Every month I take a question or two from the community and reflect on them. Consider this a virtual satsang. If you have a question to offer, please share via email, socials, in class or through the site.
‘Non-attachment is such a deep part of this practice and the teachings, how does one simultaneously dream big AND not get attached to the outcome?!’ – C
What a question. This is something that has surely crossed many a modern-day human’s mind if they have any awareness and connection to the spiritual path at all. The delicate dance of non-attachment and chasing our dreams. This is one of the core examinations of the Bhagavad Gita. Well, maybe not quite with the spin of the modern world where we are overly encouraged with words like, ‘Follow your dreams! Live your biggest life! Don’t let anything get in the way!’ mentality. But the core message is still applicable: how to live fully in our dharma and not be attached to the outcome. For the sake of this specific question though, let’s examine this through modern eyes.
First off, there is nothing wrong with dreaming big and wanting to manifest incredible things in this world. Nothing. So much magic in our collective experience comes from the dreamers, doers and creators. So much. The hang ups for most, however, are in the mindset and approach. This is what can trip us up, keep us from taking the next step towards that dream or contribute to our suffering along the way. So here are three distilled points to reflect on with your own pursuit of dreaming big:
First, be fully present with the process of actualizing the dream. If the fixation is only on the end goal and there is no satisfaction or joy present in the process, meaning the actual work at hand to bring it to fruition, then reconsider your efforts. The richness should be revealed through the work itself, not the outcome. The work is the reward, not what comes next. Doing this work with a full heart and state of presence is the liberation itself. Here’s an example from my own life:
This year, Lauren and I came across a retail space in our area that would be absolutely perfect for a yoga studio. I had never put too much thought into opening and running a yoga studio but a spark was lit. Due to some upcoming travel, I had limited time to put together a proposal and pitch deck to the landlord, investors, city planning department, etc., but that didn’t stop me. I was up at all hours, synapses firing like crazy as I was developing the idea, putting together a PDF and letting it all sprawl out in front of me. I was completely absorbed in this part of the process. I was fully alive as the document was coming together, overfilled with joy at what was coming through me in the creative process. I did the work as though that was all that mattered to me. *FYI, we didn’t end up getting the space, which brings me to point number two.
Second, relinquish any attachment to what you ‘think’ the outcome should be. Life, and creating within life’s infinite energy, is an extremely dynamic equation with infinite variables. If you are trying to hammer all your efforts into producing a preconceived mold or vision you have in your mind, you may seriously limit the possibilities – the possibilities for a more rich, creative, unique outcome than what you had initially dreamed up. Allow yourself to be surprised along the way as the steps lead to different versions of your dream unfolding in front of you. If you can access this state, you will be in a collaborative flow with the universe, a co-creation with life itself. *The yoga studio idea has now morphed into something more beautiful than I could have imagined, more details coming soon.
It’s also important to relinquish attachment to the outcome because you may be disappointed with the outcome. Period. It may not live up to the vision you had in mind. It may not even come to fruition which is why my first point is of the most importance. If the attachment to what is finally produced taints the process and work put into the producing, then there is no peace. Dream big but let go, no one knows what will come of any of it. Just do the work with joy and release your efforts into the great unknown.
Finally, my third point is to dream and create in service of the whole – manifest something that will contribute to the greater collective experience in a positive way. Again, if this is in alignment, you’ll be in a harmonious co-creation with your surroundings, your community and beyond. Doors will open, support will show up, timings will align and a certain grace may pour through that wasn’t there before. Certain people will arrive at the right moment, hurdles will be overcome and resources will become available that perhaps didn’t exist until you brought this idea to light. Let it be done in an act of seva, or service.
If all three of these points are in alignment, how could you fail? And in the realm of non-duality, what is failure anyway other than an opportunity to get closer to the heart of all that is? You will learn, you will grow, there will be expansion and exploration, your mind will be stretched in new directions and it matters not what comes next. Set yourself free to dream big and open into the incredible journey we’ve been gifted as a human being. Good question!
