Continuity, Yielding, and Being Uncomfortable

December 20, 2023

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Can you speak about continuity in practice?

All day long and all night long, you're having great continuity in practicing your karmas. [laughter]

And everything you're doing is a practice, right? Almost everything that you do is repetitive. So it has some aspect of habit.

And habit, of course, is the impoverished cousin of ritual. So we're trying to move from habit, which is compulsive and semi-conscious or even unconscious, stale, often inappropriate to our real situation, with no sense of grace, just with a sense of dull repetition.

Even though we might feel excitement about some of our habits [laughs], there's also a dullness to them because they aren't performed in contact with living presence.

So we're trying to take our degraded cousin and elevate them [laughs] to the level of ritual. The ritual and habit are themselves on a continuum.

And habit has to do with karma, and karma is consciousness or awareness and energy bound in a pattern, bound up. So it's like an engine that's constantly running and using fuel and that is hard to stop. It has momentum in time.

So when you're driving in a fast car, or even at a moderate speed, if you put the brakes on, it takes awhile to stop. And you have to keep applying pressure on the brakes.

So that's what our sadhana is. Basically, we have a speeding car of our karmas, and we are trying to slow it down, stop it, and move that energy in a different direction.

And that's what we call ritual. Our sadhana instills a sense of ritual in our day. There's lots of aspects of sadhana that are ritualistic. And of course, sadhana is also repetitive.

And in the scriptures of the various Hindu traditions, establishing a daily practice is referred to as a samskara, in the same way that our habit patterns are.

So it's recognized that we are using our great, great capacity for repetition to instill a feeling of grace and sweetness into our repetition. And experience our habit of repetition more as ritual. Which will eventually lead us to a state of spontaneity.

So if we want to change the momentum of our habit patterns, we need to apply an opposite, or a force that goes in a different direction. And it needs to be done every day.

Although it's funny to say we're practicing our karmas every day, we literally are. Literally every minute of every day.

By the grace of God, we don't have to divide up our day into 12 hours of karma and 12 hours of sadhana. Or, like, 12 hours and one minute to overcome all that force of karma. Because we literally are practicing our karmas 24/7, most of us.

By the grace of God, we only have to practice an hour or two a day to have significant impact on the other 22 or 23 hours. [laughs]

But it really is a matter of changing the direction of our energy. We literally have to do that.

The other thing is that our karmas, or habit patterns, cause us to want things that aren't good for us.

So, we all have habits where we want to do things or not do things, and either the doing of them or the not doing of them. Even though we know they're not good for us, we still continue.

And that is an aspect of a really deep groove, and it requires quite a bit of effort to change that over a long period of time.

Until we get to a tipping point where we want what is actually good for us. We want what will help us to wake up.

So let's take relationships.

Lots of people are in relationships that they know aren't good for them. But they're afraid to be alone or they're afraid of other repercussions of breaking up from something. Even though maybe they're not being treated well. Right?

Many people experience this in relationships. They're literally not being treated well. They're being abused. And yet they stay in their relationships out of fear, and maybe they have a sense of belonging.

They're afraid of not belonging to anybody, or they're afraid of being hurt more in some way.

So that's an example of doing something we know isn't good for us. It has a lot of momentum. Then there's, of course, a lot of huge cultural, social karmas that come to bear on those kinds of situations.

But if we're at a different stage in our lives of waking up, if someone abuses us and it looks like that abuse can't be worked with and isn't gonna stop, we just have no hesitation. We walk away from it. No hesitation whatsoever.

So this is the freedom that doing sadhana gives us. It gives us the freedom eventually to choose what is good for us.

And eventually it leads us to a state of utter spontaneity. Of being immersed in living presence and being able to respond to that in an utterly spontaneous way without any preconditioning.

Now, most of us are not going to get to that point in this lifetime. But if we can change the momentum of our patterns enough, repurpose that energy, so to speak, and work out some of those major patterns that are causing major unfreedom in our lives.

And we have lots of justifications for that unfreedom. We have lots of reasons why we must stay in the things we stay in and avoid the things we avoid.

But, literally, it just represents a quantity of unfreedom. Lack of freedom to choose. Lack of freedom to go with what is wholesome and sweet and good and nourishing and uplifting and dharmic.

So that's why we want to practice consistently because we are literally changing momentum that is there every day driving us. So if we don't do something every day, we never really make a dent in those patterns.

And then, as one of my teachers said, sadhana becomes just like an aspirin. We have a hangover or we have a headache from our lives, and we do a tiny bit of sadhana every now and then when we feel really bad.

And then we feel a little better and then we just go back to doing the same thing because those patterns haven't really been undermined.

Or we do 10 minutes of sadhana a day, mostly, and we just treat it as a way to relax a little bit. And that's not bad. There's nothing wrong with that at all. I mean, anything we can do consistently that's not our usual habit patterns is great.

