Thich Nhat Hanh.
Monthly Archives: May 2013
Part of my heart has always been drawn to the Zen tradition. I think it is because Zen carries within its stories a sense that the little spark or burst of enlightenment can happen by incident, and by accident. By tripping on a stone, by getting all your belongings stolen, or by the instant and angry shout of “MU!” Don’t get me wrong, I believe in work and dedication, sthira and process, but it is also beautiful to think that breaking out of the ordinary mind can happen spontaneously and instantaneously like a serendipitous clumsy dance.
Perhaps I should capitalize a bit of that: “…it is also beautiful to think that breaking out of the Ordinary Mind can happen spontaneously and instantaneously…” Ordinary Mind, or what we might loosely call the “Self” or the “Ego” (in a western psychological context) is the day-to-day mind, and the stories it constantly weaves: Who am I, what do I do and what am I like? Of course we need ordinary mind in our daily lives…we need to buy groceries, we need to walk to the store to get them and we need to remember to get dressed before we leave so we don’t get cold (or arrested). Ordinary Mind is pragmatic, practical, necessary and useful. However, the shadow cast by ordinary mind is it has a tendency towards compression, divisiveness and isolation. It takes the great big world and cuts it up into categories to understand then squishes the pieces into little boxes: This is mine, this is not mine, I do this, I do not do that. And if your Ordinary Mind is like mine, it makes up a plethora of stories that keep me too busy to notice, as in, “notice anything at all beyond whatever story I am currently hooked on”; It is the artifice in front of the edifice.
Zen is not the only tradition that makes reference to the “ordinary” part of our minds. In the Yoga Sutras we might say that Patanjali refers to the “Ordinary Mind” by a different name: the Ahamkara (N.B. Yoga Sutra scholars, I am using broad brushstrokes here). This too is the “I” maker; the part of our psyche that designates what is I, ME and MINE, with both necessity and downfall. So what is the big deal with breaking the world up into “mine, not mine”, “this versus that” (or subject and object)? In short, it misses the yoga. It forgets that we are woven into all things: life and death, wind and water, stardust and the spaces and string theory in between.
Ordinary Mind isn’t just a “boring autopilot” or a “nuisance”; it has created some real problems for humanity (and fish and birds and forests and climate). Because when we fall into this pattern, we tend to make choices that benefit ourselves without concern or understanding of the outcome. So what does this look like in regular life? An Ordinary Mind buys the next iPhone just ‘cause it wants to. It disregards the (poorly paid) labor that made the phone (they are far away, anyway). It throws out the old phone without thinking about the lead and other toxic chemicals that will end up in the landfill (soaking through the soil and entering the water table). Then it complains that the new apps on it run too slowly. A trite example perhaps, but consider it a small piece of the greater challenge facing humanity since the adoption of industrial revolution values as the mainstream and status-quo.
Luckily, Ordinary Mind has a counterpoint; a foil, the broader vision of “Big Mind”. We’ll talk about “Big Mind” in Part Two of this blog.
Written by John Veiga
John Veiga teaches yoga, makes furniture, practices Thai Massage and walks his dogs. Please join John for the Yoga Experiments, four workshops on interconnection Thursday evenings in June.
“We’ve been sitting aaaalll day!” Those were the first words from 9 year old Clara, one of the kids in my Thursday after school kids yoga class. These kids didn’t need to sit and meditate right now. They needed to move.
Kids love to move. It’s what they’re designed to do.
Yet somehow we’ve created a culture with, perhaps, the most sedative children in the history of the world; a whole generation of over-stimulated minds and under-stimulated bodies. Just as in adults, yoga has the potential to wedge some space, some calm and
some physical vitality into children that are finding these essentials a little harder to come by.
Yoga, at its essence, is an invitation to find balance. Moving with breath, which is really the essence of hatha yoga, is a whole brain activity. It engages both the right and left hemispheres of the brain as it allows a child to concentrate and relax at the same time.
If there is lethargy, yoga can stimulate and invigorate. If there is stress or an over-taxed nervous system, yoga can calm nerves and generate a relaxation response. And with kids, the yoga toolbox is wide open to achieve either.
When kids have energy to burn, I’ll introduce challenging poses and inversions, motivating longer holds with storytelling and the nature imagery that many yoga postures are rooted in. Regardless of a child’s ability, there is always a pose that will
take them to their personal edge. Yoga poses are designed to strengthen the spine, allowing for optimal development and nerve function in growing bodies. Even a small improvement in posture expands a child’s lung capacity and improves their blood
Once the physical body has been tended to, we can go deeper. Nervous systems are settled with breath work and chanting or singing. Breathing is linked to both our mind and our emotions so that an unsettled or anxious mind manifests as short and shallow breathing. Teaching children to breathe deeply from their diaphragms is a skill they can draw on again and again to calm their minds and gain control of their emotions.
