November 15, 2010

Yoga Air: Enjoy the Ride.

I travel all the time.

On the rare occasion I get an upgrade, but most of the time I don’t. Luckily I’m small and flexible enough to be able to curl myself into a moderately comfortable sleeping position in any airline or train seat, a blessing that I count on every intercontinental flight.

No matter where I go, or how long the flight is, I can see that not everyone has a great flight. We are all on the same journey, in the same airplane—but not everyone has the same experience. And the strange thing is that it often has nothing to do with what cabin class you’re in. If you find yourself in first there may still be issues that bother you, cues for the bathroom, lack of vegetarian food (worse still if you’re vegan) or the odd noise coming from the coach cabin in the back. If you let these things bother you, then you’re still miserable with or without the upgrade.

On the other hand I’ve seen friendly people packed into two small seats making the most of their shared misery by laughing at the $5 bag of almonds, the $8 travel blanket and the $10 champagne. But if you’re in coach hankering to be in first and you start to tell stories about how the people up in the front are mean, arrogant, snooty or lack integrity…then you’re making a misery that has nothing to do with them or with your class of travel.

The truth of the matter is that it really doesn’t matter what seat you have if you’re happy where you are. Sometimes you get an upgrade, sometimes you don’t. You can’t sit in first class thinking you’re better than the people behind you and you can’t sit in coach thinking you’re less than the people in front.

But more than that, it’s a distraction from the same journey that we’re all on to spend time obsessing about what’s going on for someone else.

Our only real happiness comes when we ride out the turbulence in whatever seat we’ve got. Life is actually way more forgiving than an airplane ride. In “real” life there are not a limited amount of first class seats, but in the airplane there are. Whenever you see someone else’s success the Yoga Sutras actually tell us to celebrate their happiness and make them our friends, cultivating Maitri. It doesn’t matter if we envy their position and turn green with our emotions, the teaching of yoga demands that we re-train the mind to turn away from attitudes of scarcity that assume that one person’s success denotes our failure. In the yogi’s mind there is space for everyone to succeed in the limitless world of human potential. Rather than spending time tearing someone else down it behooves anyone who actually wants success to redirect that same mental energy into perfecting their own course of action. Rather than living in fear of people’s comments all you can do is steady your course in alignment with your own principles, cultivate friendliness and make peace with yourself.

Life is hard enough to understand for ourselves, let alone to understand for others. The inner workings of our own mind are baffling enough when we really dig deep inside. The genius of our ego, our past and our defenses can daunt even the most sincere attempt to find clarity. So much of the work along the spiritual path of yoga is devoted entirely to finding out who we really are underneath all layers of our personality, past and culture. When we do find out what is right for us, there can be no denying the unshakable faith to follow our dreams all the way through to completion.

Along the way it is totally normal for the full spectrum of emotions and distracting thoughts to surface when you start out on your journey. You might get caught up in the gossip of what other people think, you might even gossip yourself. Envy and jealousy might get the better of you. Paralyzing fear might stop you dead in your tracks. Depression and self-defeating attitudes might threaten to drown you in your own personal pity party.

The key to finding the freedom to follow your dreams does not lie in the permanent silencing of these little whiny voices. We would be kidding ourselves if we said we never felt these emotions. Yoga asks you to watch whatever arises in the passion play of your mind without getting attached to it. Whenever distracting thoughts or challenging emotions arise yoga teaches you to redirect your mind into the task at hand. At first you practice letting the emotions be while redirecting the mind to the posture, the breathe and our gaze in physical asanas. But then once you master the ability to maintain steady, calm focus on a point of attention you can choose to replicate the same technique in life. For example, if your goal is to open a small business you will encounter elation, excitement, pride, doubt, fear, anxiety, envy, jealousy and much more. If you are a yoga practitioner you will observe these emotions for what they are, the surfacing of your mind, and then calmly, quietly redirect your mind to the task at hand, opening and running your business. When you hear negative comments about yourself or feel envious of others with more success, the yoga practice gives you the strength to observe what the mind produces and then choose your path according not to circumstance but to your will. Then you can be in the world and not of it, “play” with creation but not be bound by it and in essence be free to enjoy the ride.

Learning how to enjoy the ride is all about learning how to make peace with yourself and your experience. Yoga is not an escape from life, but a way to take you deeper into its ultimate meaning. Even if you take off amidst a crazy thunderstorm, when you get high enough there is always the blue sky and sunshine waiting to greet you above the cloud cover.

No matter how gray it gets if you can rise above the rain below, the light is always ready to welcome you in illumination.

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