But, if we really want the more profound fruits of this kind of practice, we're going to have to do more and we're going to have to do it consistently.

And that 'have to' is really about our own desire.

I can tell you, yes, continuity or consistency is necessary for these reasons. And you can feel, oh yes, that's right, I get that.

But you have to have a desire for freedom.

You have to have a desire to be less constrained in your life. You have to have a desire to live louder and live more spontaneously and live with more grace.

You have to have a desire to live according to what you know is your own value and your own goodness, and health beyond any conventional idea of whether you're sick or not. A healthiness in a dharmic sense, which doesn't depend on whether you're sick or not.

So you have to want that more than you are afraid of changing all the other stuff.

And that's really the only thing that's going to make you practice consistently.

It's a great question, and it's one that I really like talking about. But at the end of the day, even if you understand what I'm saying, it really still all does rest on your own desire. And then having the courage to follow your desire.

The reason why anyone does practice every day is because they want to. That is the beginning, the middle, and the end of the story.

Many times people will say to me, oh, I'm not practicing, or I'm only practicing intermittently. What should I do?

Oh and I'll say some stuff. I'll make some suggestions. But all of my suggestions are going to be suggestions for making you desire to practice more. Like beautifying your altar space, things like that. So, it really has to do with that.

And sometimes people feel desire, but then there's a lot of things in the way that prevents them from acting on that desire. Then that's where courage comes in.

If we have gotten ourself into a situation where there are people in our lives who don't want us to practice or don't want us to live the way we want to live.

If we've gotten ourselves into various relationships that depend on us not being ourselves, not being that most wholesome self.

Then we are going to get pushback if we decide to live that most wholesome self.

And that's just the way it is. We just have to be prepared for that. We have to be okay with being disapproved of. We have to be okay with disappointing people. We have to be okay risking other people being angry at us.

Because when we have lived a lifetime out of fear, or pleasure seeking, or whatever we've done, we've made contracts with the people that we have relationships with. Spoken or unspoken.

And then when we have enough desire that it makes us want to change how we're living, we have to break those contracts. Period. That is just unavoidable.

It's part of maturing as a human being.

I mean, and this goes for anybody, not just people doing spiritual practice. Hopefully anybody, not dependent on doing sadhana, hopefully anybody as they live, they get a little more wisdom and a little more confidence and a little more self-knowledge.

And then maybe the contracts they made when they were 23 years old don't make sense anymore.

This is just part of life, leaving behind what needs to be left behind.

And one cannot have a fulfilling life if you're not willing to do that. For whatever reason. And there may be discomfort in that. And there may be real danger in that in certain circumstances.

Whatever it is, this is your human life. You don't know if you're going to have another one soon [laughs] or what's going to happen.

And you should live the way you want to live, not the way you used to want to live. Or not the way other people want you to live. [laughs] Why not?

There's a great Japanese movie that is just a touchstone for me. It's called Eijanaika. And I think it takes place in like the 1800s or something. It's one of these big panoramic, sprawling, samurai movies.

And there's a main character in it who's a sex worker. And she basically leads a popular uprising against the powers of oppression. And she sings a song called Eijanaika, that's kind of the theme song of the movie.

And Eijanaika means why not. Why not just live? Why not just live boldly? Why not just live creatively? Why not just live the way you want to live? Why not? Eijanaika. This is obviously my brand. [laughs]

I was wondering if you could talk about yielding? So I've been looking for a new job for the whole year and not been met with any success.

So the word yielding came up as a replacement for the word surrender, which we often hear about and is very hard to imagine what that looks like for most people in our culture.

And yielding, for me, is yielding to what is. Yielding to circumstances as they are.

Surrender can sort of imply, like, throwing yourself down on the floor and, sort of, more passive, you take care of it kind of attitude. [laughs]

Whereas yielding, to me, is more acquiescing to how things are and then there's still the job of working with how things are.

So yielding means, to me, giving up the project of complaining about how things are or railing against circumstances. And the project of trying to make everything go our way.

And feeling more that we are in a total circumstance and our job is just to work with it on its own terms and try to mine the best result out of circumstances as they are.

So it comes from my experience working with the Zhouyi, the older Yi Jing, and also my experience with my Dzogchen teacher. One of his famous sayings was work with circumstances, or we work with circumstances.

He would say, this is what dzogchenpas do. We work with circumstances.

And that is a kind of yielding. That we work with what is, not with what we wish would be. And it's a very positive and practical way of being in the world that doesn't fight against what is, but tries to work with it.

Nor is it fatalistic. Nor is it, I'm just going to surrender. And then what?

So I really like this idea of yielding. And it's a kind of reconciliation with what is. We have to reconcile ourselves to what is.

And yielding also implies a kind of a soft, almost water-like movement, the way that different flows of water are in the same river kind of working together.