Concentration and focus are explored through a guided meditation or visualization. It can be as simple as imagining a certain colour radiating from the body or it can be a longer ‘journey’ based meditation that takes a child on a peaceful river trip or on a
magic carpet ride. I love the conversations these spark afterward because every child has their own unique experience of the exercise.
Yoga can be a creative laboratory for kids, allowing them to explore their own physical and emotional potential and to discover the tools they can use to find balance. It’s age-appropriate svadhyaya, or ‘self-study,’ a life-long process that can begin on the yoga mat.
At the end of the Thursday afternoon class I had the kids build small caves out of blocks and blankets. The darkness and muffled sound created small, personalized ‘sensory-deprivation’ chambers, a small respite from their busy lives. After a few minutes of
fidgeting, the room settled into complete silence. When the kids emerged ten minutes later, they were quiet, refreshed and smiling. On her way out Clara whispered, ‘can we do that again next week?’
Written by Christine Alevizakis
Originally published in Tonic Magazine.
I’m sitting at my desk about to start my writing process when I feel a familiar tension in the back of my neck and shoulders. It’s as if someone is digging their nails into my upper trapezius; long, red, false finger nails. My ideas and energy feel trapped, stale and stuck in my neck. I’m aware of the furrow in-between my eyebrows, my breathing becomes shallow. My face feels like it’s collapsing into itself and everything within me feels dry. I am like a rock face which has been scrapped away so that all that is left is a chalky white finish. All the while a voice within runs a tape of messages: “Really, you’re going to write that? I don’t know what to do. I’ve been working on this project so long and its self indulgent drivel. Who’s going to read this? You don’t know what your doing. Everything is flat. You’re a disaster. Why bother?” And on and on it goes.
I’ve come to know this voice and energy well after a process of bringing focused attention to it. It is my Saboteur. I call her Mean Charlene.
According to Shirzad Chamine author of Positive Intelligence, Saboteurs are “a set of automatic and habitual mind patterns, each with its own voice, beliefs, and assumptions that work against your best interest. They are universal… because they are connected to the functions of the brain that are focused on survival.” At some point in our existence the Saboteur served us, but now it clings to an outdated belief system which impedes us with moving toward what we want in our lives, and expressing our gifts.
In Co-Active coaching bringing awareness to the existence of the Saboteur is a crucial step in moving clients toward their goals and living their most meaningful life. In last month’s Sangha Scott talked about changing habitual thought patterns in order to shift behaviour and actions. In the discussion that followed the idea of self sabotage came up as a given when we are in the process of making real changes in our lives. According to Chamine only 20% of individuals and teams reach their potential due to the fact that Saboteurs are controlling their thought processes – often times without the individual’s awareness.
The challenge when dealing with Saboteurs is that for many of us it is difficult to identify and separate the Saboteur voice from a voice which is serving us – what Chamine calls the “Sage” voice. The habit of being critical of ourselves is so ingrained that we don’t realize how destructive this voice is to our well-being.
A place to start bringing awareness to our Saboteurs is by simply noticing when they are present, and noticing the messages they want to repeat. For example, the master Saboteur, the voice of the Judge, wants to find fault with ourselves as well as others, and situations. It is hyper critical. It shows up as the voice of “tough love” and is afraid that if you don’t listen to it and its harsh advice, you will become lazy and unambitious. Nothing and no one is good enough for the Judge Saboteur.
As a first step in shining the light on this voice, notice how quickly it wants to come in to quash your ideas and inspirations. What happens to your mood, your posture and overall energy when this happens? What is the mood of others around you? Are there negative emotions arising out of this thought process?
Often times the Saboteur energy is confused, dull; as if a cloud has come over your body and thinking. Language can be an indicator that the Saboteur has taken over – phrases such as “ I can’t do that” or “it will never happen” or “I need to figure this out before I move forward” are all clues to the Saboteur’s lurking presence.
In the case of my Saboteur Mean Charlene, I take a few breaths and acknowledge that the Saboteur is present. I try to accept her and then I give her a voice by free writing all of her complaints for a short time in my journal. I move my body, shift my geography, let the tears flow and keep breathing as this energy moves through me. Sometimes I use humour with Mean Charlene and tell her to go for a coffee – Saboteurs aren’t big fans of exposure or humour. Often what I find is lurking beneath the Saboteur rant is vulnerability and fear. Softening is a big part of moving through the Saboteur energy for me. By identifying the Saboteur and leaning into that energy, I’m more easily able to uncover the underlying feelings which require my compassion. This is an ongoing, step by step process, and with intention, breath and awareness the Saboteur begins to loosen its hold.
Written by Pam Johnson
Pam Johnson is a writer and Co-Active coach. In July Pam will be part of Octopus Garden’s “Yoga And Our Passions” series where she’ll explore Saboteur awareness and cultivating habits to build Sage energy. You can find out more information about Pam on the Octopus Garden Website under Therapists. Shirzad Chamine’s book Positive Intelligence is a invaluable resource in learning more about Saboteur awareness.