The winter solstice is the acknowledgement and the celebration of the darkest night of the year. Yet most traditions and most people focus today on the return of the light. Why are we uncomfortable with and afraid of darkness?
Yes, light is what we are in reality. And in reality, there’s nothing but light. But within the illusion of time and space and separation, we have made darkness real and therefore it is real for us.
And it will be so until we stop repressing and denying our shadow and start simply looking at it with the eyes of patience and compassion.
The darkness in us is not an evil force but simply parts of ourselves that we mistakenly judged as bad and sinful and wrong, and out of fear of facing those parts, we threw them into the basement of our being and locked the door.
Going back into the basement and turning on the light, we see that there are no monsters there at all.
But to get to the point of turning on the light, we have to first face the fact that there is a basement to begin with, and then go into it and face the darkness. Only then can we turn on the light and see that the monsters were real only in our imagination.
Darkness is not the problem, but our denial of its existence is. Darkness is not to be integrated, but simply looked at from a different perspective. Once the light is turned on, darkness is gone, just like a dream is gone once we wake up.
As A Course in Miracles teaches, “The light is in you. Darkness can cover it, but cannot put it out.”
There’s nothing to fear. Time to start the uncovering.
Remember your first yoga class? Just holding downward facing dog, supposedly a resting pose, sapped all your strength in the first breath and resisting the urge to just collapse on the floor and cry suddenly became your only focus. Yoga requires physical strength, lots of it, but the real strength that this practice builds in all of us who stick around long enough to notice is the strength to stay open, soft and receptive, no matter what’s happening in the body, in the mind or in the world. This openness and gentleness guides us to feel without believing the mental commentary about what we’re feeling and why we’re feeling it.
Because human life is difficult, and it is so by design, we mistakenly conclude that being hit by any kind of calamity implies that we are not strong enough. If we were, the thinking goes, we could just somehow ward off any kind of trauma, pain or discomfort before it trespasses into our space. And so we buy into all kinds of build-a-better-me strategies, which may temporarily succeed in making us more agreeable according to society’s terms. But if I need to build a better version of myself, that means that the way I am now is not good enough and not worthy enough to be loved now, whether by myself or by others. Look within yourself, and then look around yourself, and notice how prevalent this messed up logic is.
I often remind my students (and myself) that this practice of yoga, on and especially off the mat, is not a self-improvement course, but a course in radical acceptance of who and how we are now. It’s a profound softening toward one’s inherent and inescapable human flaws. It’s a merciless openness to all of life’s happenings, and an incessant curiosity about what those happenings are teaching us and how they’re propelling us toward the ultimate and the only goal, which is self love. To practice yoga and life in this way is to embody the real kind of strong.
When you think you need more strength, ask yourself whether softening a little would get you even closer to whatever you’re aiming for. More often than you think, staying open, soft and receptive in times of turmoil will prove to be the tail wind you need.
And don’t expect the world to pat you on the back and validate you. In other words, prepare to often feel alone on this path of the real kind of strong. We humans are conditioned from early on to manhandle everything, including ourselves and our humanness. We work really hard to weed out any appearance of softness and vulnerability, not realizing that, as A. D. Posey beautiful put: “Vulnerability is the portal to feeling, and feeling is the portal to strength.”
In today’s yoga practice, I led my students through a flow that concluded with kapinjalasana, or partridge pose. As if side plank were not intense enough, we challenged ourselves to balance on one arm and one leg, while creating a bow shaped backbend on the other side of the body. It’s possible to hold side plank using your strength only, but to expand into partridge pose, openness, gentleness and softness are key. Which is why I chose this pose for today, Mother’s Day, as we all had a chance to recalibrate ourselves to reflect more of this archetypal feminine energy of caring, nurturing, gentleness and the untiring expression of love, which is in all of us, regardless of whether we’re a man or a woman.
Let’s practice the real kind of strong by staying soft, open and vulnerable. It’s time to take off the silly hard armor because it doesn’t work anyway. It won’t protect you, but it will obstruct your path toward self love, which is what all of us are looking for, whether we’re aware of it or not.
Most of us accept without question that what happened in the past is set in stone, but is it really? Having grown up and gone to school in three different countries, I remember being confused and at the same time fascinated by the stuff taught in history classes because each culture had its own spin on events that affected the whole planet. Who was right? Or more right? What did actually happen, I wanted to know?
