Compassion course: week 6

Wow, summer is flying by! This is the fifth installment of a weekly svadjaja (self study) series that I’m doing to reflect on the Non-Violent Communication course that I’m taking with NYCNVC. I’m jotting down how the course changes my day-to-day life, and take away from each week’s lesson. Check out last week’s post on anxiety!

As I get deeper into building my compassion “muscles”, I’m beginning to realize that the learning won’t be over after this one-year course is over. Rather, I’m just scratching the surface of exercising this new skill, and it will take practice (just like everything else, huh) to incorporate it into the natural rhythms of my life.

The past week really zipped by with moving out of our apartment, M getting a contract job, and moving our few possessions into storage. Lots of travel and beginning to say “see ya later” to friends. We’re officially nomads now!

Over the next two weeks, I am staying with good friends of mine, the owners of Living Yoga Center, the studio where I teach yoga. In addition to their warmth and generosity (they’ve even let me use a car for getting to work), I’ve felt a natural connection to their openness and their stories from their own life experiences. Jai!

This week’s practice was about noticing hidden judgements that we make towards ourselves or others. That means noticing those judgements that are disguised as feelings.

I noticed that as I become more aware of judging vs feeling, I am noticing judging in others more clearly. In fact, I’ve been judging others for judging! Is that progress?

That’s where I think of the yogic concept of non-attachment. Through the eyes of non-attachment, judgement is a comparison of my expectation with reality. When those don’t match up, AND when I’m attached to my expectations, that’s when I judge. So if I let go of my expectations, I’m much less likely to judge.

Aha! So while I’m not going to transcend judging anytime soon, I can recognize the expectation I had that caused the judgement and let it go. Then the judgement dissolves too.

That’s my samadhi (enlightened) moment this week. Till next time!

 

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Compassion course: week 5

Hey there! This is the fourth installment in a weekly svadjaja (self study) series I’m doing based on NYCNVC’s online Compassion Course. As I go through the weekly lessons offered in the course, I share my thoughts here. Check out last week’s post on needs and strategies!

Oh man, did I need some compassion this week! Though the lesson for this week was to notice subtler, “non eventful” interactions, I’ve been preoccupied with moving out of our apartment and becoming nomads for the next 5 months. I haven’t been very good about keeping a journal and jotting down interactions throughout the week. However, my weekly NVC group has kept me coming back to the NVC mindset and given me an opportunity to practice this skill with others. It’s such an open and warm atmosphere that we’re creating, and a grounding experience of Being Present for each other and for ourselves for 90 minutes each week. I’ll be sad to leave the group — but also looking forward to connecting with NVCers outside of the US.

I had two big take-aways from this week’s lesson:

1. Noticing and listening are a big deal.

Simply being present for yourself or another goes a long way. It sounds easy, yet I often either assume it’s happening or dismiss it as unnecessary. But I’ve noticed that really being paying attention — not thinking of a response, going through my to-do list for later, or reading something on my phone — is a big deal. Truly listening to someone and receiving what’s alive within them at the moment does a lot to connect me to them. I end up having a much more meaningful conversation and I feel we both walk away fulfilled with the interaction.

2. Anxiety is not a bad thing.

Check it out. According to Merriam-Webster, anxiety is simply defined as

: fear or nervousness of what might happen

: a feeling of wanting to do something very much

After realizing the excitement and happiness I felt this morning about our trip was also anxiety, I was a bit confused. M encouraged me to look up the definition, and so I found what’s above. Huh. Though I’ve been told almost all my life that anxiety and fear are bad things (to be avoided or gotten rid of as quickly as possible), I’d never actually looked up what they meant. And it’s not bad at all. “A feeling of wanting to do something very much”? Hell, that’s how I felt about becoming a yoga teacher, and it brought me to a little town in Central Illinois for a year of intensive study and discovery! And fear? Though unpleasant, I’ve learned over the last few years that when I give fear space and look it in the eye, it’s a valuable tool for me to learn from. As I learn to choose what my relationships with fear and anxiety are, I can more skillfully use them to become who I want to be.

Lastly, here’s a picture from a walk I took through Washington Square Park, NYC in 2012 (damn, time flies!):

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The man in the cowboy hat was working on a mandala, and I’d stopped to admire his work. I appreciated the detail and care he put into his work, one grain at a time, knowing it would be swept away after it was complete. I’m beginning to see life this way. I work to create something of my own, one grain at a time with my actions and words, which show who I choose to be. And one day this beautiful work will be complete, and I will be gone. So today I’ll put on my cowboy hat and let fall a few grains of sand. Can’t wait to see what I make 🙂

Compassion course: week 4

Happy Friday! This is the third installment of a weekly svadjaja (self study) series I’m doing on a year long online Non-Violent Communication (NVC) course that I’m taking. I’m tracking my progress as I go through each week’s lessons. Check out last week’s post on feelings here!

Needs. The root of compassionate thinking. This week was a revisit of needs. Why do they matter? Are there good and bad needs? What about needs vs. strategies (i.e. how we try to meet our needs)?

The idea that the things people do are their attempts to meet their needs is new to me. I think this course will be the beginning of a new way of thinking, and of improving communication and relationships by maintaining connection during times it’s easier to just disengage. How many times have I written someone off based on something they said, their actions, or how they look that day? It’s tempting to disconnect, especially with something I feel strongly about (like during an argument…*cough cough*) because it’s easier for me to think about right vs wrong or fundamental differences than to consider that I might be wrong or that the other person has their story and their needs too.

The biggest takeaway I got from this week was the idea of strategies vs needs. Our needs are universal, but the strategies we use to meet them can differ. So the next time I get into a conflict with someone else, I’ll try to think less of “why the hell would they say that to me??” and ask myself “what universal need are they trying to meet?” I think this is a step in the right direction 🙂

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 🙂

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

Get out of your funk. Or don’t.

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It’s all well and good to be happy, feel joyful and content. But what about when you don’t?

Last week was such a week for me. My body was fighting a cold, but my mind was fighting me.

“Why did I get sick?”

“What about all the things I need to do?”

“This is so inconvenient! For me, for my partner, my coworkers, my yoga classmates…”

This negative self-talk led to a negative week. I knew I could meditate, do some gentle asana, but I didn’t. I chose to be in, continue in, deepen the funk.

So how did I get out of my funk?

I decided that I was done with it.

I’ve lost count of the things I don’t have control of in my life, but my attitude, my intention, is not one of them. Hell, it might be the only thing I do have control over. (Wouldn’t that be scary?) That doesn’t mean I can control how I feel. Ha! I wish. But I can do something about my response to how I feel. Instead of blaming myself for letting my funk go on for a week, I chose to be kind to myself. Instead of forcing a smile on my face to “snap out of it”, I acknowledged the validity of my funk and let go of my tug-of-war between my “shoulds” and my “cans.”

I started to feel empowered by my choice, and grateful for the things that didn’t stink in my life.

So here’s what I learned about happiness:  you get to choose it. You have the power to be happy. And I don’t believe that there’s a right choice. If you read this post and said “fuck off, I’m busy frowning!” then right on, because hey, you just exercised your power to choose.

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Image credit: Edward Monkton