You become the company you keep. So keep good company.” – Dr. Douglas Brooks

I was a good kid growing up but I got involved with the wrong crowd.

In high school I was a serious student, played the piano for school choir and musicals, and got decent grades. That is… until I began hanging around with friends who valued partying, resisting authority, and breaking the rules. This got me into a lot of trouble.

My health declined and I started to feel burned out and exhausted. I had a bad attitude, my grades began to slip, and I was unhappy.

I knew I needed to change something.

I rededicated myself to my music. I started studying with a university professor and practiced 6 hours a day. I entered a regional competition and won for the first time. I was ecstatic. This led to a career in music, which eventually led me to yoga.

I was heavily influenced by those friends; I don’t blame them or myself. I take full responsibility for my actions and decisions. But I’m aware now that I wasn’t living in a vacuum.

We are all influenced by the people who surround us.

Jazz Shop WindowWhen I transitioned from jazz to yoga, I had to let go of my jazz friends. I remember my jazz buddies calling me every night to go club hopping in Miami to hear all of the hot new bands. Once I starting practicing yoga, I just couldn’t tolerate the nightclub lifestyle – the late nights, smoky clubs, alcohol, and sometimes drugs.

After a while my jazz friends stopped calling me.

I had to change friends in order to change my life.

The great thing was this: although I lost my old friends, I gained new, health-conscious friends. These friends were asking themselves the same questions I was,

“Why am I here? What’s the meaning of life? What’s my purpose? Who am I really?”

Many of you know my story. But for those who don’t, I lived at Kripalu Center for over 13 years which ended with a guru scandal that broke the community apart. Then I joined Anusara Yoga and after 15 years, again, there was a scandal with the founder. Ugh!

To be honest, I feel very uncomfortable with the teaching, “You become the company you keep” which I still believe is true, and there’s more.

Through the wisdom I’ve gained, I need to add the corollary teaching, “Be the company you want to keep.” Take responsibility to be the person you wish others would be.

Some Friends Are Forever

I used to say that friends are forever. This was a fantasy I desperately tried to fulfill. I even composed a song called Forever Friends that was part of an album I made years ago called “Intimate Moments”.  I recently put the whole album up on Spotify and several other streaming sites and you can listen to it there. Maybe you’d even like to put it on during your next yoga practice or meditation session.

But what I’ve learned over the years is that some friends are forever and some aren’t. As yogis we need to discern who our friends are. Not everyone can fulfill our needs as a friend. Once you’ve been vulnerable and your heart grows close to a friend or a community, it really hurts when you experience a break up.

For me, this breakup was especially hard, having been in such a long and in-depth relationship with my spiritual communities at Kripalu and Anusara.

Looking downI’ll never forget, in both situations, when the scandal was exposed, the community (kula) fractured. Some people banded together in small groups while others splintered. One of my close friends and I had a disagreement about how to handle the scandal. I watched as our amazing 10-year friendship began to dissolve. We haven’t stayed in touch and now he’s out of my life. Prior to this, losing a friend happened so rarely for me. I was devastated. What do you do when a friend no longer wants to work things out? When all communication breaks down?

Make Yourself Whole First

After a few years of grieving, blaming myself, and wondering what I did wrong, I realized that some friends are not forever, and that’s OK! You have to let those friends go. I had to realize that I am whole and complete inside myself already. No one can make me whole. My journey is to make myself whole, know myself, love myself. I sincerely believe that on this life journey, our paths overlap with each other with intention and purpose in order to give us the lessons we need. And when that lesson is complete, poof! It’s okay to part ways. That’s life.

This experience really opened my eyes about the nature of kula. Kula has to be voluntary, otherwise, there’s no heart in it and it can turn into a kind of coercion. Kula is your willingness to take a step toward the other person. It’s risky because you don’t know if the other person is going to love you or hurt you. And guess what? A friend will do both. You might say, “No way. Friends don’t hurt friends.” What I know is that they sometimes do, whether it’s unintentional or not.

When your friendship is real, love and hurt come together.

We hold on to unrealistic fantasies that our friends will always love us in exactly the way we need. This is simply not true. Our closest relationships will do both – hurt and love you.

You need to have a willingness and desire to understand the other person, which ironically is your willingness and desire to understand yourself. One of the wisdom pearls I got years ago from Werner Erhard (founder of EST), is “There’s nobody out there.” Werner is suggesting that it’s all you – your interpretation, your listening, your reactions. We need to learn how to see ourselves in those around us and take responsibility for our feelings, words, and actions.

Here’s a little Tantric formula about kula that I love. We exist within three possible levels of relationship. All three levels are happening separately and simultaneously, but usually one level is dominant at any given time.

