Dr. Douglas Brooks, Tantric scholar and professor extraordinaire teaches, “You become the company you keep. So, keep good company.” This couldn’t be truer. As I look back on my life and my relationships, I’ve always been defined by those I was with. As a little boy my parents took care of me. I have memories of going clothes shopping with my Mom once I started school. For years, she bought all of my clothes for me. I never really thought much about it. I was grateful to have enough clothes. But over time, I realized that I was totally influenced by my Mom. By the time I became a teenager, I couldn’t wait to exert my independence and individuality. I have so much compassion for kids today who just can’t wait to change the color of their hair, wear their own clothes, and get a nose ring!

I remember, as a teenager, my parents gave me so many guidelines, rules, regulations, and curfews, that I felt like a prisoner in my own home. (I do understand that rules are needed for good reasons to help keep an undeveloped adolescent brain safe.) But because of feeling so controlled, I acted out and wound up hanging out with the ‘wrong crowd’. I became influenced and defined by them, their bad habits, minor pranks, and derelict behavior. I knew this wasn’t me. But I got swept into it and it was fun for a while.

In my college years, I see how I was influenced by my music friends and professors. I lived, breathed, ate, and slept music for years. I was completely influenced by that crowd. All in a good way. Moving into the yoga ashram at age 23, was another time in my life when I became the company I kept – this time in the name of health, spirituality, and service. I remember moving into the programs department where I understudied my mentor. We hung out together every day for years. I loved the way he taught and how he lived his life. He was an artist and a genius program director. We became super good friends. Without realizing it, I began to dress like him, speak like him, and even look like him. People would often get the two of us confused. On one level, I lost myself to him. Of course, there were a lot of benefits to this mentorship as well. I learned so much and I would say that most of my group facilitation skills and in-depth yoga teaching came from my friend. I have nothing but love and gratitude for him.

However, I know better today. Even though I might have become a better teacher being so heavily influenced by my mentor, I lost the value for my own individuality. Much of my personal work over the last two decades has been to find myself, value myself and my ideas, and be myself. I’ll never forget the beautiful teaching from Swami Muktananda, a great Kashmir Shaiva Tantra guru, “Love yourself, honor yourself, meditate on yourself, for God lives in you as you.” This teaching really had an impact on me, as has the teaching on Sva Dharma (one’s own purpose) from Krishna to Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita, 3.35, “Better to act upon one’s own dharma poorly than another’s well.”In other words, be your unique self even if you aren’t perfect at it. You are an original. You are a one of a kind. There’s never been anyone else exactly like you. Nor will there ever be. You are a masterpiece of the divine. And, of course, we must listen to the wisdom from sage Dr. Seuss, “Today you are you, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.”

 

The Danger of Surrendering Your Ego:

When I lived at the ashram, because we were taught for so many years to surrender our ego, in retrospect, I see that I gave away my individuality. I allowed myself to be defined by the ashram. My revelation was that I was so good at surrendering my ego, I was able to disappear myself in my practices and in service to the Guru. That has its benefits for sure. But I was so bought into the notion that the guru could do no wrong, I totally believed his lies about not having affairs with the women disciples. For at least a year I refused to believe the rumors until one important day, one of the women stood up and publicly revealed the truth, which of course the Guru denied. But then many more women stood up and that was the fall of the ashram as I knew it.

 

Great Paradox:

The point is, that although as human beings, we are communal beings designed to melt and merge into the other, we also need to maintain our own individuality. When you give that up, you give up your power. The Tantra path I teach is about spirituality for householders. Instead of the ego being the cause of suffering, (which is the prominent view in most Classical Yoga schools), in Tantra, the ego is the gift of embodiment. Your ego, which is your individual self, is your unique perspective on this earth. In order for the universe to be whole and to fulfill itself, you need to be yourself. Of course, you want the ego to be aligned with the highest intent, with your heart, and to be in the flow of nature. But it’s a delicate balance of maintaining your ego while also being able to surrender – one of the greatest paradoxes of the Tantric journey.

‘Be yourself’ is such a cliché today. What does ‘be yourself’ really mean? Being yourself requires that you know yourself and have the capacity to reflect inwardly. You know what you need, what you value, what you want, and what lights you up. Human beings are designed to be defined by others, especially by our family and those we love.

But can you be defined without being confined?

Tantra says yes you can. You are Svatantra – supremely free! You are free to break out of being defined or controlled by others. That doesn’t mean you have to change your work, relationship, or friendships. It is simply the subtle recognition that deep in the essence of your heart, you are free to be yourself. Knowing you are defined by those you’re with, you empower yourself through discernment to take what works and leave the rest.

There’s a very simple exercise for developing a healthy sense of self. Ask yourself the following questions. It’s helpful to journal your responses.

  • What do you most deeply desire?
  • What brings you joy and fulfillment?
  • What is your deeper purpose in life?

I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic.

Come enjoy these powerful teachings and more, within a supportive and loving community of great beings, in my upcoming programs. Take the time to reflect inwardly and find your true freedom.

Namaste,

Todd