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"When one experiences truth, the madness of finding faults with others disappears" - S.N. Goenka.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Loving From The Inside Out

Shortly after my teaching career in yoga began, I journeyed to my first yoga retreat. It was a secluded weekend at New York’s Omega Institute, a place labeled “The nation’s most trusted retreat center for wellness and personal growth.”  I finally gave myself permission to go and felt compelled to spend it alone.  Eager to gain a deeper perspective on myself, I packed up my Honda Civic and headed north.   Leaving my family for the first time I was caught between two worlds, the selfless devotion of motherhood and the selfish journey of self-exploration.  With the windows down and sunroof open the August wind blew through me, time utterly suspended.  The earthen smell of cut grass filled my lungs while Adele’s “Rolling In The Deep” played on the radio.  I cried but didn’t know why.  Cranking the volume I sang like a 16-year old touching the steering wheel of freedom for the first time.

Upon arrival I circled the block twice focusing on the scene instead of the road ahead. There were trees that lined the road and gardens of lush colorful flowers that framed the property.  Geese glided on the water in the mid-day sun. They dotted a small lake nestled in the near distance. Sporadic, far-removed homes added to the natural feel of country living.  Pausing to breathe in the soft, fresh air that smelled of serene peace, I smiled to myself and thought: “This is going to be great.”

Time slowed.  I walked to my room trying to take in all the sounds, scents, colors and noticed how alive the world is when we pay attention. There is a world beyond ourselves.  After unpacking and eating dinner, I sat on a bench and stared at a tree branch: its veined leaves, the small buds of dormant flowers.  Everything felt intense: the soft breeze on my skin, the smell of lilac, the cooing of doves – this is what it meant to be fully present.

Beyond the absence of distraction, my complete awareness allowed me to glimpse bliss. 

My first class began with a morning meditation.  In. Out. In. Out.  I inhaled light, peace; I exhaled tension, fear.  In the space between breaths was infinite consciousness, an awareness of inner radiance. When an instructor’s voice cracked through the silence, I nearly jumped out of my skin.  But his soothing words lulled me back into a trance.

“When we spend time to know ourselves, we like to be alone because we love who we are,” he said in a heavy Brazilian accent, “We know and understand who we are, we know we’re whole.” Dharma Mittra spoke with certainty and grace; a man renowned in the yoga world, teaching since 1967, a master in the field.  Standing barely five feet, his presence filled the room with a warmth and ease that resonated.  Dharma Mittra’s simple yet profound statement remained close to me throughout the day. 

Moving from class to class I became more conscious of my aloneness – discovering a layer of comfort within myself.  For the first time Loving thy self began to make perfect sense.  Self-love isn’t about high self-esteem – the idea of building the ego to the level where average isn’t enough, where striving for superiority in order to be worth more.  In this world of social comparison, we tend to pump ourselves up by putting others down.  This false sense of self-love has us on an emotional roller coaster ride. As soon as our feelings of superiority slip – as they undoubtedly will – our sense of worthiness plummets.  We swing wildly from inflated to deflated egos, often leaving us insecure, depressed and anxious.

Dharma Mittra teachings had me speculating on the meaning of self-love.  After reflecting, I recognized that although alone on my weekend of seclusion absent were feelings of loneliness.  Not only did I feel love for myself but I loved the woman next to me on the mat - despite her perfect hair and a flawless inversions, the guy with blonde dreads doused in patchouli taking a vow of silence, I loved the sky, the trees, flowers and birds.  Love was all around me because it was a part of me.  When reality snapped me back I thought – it’s easy to feel love when you’re here, where all the energy is happy and free.

Now as I sit home in my living room alone on Valentine’s Day in the dead of winter, when light is sparse and the wind is cold with my kids in bed and my husband at work, I’m reminded of that retreat.   For me Valentine’s Day isn’t about romantic dinners and roses – it’s a reminder of what Love is, pure Love that begins within.  Far removed from the buzzing energy of a yoga retreat, where everything is bright and vivid, filled with hearts and smiles, the euphoria has passed but the lesson remains.  

What exactly is self-love?  It’s about meeting ourselves with compassion when self-esteem falls. Instead of harsh judgment or ridicule, embracing ourselves with kindness and encouragement, trusting that we are whole and worthy (see “The Power Behind Money”). It is not because we are better than but because we are humble enough to admit that at the very core we are all the same.  By putting ego aside, we are able to learn from each other’s unique talents. We get out of our own way and stop claiming to already have all the answers, leaving us receptive to personal growth.   This deepens our relationship with ourselves and strengthens the quality of our relationship with others.

"What we reach for may be different, but what makes us reach is the same." - Unknown.  

Getting to know and love ourselves takes full-time dedication and commitment.  The process can be frightening, painful, confusing and down right frustrating.  Letting life happen is just plain easier.  Why not be the passenger in the back seat? Observing the world from a car window moving 65 mph keeps us removed, at a safe distance from all that lies beyond.  Why take hold of the steering wheel and face the world head-on?  Why take the risk?

If we don’t change what isn’t working for us, we will continue to have the same day over and over again.

Not knowing and speculating is always more fearful than the knowing. If we continue to ignore ourselves, our inner voice becomes dull and hidden beneath layers of fear, insecurity, and inadequacy.  Our restless monkey mind (see “stepping into fear") inevitably takes over, constantly swinging from past to future, from one emotion to the next.  Life becomes an inflated personal soap opera existing solely in our own minds.  Too caught up in our own drama we end up spending more time in our heads than our hearts.  We can make the transition. Moving from obnoxious and self-limiting thoughts to the comfort, security and expansion of our heart. We touch the bountiful beauty within and come home, right where self-Love and universal Love reside. 

And sometimes in the middle of winter when alone but not lonely, it helps to remember sunny warm summer days driving with the windows down and the music turned up, singing as if we’re 16-years old all over again.


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