So if you're in a time when it's hard to get a job and, you know, there's extraordinary, extenuating circumstances, yielding might mean that you go at a slower pace.

It might mean that you lower your expectations. It might mean that you use more creative solutions that you wouldn't have thought of before. It might mean that you give up looking for a while. I mean, it might mean anything.

But whatever it means, you're taking into account the real circumstance.

And what not yielding would look like would be pushing ahead in a very aggressive way and despairing because what you want isn't happening on your timetable.

And all of that is not yielding. And of course, not yielding is suffering.

Slowing down and working with circumstances is a hard thing for us. We're under the misperception that if we have a good plan, we're going to get what we want. [laughs] That is not always true. Not even often true.

The three people that I've talked to today have all have this similar response of kind of withdrawing, going into their own world, and not have that outward openness.

And I can find myself with being pulled in that direction too. This kind of turning inward and protecting yourself from getting completely overwhelmed and depressed and...

Well, so recognize that everyone is in a completely different condition. So many of you are in frighteningly the same condition. [laughs]

But recognize that, to whatever extent you're feeling what you just expressed, it's temporary. That's an aspect of your life in your conditioned life.

That you would become overwhelmed by things. That you would have to protect yourself. That you would have to withdraw because it's too painful and you're too uncomfortable and all of that stuff.

So pay attention to that, and answer to that and be real. But recognize that that is an aspect of your conditioning. And that this is exactly what we are trying to erode or let go of when we're doing practice. So don't be fatalistic about it, like this is just how I am.

You are not condemned to that unless you don't pick up the tools that you've been given to walk out of your jail cell.

And there's no way to know when you will have more capacity. But if you do daily practice, you will slowly gain more capacity to be able to digest more of life and handle more things and remain more open-hearted in the face of challenges to that.

And it'll just happen in its own time. And each person's time is unique.

But as you're doing what you need to do, just remember that. It's part of your conditioning and you're taking care of yourself, but it's not who you are.

And also, don't over-medicate your feelings of overwhelm or exhaustion or fear. Don't over-medicate them.

Let yourself be challenged sometimes. Let yourself experience discomfort sometimes. It's okay.

Being uncomfortable is actually a source of growth, which so many people that I meet don't understand. They think that discomfort is scary. I don't want to be uncomfortable, and they're actually scared.

One aspect of this is teaching people nadi shodana. One of the big shockers to me was how scared some subset of students are to do nadi shodana. Because they just get fear about being uncomfortable regulating their breath.

So basically, pranayama is scary to them because they don't want to regulate their breath in any way, and it just brings up panic. And the panic is about being uncomfortable.

But of course we all have discomforts. No one avoids discomfort. No one. But certainly a lot of people spend a lot of time scrambling away from it, trying to insulate themselves from discomfort.

And that is also something that we have to yield to.

And if we want to realize, if we want to have the fruits of the practice, we have to work closer to our edge. That's where the growth is.

It doesn't mean that we have to be super Titan-y and aggressive about it like I used to be. I have lots of experience with that if anyone needs some help with that.

But we do have to work closer to our edge.

What is at the edge is a little bit of fear, a little bit of uncertainty, a little bit of effort. Trying things that are new that we don't know how to do. So, willingness to be a beginner. Which a lot of young people, I mean, are not very happy with being beginners.

These are huge impediments to spiritual growth.

I want to try to find this quote from Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche. So, this is, like, yielding in a certain sense. He uses different words, though. Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche was a great Tibetan Buddhist teacher.

"The everyday practice is simply to develop a complete openness to all situations and emotions, and to all people, experiencing everything totally without mental reservations and blockages, so that one never withdraws or centralizes into oneself."

That seems almost unimaginable to most of us.

It's, like, being that to whatever is in one's environment. It's not just about being open to people. It's about being open and without mental reservation or blockages, without any conditioning, wherever you are, whatever circumstance you're in.

Not withdrawing into yourself. Not centralizing within yourself. Not having everything be with reference to your small self.

So this is really at odds with the discourses around boundaries and trauma and all the discourses that say that we have to protect ourselves in certain ways.

And it may be that you do have to protect yourself in certain ways for a time. But that is not the goal. That is not the endpoint. That is not the end of the road.

The end of the road is total openness of perceptions and mind. Total intimacy with everything. Total intimacy.

So as you're doing whatever you need to do to protect yourself and take care of yourself, remember this. Remember that you have not arrived because you have learned how to manage your anxiety and your pain.

This is the way that we work in this tradition, which is holding the bigger view while we're also speaking to our relative condition.

So we're not ignoring the limitations of our condition. We're working with them very practically. But at the same time, we're not mistaking those relative conditions for our real nature. It's a bit of a juggling act.


Satsang with Shambhavi is a weekly podcast about spirituality, love, death, devotion and waking up while living in a messy world.