When I did yoga teacher training several years ago, we learned about the different phases along what is known the eight-fold path. First we had to understand the underlying foundational principles of yoga, including “yamas” and “niyamas.” These were like the 10 commandments of being a yogi, and the principles lined up with those of major religions, such as acting with nonviolence in all things, and being truthful.
Within a few weeks we moved on to meditation, and by then I was hungry for the opportunity. Something in me really wanted that quiet, peaceful time that I knew would rewire my brain. Because for most of my life I had a negative opinion of myself that existed as a low-level hum. I am a problem. I can’t do anything right. I mess up everything. I will never be enough. Yoga teacher-training, more than any religion or book or friend or certified therapist, changed this, began to transform me from the inside out. It didn’t hurt that I had just left a job where I felt betrayed and rejected, and all those old feelings and wormy thoughts I’d been carrying were brought to the surface of my awareness, ready to be handled.
The reason yoga helped so much, and helps so many people still, is that it deals with the intersection of mind, body, and spirit. Western medicine and philosophy, and Christo-centric culture, seeks to focus on the separation of these elements, thinking one exists in isolation of the other. But yoga was about recognizing where these memories and illusions and fears existed in my body, and how I could face them, move through them, transform them into greater clarity and truth.
The kind of meditation we were assigned was called “Passage Meditation,” where you pick a particular prayer or mantra and repeat it over and over in your mind, noticing when your mind wanders, and coming back to finishing the prayer and starting all over again. I looked at some of the prayers on the pages of the book, and remembered prayers I had heard in childhood, but nothing felt hard-hitting enough to help me transform. So I made up my own.
I am love.
I am light.
I am worthy.
I am safe.
I am strong.
What I realized in this practice was how influential my thoughts were on the way I moved through the world, the sensations I had in my body, what I believed about myself and others. Because often, what we feel inside about who we are is what we end up seeing in the people around us. If we feel negatively about ourselves, we’re quicker to find flaws and negativity in others. That negativity feeds and grows, and isn’t very helpful, and it can cause a lot more pain. But if we find what’s good in us, we meet people on that plane, and much more is possible. We can grow in joy and compassion and, especially, gratitude.
You can come up with a series of mantras of your own, or use this series, or even just take one that you need to hear and repeat it in a quiet, safe space every day. But you must remember to set aside time for yourself, to sit still and breathe. (10 minutes is ideal, to start.) Notice the wandering thoughts, the sensations in your body, and come back to your breath and these words. That’s all meditation is. It’s very, very simple. But not always easy. Because what we face most, when we sit down to do it, are those darker thoughts, that negativity that makes us want to turn away, or that feeds off of fear about knowing ourselves. We’re afraid that underneath it all, we’re a muddy puddle of blackness or tar, that we’re a mess. And yet that’s only a surface. Digging deep will get us to the truth, and believe me, the truth is more pure and good than you’ve been led to believe. You are not just what you do, or what other people think about you, or the decisions you’ve made. There is something more to you—something deeply beautiful and whole.
Now, I interrupt this blog post with a very relevant PSA about bathrooms.
Bathrooms are sanctuaries. It’s something about the tile, the flow of water. Bad energy doesn’t get absorbed as easily there. So in moments when you need a break, when you need a reminder or a jolt to bring you back to a nourishing reality again, use the gorgeous, god-given bathroom. Meditate on the toilet and breathe. Dance, if you need to. Look into your eyes in the mirror and tell yourself what you need to hear, what the most perfect, nurturing mother would say. Do a yoga pose. Pray. I just think God listens so much better in a bathroom, when we’re in a bind and we have nowhere else to go.
We have a pathological condition of looking outside ourselves for answers to life’s most challenging questions. We read too many articles on the internet. We go to therapists. We take classes. None of these are bad things to do. But at a certain point, we must recognize that the way to happiness and wholeness is not through looking out there, but in looking inside. It’s not that we shouldn’t get help, or listen to the wisdom that often comes through others. For some of us, who never share our feelings or face ourselves, asking for help from others is exactly what we need to do. But there is also something to be said for cultivating a deep inner knowing. For spending time with yourself, for acknowledging your weak points with kindness, for facing your shadows, all so that you can live into your strength.
Do not be afraid of who you are.