Book recommendation

Just a quick post today to recommend this book:

It considers the impact of having constant distractions and unending responsibilities (e.g. responding to emails) on the brain, and what happens when you stop and instead choose to go deeper into a single task. A great read for anyone feeling overwhelmed, as well as those of you wondering why it is that the moment you stop 'thinking' about a problem, is the moment the solution comes to you...

Do you wear a mask?

A poem for you today. I'll leave you to interpret it however you wish:

The Right Mask
- By Brian Patten

One night a poem came up to a poet
From now on, it said, you must wear a mask.
What kind of mask? asked the poet.
A rose mask, said the poem.
I've used it already, said the poet,
I've exhausted it.
Then wear the mask that's made out of
a nightingale's song, use that mask.
Oh, it's an old mask, said the poet,
it's all used up.
Nonsense, said the poem, it's the perfect mask,
still, try on the god mask,
now that mask illuminates heaven.
It's a tight mask, said the poet,
and the stars crawl about in it like ants.
Then try on the troubador's mask, or the singer's mask,
try on all the popular masks.
I have, said the poet, but they fit so easily.

The poem was getting impatient,
it stamped its feet like a child,
it screamed. Then try on your own face,
try the one mask that terrifies,
the mask only you could possibly use,
the mask only you could wear out.

The poet tore at his face til it bled,
this mask? he yelled, this mask?
Yes, said the poem, yes.

But the poet was tired of masks,
he had lived too long with them,
he snatched at the poem and stuck it in his face.
Its screams were muffled, it wept, it tried to be lyrical,
it wriggled into his eyes and mouth.

Next day his friends were afraid of him,
he looked so distorted.
Now it's the right mask, said the poem, the right mask.
It clung to him lovingly and never let go again. 


Yoga nidra and the great unlearning

by Wendy Knerr, Restful Being Associate Teacher

If you come to a yoga nidra class, you probably expect to do something and to learn something. Most likely, you will: techniques you can use to access your innate ease and well-being. Yet the greatest benefits of the practice may not be a result of what you do or learn, but the extent to which you begin not doing and unlearning. Despite the seeming paradox of coming to a class to discover how to not do and to not learn, I still encourage it. Here’s why.

After years of practicing yogic breathing exercises, it took me several more years to unlearn to control my breath during yoga nidra practice. I feel a bit foolish admitting it, but I discovered (gasp!) that my body breathes itself! It does so without any effort or help, all day, every day. Until then, I had unconsciously operated as though most things wouldn’t get done unless I took decisive action. As a social and political activist, the concept of not-doing — of welcoming — struck me at first as passive and lazy. And as I faced sleep disturbances, chronic anxiety, depression and a number of foot and leg maladies, I immediately went into action: fix it, I told myself, no matter what!

Through a daily yoga nidra practice, I discovered that breathing happens, that physical sensations come and go, that things change … no matter what. Even a chronic pain in the body changes from moment to moment, but I was often unaware of it because l was so focused on resisting the pain or trying to fix it. Unlearning, not doing, and welcoming instead, has challenged my beliefs about how much effort is required to keep my body and mind functioning and in good health, and my life going in the direction of happiness and purpose.

I realize this may sound unrealistic: some people have serious problems, terrible pain, and tremendous suffering. That isn’t in doubt, and I’m not suggesting there is no place for medical intervention, fierce activism, breathing exercises and uphill battles. But if you are a chronic do-er and interested in inviting more ease into your life, the practice of welcoming using the techniques of yoga nidra may be worth investigating. Welcoming can help you to approach life’s challenges with a lot less struggle. You might also find that it opens the door to many more of life’s joys, too.

Navigating by the heart: life purpose and yoga nidra

by Wendy Knerr, Restful Being Associate Teacher

One of the first things taught in a yoga nidra session is to think about something you want more than anything else – what is called Heartfelt Desire or Heartfelt Purpose. For anyone who has browsed the self-help section of a bookshop or spiritually oriented websites, you’ll notice page after page about how to find your life’s purpose. Despite having read widely on the subject myself, when I began practicing yoga nidra I was flummoxed by how superficial it seemed to think about my greatest desire or to imagine what I want most in life. It felt selfish and unspiritual, and I felt unprepared, not really knowing what I was meant to do. At the same time, I felt paralyzed by the possibilities — how would I choose?

 My teacher James Reeves gave me an invaluable piece of advice: just welcome the questions, such as ‘what is my heartfelt purpose?’ or ‘what is life asking of me?’ And he said that it could take ten years to understand my heartfelt purpose. What a relief! I thought I was supposed to just know or that this should come easy to me. Instead, I discovered that it would take practice to distinguish my heartfelt purpose from personal, family and social expectations, and from old hopes and dreams that no longer serve me. It would also take time to fully trust what was gradually being revealed to me through a committed yoga nidra practice.

 Knowing (with an upper-case ‘K’)
Slowly (and with some reluctance), I began to trust the practice of meditation and to see my search for purpose as a lifelong inquiry, rather than something to quickly get to the bottom of. More importantly, I began to understand that clues to my heartfelt purpose may not come in words. Yoga nidra is not something to think about, but to feel in the body. That’s why reading about finding my life’s purpose never really got me there. Like a novice sailor learning to navigate by the stars, or a young tracker learning to read the land, allowing myself time for meditation each day familiarized me with the subtle cues emerging from my body and from the silence, pointing me towards the things that bring me joy. This was the felt sense of Knowing (with an upper-case ‘K’), rather than the cognitive knowing with which I was more familiar. This was the language of the heart.

 What Heartfelt Desire is (and is not)
This process has meant welcoming my disappointment that the things I had read and thought about my purpose may not have been quite right. Turns out, it isn’t necessarily an impressive career or title or a particular achievement. It may not be something tangible at all. It may feel small, insignificant, nothing like the big dreams I had of saving the world or achieving something reward-worthy. I now sense my heartfelt purpose as an inner guide that registers when I am going in the direction of ‘yes’ or ‘no’ in my life, towards (or away from) fulfillment. I can’t always understand why something feels right, but in the words of iRest Senior Teacher Anne Douglas, the more I practice yoga nidra, the more I know what it feels like to experience the “living yes.” At the same time, I get a sense of what the “living no” feels like, too, and the contrast is what enables me to find the most joyful and fulfilling path, day by day, moment by moment.

 Call it intuition, call it divine, or don’t call it anything at all – it doesn’t need words (unless you plan to blog about it). I found that my heartfelt purpose exists whether I can articulate it or not, and like an internal compass, it has been directing me towards fulfillment, to where I am right now, all my life.