Off the Mat

As we continue to be witness to our world falling apart at the seams, many of us are finding comfort in our spiritual practices, such as yoga, meditation and sacred chant. These temporary “escapes” from day to day stress  and the uncertainty of the future of our world allow us to find some necessary support and optimism.

Yet while practices are very empowering and can initiate positive change within, we must be very aware of the possibility of using them to create a sense of detachment to our lives and the events that are occurring. Denying the horror doesn’t make it go away. In fact, it often supports its continuation due to it running unexamined. On a more extreme level, spiritual practice can strengthen our sense of righteousness and arrogance as we begin to identify as a spiritual person, a yogi or any label that we believe to be who we are. Although most practices are designed to help dissolve our false sense of self, this isn’t always the result unless this goal is held vigilantly. Instead, we often begin to feel superior, more enlightened than others and less willing to investigate our role in creating a dysfunctional reality.

Many of us begin our day with an hour or two on the cushion or mat, yet what is happening the rest of the day? Are we continuing to stay in the space we felt during our practice; a place of compassion and expansion, loving all beings as ourselves, or are we spending the day in judgement of ourselves and in competition with others? Do our internal thoughts line up with the realizations we had during our meditation or are they the same ones that have been coming up for years? The more challenging discipline is noticing what are we doing the other 22 hours of the day. This is our real meditation; our real mantra. Chanting “Om Namaha Shivaya” for several minutes is blissful, but repeating “I am not worthy”, “Life is so unfair to me”  or “He broke my heart” for the rest of the day defeats the purpose.

Spending time investigating this is very powerful. It can be surprising to realize that we often push aside the fact that we aren’t as loving to ourselves and others as we could be because we believe that we are “spiritual”. Living this way, compared to people that do not do spiritual practice, can be even more dangerous because we have set up a belief system that is very difficult to break down. We may begin to believe that we do not need to face certain issues or be held accountable for our behavior within our intimate relationships because we are beyond all of that.

Meditation is a 24/7 discipline. The two hour practice is the easy part. Diving into the core of the anger, fear and sadness that arise during the day takes tremendous courage and often leads to our personal lives enduring drastic change or completely falling apart. As we are willing to stand in the face of our deep pain; the pain we experienced and the pain we created, we can do the real work. Until then, we may enjoy the new found strength and tone in our bodies, the bliss of noticing our breath and chanting sacred names and attending celebratory festivals, yet we are not necessarily awakening to who we are. We may be simply adding another layer to the layers of identity that we already believe ourselves to be.

Until we are stripped of the mat, the labels, and the blissful escapes; until we can be fully present with all that is here, we will never be able to meet the real challenges that we face today. Yet, if we are willing to face what is arising during the daily experiences outside of our “practice”, we have an opportunity to live from this conscious awareness in each moment. Then our lives become a meditation, no matter what we are doing. This is where real change is possible; change that goes beyond who we believe ourselves to be and where we can truly make a difference in the world.

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