Thoughts, Words, Actions Matter

On our mats, our meditation cushions or wherever we may practice yoga and meditation, we start to uncover how much our thoughts, words, and actions matter. With practice, we gain the skill and ability to create space through which we are better able to notice our thoughts through a non-judgmental lens. This space that we create then gives us a chance to tune in more to our feelings and to what is actually present, so that we can then be better able to respond in a more courageous compassionate way.

Our thoughts are always present. We produce between 50,000 to 70,000 thoughts in a day and make about 35,000 decisions a day. How many of those happen almost automatically? How many are in our best interest? Or in the best interest of others? It can be a really interesting to become a little bit more curious about the narration that is always buzzing around our brains, whether its very apparent or a little subliminal. Practicing yoga often provides an opportunity to do so.

The Yoga Sutras are an ancient source of wisdom and knowledge that has been around for thousands of years. The 196 Sutras are attributed to Patanjali and they provide instruction on how to practice yoga practice of yoga,and ultimately how to achieve liberation.  I like to think of Sutras as presenting the science and art of this practice for self-discovery and collective transformation. One of the most important Sutras, is 1.2. It is often translated to English from Sanskrit to mean “Yoga is a the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind stuff” (yoga chitta vritti nirodha). The vrittis are our thoughts, our “mind stuff,” the chatter, the daydreams, the judgements, the biases, and so on that amount to the 50,000 plus thoughts a day that we have. Patanjali actually names different types of vrittis within the Sutras – including right knowledge, misconception, verbail delusion (imagination), deep sleep and memory. Yoga helps you first become aware of the vrittis and then able to create space in between them by choosing to use a skill like pausing, noticing, or letting them go, or by feeling into it. Yoga assists you in becoming more present. 

Why does this matter now more than ever? With the World waking up right now more to the racial injustices, police brutality and all the harms that our society’s systems create it is so important to examine how our thoughts, words, actions matter. I, myself, am stepping further into my own accountability and humility. I am committing myself to practicing anti-racism and doing my own unpacking of my privilege and white body supremacy. I am taking time to learn & educate myself. I encourage each and every one of you to do the same. We need to open our awareness to observe these biases, thoughts, reactions that may be so . We need to create space to feel and to cultivate the courageous compassion it takes to then act. We also need to be able to pause and dive deep within to be able to reimagine our World so that it truly will support our collective liberation.

Artwork by: Brandy Chieco

So how can we dedicate ourselves to creating that space to notice, observe, and feel? And how can we then find our own unique skill, our own special presence or essence to contribute to the revolution?

I am offering two practices that I have found helpful. Maybe you will try them out yourself – maybe you’ll end up doing something different. That’s ok. I acknowledge that I don’t have all the answers. But, I truly believe we each can connect to our own inner wisdom and learn from one another. I’m grateful to have learned these practices from many teachers, who have their own lineage of how this knowledge has been passed to them and through the ages. To me the are the embodiment of wisdom.

In order to create space to notice, observe, and feel oneself and one’s experience, you need to be able to arrive. I listened to a interview with Resmaa Menakem, trauma therapist and an author, on the On Being Podcast with Krista Tippet recently. He described a practice he called “settling” as a strategy that allows us to come into our bodies. It is a way to arrive. It can be quite helpful because so often we try to quite literally think our way through things. We strategize, plan, and execute all the time. Where always concerned with what to do, or what comes next; but settling, or arriving, is becoming present or more connected to what we feel within the moment.

To practice arriving or settling first notice what’s real by noticing your body, maybe sensing where there is support or where there might be tension or ease, take in your surroundings, what you see, hear, smell, sense. Then notice what’s in the air – the thoughts, the chatter, the narration, the likes/dislikes, the stories. Then come back to what’s real, what’s landed. Breathe. Repeat. Breathe again. Really try to feel the breath moving in and out of your body. How your body breathes itself.

Then, if you’d like, you can notice what feelings, or emotions are present. Sometimes you have to get a little more curious. We tend to think of emotions as extremes but there is nearly always a feeling there. Emotions are energy in motion. They are like little unique messengers that are trying to communicate with us about our present moment experience constantly. But so often we’re too busy to pay attention to them.

Your feelings are uniquely yours. They provide insight, inner wisdom and facilitate greater connection to others. But the problem is we receive messaging from our world our culture all that time that tells us differently. That we should feel a certain way. No one should ever tell you should feel a certain way. And no feeling is good or bad, they are all important.* How can we let ourselves get more comfortable with our feelings, so that we feel at home within our bodies, so that we actually understand what’s behind the feeling? We can create space. We can come back to what’s present. We can breathe. We can rest in knowing that things are always changing and feelings are meant to be felt.

Most importantly, when we start to realize that we can embody a whole range of emotions, we can open our awareness up and understand that others have this same capacity to. So despite never being able to fully understand a individuals unique feeling, we can share a lived experience with having felt anger, grief, joy, contentment, etc. We can build that connection.

To find our own unique skill, our own special presence or essence to contribute to the revolution I will offer an intention setting exercise. Intentions are positive, present moment affirmations that can be used to call us to action. Michelle Johnson, a social justice activist and a yoga instructor, offers that our intentions can be our vision for the world, that starts with the self. Michelle describes intentions as our anchor or groundwork to come back to whenever we need or to inspire us into action. Often they are “I am” statements but they certainly don’t have to be limited to that. They start with the self because how we align our thoughts, words, and actions to that personal intention will provide a guide to how we navigate our lives and our interactions with others. We can create new ones, adapting to the moment as well. Right now, I’m choosing “I act with courageous compassion.” What’s yours?

Yoga asks us to wake up to the present moment, to the harms and injustices and general dis-ease in our lives, in our society. We cannot pray, breathe, move or meditate oppression away; we have to put that intention into action. How will you bring that intention into your life?

How will you use it in the effort towards our collective liberation?

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