During my junior year of college I took a sort of unorthodox history class — thanks to the professor, who was a true teacher and not just a regurgitator of dubious facts — and I learned that what happened in the past is for the most part subject to the interpretation of whoever is telling the story about it. Finally, a history class that made sense! And how relatable that was to my own life because even then, in my early 20s, I could see that my life in the rearview mirror almost magically changed as I started looking at it through a wider lens, one that allowed a lot more room for understanding and forgiveness than the standard the-world-is-evil lens I had been looking through until then.
We may not be able to change the facts about our past, but we certainly can change the story we tell ourselves about our past. At any time, we are free to reinterpret our past and set ourselves free from the guilt, shame, anger, regret or sadness we have been holding onto.
At 15 years old, I was angry at life and disappointed with the whole world after being displaced from a war-torn country I thought was my home into a strange country that felt nothing like home. Five years later, I was grateful to have eventually ended up in the United States, which turned out to be the only physical place that ever felt like home to me. The circumstances that took me from there to here didn’t change, but my perception of them and their meaning for my life certainly changed.
For years, I resented my dad for being closed off emotionally and seemingly uninterested in anyone else’s life. I drew the conclusion that he just must be a selfish person, unable to love anyone. As I started to soften my own emotional armor, I realized that my dad was simply horrified of showing his emotions and that his rough exterior was the only way he learned as a boy to protect his tender heart from the abuse he endured. In the last few years before he passed I could look into his eyes and finally see all the love I always wanted from him; no words were needed. He didn’t change, but my perception of him changed.
I could go on and on with examples like this, from momentous to mundane events in my own life, and I’m sure you can do the same. I think we all would be blown away with compassion, for ourselves and for others, if we took the leap of faith and looked at our painful past in the light of our current awareness. The price we’ll pay is the admission that we may have been wrong in our interpretation of something or someone or even ourselves. I’m happy to say that I have been proven wrong countless times. I still am being proven wrong and I do my best to take it all in with as much love and compassion — for myself and for others — as I can.
I invite you to pick one painful memory, whichever one seems appropriate and somewhat digestible, and see if you can reinterpret the circumstances around it in the light of your present awareness. What did you learn because of what happened? And if you think you didn’t learn anything, or that you couldn’t possibly have learned anything from such a horrible event, try to distance yourself from the memory and ask instead: what could a person learn from a similar circumstance? Please don’t give up until you feel yourself soften and open enough to listen to your heart, rather than your mind.
Long before I even heard about the most basic spiritual teaching (which is simple: you are spirit, having a human experience), I somehow knew that I was meant to be born in a turbulent country and witness some of the worst humans are capable of, so that I could learn to love humanity anyway. Many years later I don’t even wonder whether this is true because I know that on the soul level, within this illusion of separation we call the world, we all choose the exact trials we have as humans and we can use all those experiences to learn and grow in awareness of our ultimate nature, which is love.
We can literally change the past by changing our story about it, by reinterpreting the past from the perspective of the spirit, rather than the narrow view of the human. With our past seen in a new light, we can pave the way for a future set free from the ghosts of long-held hurts, regrets and resentments. Maybe the memories we’d rather erase from our awareness are the base metal waiting to be turned into gold. As the 17th century Indian poet Tukaram said: “I know not what my past still has in store for me.” And I know I’m ready and unafraid to find out.
When I was a little kid, my brother, who’s five years older than me, told me once that I was actually adopted. He said I fell out of a gypsy wagon that came through town and our parents felt sorry for the lost gypsy baby so they took me in and raised me as their own kid. He told me I could never tell our parents because if I did, they’d have to take me back. We laugh about it now, but back then, it was a little scary because I believed him, at least for a while: until I realized that I look just like my dad and not very gypsy like. But this “fake news” my brother fed me as a joke never actually shocked or terrified me because I could see, even at single digit age, that it was possible I was adopted because I always felt out of place growing up with my family.
Of course I spent my childhood and teenage years, and most of my 20s, to be honest, feeling misunderstood by my family and wishing they’d see me for who I was. I’m sure my story sounds at least somewhat familiar to your experience. We humans are not very original in our issues, although we often feel like we’re the only person who’s ever felt insecure, unworthy and unloved. The shift happened within me when I finally realized that my being different, or at least feeling different, was such an enormous gift, and maybe the most valuable lesson I’m to learn in this lifetime: Find out who you are even though, and especially when, the people closest to you can’t validate for you who you are.
In other words, learn to stand your ground when the ground feels so shaky that standing seems like a ridiculous idea.
