The difference between an insane person and you is that an insane person speaks all their thoughts aloud.
Not convinced? Sit still and watch your mind for just three minutes and you will see how it jumps all over the place, never resting, always informing you how to think about this or that. I encourage you to try it right now. It’s quite comical.
Last night in meditation, my mind willingly distracted me with hurtful memories I hadn’t thought about in years, the brand JC Penney, my sleeping foot, and the ever present, “How much longer until I’m done?” And then, for about 20 seconds (or it could have been five, who knows?), radio silence.
Time seems to suspend because for exactly one moment you have become absolutely present. This is the glimpse of what is possible. This is the one thing your mind can never tell you.
As many gurus have said over the ages, our minds are not sane — we just think they are because we get used to their usual diatribes. Like untrained dogs, they rule our households, ruining our furniture and clothes, yet still expecting to be fed and loved.
- I’ll never feel truly happy, no matter what I do.
- My stomach isn’t flat enough. I’m not beautiful.
- How come everyone can do that yoga pose but me?
- I’m going to fail. I’m no good, so why should I even try?
These are not the things we tell ourselves — these are the things our minds tell us. It’s important to make that distinction: that you are not your mind. In fact, that’s one of the greatest teachings of yoga and the cornerstone of beginning to crack open the light within.
In practice, this means deciding if you want to remain a prisoner or not. It’s very simplistic, really. Remain imprisoned by thinking you are your mind, or break free by realizing you are not.
Well, at least the concept is simplistic.
The practice doesn’t happen by simply realizing that you want to be free. It happens through action. When you take action, you’re on the path to freedom. This is karma — when your intention and your work creates your future.
What is it that you seek freedom from?
It could be any number of things I’ve battled with and have written about: depression, anxiety, misophonia, negative body image. It could be addiction, worry, anger, grief, mood swings, lack of purpose, fear… even just wanting to get a good night’s sleep!
We know our issues intimately. Our minds keep reinforcing their validity. It’s when we finally stop and ask, “Wait… do I need to be enslaved to this issue forever?” that the mind skips a beat. The key, then, is that we Do Not Go Back to Business As Usual.
Living a yogic lifestyle is an attempt to end suffering. When someone you know is hurting, it’s difficult for you to remain immune to that energy. When you end your suffering, you help to end that of others through your example and also by not contributing to theirs. As the Jivamukti Yoga mantra goes:
Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu
“May all beings everywhere be happy and free and may the thoughts, words and actions of my own life contribute in some way to that happiness and to that freedom for all.”
Realizing that your mind is insane is humbling and painful. Humbling because you realize all humans are dealing with the same struggle and painful because the struggle seems insurmountable. It’s the latter that erodes our self-confidence and makes us think, “If I’m just as insane as the next person, why even bother trying to change? Let’s all be insane together!”
Because it’s painful. If you have any desire (even a tiny bit) to have less pain in your life and more happiness, it’s worth doing something differently to get that result.
Pain is necessary on the path to happiness and freedom. It’s because of the pain that we get motivated, and it’s through the pain that we become free.
Freedom through pain
It’s scary to think that you are not your thoughts swirling incessantly in your mind. Then, what are you?
But I am the clothes I wear, my talents, the music I listen to, the people I surround myself with, the animals I love, the foods I eat. I can hear your mind listing these things so that it can regain control.
What you identify with becomes your reality.
If you say, “I always seem to show up late,” you always will. Soon friends, family and colleagues will know this about you and they’ll perpetuate your identity. They might even attach resentment to the fact that you’re late. So now you’re unpunctual and disliked for it.
It’s not that you want to show up early. Now, you just want to avoid the pain of showing up late. How do you do this? You take action. You no longer use “I’m always a late arriver” as an excuse. You get fed up with an identity that’s causing others to send negativity toward you.
To have self-confidence is to confidently face your identity with the desire to overcome it. In this way, self-confidence is not a fleeting feeling — it is an attitude and a practice.
Self-confidence is realized through karma. The actions, thoughts and work you undertake brings you closer or further away from bliss. You can’t tell your mind to pipe down. You have to become acutely aware of how it deceives you. You have to witness the internal monologue, as painful — and insane (JC Penney, really?) — as it is.
When you become a witness that means you stop identifying with the things that seem like you. Instead, you experience the time-stopping moments of Now with more frequency.
It is in the Now that you find out who You really are.
Asana Practice: Warrior II, Virabhadrasana II
Willpower isn’t what keeps us on the path to freedom — stamina is. Warrior II helps to build stamina while firmly rooting you in the present. You can’t see what your body is doing behind you, you can only gaze ahead. But at the same time, nothing is waiting for you “out there,” so it’s necessary to be fully on the mat to embody the pose.
Strength and self-confidence come from within, and you can access both in the present moment of a challenging pose such as Warrior II.
- Standing at the top of your mat, step your left leg back 3 to 4 feet, turning your foot parallel to the back of the mat and keeping your right toes facing forward. Align the front heel with the back heel (or arch of the back foot). Place your hands on your hips.
- Lunge into your right knee. Track the knee over the ankle, adjusting your stance with the front foot as necessary. Gazing at the right foot, you should be able to just see the big toes. If not, open the knee toward the pinky toe side of the foot. Press the outer edge of your back foot into the mat to avoid collapsing the foot’s arch.
- Align your torso over your hips, neither leaning forward nor backward. Drop the tailbone to lengthen the low back. Float your arms up, palms face down. Actively reach through your fingertips and relax your shoulders away from the ears. Finally, turn your gaze over your right fingertips.
- Stay in this posture for six deep breaths before straightening the legs, dropping the arms and turning the right toes to face the same way as the left. Find Warrior II with the left leg lunging, following from step 2.