Taylor Swift, I got what you need, girl. Don’t even sweat it.

Tswift. Girl. You need to pick up a copy of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, stat. And maybe do some yoga.

You see, he had it all figured out: why we should be practicing yoga as a holistic and comprehensive approach to life, what are the five categories that all pain can be filed under, where pain comes from and why we experience it, AND (here’s the best part) he details how to avoid pain in the future. That would mean no more breakup songs for you, Taylor. fin. And wouldn’t that be nice?

The first few slokas of Chapter Two in the Sutras deal with what is yoga and why we should practice it. Yoga is most commonly defined as “union”; the union between the individual soul and the universal soul or consciousness. too much hippie jargon? Yoga is the union of two things that have been separated. The practice of yoga involves self-study, training and purifying the senses, and releasing into the creative consciousness. I know this is a lot to take in Taylor, so we will leave that introduction as it is. Let’s get to the good stuff.
Patanjali says that by practicing yoga, we can reach ultimate enlightenment and become free from the afflictions which obstruct the mind from attaining steadiness. Here’s where knowledge is dropped, so start taking notes, Tay.
There are five causes of pain (kleshas):

1. Ignorance about the true nature of things
2. I-ness, egoism, feeling of individuality (when really, we are all the same)
3. Attachment or addiction to pleasure
4. Aversion
5. Fear of death, the desire to cling to life

Only five root causes of all pain? Man, that’s not bad! Patanjali goes on to explain that these causes of pain can occur within four stages:

1. Dormant (you wouldn’t even know they were there)
2. Mild
3. Showing signs in an oscillating state (sometimes you feel the pain, sometimes you don’t)
4. Active and producing thoughts or actions to various degrees (…the stage that is responsible for the world hearing about your breakups on the radio)

Ignorance is called out as the root pain that for all the other kinds of pain we experience. If we uproot our ignorance of the true nature of things, we are getting somewhere. Uprooting however, has to start at the top of the tree, with fear of death, and work it’s way down to ignorance.

Lets talk about ignorance for a hot second. Ignorance is of four types:

1. Mistaking that which is transient as eternal
2. Mistaking that which is impure for pure
3. Mistaking that which is sadness for happiness
4. Mistaking non-self for self

When living in Northern Virginia a few years ago, I would fight ignorance all the time. Literally, fight. Not like a superhero or anything…more like come up against it. The drinking scene, for instance, with which I have finally made peace with. Drinking and everything that bugged me about the people I found at bars was all rooted in the 3rd kind of ignorance: mistaking sadness for happiness. Let that sink in.
Ignorance is a kind of psychosis. It causes duality, a divine illusion. I know firsthand, Taylor, and I’m going to school you break up songs.
There is one situation in my life that has illustrated all four forms of ignorance in a seemingly never ending cycle. You’ll get down with this, Taylor. It was a guy who I dated for some time, someone I knew intimately. Our relationship was volatile and right out of one of your songs, Tswift. The relationship had good moments which developed into raga, one of the five causes of pain. That is, there started a liking that accompanied the experience of pleasure (raga). True to Patanjali’s sloka, the association of the memory of an object and the pleasure experienced began to form. and when there is an object of pleasure, the mind will run after it, wishing to experience it again and again. I couldn’t stay away. My mind wanted to be with him all the time, to experience pleasure all the time.
Then the next sutra set in: dwesha. Dwesha is the repulsion that accompanies pain; it’s the aversion that follows suffering or sadness. These moments came when long nights of drinking ended in fighting, or after finding out about times in our relationship when he was with another girl.
We would fight, break up, then make up. Repeat x forever. Lots of couples do this, regardless of how painful it is (read: abusive mentally or even physically). Even MORE songs are written about the addition than breaking up. You know, where someone is someone else’s drug and you’ve got withdrawal, and rehab, and falling off the bandwagon and jumping back on. That’s how it was. why? Many times, we both heard “stay away from each other”, “they are trouble”, and “why do you keep doing this?”
Here’s why, here is the ultimate answer: pleasure and pain are two sides to the same coin. Your mind seeks out to relive these moments of pleasure, forever bonded to innumerable people or things that will cause pain. They bind us to lower levels of consciousness; as long as they are there, the mind cannot be free.

Osho said in his book on meditation that only one step is needed to free the mind, to see clearly. “But we go in a circle and the one step is always missed…the one step that can bring you to the center.” Every morning, I take one step onto my yoga mat and I feel closer to the center.

Hope this helps, Tswift. Oh, and Taylor…you hit the nail right on the head with that catchy little tune “We are never ever getting back together“.
Video: We are never ever getting back together

I’m in love

I’m in awe of this day of love. The expression of love for those that surround us is a beautiful sentiment to witness and experience. According to my recent class lessons, one of the obstacles of the mind can be two-fold: becoming attached to pleasurable things; another obstacle is aversion, as a result of an experience of pain or anger. Sometimes, especially on Valentines Day, we may be confronted by these two obstacles simultaneously. We associate love with a pleasurable experience from the past and, according to the attachment concept, want to hold on to that pleasurable experience and live it again and again. We may also associate love with a second obstacle of the mind, aversion, when we have experienced a time in which there was a lack of love, when love is associated with pain or anger. Maybe you have experienced both; I know I have. Some Valentine’s Days I am madly in love and love is abundant. I don’t want the day to end (attachment). Other Valentine’s Days are spent at the bar cursing Hallmark and any couples who dare to show even the slightest sign of affection for each other (aversion).

This Valentine’s Day, I am simply observing the love that surrounds me, in all its forms: the smallest smile from a child peaking around his front door to the married women in my class who are celebrating their spouses from a distance. Happy Day of love everyone.

