Humans are unique among all the animals in that we create meaning within society and ourselves. Think about it – just listen to your thoughts. Everyday you are creating meaning between yourself and the external. Our lives are full of symbolic gestures that resonate with the emotions we feel. No other animal species, as far as we know, creates a world of meaning through symbols. These symbols come in many forms – the gifts we give represent the love and care we feel towards those who hold special meaning to us. Our clothes represent ideas of expression congruent with our attitudes – business suits, Prada shoes and dresses, Levi’s jeans and leather boots. We build churches and places of worship to honor the angelic and divine nature of our existence. We have museums that give us looks into the past; art galleries to peer into present forms of expression; we have schools that invoke creativity for the future. Our lives are full of meaning – it is the human inclination to create meaning.
Sometimes we can get so caught up with living life that, as silly as it might seem, we lose awareness of the meaning in our lives. For example, when I graduated high school, the summer before college seemed full of thoughts about the future, the vastness of possibilities that the next phase of life would offer – I was thinking about the perceived symbolism of college. 2 years after entering I was stuck in the semester-to-semester grind of classes, homework, study, research and work – barely able to think about what lay beyond post-college. Then came graduation, followed by the rush of thoughts about a career, advancement, fulfilling some dream. Lo and behold, 2 years after college and I was stuck again in the weekly grind of work, save, spend – work, save, spend – work, save, spend…
Before I knew it, I was old and close to death, looking back at my life wondering where the value, the meaning, of my life went. Had I really lived? Did I fulfill my deepest dreams? What were my deepest dreams, anyway? Not really good thoughts to be having 15 feet away from Death, who happened to come over this morning for tea. However, fortunately – no – I am not old. Nor am I close to death (although I am sure he is a good person) – but I imagine some people might come to thoughts about the value or meaning of their lives as they await Death’s knock at the door.
In all reality, it is quite possible that we live without even thinking about IF life had it’s meaning at all. Ask yourself: “Does your life have meaning, value?” You might respond, “Yes” generally. If asked to elaborate…perhaps now your mind begins to draw blanks, or you think of very obvious things that all people find meaningful, or valuable – “Of course, I have my family of 2.5 kids, dog, 2 cars, 4 bedroom 3 bath house in the suburbs and dysfunctional extended family and friends. Sure my life has meaning because I created all those things and they are valuable to me.”
But who’s definition of meaning, or value, are we living by? DO you really like your 5am alarm, 2.5hr round-trip commute, almost-to-the-corner / window-cubicle with $65k salary for a family of 4, barely saving against the mortgage and credit card debts lifestyle? Sure, you love your family and, for them, you wouldn’t change a thing! That is great and 100% O.K.; if that is the life you find fulfilling. This is the key to creating meaning within our lives: fulfillment; satisfied and content with how life is being expressed.
So the question changes and we now we ask a deeper question. For example: Mr. Black can have a family and find every aspect about that meaningful because spouse and child are endowed with compassion and admiration within the family unit, often times inseparable. Mr. Black find family life fulfilling. He knows that his efforts are to support the healthy growth of spouse and child. But does that mean Ms. White, who is single, working for a company in a remote, freelance capacity who can socialize as needed, find solace during quiet times, and enjoy the freedom of travel at a whim's desire need to define their value of life based on that of Mr. Black? Absolutely not. However, the underlying tone of societal values and conditionings may weigh and tug at the subconscious mind of Ms. White, disallowing a true enjoyment of her lifestyle.
I do not mean to make light and superficial the very deep discussions on personal liberties, sense of freedom, or manners of expression that resonate in our hearts and souls. This is merely an attempt to provoke introspection into one's belief systems, as we may be very well living a facade life of which the outer appearance was built by others - a bleak and disappointing wall - that covers a brilliant and vibrant gem.
Who knows for sure, what one might uncover, as they attempt to verify what, exactly, lay beneath the mosaic wall of socialization and culturalization? Perhaps we will find that the outer is the same as the inner, or there is a modest difference between the two. Maybe some will find a stark contrast. Nevertheless, liberation comes from true knowing and true knowing can only come from earnest questioning and introspection.
