankalpa practice.

We know we need it. We know the world needs it. So let’s be the peace.

Will you join me? If you start today, with 2014’s last harvest moon, your last meditation on the peace you bring to the world will be on December 24. What a wonderful gift for yourself and the world at the close of another year. So much better than socks.

I am peace. I share my peace with you. I share my peace with the world.

Today and for the following 108 days, the community of teachers and healers at PB Yoga & Healing Arts invites you to join us in nurturing a noble sankalpa. Together, let us make a solemn vow to bring about peace in ourselves, our lives, our families, our neighborhoods, our world.

A sankalpa practice grows from the premise that we are all perfectly placed to fulfill our hearts’ desires, the mission of our souls. We have no need to become better or different. We carry within us the means, the spirit, the energy to cultivate our desires. We carry within us our deep and divine minds.

To realize our aspirations, we turn our minds toward them. Again and again. And again. Our minds grant us wisdom and power, and qualities of the eternal, the sacred, the wonderful that nourish our goals without our egos interfering. Today and until December 24th, we won’t wish for peace and force it to happen. We’ll make a promise.

This is sankalpa. A solemn vow, a rule to be followed above all others. It’s determination to support a high truth. By its very definition, a sankalpa calls on us to recall the very purpose of our existence. It reminds us of our true nature, our purest intentions and guides our choices to honor them.

Now, for a few minutes, let’s dedicate our yoga practice to bringing our sankalpa to mind. We’ll state our sankalpa silently to ourselves, affirming our resolve as though it has already become a fact, nourishing the energy within us to realize our promise.

As we settle into this sankalpa practice, let’s remember that we are, each of us, open, timeless and whole. We are peace. We are already creating the peace that we have resolved to share in our worlds. Silently repeat your sankalpa to yourself as we practice. I am peace. I share my peace with the world. I am peace. I share my peace with the world.