With love,
Ally

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The universe is so silly + a quick update

I have been in India for 24 days now.  It has been rough but mostly because I am holding steadfast to old paradigms.  Today, I had a major shift in perspective…

To understand where my mind had wandered off to in the last month, I’ve taken an excerpt from an email I wrote a few days ago to a very dear friend:

“I am so ready to be home. There are no grocery stores, no sanitary sources of food or drink unless it comes out of a box or sealed bottle. Try and imagine not having a grocery store. At all. Of any kind. Where would you get your food? My question exactly. I’m actually kind of worried about what happens when we run out of the food we smuggled in from the states.
   Initially, the architecture and some cultural aspects were enough to distract me from what reality is like here. But as each landmark was checked off the “to-see” list, my world got smaller and smaller until it arrived at this…staying within the Embassy walls. Where there is a run down bowling alley that no one uses, a gym,and a dusty bar that no one goes to…it’s like a ghost town with a ton of people still living there. I know they are here, I see them in passing, but that’s it. I don’t know where they are coming from or where they are going. I feel like I might go insane; like I can’t think about it too long because if I do, I know I’ll start panicking, my mind spinning out into this cycle of claustrophobic thoughts and having no way out. I get the same feeling on planes…a situation where there is no option but to get your mind under control, even if that means blatant lies to regain control. Venturing outside in New Delhi is OK once every few days, for trips no longer than a few hours. There are so many people living in this city it is hard for my eyes to register all of them. When I go to the markets, which I will admit have the most amazing hippie ally stuff ever, they are fine until you can’t move because you are being swarmed with pushing people who are yelling all kinds of broken English phrases and shoving reusable grocery bags and watches in your face. They are aggressive sellers.”

Since writing that, the universe has sent some guardian angels my way, each angel arriving with a poignant reminder.  Although essential to my journey here, the universe interpreted those reminder as little pop quizzes and hid them in quiet bits of advice or burying them within a email from a friend.  All I needed to do was be quiet for a moment to understand them and take those reminders to heart. 

Reminder One: The time I have spent in India thus far was a necessary process, as is most of life. This reminder came from my mom who, willingly or otherwise, feels the brunt of my unhappiness and discomfort here.  Unsure of the right thing to say but knowing what is best (she is a mother afterall) her reminder came to me in passing, as she went to work and I saddled up for another stretch of wasted day (or so I had convinced myself).

“Think of being sick and not having salad dressing and coming to understand what it is really like in Delhi, having time to research yoga, think of those things as necessary for your yoga teacher training, getting those things out of your system in the comfort of your family home before going out into the world.”  Duh, Allyson. I have been twisting myself into a big knot over my discomfort here when really, it has all been a blessing. And it begs the question, what is my discomfort over? One example I have been using is the food, specifically salad dressing. A strange item to obsess over but one that I feel represents the abundance that I am accustomed to.  Wanting to adorn my first beautifully green and vibrant and alive meal that didn’t come from a box, I walked to the commissary on compound to buy salad dressing.  Being about the size of an average living room, the selection at the commissary is limited.  I was optimistic though and wandered the four aisles that make up the entire grocery store looking for the dressing aisle.  What I eventually found on the bottom shelf of the third row were six bottles of salad dressing, four of which were Italian.  Where was the salad dressing AISLE? I panicked and it has been my mantra of why I have disliked it here so much ever since. Salad dressing. Right. So, reminder one: spending this time in Delhi has been a necessary process, an initiation of sorts.  Being stripped of “comforts” has brought about a hungry sense of resourcefulness…

Reminder Two: “You are an artist, Ally. Art is critical thinking, and you need to be creatively resourceful.”  A fantastic reminder from my soul mate. Also reminded me of college, where my sculpture professor always told us that, after graduating with an art degree, we could put on every job application for the rest of our lives “Creative Problem Solver”.  Employers eat that up.  But really, that is who I am! That is who I have trained to be! A critically thinking creative resource-er.  Business cards, please!   

Reminder Three: Reading through yoga philosophy at 5am, I came across this:

“Surrender to a higher power. Regardless of what your religions inclinations are (or aren’t),Isvara pranidhana means that you should give up the illusion that you have control over everything in your life. How much time do you spend trying to control the outcome work situations, your interpersonal relationships? Wouldn’t it be much more peaceful to allow situations to unfold and trust in the power that made us? Can you believe that your life is unfolding just as it was meant to regardless of how much you attempt to control, or struggle with the outcomes?” – from yogacheryl.com  

Of course! How could I have forgotten so quickly how easily life unfolds when you stop clenching, how silly the universe is, and how small the world really can be.

Reminder Four: My other soul mate, a true source of inspiration and deep thought (!), summed all things up in a reminder that universe decided to hit me over the head with:

 “And you’re either doing this, or afraid to do this, but you should really take time to just be alone with your thoughts. Not thoughts on how to get food, but on who you are, what this experience means, and what you need to do next. What have you learned from your past, and how can you apply it to your future?”

Why am I in India? When will I be back? Where will I go from here? I do not have those answers and that is 100% ok because right now all that matters is this moment. And at the present moment I have my journal open to a page that has this written, my final reminder for today:

“Life Lesson!!! Most people try to have more things (like money), in order to do more of what they want, be more of who they are, and imagine happiness.  Actually, you must first BE who you really are, then DO what you need to do, in order to have what you want.”  I think I am at the “do what you need to do” stage.

To grow strong

Thrive. It’s a word you don’t necessarily hear very often.

In the last 24 hours, two very important people in my life (who couldn’t be more different) described me, on two very separate and unrelated occasions, as “thriving”.

Webster defines thriving as:
1. To grow strongly and vigorously
2.to do well, prosper

That’s the universe for you, coming along and giving you a little boost just when you want to give up.