Compassion Course: week 3

Hey guys! This is post number 2 in a weekly svadjaja (self study) series I’m doing to share my thoughts during a one year online Non-Violent Communication (NVC) course with NYCNVC. I’ll be publishing every Friday my thoughts on the previous week.  Click here for weeks 1&2!

Feelings. What are they good for? Absolutely nothing?

This week was about feelings and what they do, exactly. From the NVC perspective, feelings tell us what our needs are. They could be “good” feelings, meaning needs are being met, or “bad” feelings, meaning those needs are not met. In short, feelings connect us with our needs.

Whoa.

I wish I had known that growing up. I was raised in the US by Taiwanese parents, and traditionally, Taiwanese people don’t talk about feelings. Opening up or sharing the vulnerability and tenderness of feelings was unheard of, and greatly discouraged when I tested the waters as a kid. Though feelings of anger, disappointment, accomplishment or satisfaction were ok, things like being scared (and why) or feeling affectionate were not. I spent a lot of my childhood trying to understand why that was, and why the “American” kids were more able to express their feelings.

A few years ago, about two years into my practice of yoga, I really began to look at what was going on inside. I recognized points where I would feel extremely frustrated with myself or others, yet unable to find the words to express it, much less move forward from it. These uncomfortable feelings were trying to tell me about my unmet needs for things like autonomy, connection, acceptance, and understanding. But no one had taught me that.

So, I started with guided meditation to let myself feel my feelings. I’d spent over two decades pushing them away! This was an intense experience, but so worth it. I began to open up to myself, and as a result I felt more connected to my internal weather and climate (and more grounded too). I saw my relationships with family and friends improve because I was more aware of who I was and more accepting of where I was in my journey to understand myself.

Most importantly, I was honoring who I was. I continued to meditate and joined a meditation group when I moved to Champaign, IL last year. I also met with a counselor for a few months to get clarity on things I felt stuck on. And my yoga practice gives me a chance to check in regularly to see where I am and how I’m feeling that day.

Thats not to say there aren’t days where I do not feel accepting of where I am or how I’m feeling. But being aware of that goes a long way, and my interactions with myself and those around me are that vastly more authentic and fulfilling because of the work I’ve done. But good days or bad, each one is an opportunity to change old, stale patterns (samskaras) of thinking and create something new. It’s all part of the yoga practice 🙂

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The Personality Myth

This weekend, driving home to visit my family in Ann Arbor, MI, I listened to a podcast that really resonated with me. It was an episode of Invisibilia, an NPR podcast about human behavior — what goes on behind the scenes that drive us to do what we do. In yoga, it is similar to looking inward during our practice. This episode was called The Personality Myth, and they asked this question: is there really such thing as personality? That is, are there enduring qualities of a person that remain unchanged for life?

I won’t give away the details of the episode, but the example they used in their story moved and compelled  me. It changed the way I think about people. Instead of thinking that people are tethered to their personality, i.e. “Well that’s just who they are,” I see great potential once we recognize just how much we are able to change and grow. Yes, we are born with a set of physical limitations, with mental and emotional foundations based on our genes and cultural upbringing. But that doesn’t mean we are stuck with certain personality traits for life.

The key to change? Understanding yourself! Meditation is a great way to understand your samskaras, or thought patterns. By taking time to look within, you can begin to untangle these “traits” and recognize parts of you that aren’t really part of you at all, but perhaps a reaction or a defense to your past experiences or what you’ve been taught. Then, freedom is yours! Create an intention, or sankalpa, to try something new. YOU get to choose who you want to be! How cool is that? 😎


image credit: Kristen Uroda for NPR