So, as confirmed by the philosophers of age, the only true way to create lasting meaning in life - to feel real value - is to uncover the truth of our being. It is when we know this truth that we will be able to confidently express and live as our souls want us to. No more pangs or heavy hearts. No more confused decisions, rather vibrant living according to our own standard.
"but I can't touch my toes"....said no yogi ever
While there are a plethora of resources that explain thoroughly how yoga is not a physical practice, many people still assume that to "do yoga" one must be endowed with miraculous flexibility. Fortunately, within this post we will discover 4 different types of "yoga" that people can practice without having to worry about their flexibility.
#1 karma yoga - doing your best and live without expectations
We've all heard the word "karma" or the English adige "what goes around, comes around." Usually we see something, or hear something, bad and remark "they're creating bad karma".... What does that mean, really? Are we bound to the bad things we do or say?
No. Not really.
Karma, or the root karman in Sanskrit, really means to "act" or "to do" (according to the encyclopedia britannica). All of our actions, be it physical, mental or emotional are just that: actions. As we learned in science classes, all actions have causes and effects. So instead of thinking about karma as this esoteric force that punishes or rewards certain behaviors, we can instead look at our actions in a more practical, scientific way.
How to practice Karma Yoga:
Let's keep it simple: Always strive to do your best with the knowledge and tools at your disposal. Once you have completed your task, drop any expectation for the outcome.
If what you've done could be better, simply learn from the experience. Use your newfound knowledge to be wisely applied to future tasks/situations.
#2 love yoga - living for the one you love
The yoga of love isn't referring to the Kama Sutra. While it might be fun to connect with your romantic partner with different sex positions, the yoga of love is far from that. Traditionally called bhakti yoga, this practice is for those people who tend to be loving and devotional. Think of Mother Teresa, for example, she was devoted to pursuing her love of Christ and, through that love, helped many people in Calcutta India.
It is through devotion, or love, that we become inspired to perform deeds that adhere to this deep sense of love.
How to practice Bhakti Yoga:
Think of someone that you love dearly, could be a relative or friend, or even a role model. If you happen to be religious, perhaps you choose an icon of your faith that inspires love. Holding onto that image, that sense of deep love as you perform your daily actions, ask: Am I honoring and respecting this image of love through my actions? Would this person, or image, appreciate this type of action, thought?
In the devotional tradition, especially among Hare Krishna devotees, they tend to view all aspects of the world as a manifestation of Krishna, or God. Food is God, so we should prepare healthy, vibrant foods. Our home is God, so we should treat it with cleanliness and respect. Our bodies are God, so we should keep it fit, healthy, clean etc.
#3 thought yoga - the philosophical approach
Who are we? Where did we come from? What is the purpose of life? - These are the questions of the philosopher, the thought yogi, typically known as jnana yoga. This type of yoga is reserved for those who really like to think about things and have an intellectual understanding of any and everything in life. If you tend to question things, always trying to mentally "understand" what and why, then perhaps this is your approach.
How to practice Jnana Yoga:
Putting aside the external world, the Jnana yogi begins to question the origin of the mind. "Who am I" is the question of choice, as recommended by the Indian sage Ramana Maharshi. He is quoted as follow:
"The degree of freedom from unwanted thoughts and the degree of concentration on a single thought are the measures to gauge spiritual progress."
So, to fully understand ourselves and the external world, we must, in turn, focus our attention inward, fixated on the singular thought "Who am I?"
#4 scientist yoga - the royal form of yoga.
I was saving the best for last, after all, who doesn't want to be royal? Actually, the scientific royal path of yoga, known as raja yoga, is probably the hardest way to be a yogi. This type of yoga typically combines all three prior AND takes into consideration the instructions found in the text called Yoga Sutras by the sage Patanjali. After all, royalty demands more than just posh living, so what does it mean to be a royal scientist yogi?
How to practice Raja Yoga:
First and foremost, there are 8 steps within the scientific process of raja yoga. Just as you would follow certain rules in a laboratory to avoid ruining an experiment, so does the yogi. These steps are meant to reduce negative consequences in the yogi's life.
