Blissful Alliance: Aligning Your Mind With Your Heart's Mission

This post with photos was originally published on January 25, 2013 on UnabashedlyBlissful.com, my former (now unplugged) yoga blog. There are a few articles from my old blog that I would like to republish, so here is one about good ol' new year's expectations. It was Part 3 of a series called "A New Year: Not A New You, But A True You."

If your heart is beautiful, your face will be beautiful, your life will be beautiful, everything will be beautiful.
— Swami Satchidananda

My son and I made this little earthwork in our garden in our home in Switzerland in January 2011.

The new year is a fine time to rethink our habits and reassess our personal growth. With a small shift in our outlook, maybe we can re-feel our approach to health and fitness and align our mind with our heart's intention...

My children’s school devoted their first weekly assembly of 2013 to the subject of—you guessed it, resolutions, and the words determination and perseverance were brought home for discussion at the family table. It’s a fine topic for young children and I was pleased my children took interest in it!

Resolutions are on everyone's mind I guess, but may already be fading. My commitment to growth is a daily intention, so new year's resolutions are no longer a personal practice, (but I have made and broken many in the past!). I see their value, though, as a new year or another birthday signals to us a time to refresh and recommit. How are you feeling? If you made formal resolutions, how is your progress? Are you cruising along or is your resolve feeling slippery? This isn’t surprising if we look at our society and how we are led to expect quick results. If it doesn’t come easily, many of us abandon our goal. Because we’re more apt to be driven by our misguided egos and our socio-familial conditioning, and less by our heart’s true desire, it’s no wonder so many resolutions made in the conventional tradition tend to fizzle.

If your willpower is waning, all is not lost. Just calmly return to your goal and accept hiccoughs as part of the path—two steps forward, three steps back, two steps forward, one step back, and suddenly four steps forwardand keep visualizing your success!

Another thing we can do to better our odds for positive growth is to start from a place of acceptance and have a little compassion for our shortcomings. We are a ‘life-in-progress’ and five thousand years of yogic wisdom asserts that positive thinking will create positive change. It even offers a systematic thought-to-destiny guide for mapping our own futures:

Watch your thoughts; they become words. Watch your words; they become actions. Watch your actions; they become habits. Watch your habits; they become character. Watch your character; for it becomes your destiny.
— The Upanishads

My children start to have existential questions, such as, what is my purpose in life? (Most other questions are about when can they watch a movie or eat ice cream!)

I tell them this: 

quite simply, you were born to sparkle and shine like no other star!

Every single one of us has a unique purpose in life and the potential to shine so brightly that we light up our world and the world of every person we meet. And yet, sadly, many of us are stuck. Stuck at the thought level. Stuck in a rut. If you’re reading this and you feel as if your growth has stagnated, then you’re not alone in feeling like life is a giant unbudgeable boulder.

We hear we have to balance our mind and body. (This yogic wisdom has been marketed into a slogan for selling pretty much anything these days!) This is indeed a nugget of wisdom, but leave out the heart, and I believe it’s only 2/3 complete.

Follow your heart. It knows what to do.
— Deepak Chopra from ‘On My Way to a Happy Life’

How do we follow a message we can’t hear? In the yogic tradition, the student must first have the willingness to listen to her heart. And to better hear the heart’s message, yoga philosophy values a calm and settled mind, cultivated through asanas (yoga exercises) and meditation.

It’s not easy to feel our heart if our stomach is tied in knots and we’re stressed or anxious. We’re constantly presented with myriad choices, with each decision creating a consequence. But, if we were to slow down, breathe calmly, and tune in to our inner wisdom, we would greatly increase our capacity to make positive, life-affirming decisions. In this spirit, even actions that result in negative consequences are positive, since a lesson was learned in the process.

Yogis describe a calm mind as analogous to a placid lake. Settled and still, it has the ability to create a mirror-like reflection of its surroundings, while turbulent waters don't reflect much of anything. Just look at this lake scene! This is true of the mind.

