Spring Greetings! I hope you are enjoying a delightful spring renewal! I’m so excited for the warmth. We had a beautiful weekend with lots of sunny weather. I just had my bike totally tuned up and parts replaced. It’s been hanging up in my garage waiting for me to take it out for a spin. I feel like an eager 10-year-old going out on his bike for the first time! So far I haven’t lost the thrill of that first ride. Thank God for spring!
Last month I mentioned the 13 basic “vitamins” in life that we need to give ourselves on a regular basis in order to sustain and maintain our joy. These vitamins might seem obvious, but it’s rare that we ever give ourselves this level of nourishment. These 13 categories generate a well-rounded, well-adjusted connection to life and are the seeds that, when nourished, lead to happiness, permanent joy, and the fulfillment of your life-destiny path in the world.
These vitamins make up the core of my life. They are what guide my thinking, activity, and service in my life off the mat. In a way, these vitamins comprise my yoga both on and off the mat. They keep me aligned with the highest and support me to offer my best self on a consistent basis. If your yoga doesn’t do this for you, and if it doesn’t bring about true and lasting satisfaction, fulfillment and joy, then you might need to get a new yoga!
I mentioned last time that the first vitamin is having an empowering philosophy of life. Click here for review. The second vitamin is spiritual practices. In order to create and empower joy in your life, you absolutely need a daily commitment to spiritual practices. For sure, you can get by in life without doing anything spiritual. As one of my teachers Professor Douglas Brooks has said, “Spirituality is optional.” But without spiritual practices I have found it almost impossible to think clearly, process feelings and emotions, and go through the changes and ups and downs of life from a place of sanity and centeredness. Without being centered, I’m not much use to anyone. Spiritual practices have a way of speeding up the integration of all life experiences – joyful and painful ones.
Tantra teaches that you are born with the seeds of greatness deep within your heart. But these seeds lay fallow without constant nurturance. Weeds grow automatically in a garden of wild flowers. If you do nothing, chances are the weeds of negativity and doubt will sprout. There are many kinds of weeds – judgment, unworthiness, not enoughness, insecurity, anxiety, and depression to name a few of the most common varieties.
To grow wild flowers, you need daily commitment to spiritual practice. Spiritual practice brings you back to the present moment, to what’s really happening. When you are with what’s really happening, you can make good decisions. When you are in your weed patch, you don’t see reality clearly. Your emotional glasses shade reality. It’s like looking out from behind glasses of fear or unworthiness. You’re not seeing reality. You are seeing through the filter of fear or whatever your particular weed variety is.
Spiritual practice purifies the filter of the mind such that you begin to see with clarity what really is. Only then can you begin to see that everything in life is for your awakening; that the universe has your back; that life is always happening for you, not to you.
Spiritual practices include, but are not limited to: the practice of meditation, mantra, japa, puja, pranayama, visualization, and yoga nidra. If these practices don’t delight you, then do whatever floats your boat. Contemplative walks in nature can be extremely meditative, as can an asana practice, or any repetitive solo sport, like biking, swimming, running, skiing, kayaking, or even fishing. The Kashmir Shaiva Tantra tradition, which is the philosophy that forms the foundation of Ashaya Yoga®, specifically instructs the practice of meditation, pranayama, mantra, and puja (devotional practices).
Science has proven that meditation strengthens the Frontal Cortex of the brain. Here’s an amazing article in Psychology Today magazine from 2013. The Pre Frontal Cortex (PFC) is what gives you the ability to access the executive function of the brain, that is, having perspective and making wise choices. The PFC also gives you the capacity to have empathy and feel what another person is feeling. It gives you the function of social appropriateness such that you create healthy self-boundaries and behave in a way that supports others and puts them at ease. Without a strong PFC, you are not able to access empathy. In the extreme this could be why some people can intentionally harm others without feeling guilty. They can’t feel the pain of the other person. In addition, without a strong PFC your internal filters about appropriate social behaviors will be skewed. For instance, if you are in a group of people and you become frustrated or angry, you wouldn’t just have a temper tantrum in public. With a strong PFC you would learn how to contain and bracket your emotions in favor of processing them in a more appropriate way at a more appropriate time.
I believe that meditation helps you grow up and be a responsible adult. Like kids, if we never develop our PFC and the sense of what’s appropriate, we would vent all of the time, have hissy fits and meltdowns, along with tantrums of all kinds. Basically we all need to pass through these developmental stages. But deeper than that is our capacity to truly feel our feelings and integrate the valuable information and guidance they give us. As we mature, we find more easeful and more appropriate and considerate ways of behaving such that we don’t drag everyone around us down into our deepest darkest depths. (Although, if you saw me working at my desk when my computer freezes during a manual deadline, you’d see my temporary lack of PFC function!)
Through spiritual practices your PFC gets stronger and more active. You find that you can comfortably contain yourself and remain in your heart with empathy even during the most challenging and difficult times. The biggest lesson I’ve received from spiritual practice is not only the awareness that life is a gift, but that yoga is what makes that gift a blessing.
Here are some contemplations to consider for the vitamin of Spiritual Practices:
- How does spiritual practice show up for you in your life?
- Do you have a spiritual practice? If not, how could you get one?
- What activities could you engage in to support the blossoming and expansion of this vitamin in your life?
- What weeds could you pull – self-limiting or self-sabotaging beliefs or behaviors – to allow this vitamin to grow?
- What would the possibility be for your life if you were to nourish yourself more fully with this vitamin?
- How could you serve yourself better? How could you serve your loved ones better? How could you serve all of life better?
I invite you to renew your commitment to spiritual practices by meditating once a day for at least 15 minutes. Just put your timer on and go. Repeat the mantra “HAM SA” silently. When your mind wanders, bring it back gently to the mantra. Bringing your mind back to the mantra is what strengthens the PFC. You are literally strengthening the tissues of the brain like body-building, creating a stronger container, a stronger center, and increasing your capacity to respond to life rather than always reacting to it.
Meditation is so easy. Repeat the mantra from a place of effortless effort, innocence, and surrender. For a guided experience of meditation, check out my Ecstatic Meditation CD. This is a great tool for those just starting out with meditation. It’s like learning how to ride a bike. You start with “training wheels”. The guided meditations are the training wheels!
Another great way to jump-start your practice is to attend a workshop or retreat so that you receive specific instructions for practice. Also, retreats are excellent environments for inspiration to start something new because you can draw on group support. Meditating in a group is 100 times more powerful than meditating alone. Jump-start your spiritual practice by attending my upcoming workshops and retreats.
With blessings of light on your spiritual practices,