The Book of Awakening

One of my most favorite books is Mark Nepo’s “The Book of Awakening: Having the Life You Want by Being Present to the Life You Have.”  This book came to me during the beginning of my own awakening two years ago and I have been in love with it ever since. It is a lovely collection of daily reflections that serve as gentle reminders for accepting our past, living in the present and honoring our highest selves. I find it to be a very important tool in the survival kit I am building for my journey of living, breathing, speaking and being my most authentic self.

My lovingly worn copy of The Book of Awakening

My lovingly worn copy of The Book of Awakening

I didn’t wake up today with plans to post a new blog, but as I caught up with the reflections from this past weekend, and read the reflection for today, I felt moved to share some of Nepo’s words. I highly encourage this book for anyone who is on the path or who is trying to find their way there. I have such a literary crush on Mark Nepo and my hope is to see him speak his words in person one day and possibly have the chance to meet him.

Here’s some of what spoke to me today:

“…I’ve learned that loving yourself requires a courage unlike any other. It requires us to believe in and stay loyal to something no one else can see that keeps us in the world – our own self-worth.”

“The great and fierce mystic William Blake said, ‘There is no greater act than putting another before you.’ This speaks to a selfless giving that seems to be at the base of meaningful love. Yet having struggled for a lifetime with letting the needs of others define me, I’ve come to understand that without the healthiest form of self-love – without honoring the essence of life that this thing called ‘self’ carries, the way a pod carries a seed – putting another before you can result in damaging self-sacrifice and endless codependence.” (I went through my own fair share of relationships beholden to the idea that the needs of others should come before mine; to the point that it was mentally, emotionally and spiritually unhealthy. I finally experienced that one relationship – my last serious one – where I truly felt the pain of self-sacrifice and once it ended, I made the decision that enough was enough. Now I am doing the work of loving, honoring and depending on me first and alone.)

“In truth, though, being kind to ourselves is a prerequisite to being kind to others. Honoring ourselves is, in fact, the only lasting way to release a truly selfless kindness to others…So, the real and lasting practice for each of us is to remove what obstructs us so that we can be who we are, holding nothing back. If we can work toward this kind of authenticity, then the living kindness – the water of compassion – will naturally flow. We do not need discipline to be kind, just an open heart.”

“…when we dare to move past hiding, a deeper law arises. When we bare our inwardness fully, exposing our strengths and frailties alike, we discover a kinship in all living things, and from this kinship a kindness moves through us and between us. The mystery is that being authentic is the only thing that reveals to us our kinship with life. In this way, we can unfold the opposite of Blake’s truth and say, there is no greater act than putting yourself before another. Not before another as in coming first, but rather as in opening yourself before another, exposing your essence before another. Only in being this authentic can real kinship be known and real kindness released.”

“When we put ourselves fully before another, it makes love possible, the way the stubborn land goes soft before the sea.”

It has been – and continues to be – one of my goals to experience true, lasting, passionate, full and peaceful self-love. As Nepo so eloquently states, truly loving ourselves opens us up to be able to truly love and be kind to others. This is the essence of “ahimsa,” or compassion. And once the heart has been awakened, it is hard to turn back…

I wish you peace, love, light and all the self-love your heart can hold. Namaste.


Ahimsa

Tree of Life Prayer BeadsWhen I first came to my Yoga mat, I came under the impression that Yoga was simply the physical movements that many of us are used to seeing. Enrolling in a Yoga teacher training program years after practicing with my first at-home DVD, I have quickly learned that the poses are just part of a larger path. There are actually 8 limbs of Yoga, of which asanas (the poses) are one.

Two of those limbs are the Yamas and Niyamas. “Yamas” are moral observances; our guiding principles for how we deal with others. “Niyamas” are our personal observances; the principles of how we deal with ourselves. There are 5 principles both for Yamas and Niyamas. For the purpose of this particular blog post, I am going to focus on one of the Yamas: Ahimsa. Ahimsa is Sanskrit for compassion – showing kindness and non-violence to all living things.

I am by no means a perfect person, but I was pleasantly surprised to learn that I was already incorporating some of the Yamas and Niyamas in my life before I ever knew or even heard of them. Compassion has always been one of my guiding principles. And when my son was born almost 6 years ago, I knew without a doubt that of all the things I could teach him, what would be most important is showing him how to be kind to others.