The first and second step relate to rules, or guidelines, to help the scientist yogi achieve success in their practice by creating a neutral, moral and ethical laboratory.
(steps 1 and 2)
Harmlessness (non-violence), Truthfulness, Non-stealing, Conservation of vital energies, Non-avarice (absence of greed), Purity, Contentment of mind, Desire to learn and apply knowledge, Passion to success, and finally, Surrendering to the process of experimentation.
In the third step we focus on the physical body. Many of us (I, too, was once to blame) do not take adequate care of ourselves. Here, we focus on holistic living, which includes a balanced life of nutritious foods, rest/exercise, and supportive relationships. In learning to listen to our bodies and provide it with the appropriate things, we begin to cultivate a radiance of health that allows us to continue on with our experiment of life.
Having created a sterile environment that is morally/ ethically supportive, healthy, we begin to turn our attention inwards to understand the subtle energies of life. We sit and start with the breath to investigate the dynamic relationship it has with our being and existence.
As this process of inward attention flows, we ask ourselves to focus on a singular thought, like the Jnana yogi, this could be a concept, but for the purpose of simplicity, let's keep the original question "who am I?" as the focus. By settling our mind on this idea, we slowly turn off our outward focus and, instead, remain internally aware. This sustained focus results in concentration, in turn meditation, and finally the goal of "yoga", or direct-sustained intuitive awareness of the essence of our being.
By living right, practicing daily, the Raja yogi slowly (or quickly) uncovers the truth of his/her existence, arriving at the solution to the hypothesis.
Conclusion: you don't have to be flexible to practice yoga.
When we look at the world it may be hard for us to realize all of the hard work that went into the environments that we enjoy. For example, have you ever thought about the struggles of the sensitive rosebush, fighting against diseases, bugs/insects, harsh storms, wind, or seasons? Have you ever thought about the hot steel factory workers that smelted tons of metal to frame the buildings around us? The risks of the workers to hang from scaffoldings to lay the bricks and mortar? Have we ever considered the 9 emotionally turbulent months of mothers carrying babies, the pains of childbirth?
Success comes from Effort.
Whether we've considered it or not, success in any endeavor requires effort. The ease of that effort depends in part on the preparation beforehand. A tree comes from a seed that, over thousands of years, has refined the DNA to suit proper growth. Architects and engineers spend years learning design and structural integrity to be able to design and build structures like the Golden Gate Bridge, or the International Space Station.
Abilities affect Efforts.
All things are endowed with natural talents and abilities. If we were to judge a fish for its inability to climb a tree, well, we aren't acknowledging the truth of the fish.... similarly, if a fish were to judge itself, he/she would be failing to recognize the innate talent of living underwater, swimming, and the unique characteristics that fish has.
So, we must similarly not compare ourselves against the successes of others. They are who they are and have arrived within the scope of their own abilities and circumstances.
Recognizing our natural Talents and Successes - practice:
Take a moment to write down all the things that you naturally have a talent at. Like the last post, start simple. ....
After you have written your list, take a moment to see how those natural talents have helped you so far. If you are unsure, or even had a problem writing a list, perhaps sit down with a trusted family member, friend, or mentor, to help you define that list and instances. Sometimes it's hard for us to recognize that which is natural to us and we need the outside perspective of others.
I love to, and find it easy to, cook, for example. This natural passion and talent helped me when I needed a part-time job as a cook at a restaurant.
If you've created a list or not, we can also use visualization to help us. Try this simple practice:
Focus on your breathing.
Even out the inhales and exhales, so they become equal in length.
Notice how the mind becomes more settled with your even breath,
Once your mind feels quiet, begin to imagine, or visualize something you wish to be successful at. Choose something specific and realistic. Mentally "see" or "feel" yourself as having attained that goal, or success. Know it to be true at the core of your being.
How do you see yourself? How do you feel?
With the sensation of success, continue throughout your day, week, months, with that attitude of accomplishment. Do what you know needs to be done. If you are unsure, stay with the feeling of wholeness, accomplishment, success, until you are presented with the tools and resources to work on your goal.