Sterling Lake (photo by Esther Chang, my cousin in NY)

Practicing meditation can help us learn to settle the waters of our mind, allowing us to see with utmost clarity. The picture may be seen by our MIND, but it's created in our HEART.

External expectations look and feel very different from our deepest desires. For example, our culture might express a resolution in this way: “I want to lose weight,” or “I want to quit smoking.” Not that these aren't important and positive desires if one is overweight or smokes. (I’m an ex-smoker myself. I quit cold turkey almost 15 years ago and never looked back. Ironically, it was my worst vice for years, and yet the easiest thing to quit once I made the commitment.)

Therefore, let’s shift our perspective and look at our desire for a ‘smaller waist’ or ‘thinner thighs’ from the perspective of our physical well-being and honor for our bodies. This is a critical adjustment to the conventional ‘makeover’ syndrome with which our society is obsessed. Next time we look in the mirror, instead of seeing the undesirable aspects of our being, such as our heavy thighs or protruding belly, we can choose to look at ourselves as beautiful, because our heart’s true intention to live a healthier life is a beautiful one. Honoring our heart’s message, without getting caught up in expectations of how we should look, will motivate us towards making small, but steady changes to eat and live healthier, rather than trying to be someone else's perfect ideal.

But, what is at the heart of these wishful expressions? If we look closely, at the core of these types of resolutions is the sincere desire to be healthier and to take care of our body better. Berating oneself with toxic criticisms such as “I’m so fat!" or "I’m so lazy!” will only reinforce negative grooves in the mind—deepening them with each thought. In yoga philosophy, the Sanskrit word for these 'grooves' are called samskaras. (Samskaras are neutral, referring to both positive and negative patterns.)

Our mind is ever changing, ever rewiring, ever reprogramming.

Long before science discovered neuroplasticity (the constant rewiring of our brain), the yogic sages already understood that our minds are constantly being rewired, and that reinforcing negative samskaras, or patterns, will result in—you got it!—deepening those patterns. Likewise, reinforcing positive samskaras will strengthen the positive ones. With this understanding of neuroplasticity and samskaras, it’s pretty clear why, in order to cultivate the seeds of positive growth, we also have to enlist our mind—our heart’s most powerful ally in fulfilling her intentions.

This is what yoga does so well—provide time-honored techniques to develop not just mindfulness, but mind-and-heart-fulness.

I'd like to end with a little story: the other morning after my nine year old daughter finished her (almost!) daily meditation, she opened her eyes and said, ‘I saw my heart,’ which she described as a glowing sensation behind her eyes. She spoke with such purity in her eyes that I knew she had truly experienced something special. Skeptics might say she was merely mimicking esoteric verbiage she’s picked up (hopefully not from me!), but I believe children have less cobwebs in their minds than adults, so they can more easily experience subtleties—why I am such an advocate of children being given the time to tend to the gardens of their minds.

Love and warmest wishes for happiness in 2013 [NOW 2015!] and years to come,

Juli

On treating depression and anxiety:  I very much enjoy the many wonderful pearls of wisdom that circulate around today, especially on the internet, but I also realize that for the deeply wounded or traumatized, these positive thinking quotes are more like offering a lollipop to someone with a gunshot wound. If you’re reading this, and rather than just feeling ‘stuck’ like most of us do from time to time, you feel like you’re sinking in quicksand, then I hope you have loved ones who will give you the emotional help you need. There is help out there and I wholeheartedly believe that every wound can be healed with enough love and therapy. Exactly 14 years ago, January 25, 1999, my beloved older sister died in a scuba diving accident at the young age of 34. I hurt so much that I thought I would never stop crying. I saw how my parents had to bury their own child and how my father suffered for years afterward from depression. I saw my sister's husband lose the love of his life. But slowly, with love and support, our family’s grieving was replaced by a recommitment to create joy in life and we began to heal. I know the limited nature of blogposts can never replace true human relationships, so please seek support. Allow people to help and love you. Even strangers. Sending you thoughts of support and healing, Juli