What word would you use to sum up 2020?
For me it’s clarity.
Just like the clear blue of the sky, the pure white of the snow and the crisp fresh of the winter air on my hike this morning, on the last day of this challenging year.
Clarity may be the last word you’d use, but consider that things may not be as they seem.
Imagine you grew up in an upside down world, so all you know comes from an upside down way of thinking. Maybe you sensed something was off but the world told you in various ways that you’re the upside down one. When things finally start to get turned right side up, you perceive chaos and want things to go back to how they used to be. And no wonder you perceive chaos because the keepers of the upside down are fighting like hell to keep things upside down. You think you want things to go back to how they used to be, but the way things used to be is upside down. In short, right side up is what you actually need and want, but you may not know it yet. That’s 2020.
But forget about the world! Maybe what you think of yourself, about your true Self, has been upside down and therefore the way you see everything has been upside down too. In 2020 you were nudged and maybe even forced to question your way of thinking and perceiving yourself and the world so that you can gradually turn yourself around by turning your mind right side up.
Now do you see how great of a gift 2020 was?
There can be no clarity in an upside down way of thinking. But the moment you answer the inner call to guide yourself toward the right side up way of being, clarity is inevitable. Even in the midst of seeming chaos, even while surrounded by messengers of fear, and despite your old self’s best attempts to drag you back into the upside down way, your freedom, your salvation and your victory are certain.
On to 2021: the year of renewal. May we all stay true to Truth as we walk ourselves from darkness to Light.
What word would you use to sum up 2020?
Gu means darkness and ru means light so guru is anything that brings us from darkness to light.
No experience or thing or relationship has the inherent power to bring us from darkness to light, but WE have the power to use every experience, thing or relationship as the bridge that takes us from darkness, or illusion, to light, or truth.
That power lies in our asking to see everything and everyone through the eyes of the Holy Spirit (true Self) rather than the blindness of the ego (made up self). Which includes brutal self honesty and willingness to admit that we don’t know what we see, or what the world is, or what anything is for.
Once we ask for everything we see to be reinterpreted for us, and truly stay determined to that process, the light will start to dispel the darkness.
In my experience, there is no other way out of this self imposed suffering we mistake for life. But as soon as we truly ask for a better way, the light will step in to guide us. And everything and everyone becomes our guru.
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 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.
A few days ago I hiked with a friend in a wooded area, with snow covering the trail. On the way back, we suddenly realized that we were not on the trail anymore and couldn’t see where the trail was. Our tracks from a couple of hours ago were nowhere in sight. The fact we got temporally “lost” didn’t surprise either one of us, since we both like to talk and get distracted easily, especially when we’re together. We started heading in the direction we thought we should go and followed the faint sound of the creek in the distance, knowing that we’d eventually find the trail, which runs along the creek. And we did find the trail again, and by the time we got back on it, we realized we just took a huge shortcut. Which was perfect because we both were starving and were talking about what we would eat when we got home (which is probably why we got distracted and lost the trail). It turned out that our little detour ended up being a shortcut to home (and food).
The life lesson was just too obvious. Our built-in reaction to any sudden change of direction in our life is resistance. We think we know exactly what we need, and somehow expect life to always comply with that fixed itinerary. I know from my own experience so far that life has always brought me what I needed. It was not necessarily what I wanted or thought I needed, but it really was what I needed. How do I know it was what I needed? Because it was what I got.
And that’s exactly my point. We never get what we don’t need, whether it’s a simple detour on the road we take to get home from work or an unexpected, or even shocking and devastating, shift of our life’s course. The question is not what we get in life, but whether we get bitter or better as a result of what unexpectedly happened in our life. When we view everything as an opportunity to grow, there are no pointless or even unwanted episodes as long as we keep our hearts and minds open to growth. Unless I think I’m done evolving (and I know life would smack me the moment I adopted such an arrogantly blind attitude), how can I ever reject any experience? If I still have room to grow, and I do, then it’s clear that whatever happens in my life is here to guide me to grow. Ultimately, that’s why we’re all here, having this human experience: collecting experiences for the sake of our own unfolding, which is just a remembrance of and a return to what we already are.
Spirit, which is what you are, doesn’t care whether the experience is “good” or “bad.” Those are human concepts. As long as we’re guided by spirit, which is our true self or our right mind, all experiences are here to help our evolution. As spirit, we also know that there is no such thing as a detour, at least not in the sense the human usually understands what a detour is: an obstacle, a useless waste of time and possibly even some sort of revenge exacted on us by a vindictive higher power. As soon as we start broadening our perspective, we see that no experience is ever pointless. We can insist that it’s pointless, but that doesn’t prove it is — it only proves our stubbornness and resistance to a shifted mindset.
