There’s something I’ve been working on that I really want to share with you. Unsurprisingly, it stems from yogic philosophy. Yoga has eight limbs, or tenets upon which it’s primarily based. These limbs, or branches, are essentially a code of ethics for how we should treat ourselves as well as others. Since how we relate to others is an offshoot of how we relate to Self, our treatment of ourselves is gloriously necessary in order to have optimal interpersonal interactions. Self care isn’t really taking time to get a manicure. Yes, that’s a nice thing to enjoy, but self care really means how we care for ourselves on the innermost level. The levels unseen within our minds, hearts, and souls. It is by doing this work that we tend to all our crevices and folds, and nurture ourselves like a mother to a newborn. If we can’t care for ourselves properly then we are kind of screwed, because it’s simply impossible for another being to go spelunking into your soul and reach those parts of you. It’s like how someone else can’t fix your thoughts or feelings. Sure, they may love you very much, but they are limited in how deep they can reach you. All the sincere hugs in the world won’t calm your mind for you. By following the limbs of yoga, we learn the necessary principles required to truly care for and conduct ourselves with utmost reverence and respect.
The limb I’ve been working on lately is Restraint. This is very challenging for me. As I’ve told you many times, I’ve always had to provide for myself on many levels. I’ve had to “make things ok” from a very early age, so I’m conditioned to be very goal oriented. I see something I want and I just go for it. Not in a psycho way, just a determined way. But as I’m learning this new spiritual language, what I always saw as focused determination was really an attachment to the external. You might even call it an addiction. I think I know three people who don’t fall prey to this, and that’s because they have worked years on it. Everyone we know is attached to external fields. Having the need to check your phone every five seconds is an attachment to something outside you. Attachment to anything other than You is a detachment. It’s that black and white. We subconsciously reach all around us as a means of separating from ourselves. This can only point to some kind of lingering dissatisfaction with our current state. Think about it, when you’re enjoying yourself in a particular moment, you’re not looking to peace out. You’re not texting, your mind isn’t wandering, you’re not listing what you need to get done. You’re present. But so seldom do we like and appreciate our present. Many people feel they are present but it’s often superficial. For instance, one can think, “I’m at the gym. I like working out. My butt looks good in these pants. I have the luxury of coming here. My life is good right now.” However, if while going through the motions all the while the mind is going off the rails, bouncing wildly around, then that’s not being in the Now at all. Doing something in the present doesn’t at all mean you are Being in the present. The reason being present points to restraint is that we are more able to restrain ourselves when we have an inherently deeper level of satisfaction. When we fight all these distracting urges we return home. We can control our habits and impulses better when we have achieved truer plains of inner contentment. The pull to any external thing is lessened. Our desires to flail outward temper as we calmly and intentionally reach inward. This is an extremely liberating feeling, to not be a prisoner to meaningless bullshit.
The goal of yoga is to liberate the mind and clear our systems so we are at our best. We will never be our best if we are out of control. Being out of control is only something we know if we are or if we aren’t. It doesn’t mean the world sees us tearing through the streets like Animal from the Muppet Show (though I’m loving that visual). A person can look put together, have done all her errands like a good girl, and be totally unhinged within the prison yard of her mind. So she can’t stop shopping, emailing, making plans, making assumptions, making up drama just to deflect from this confusing, unnamed source of anxiety she’s become so used to. Just like a guy can have a controlled, steady, successful job but is addicted to whatever just so he can get through the weeks thinking he’s living a fulfilling life. I know I’m oversimplifying with the gender roles, but you get my drift. The point is that restraint is only something you know if you have. I have my shit together in tons of ways but lack restraint in others. And I’m never happy when I give in to my destructive urges. I’m disappointed when I’m in breach of trust with myself. But I feel this all converging the more I learn about myself. Because the more I uncover the closer I get to what I really am, which is a being of loving awareness (I love you, Jack Kornfield. What a gift you are.). And the more comfortable I grow with tapping into this, the weaker the pull is to outside stuff. And the more liberated and gleeful I feel. How great does it feel to not send that text you know you shouldn’t send? Or to not react with anger and agitation to a situation? Or to not lose patience with a family member? It feels so good, right? Restraint and control feel good because they train us to conserve our energy. We are made of light and energy, and any expenditure of that really gets so misused and wasted when it’s not properly harnessed. How lovely and wise is it to be so incredibly careful with where we direct ourselves? The anger we saved by not releasing it will recycle itself as energy better used. The obsessive thinking about whatever will be used to think about something far more productive. This is all a practice for a reason. It’s hard. But hard never killed anyone.
On the other side of obsession, impulsivity, rumination, and a lack of control over our thoughts, words, and actions is freedom. It’s more attainable than you know. I’ve been meditating on a huge, field with a fence in the middle. On one side is a dilapidated barn with dry, muddy grass. I’m on this side. The other side is this clear, open, fresh, expansive space. The sky is brilliantly blue and the grass is emerald green. This part of the field evokes joy. Just looking at it feels wonderful. Here’s the kicker; the fence has no lock. I can exit the yucky side at any time and easily cross right over into the beautiful part. No one is stopping me. I can just go towards that delicious openness, and you know, I have been more and more. Restraining all these gnawing, egoic, human urges that are beneath us allow us to remove the numerous mental, emotional, and spiritual shackles we’ve become chained to over time. There will always be slips up and regression, always. It’s ok. Don’t berate yourself. That in itself is an act of liberation. Stop restricting and start restraining. It will feel uncomfortable because you’re not used to holding back. Not used to depriving yourself of all these distractions. The discomfort is actually positive, because it shows you a shift is happening. Ride out the shift. Surf on the waves of change, and let them carry you to the steady mental shore you have been dying to reach but have no idea how. I get questions about this all the time, and the best thing I can say is just don’t give up on yourself. Walk through the fence to the beautiful side of the field where you were born. See you on the other side, my Friends. Go home to You.