Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Guest Post: Elizabeth J. Neuse

Speaking of setting intentions, I’d like to share my mentor Elizabeth Neuse's post on her own New Year’s Resolutions.

Elizabeth is not only an amazing Yoga Teacher, she’s also kind, candid, cool, laidback and incredibly funny. I aspire to be like her as a yoga teacher and as a person. 

But back to The New Year. Check out Elizabeth’s 2014 intentions. You’re in for a treat:

Resolutions and Samskaras

This year I made one New Year’s resolution- to omit sugar and road rage from my diet. No one likes to picture her yoga teacher raging at other drivers, but it happens. I decided to begin on Jan 5th right after returning from vacation. As I walked into the yoga studio yesterday a sweet student offered me a truffle. Walking out another dear student gave me a box of truffles. Before I knew it I was driving through SoHo steering with my knee, holding a praline crunch cup between two fingers and using another finger to indicate how I felt about the driver who just tried to cut me off. A few moments later I snapped out of my sugar rage, cursing myself for breaking my resolution after only 15 hours (if you count the hours I was asleep). A few moments after that I remembered something about self-love and decided to get curious rather than hostile towards myself.
In Buddhist practice we learn that suffering comes in the form of two arrows. The first arrow is the inevitable life circumstance- someone cutting you off in traffic or forgetting that you have given up sugar long enough to scarf down a few chocolates. The second arrow comes in the form of judgment of the first arrow. The second arrow is the expletive that flies out of your mouth, like a rabid sparrow, fueled by the nasty thoughts you think about yourself when you “mess up”. The first arrow can be a tool for learning. The second is a weapon.
When I take a step back and look at the first arrow I can see that while my intention was to love everyone and save myself from early tooth decay, I hadn’t done much to address the samskaras (habitual patterns) that caused me to react in the moment. Yogis have known for thousands of years what scientists are discovering today. It is incredibly difficult to change our habitual patterns, because they are wired into our brains. BUT it is possible. Through tapas (dedication), svadyaya (self study) and Ishvara Pranidhana (letting go), over a long period of time we can change our habits.
With these teachings in mind I got curious. I noticed that although I had flipped the bird at the other driver, I didn’t actually feel upset. My nervous system had not responded the way it used to, with clenched teeth and a racing heart. I looked in the rearview mirror at the man behind me whom I had not let in. I repeated a phrase Pema Chodron offers, “Just like me.” Most of the time when someone does something we abhor, if we get really honest we can recall a time when we did the same thing or at least something with the same energy behind it.
“Just like me” opened me up a little.
At the very next light someone else tried to cut me off. Instead of honking and speeding up, I slowed down and waved him in. To my surprise it actually felt good to help him even if he was breaking the rules. Sandwiched between my “just like me’s” I acknowledged that open feels better than shut. Curious feels better than judgmental. Gentle feels better than angry.  
Now what about the truffles?
They were given to me as a gift. I told myself gratitude meant eating them. However, as a vegetarian for the past 18 years, if someone gave me bacon truffles as a gift I would not eat them.
What would I do? Share them with a bacon-loving friend. 
Last night I enjoyed one more truffle and shared the rest with my bacon-loving husband. I decided that small amounts of high quality chocolate eaten mindfully works better for me than deprivation. I also changed my resolution to this:
 In 2014 may I deepen my commitment to curiosity and kindness, to recognizing others as “just like me” and to letting go of my secondary archery practice gently, one arrow at a time.
What are your New Year’s Resolutions?
How will you support yourself in the process of making these changes?
May your 2014 be filled with rich insights, limitless joy and bacon truffles;)

[Reprinted with permission by Elizabeth J. Neuse. Elizabeth is a Senior Teacher at YogaWorks and you can find more info on her and her teachings here.]

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