‘It’s hard for me to be still in savasana because my mind starts racing. How do I stop my thoughts?’ – J
I get it. Savasana is usually broken into two camps: those that walk into the studio with the shirt that says, “I’m just here for savasana” and those that find it excruciating to be still – and perhaps the most challenging moment of class – far beyond arm balances, core work, chair pose, etc. So, let’s dive in.
First, for some folks, savasana may not actually be that physically comfortable in the body and in most shorter, vinyasa based classes there's likely to be very minimal (if any) emphasis on using props to alleviate that. This is a miss because it can be very beneficial to support certain areas of the body so as to minimize distress signals that keep the mind overstimulated. Consider using a bolster under the knees, a blanket folded under the ankles and heels, a grounding weight (sandbag, blanket or block) on the low belly/pelvis and also a blanket under the head. Creating physical comfort in this pose can make it more available to quell an overactive mind.
Once that is established, then the big question comes into play: How do I stop my thoughts? Well, this is arguably the core reason we roll out the mat each and every time and the real reason we do any of this. Learning to still the fluctuations of the mind so that we can come closer to our own inner essence is the good stuff. But HOW do we do that?
There are an overwhelming amount of tricks, tools, traditions and practices that all try to address this. And, you could spend a lifetime studying each modality and nuanced teaching. For brevity in this reflection, I’ll share just one practice (in addition to finding bodily comfort) that has helped my own journey toward creating peace inside. I want to start with the caveat that we will never completely stop all thoughts, that is not a reality. The most profound approach I’ve worked with is to work on not attaching myself to the thoughts themselves. To work towards becoming an observer of them, as though you could watch each thought with curiosity, like clouds passing overhead through a clear, blue sky.
I had a teacher once describe a moment where this made sense to him. He was sitting in meditation at a studio and there was a bus stop outside the studio. Every 15 minutes or so a bus would pull up, the brakes would screech, the air lift would hiss and then dozens of folks would clamor off in conversation. After a while, my teacher asked his teacher how to deal with the distractions of the bus. The teacher replied, ‘The bus will keep coming and going, just don’t get on it!’ Just like the thoughts, they will come and go with their din and cacophony, begging for your attention. Do you follow each thought and play out each fantasy? Or, do you start to simply notice them and label them as thoughts arising? Try to get yourself into the state of witnessing them rather than participating with them.
I certainly don’t want to create the sense that this task is easy, but it is crucial towards finding our own inner stillness. Start small and allow yourself to sit quietly for 2 minutes, see if you can just notice the thoughts without feeding into them. What does it feel like to just see them float through your mind without getting any hold on your mental bandwidth? Play with that and see how it goes for several days in a row. And if a thought takes you on a journey, smile, get off the bus and come back to just witnessing them as thoughts arising and dissolving. I’ll leave it at that for now, let me know how it goes.
‘After you go on a retreat, how do you maintain the joyous, peaceful experience?’ – T
Great question and there is SO much to unpack here, I’ll try to be succinct. First, let’s be honest, having a week of delicious meals prepared for you, no dishes to wash, good company and only needing to be accountable for making it to a yoga class (or two) in a beautiful setting is a serious luxury. Most of us can’t expect that to be our daily rhythm when we get back home – so take a moment to level out your expectations. However, hear out this crucial point that is referenced in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra (1:14). Sustained practice leads to a sustained experience. The more you’re rooted in the practice, the more you consistently experience the benefits, and that can become a new baseline of your being. Meaning, if you’re someone that just occasionally comes to a yoga class and then goes on retreat and expects the blissful experience to linger on indefinitely, you may be disappointed. But if you continue to stay in the practice several times a week then you have a better chance of maintaining the beneficial feelings that are a byproduct of dedicated practice. Pro tip: meet up with the friends you met on retreat to go to classes together. This not only provides accountability but is also a way to continue to reflect on the journey you’ve collectively shared.