I’m reminded of one of my favorite verses from the Bhagavad Gita, the ancient and timelessly relevant yogic text:
“On this path no effort is wasted
No gain is ever reversed
Even a little of this practice
Will shelter you from great sorrow.”
“This practice” refers to yoga. Not as in the trendy, shallow and diluted interpretation of yoga being exercise for people who can afford it. Yoga is the practice of unifying (the word yoga means union) what you perceive as yourself with all that is. The practice reminds us that we are not separate from life, and that life doesn’t happen to us but for us and by us. In other words, the steering wheel gets put into our hands, not so that we can control life’s events (because we can’t and don’t need to) but so that we can make conscious choices as those events unfold, and that’s true power.
I invite you to look back at your life and see whether what you perceived to be detours at the time turned out to be great lessons, maybe even shortcuts, in self love and compassion, which is what growth is. And I invite us all to keep our hearts and minds open in the face of the next itinerary deviation and welcome it, or at least not reject it, because we know it’s just a needed growth spurt.
I could never get into the styles of yoga that use specific poses in a specific order with specific rules about what goes and what doesn’t. I guess the idea of specific anything never appealed to me because so far, I haven’t found life to be very precise or predictable either. At least not according to my persnickety human side, which would prefer everything in life to be as neatly organized as the blankets at Rishi Yoga (at least whenever I’m there).
Don’t get me wrong: My default setting has never been to love the unpredictability of life, or celebrate when things didn’t go the way I think they should have gone. But life has taught me that my human default setting, which boils down to the fear-based belief that the more I control life, the better life will be for me, simply sucks, like most factory settings do. I learned and I’m still learning that no matter what I think and regardless of what comes into my life, everything is always working in my favor. There really is beauty, intelligence and perfect order in chaos. The human default setting just needs frequent upgrades to start to see the perfection underneath the seeming disorder.
I don’t know when or why chaos got such a bad rap. Maybe I learned to love, or at least appreciate unpredictability because throughout my life so far, turmoil has consistently proven to be the most fertile ground for freedom.
I didn’t expect to be in a war at 14 years old; I just wanted to go to school and be a normal kid. I didn’t want to go live in a foreign country at 15, where I would always be the outsider, no matter how much I thought I should be accepted. I didn’t want to have to move countries yet again five years later and learn another language and start over yet again.
These are just some of the major unexpected and unwanted turns in my early life. There was, of course, the milder drama with school, friends, boyfriends and reckless hair coloring episodes. And none of it was what I had planned or wanted. But as Anais Nin said: “In chaos, there is fertility.”
So all of these lessons in complete lack of control guided me to a deeper sense of freedom and an abiding trust in life. The process was slow and painful because of my human stubbornness, which fought tooth and nail to keep the illusory sense of control, with its seemingly cocky but actually extremely insecure “I just need to tighten the reins” attitude. Good thing the spirit side of each of us is even more stubborn than the human side, and the persistent hunger for surrender finally reveals itself as the quiet voice that has been guiding us toward peace and freedom all along.
I have learned that every episode of instability can lead to more stability. The operative word being “can,” because how we perceive the situation will determine whether we grow in trust or sink deeper into skepticism. When the jigsaw puzzle pieces of your life get thrown into disarray, it simply means it’s time to reorganize them and put them back together in a way that allows the new puzzle to reflect a more authentic you.
Stability does not imply rigidity; quite the opposite. It’s interesting how the nature of life is change, but the nature of a human being is to resist change. No wonder we feel separate from life. Which is, again, a reminder that our default setting simply doesn’t work (and never has worked) in our favor. The upgraded human, the one who has learned that life is not against him, knows that digging in his heels in face of life’s eternal flux will only perpetuate his suffering.
And finally, chaos doesn’t have to imply instability. Once we uncover and remember that part of us that never fears change or death or rebirth we move more gracefully through life, which is change. We find true stability not in what comes and goes but in who we are underneath the human mask.
And who are we underneath this meat suit we wear? Say hello the the next chaotic episode in your life and see what happens when you stop resisting what is and instead inquire into what’s not moving amid all the moving parts. After a few episodes of chaos (or maybe a few seasons) you’ll start to get a sense of the perfect order that graces each moment. And pretty soon you’ll start to welcome chaos because you know beauty and perfect order are asking to dance into your life.