A wise man once praised the virtues of witnessing the workings of our minds, thoughts and emotions. Such a task requires bravery, but the result is inner freedom. Here I'll share with you what two leading modern-day yogis -- B.K.S. Iyengar and Tara Brach -- have to say on this subject of ultimate spiritual independence.
B.K.S. Iyengar: Watch Your Mind
(1918-2014), founder of Iyengar yoga, had a stern and encouraging voice that still booms inside my head whenever I think about
persistent effort and dedication as the only path to changing our
habits and reactions, our samskara. (Find out more if you're wondering "Who Was B.K.S. Iyengar?")
“You cannot hope to experience inner peace or freedom without understanding the workings of your mind and of human consciousness in general. All behavior both constructive and deconstructive is dependent on our thoughts. By understanding how our thinking works, we discover nothing less than the very secrets of human psychology. With this right perception and understanding of our minds, the door opens to our liberation, as we go through the veil of illusion into the bright day of clarity and wisdom. The study of mind and consciousness, therefore, lies at the heart of yoga.” -B.K.S. Iyengar
In theory, this sounds easy. Watch your mind and you will gain an understanding of all that you are and your life will improve. Personally, allowing myself to feel and acknowledge my thoughts and patterns feels draining. It seems self-centered. There is pain in listening to the drone of my thought patterns and it doesn’t feel great to admit how much time I've lost in obsessive thoughts or dwelling in anger. (Learn about Quieting the Commentary of Your Mind.)
Truthfully, identifying my emotions, reactions and triggers has got me feeling blue and defeated. So, why do I choose this grueling method of coping and why do I wholeheartedly encourage others to do it as well? Because, despite feeling defeated, it also gives me a sense of freedom. I no longer see my life as glass half empty.
Tara Brach: 'Radical Acceptance'
In the past, I used to be in denial. Now I’m starting to see that my denial held me prisoner. In one blessed instance, I chose to look within and work on changing myself. No more blaming, no more resentments, no more drama. The name of my new game is now “Radical Acceptance,” as coined by Tara Brach, a Buddhist yogini who founded the Insight Meditation Community of Washington, DC. Iyengar, too, speaks about the process of creating change in a rational way and Brach supports the heart of this philosophy. (Learn why radical acceptance requires Ahimsa: A Self-Practice.)
Living in the present moment and in the immediacy of our emotions, without stories or justifications, requires radical acceptance. It is radical to accept our circumstances because the tendency our mind and ego is to long for the future, the past, or for something different entirely. It is radical to change our habits so drastically, but it is worth it. We begin to see how quickly our feelings shift. Our thoughts shift. The weather shifts. Relationships shift. The reality is that nothing is constant. In radical acceptance of this constant change, I realize I’m not in control of anything but my own reactions. Now that is a happy and empowering discovery! (Learn more about how fundamental accepting constant change is in The Message of the Gurus.)
I do not want to remain stuck in one place, in one state of mind and being; so, the way out is in honoring flux, evolution and growth. Now I simply hear it, I watch it, I feel it. And in an instant, it vanishes, leaving me feeling lighter and free.
"The process of becoming unstuck requires tremendous bravery, because basically we are completely changing our way of perceiving reality, like changing our DNA. We are undoing a pattern…we’re naturally going to have withdrawal symptoms – withdrawal from always thinking that there’s a problem and that someone, somewhere needs to fix it.
The middle way is wide open, but it’s tough going, because it goes against the grain of an ancient neurotic pattern that we all share. When we feel lonely, when we feel hopeless, what we want to do is move to the right or the left. We don’t want to sit and feel what we feel. We don’t want to go through the detox. Yet the middle way encourages us to do just that. It encourages us to awaken the bravery that exists in everyone.
That’s the beginning of growing up. As long as we don’t want to be honest and kind with ourselves, then we are always going to be infants. When we begin just to try to accept ourselves, the ancient burden of self-importance lightens considerably. Finally, there’s room for genuine inquisitiveness, and we find we have an appetite for what’s out there." -Tara Brach