“Step onto your mat and wake up to your life”, I often say in class. “Get curious about what is really going on.” If we find the courage to let go and see clearly, our yoga practice will expose the stew of emotions of brewing deep inside us all. It will disclose what holding us back and what is bugging us. “Bring it on”, I say in class, “Let’s open our eyes, move our bodies and stir up some emotional stew.”
The bottom line to all of the yoga, the meditation and chanting is to awaken our hearts, to become more compassionate beings, to love and accept ourselves and others. When we are willing to see, touch, smell, taste and experience all of the highs and lows of our lives, we become more connected to everything around us. We become more spontaneous and more compassionate. We feel more alive.
“The key is to wake up, to be more alert, more inquisitive and curious about ourselves”, says Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön. Yoga practice is an ideal time to get curious, to hang out with ourselves for a bit. It is right there in Warrior I that we peel ourselves right down to our authentic core. It is in Wheel pose that we experience ourselves in all of our guts and glory. It’s in Pigeon pose that we uncover our long suppressed likes and dislikes.
No doubt, the process of awakening can be unnerving, unsettling and uncomfortable. The Buddhists say that we need to be kind and gentle to ourselves as we peel away the layers of the psyche. It’s great to stir up the emotional stew but in so doing we need to “place our fearful mind in the cradle of loving kindness”. Without labeling or judging these emotions as bad or good, we learn to trust ourselves. In cultivating unconditional self-love, we open our hearts. In Buddhism this practice is called Maitri, the path of unconditional loving-kindness. In her book, Comfortable with Uncertainty, Pema Chödrön writes:
Practicing loving kindness – maitri – toward ourselves doesn’t mean getting rid of anything. Maitri means that we can still be crazy after all these years. We can still be angry after all these years. We can still be timid or jealous or full of feelings of unworthiness. The point is not to try to change ourselves. The ground of practice is you or me or whoever we are right now, just as we are. … We are here to study ourselves and to get to know ourselves now, not later.
Maitri is about fully accepting ourselves, bad hair and all. It is about befriending ourselves through the highs and the lows. It is about seeing, tasting and touching the present moment without running away. As we practice loving-kindness, we become compassionate beings. In so doing, we find the power of the bodhichitta, which in Sanskrit means the noble or awakened heart. Chödrön says, “Making friends with yourself is making friends with other people too, because when you come to have this kind of honesty, gentleness and goodheartedness, combined with clarity about yourself, there’s no obstacle to feeling loving kindness for others as well.”
By practicing maitri, by following the path of the bodhichitta we learn to smile at our craziness just as we are today. Our gentleness, our curiosity and our openness lead us to touch the soft spot in our hearts. The path of loving kindness leads us to a place of compassion, honesty and authenticity. It is at that place where we find happiness and peace.