To stand your ground in no way implies we insist that other people understand, appreciate or even like us. It’s not at all a demand that people change their ideas, opinions and behaviors. Standing your ground is completely about YOUR ground, and your ground has nothing to do with anyone else. Which is why this lesson is so damn hard to learn and implement.
The human side of us is hardwired to seek approval and validation from other people. We all have learned very early on in life that displaying certain behaviors and expressing particular feelings may result in love being withheld by our parents and other people we depended on. Since we’re also hardwired to seek love, we learned to modify ourselves to create a version of ourselves we thought would get maximum love and approval. And along the way, we found that we have lost the ability to stand our own ground. When I’ve replaced who I am with a watered down version of who I think I should be to be seen as worthy and lovable, how can I possibly know where my own ground even is? Also, all this seeking for love and approval has somehow left us hungrier for love and approval.
Is this being human a cruel cosmic joke because it seems the harder we try to gain love and validation the less we feel loved and validated?!
That’s because we have been seeking in the wrong place: outside of ourselves. All the times you have felt misunderstood, unsupported, invalidated and unworthy of love were quiet but persistent invitations to turn the direction of your seeking from without to within. After spending years and decades and, who knows, probably even lifetimes trying to stand on someone else’s ground to feel safe, we figure out at some point that standing on our own ground is the only way to feel that connection we have craved for so long. Because the connection we crave is not from them to us, but from us to us.
To be able to stand your ground you first must find out what your ground is. No matter what anyone thinks of you and no matter what you think they’re giving to you or withholding from you: what is YOUR ground? Finding that out is the beginning of a beautiful relationship with yourself, and the start of renewed relationships with the people in your life.
I won’t tell you to stand up for what you believe, to fight for what’s right for you or to say no to what you don’t want. Because once you find out what your ground is, you’ll figure out the rest with relative ease. You may not know in every instance what you want, but you’ll know what you don’t want. You may not always know what to do, but you’ll know what not to do. You may not quite know who you are, but you’ll know who you’re not. And you won’t need to justify yourself or defend your choices because you will feel secure, standing on your own ground.
I mentioned earlier that the light came on for me when I realized that my biggest lesson was finding out who I am even though the people I loved and depended on couldn’t validate for me who I was. They couldn’t validate that for me because they couldn’t validate that for themselves either. Everyone is chasing their own tails just like you and I did, or still do, not realizing that each one of us has the sought-after tail and it’s been attached to us all along.
Standing your ground requires a great amount of courage to look within for love. The side effect of our remembering that we are love is instant compassion for ourselves and every other human being because we finally see that we’re all playing the same game of hide and seek, while forgetting that we chose to play that game. We’re all hiding from ourselves and looking for ourselves and the only way to find ourselves is to find the ground on which we stand and have been standing this whole time.
Have you noticed how nothing of this world can bring you lasting fulfillment and happiness? Simply because everything in the material world changes and dies eventually. Nothing stays the same for long. Even if you have the ideal relationship, job, social status, bank account and physical looks and health, how long until every one of those aspects of your human life is lost, by whatever means? And even while we experience one of those rare lucky streaks in life when everything seems to go our way, don’t we dread the day when things will change? How cruel is a world that teaches us that we can’t have our cake and eat it too?! Why even bother having cakes then, right?
In the midst of a seemingly perfect human life, we still can’t fully relax and enjoy our days. How is it that we still feel a sense of emptiness and at least a low level of anxiety?
Because we know that something is missing.
Something we can’t quite put a finger on. Most humans conclude that what they’re missing is a different relationship, a better job, a more popular social life, more money, a younger looking body. But even if they “get there,” there’s still that nagging sense of something lacking. How long can you run on the hamster wheel until you see that something just isn’t right?
What isnt’ right is our perception of who we are and what the world is. As long as we look out into the world with our physical eyes only, we see illusion. This doesn’t mean that the trees and people and cars and buildings you see are not really there (at least within the dream of this world). It simply means that there’s so much more to see when you look at the world with the eyes of your heart. Then you look at the same world and instead of illusion, you see reality.
There is a catch here, though. You can’t look at the world with the eyes of your heart unless you have looked at yourself with the eyes of the heart. Come to see yourself from the angle of spirit, which is what you really are.