I am nothing like you.

I am something like you.

I am nothing but you.

“I am nothing like you” acknowledges our differences. We have different features, likes and dislikes, histories, etc. We are definitely not the same.

But “I am something like you” is also true. We both have two eyes, two ears, a nose, and a mouth. We both are made up of the five elements. This level acknowledges our similarities rather than our differences. However, we’re also aware that we are different in many ways.

Heart made out of hands“I am nothing but you” is the deepest level of kula whereby we see beneath our differences into the subtle presence that unites us. We both breathe the same air. We both share similar human emotions whether we’re aware of our emotions or not. We both have the same primal need for love and belonging. And we’re all infused with universal energy or grace, whether you acknowledge that or not. The life force is breathing you right now as it’s breathing me. We are one in all of this.

We all come from the one universal, infinite energy that chose to limit itself as you for the delight of remembering our true nature which is unbounded joy. Using the analogy of the ocean and wave, all waves are connected to the same vast ocean beneath it. Basically we’re here to realize that we are connected through the most subtle threads of life that form a beautifully integrated fabric of consciousness. That life-force, or god-force inside of you is the same god-force inside of me and is the same god-force in everything else. Therefore, at that level, it’s true that we are the same. We are one.

Here are a few more teachings on Kula I’d like to share with you:

Kula is a Mirror

If I hurt you, I’m really hurting myself. We hear this teaching in many traditions, “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” Tantra gives you the reason why this is a good idea. I’m only able to treat others in the same way I treat myself. If I’m self-rejecting or self-critical, I’ll be that way with you. If I’m angry at myself, I’ll most likely get angry with you. That’s why it’s good not to take anything personally. The kula becomes a faithful mirror in which to see yourself. This is why getting close to someone can be scary. It will test your ability to be with yourself and hold space for the other person, instead of reacting, judging, and pushing them out of your heart, which we do to ourselves more often than we care to admit.

Love Yourself First

Heart made out of wood piecesWhat’s the message? Love yourself first. Get to know yourself really well. Then get curious about others. Be interested in finding out what makes them tick. Try to accept their differences but also see how much the same you are. If you look for unity, you will see more of that. But if you look for differences and what you don’t like about that person, you will see more of that.

Embrace Healthy Boundaries

Within the kula we need to learn how to set healthy boundaries so that we can be our individual self while being part of the group. The issue of how to maintain your autonomy while staying in relationship is a great practice. Setting a boundary is the act of loving yourself.

Boundaries. No Limits

“Boundaries. No limits.” is another teaching from Douglas Brooks which has been very powerful for me. I no longer expect my friendships to last forever. It’s great when they last a long time. But it’s no longer shocking to me when they don’t. However, I’d say that the rate I’m gaining new friends is higher than the rate at which I’m losing them. Something worth celebrating!

Conscious Kula Practice

When you part ways with a friend, mentor, or community, do you have to demonize them to make yourself right? This is a common response which may have value in the beginning. But when the time is right, try relaxing your heart a little. Try appreciating all of the gifts you received from them. In any relationship or kula there are positive and negative aspects. We need to learn from both. Conscious kula practice is about holding both the good and bad, the light and dark, the ease and dysfunction, without making anyone wrong, including yourself.

Kula Keeps You in Line

Another great value of kula is that it helps to keep you in line when you falter or wander off the path. This is one of the advantages of spiritual community. Surrounded by so many people inspired to live well, I was never able to stay down for too long. This is one of the values of AA and other intentional healing groups. You commit to the group for sobriety and sanity.

The Ashaya Yoga Kula

May you enjoy the application of these teachings in your relationships. In order to facilitate the Ashaya Yoga kula, we have created a new way for you to connect with other like-minded Ashaya students and teachers. Join our new facebook group today! There’s also the Ashaya Yoga page for announcements, inspiration, and more.

How else can you take advantage of the support, inspiration, camaraderie, love, and consciousness within the Ashaya kula? Please consider attending Yoga Therapeutics for Radiant Health at Kripalu, registering for the Ashaya Yoga In-Depth Study/200-Hour Teacher Training, or signing up for another 2019 weekend workshop. I look forward to connecting with you there.

August 20 Provincetown, MA LEARN MORE AND REGISTER
August 23-25 Stockbridge, MA (Kripalu) LEARN MORE AND REGISTER
September 13-15 Richmond, VA LEARN MORE AND REGISTER
September 20-22 Falmouth, MA LEARN MORE AND REGISTER





P.S. Enjoy this track, Forever Friends. May it inspire you to reflect with gratitude on the lessons and gifts your friends have offered you.