Finally, and this is the maha (great) lesson amidst it all, the more we try to hold onto any experience, the more we suffer. Period. The moment we try to grasp onto something and fear losing it (in this case the feeling of ease while on retreat) then the more we will suffer when it becomes threatened (which it will inevitably). When we can learn to let each moment, day and experience arise just as it is without comparing it to what preceded it, then we are free for life to flow as it is. When we only see it through the lens of ‘should of, could of, would of’ then we miss the opportunity to be present with what is real. For example, coming home and having to wash your own dishes! Wash the dishes with your full awareness and let that become a meditation itself. Be present to every moment, because it is only the moment that matters. And remember this motto: all that arises also passes. Savor it but don’t hold so tightly that you create your own suffering.
Final pro tip: If you can, allow yourself at least a day or two after retreat before jumping right back into your routines. Let yourself take the time to reflect, journal, integrate and be with what you’ve experienced. That can help it not feel as jarring to step back into your daily home rhythm.
‘How do you create a Bhakti community when one doesn’t exist?’ – E
Good question and I get it. Once we get a taste of bhakti through kirtan (call and response chanting), storytelling, rich conversation and more then we want to find ways to nurture more of that and find a community to do it with.
We are very blessed here in the Bay Area to have a thriving bhakti scene where you can find kirtan, philosophy gatherings, satsang, etc. happening almost every night of the week. In other areas of the world, it may not be as prominent yet. And this is one of the pillars of the bhakti tradition, to spread the joy of devotion!
First, here are a few thoughts on community in general...
Building and creating community in any format is a wonderful endeavor. Take time to think about your intention and what gifts you have to offer in service to a community. What lights you up that you want to share? What brings people together to rejoice in one another’s company? Ponder that and see what comes to mind. All that being said, don’t get too attached to an outcome. Communities ebb and flow and take on an energy all to themselves. Sometimes what we think may be of service isn’t resonant within its setting. Give yourself permission to let it naturally evolve without too much force, but do be consistent. I find that consistency is key when serving a community. Sharing an experience on a regular cadence will give people something to rely on.
Also, don’t create the circumstances where the ‘community’ only revolves around you. Try to create the collective energy that brings people together regardless of your presence or not. Find ways to encourage folks to come together on their own so there is no ‘ownership’ of a community. This can help reduce any dependencies and foster a collective synergy of empowerment for all.
Moving on to the world of Bhakti…
For the bhakti community, chanting is one of the most powerful ways to bring people together, uplifting each other with our voices and prayers is nourishing for the soul. If you’re not necessarily a musician, don’t fret. The simplicity of just your voice and a few mantras is enough to create a powerful connection. If it’s newer to you, don’t try to complicate it too much. Just share a few chants, discuss the meanings and give it a shot. You don’t need a full band to orchestrate a lovely, rich gathering. You also don’t need to be a renowned harmonium player. Your voice and heart are always enough to spark the devotion.
If chanting doesn’t feel like the right approach, consider weekly or monthly gatherings to read some of the sacred bhakti texts together. Reading and discussing texts like the Bhagavad Gita or Ramayana are part of this practice. Coming together to read the glorious tales of the Divine is a great way to build connections with others. Pick out a few stanzas from a book and center a conversation around that. If you’re needing some book ideas, check out my library here.
And one of the best ways to get people together? Feed them. Seriously. Prasad, or food blessed by offering it to the Divine, is true nourishment and a great way to bring people together. Plan a night of vegetarian cooking and play some of your favorite mantra music while making it. Serve your guests as though they are the Divine incarnated and then have a mindful meal together with an intentional conversation about some chosen topics from the spiritual path.
A few other helpful hints…
Create an inviting space that makes people feel warm and cozy. When sharing practices from this tradition, make sure they feel aligned to you and that you can share them from an embodied space. If something feels too esoteric to you, chances are pretty good it may feel that way to others. Approach it all humbly and with curiosity. Also, get the word out there. Share it in all spaces you think it would be most resonant; yoga studios, houses of worship, college campuses, health food stores, etc. If you put yourself out there, stay consistent and humble and share something that is aligned to you… the right people will find you.
I hope that helps and that you find yourself basking in the joy of good company soon.