When you look at yourself and the world with physical senses only, through the filter of the ego, you will see separation, fear and discord. I am a body-mind and you are another body-mind. When I want to be right, I have to make you wrong. If I give to you, I lose out, so I better make sure I have enough (money, stuff, respect, love), which hardly ever happens. If you don’t agree with my beliefs and opinions, you’re against me and I better protect myself and find other body-minds who agree with me. If I want my cake, I better not eat it because I can’t have it both ways. Is the fear-based “logic” of these statements making you feel sick to your stomach? It should.
When you look at yourself and the world with the eyes of the heart, perceiving directly from spirit, you will see unity, love and harmony. I am a soul, an eternal spark of the divine, and so are you. When I feel the need to make you wrong to feel superior to you, I see that I simply forgot that both of us crave the same thing: to be loved, to love and to ultimately remember that we are love. So I forgive both of us for our temporary insanity and send love to you and to myself. The more compassion, love, understanding, patience and forgiveness I give to you, the more of those qualities I keep for myself. If our beliefs and opinions differ, I remember that each of us has a history that the other can’t fully understand because each of us has lived our own, uniquely conditioned human life. I don’t have to agree with you to see the divine face behind your human mask. I don’t have to even like you to know that you are another me. And so I know that everything is in perfect order, and all events are unfolding for the benefit of every soul that chooses to grow by attending this earthly classroom. And quite a classroom it is.
Once the shift happens and you fire the ego as your boss, you will still look out at the same world, filled with strife, ignorance, greed and selfishness, but you will be able to see through the veil of duality, realizing that all this darkness is just a consequence of light that has not awakened yet.
“Forgive them, Father, for they do not know what they do,” said a wise and infinitely compassionate soul a long time ago. They can’t know what they do because they don’t know who they are. Unless you know yourself as that which you are beyond your mask of a human, there will always be something missing in your life and you will blame the world for it and demand that the world change. But all you need to do, all each one of us needs to do, is turn within and start to look at ourselves with the eyes of the heart. Trust that the moment you sincerely look within, the way will be lighted for you.
I invite you, friends, to rise. Today, on Easter, as well as tomorrow, and the day after, and every day. Rise from the shackles of a life hijacked by fear, which manifests as our sticky belief in our mistaken identity. Rise out of the heaviness of a life narrowed to the suffering of the mind-body and rise into the lightness and vastness of spirit, which is what you are. Rise into the truth of your heart and start living your life accordingly.
In fear, we fall. In fear, we are crucified.
In love, we rise. In love, we are resurrected.
There is a way to have it all. You can have your cake and eat it too. You just have to remember who you are. That cake is infinite and it’s the sweetest one you’ve ever tasted. Stop crucifying yourself with your own misguided belief that you are a separate mind-body and rise to the truth of your infinite being. Once fully established in your own inheritance as an eternal light of God, you will be able to finally fully accept, forgive and even enjoy the perplexities and paradoxes of this human experience. Nothing will be lacking anymore, no matter how your life looks like on the outside because you will have seen your perfect face to be a mirror image of the One your heart has been secretly seeking for so long.
No more seeking. No more confusion. Just the One appearing as you, as me and as everyone and everything we see.
When I look at the past 39 years of my life I feel like I’ve lived half a dozen lifetimes already. I used to envy people who got to be born, grow up and live in the same place — and I mean country or continent at least — because I saw the unsteadiness of my early years as an obstacle to finding that elusive sense of purpose and belonging. I wanted so badly to find a perfectly fitting mold because once I did, I would never leave its comfort and safety, I thought.
Good thing life always knows better than I do what I need. It turns out, having to break my own mold over and over, although I resisted like the best of them, had eventually brought me the stability and peace I desperately craved. And it all started happening when I ran out of strength to try to outsmart life.
Beautiful things happen when we stop waging war with what is, and that includes unexpected change. What would happen if the baby chick fought tooth and nail against the egg shell cracking open? Or if a caterpillar just refused to turn into gooey larva soup within its chrysalis? We wouldn’t want them to get their way, even if they could, because it would mean the end for the budding chicken and the butterfly, which is what they’re trying to become.
By holding unto your mold, and fighting against ultimately unavoidable changes, what great things are you forfeiting from yourself? Change is not always comfortable, just ask the caterpillar. But not changing means stagnation, which is the antithesis of growth, while life IS growth.
The hardest molds to break are our beliefs, and they are ultimately the only molds we need to crack open if we want to taste true freedom. In this season of spring, with hatching, blooming and sprouting happening everywhere you look, ask yourself whether you’d be better off if you broke out of some of your molds.