Mentally affirm with confidence: "Connected to my natural talents and abilities, I naturally exhibit success in all my actions."
You are already successful.
Be a S.M.A.R.T. ass.
So way way back in 2011ish, I had the distinct opportunity to work with an established web-based design and applications company as their Account Manager, with little time, before moving along to be the Project Manager. It was a sudden jump into management, having for just the prior two years being spent traveling through Mexico in 2009 and holding part-time jobs upon returning home to the US in early 2010/11. However, I had recently begun more serious practice of meditation and yoga, completing the first Yoga Teacher Training program in Spring 2011.
As a Project Manager, at least as far as I was exposed to and initially taught, you must be able to create these fancy charts, keep statistics, have an eye for detail/perfection etc. etc. all the anal-retentive and bossy characteristics you can imagine.....
I was also taught, though too, that there are general pathways that projects move along towards completion. A successful completion comes from S.M.A.R.T. goals/project planning.
What is S.M.A.R.T. planning, setting S.M.A.R.T. goals?
Good question. I wasn't too familiar with S.M.A.R.T. goals before I started either. Let's take a look:
#1 it's an acronym. S.M.A.R.T. =
SPECIFIC // being as specific as possible about the end goal, result. Clear visualization.
MEASURABLE // what can be used to track progress? track it.
ATTAINABLE // given what you have (resources, skills), can it happen? if not, get what's needed 1st.
REALISTIC // is the goal something you really want? can you handle what it brings?
TIMELY // how soon? can you set markers along the way (mini goals)? will you get bored? run out of resources?
A Humble Warrior is a S.M.A.R.T. ass.
What does all this mean, this S.M.A.R.T. planning, creating S.M.A.R.T. goals?
Regardless of who or where you are, 1oo% can this technique be useful in living. The simplest to more profound things can utilize SMART planning. From "Daily Chores" - "Bucket List". Being a SMART ass will help you cultivate success in life.
While the roots started within corporate management / project planning structure, the SMART technique can help us learn how projects become successful by identifying the key needs / requisites.
Starting small - little by little, step by step, did the Tortoise beat the Hare.
Ok, I know the acronym, how do I make it work?
- another fantastic question.
Well, so first things first: 1) start small
It will be easier if we start off with, let's say, "Things to Do this Week", or if that's a bit much you could say "In the Next few Days" or even more short, "How to Survive Today".
Thinking about the week: What KEY things need to get done to support your life? Work, Projects around the house, like fixing the leaky pipe?
Once you IDENTIFY the GOAL, we need to IDENTIFY DEPENDENT TASKS. This is where we start cascading down from the king, the goal, through the ranks until we reach the peasantry of individuals that drive the success of the king/ the goal... For example, a bridge cannot be built without concrete, concrete cannot be made without stone, stone cannot be refined without a quarry, a quarry cannot be mined until....etc etc.
In 2 weeks you want to spend the weekend somewhere nice, maybe by the beach with friends? Ok, so how do we plan?
Set Budget - Find Locations - Invite Guests - Appropriate Lodging - Book Reservations - Plan Activities.
Enjoy the beach near Cape Cay with Tim, Jan, and Keisha, for 2 nights that fits a budget between $500-$700/per person. Tim/ Jan can share a room. Keisha prefers separate.
By Tuesday, lodging booked, by Thursday, activities planned.
Bank account looks good, kids will be at grandparents already.
I love my friends and we'll all enjoy getting away.
Two weeks is enough time for my friends to confirm.
one more acronym K.I.S.S. the SMART ass...
Keep. It. Simple. Stupid. - the more simple and easy with your goals, the easier it will be to build upon your mini-successes by incorporating the SMART model into other areas of your life, those bigger goals. Heck, even at work.
The KISSing, SMART ass Humble Warrior.
Start creating success by keeping it simple. Maybe reducing your life's needs to the bare necessities to start off, adding only that which is of benefit and not harmful to yourself and others.
Keep your goals simple. Be SMART about them. Write down your ideas, plan it out. Visualize. Assess these ideas/goals with your experience, by watching others, using your keen judgement to do what is SIMPLE and SMART.
Be the successful person you know you are.