When I was pregnant and found out I was having a boy, I admittedly cried for a day or so. I am the baby sister of 5 older brothers (between both of my parents’ first marriages) and I really, really, really wanted a girl so that I could complete the trifecta of my mother, me and my baby girl (yes, I actually did think this). Although my brothers had mostly girls between them and the family was actually lacking for boys, I wanted to add my girl to the bunch.

I always had to tag along for my one brother’s high school and college football games. Every Sunday, I had to sacrifice my cartoons or a show I was watching for whatever seasonal sporting event was on. While I had grown up surrounded by testosterone, I didn’t think I’d have a clue of how to raise a boy. Sure, my then-husband would help, but by time baby boy was born, I knew our marriage was on its last leg. I became a single mother before my son turned 2 years-old and as the primary parent, most of what he would learn would come from me. Like many parents of little boys, I want my son to be strong, confident and have some athletic prowess. I long ago accepted that I would not be able to teach him how to be a man, but I certainly could teach him how to be a kind and decent human being. And that has been my mission.

My message of compassion seems to be paying off. My son genuinely shows concern when someone is hurt or crying. When I have my own life moments that I am unable to hide from him, he always comes to me with his favorite toy or stuffed animal and tells me they can sleep with me in my bed so I’ll feel better. There is a little girl in his school who is visually impaired, and while it may take a little nudging from me, because he notices something “different” about her, he makes a point to speak to her and play with her when the other kids stay away. I see the kindness in him, as have friends of mine. While he is a little boy, I am always conscious of the fact that I am raising a man. One day, he will go into the world with the values I’ve instilled in him and learn how to balance that with the values he develops on his own.

Today I came across a Huffington Post article about the things every mother should do for their sons. The article was written in light of a sexual assault of a teenage girl that occurred in Steubenville, Ohio last August. The author suggests that we, as society and parents, help to create a culture of such violent acts, especially by pushing our boys to be “tough guys.” We praise athletes and athleticism, while encouraging our girls to be demure and supportive. It is the author’s belief that certain measures can be taken to avoid another Steubenville. The first of her suggestions is to teach our boys to be kind and to teach them this as early as possible. Being that kindness is something I’ve been working to instill in my son since birth, I wholeheartedly agree.

I continued to think about the article long after I read it. I thought about how some parents and people are of the belief that boys shouldn’t be showered with hugs and kisses because it will make them “soft,” while doing so for girls is acceptable. We tend to focus on the fact that our daughters need to see and receive love at a young age, so they will know what it should look and feel like when they begin to engage in relationships. And it’s not to say that we shouldn’t focus on this, but what about our boys? I don’t necessarily want my son to be a “mama’s boy,” but I have no shame in hugging him, kissing him and telling him I love him multiple times a day. I may make him wipe his tears right away when he falls, but I want him to be comfortable with love. I have had enough of my own relationships with emotionally limited men to know and believe that, for the most part, they did not receive enough affection while growing up. I can admit there was also likely something within me that attracted these types of men, but reading the Huffington Post article confirmed my personal conviction. We teach our daughters how to give love and be dutiful partners, while we teach our sons to be the protectors. I am not against this, but I think we should also teach our sons how to receive love. Sure, some of the discomfort with love may be a nature thing for boys and men, but I believe nurturing plays a big part as well. I say show them the beauty of love to the best of our abilities, so they will be better aware of treating love as a gift that should not be abused or taken for granted.

Being that the Yoga teacher training is a huge aspect of my life right now and being that I am a single mother, my son pretty much doesn’t have a choice but to take this journey with me. He doesn’t attend classes with me, but he is impacted by the time I invest in the training program. It can be hard at times, because my particular program is a weekend-based one. I work a full-time job during the week and then for 2 full weekends out of a month, for the next 6 months, I am in training. Add on to that a job that requires travel and our time together can really be limited. But I know I must see this through and I try to include him by doing Yoga with him at home and teaching him a few asanas he can do on his own. In the end though, I know the most important thing is to continue teaching him about Ahimsa. He is already practicing this Yama in his life. And just like his mother, he doesn’t even know it. Yet.

Namaste.