I have always thought that we can, if looking hard enough, find parallels between seemingly irrelevant categories. A bit like Ken Wilber.
The other day I was thinking about the body, systems of the body, and how they might relate to our external world/ affairs. In particular...today about STORED ENERGY or FAT.
They aren't fat, just big boned.
Well, I am not making any negative connotation towards any body type... however, as a yogi/ fitness enthusiast, I choose to think about the human body's states of being, overall health so on and so forth.
So when I think about fat, I think about savings accounts, money, stored energy.
In it goes [food] and out it flows.
The body uses fats as stored energy, that also acts as insulation against the external weather. Thinking about the natural world and our human interaction, our need for consumption, it appears that there are many, many naturally diverse foods that we have relative easy access to. If you are fortunate to live in Europe, developed Asia, South America, or North America, you more than likely can go into a store to find an array of fruits, vegetables and meats.
We know through research that the body thrives on diversity and that wholesome foods will always outperform highly processed foods and supplements.
Looking at the human system, too much fat, fat from cheap, bad sources, creates a toxic environment that supports the development of risk factors associated with diseases such as diabetes, coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, hypertension etc. On the opposite side of the spectrum, too little fat (stored body fat) and we run the risk of starving ourselves, pushing the boundary where the body will begin to eat away at the fats that insulate our vital organs. THE BRAIN USES 20% of our daily consumption of calories.
Money is our fat. Insulate yourself.
So now thinking about the external world. We have to support ourselves within an economy that utilizes money as a means of value exchange. We have to somehow acquire fancy colored paper in order to acquire goods and services. There is nothing wrong with this. We could very well easily exchange labor to someone for the rice grown in their fields, could perform medical services for the owner of a contracting company to build a house for the Dr's family. We could operate in a barter system.
Since we don't we have to insulate ourselves with that fancy money. Kinda like how a chipmunk or squirrel will store seeds and nuts for the winter.
So, money as energy, it's my theory that similar principles apply to money, as energy does to the body:
- We needs healthy inputs of energy (money)
- Produced from wholesome sources
- Stored and utilized appropriately (not spending too much, not being greedy).
My healthy body represents the health of my entire being.
What are the parallels? Well, think about it.
I don't have money, I am limiting myself, I am starving myself. I am unable to do that which I desire.
The Meat of the Matter:
I am overweight, slothful, lazy. I've consumed more than my fair share without using that energy for constructive purposes. I am at risk to health issues related to sedentary living, consumed by my own greed.
I save a healthy proportion of my income [energy produced from appropriate actions].
I nurture myself by performing good works, using my energy to be creatively helpful and productive. I use some of my stored energy to support those around me, remembering the times I have been supported.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT.
Meditation, Mindfulness and Yoga are popular words these days. What do they mean?
Mindfulness is being aware of the present moment and not thinking forward or backward to the future or past. It is simply being here, now, in the raw moment with a reserved and removed awareness.
Meditation is a state of sustained concentration and focus. We have probably slipped into meditation doing the things that we love or are passionate about, like hobbies or activities.
Think about the last time you were doing something that you really enjoyed. Can you imagine it? Can you be there, in that moment?
How did you feel? Focused on what you were doing? Not thinking about anything else?
That is a state of concentrated focus, or a type of meditation.
Meditation is sustained concentration on a chosen object or idea. We can use meditation techniques to help increase our natural ability to remain concentrated on something.
There are various ways that meditation technique practice can improve our life and our relationships through:
What is Yoga?
Yoga in America is a popular way for people to be active because of yoga's various physical styles which are accessible, in one way or another, to the majority of the population.
Yoga is, however, more than just stretching or trying to empty your mind. Yoga is a science of the self, the individual; an investigation into the inner-self to understand and know the origin and essence of existence. Just as we have external empirical sciences to study the world, so the peoples of India have kept and refined the empirical internal science of self-study, or contemplative yogic meditation.
The techniques that yogic traditions employ are either devoid, or invite for the symbolic replacement, of religious icons. So they [the techniques] can easily be applied to any spectrum of human belief system from atheism to conservative orthodox traditions.