On Becoming: Forging a Path of Authenticity

Authenticity

You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand. 

– MARGERY WILLIAMS, The Velveteen Rabbit –



You become; gently and with much patience. It may be a lifelong practice to fully understand the subtle nuances that shape us into who we are. In forging a path of authenticity, we might acknowledge our madness and misalignments and use yoga as a discipline to overcome hardships and challenge the forces that keep us tethered to unnecessary attachments and addictions.

Authenticity is becoming more aligned with the truth of the self and the higher truth of the world. When we are more aligned with ourselves, we’re better able to attune to the world and harmonize with others and the environment. Alignment looks and feels different for everyone. This is clearly demonstrated in yoga. Everyone breathes at a different depth and pace. All bodies are unique in shape, size, and mass. Participants of yoga may flow and move freely through space in a manner that their body allows. A proper teacher is one who adapts and uses specific cues to assist the student in aligning his/her body correctly with each pose in accordance with the bones, muscles, fascia and their development in the practice.

When we focus on aligning ourselves in our breath and body, we become more aligned with ourselves on an emotional/mental level. Yoga is a refinement of the body’s alignment to yolk the body, breath, and mind. On a physiological level, a consistent yoga practice increases neuroplasticity in the brain. When we learn new things and adapt to challenges, this creates new neural pathways in the brain and increases our capacity for growth.

To challenge dogma, popular belief systems, mainstream politics, cultural norms and values is to question your reality. Questioning leads to breaking the cycles of samsara as one clears the avidya (ignorance) and maya (illusion) that clouds our perception.

Aligning with oneself and cultivating a lifestyle for authenticity takes a courageous heart. Overcoming hardships such as addiction may serve as a trial for suffering where the soul may be strengthened. Many artists live in varying degrees of despair and addiction, providing us with an honest expression of what it means to be human. We might cherish those brave and beautiful souls who reveal their hearts to the world and strive to overcome their hardships. This struggle is a profound step in the development of a path of alignment and authenticity. 

Discipline in Motion through Yoga

Dedication to yoga asana may create alignment and harmony in breath, body, mind, and ultimately, the spirit. This alignment fosters authenticity as we may become more aware of all the complexities that make us who we are, unique in form, expression, and style. The practice of yoga may help to cultivate a more profound awareness in how one creates and connects to their purpose or service in the world. The yogi who dedicates themselves to this process is aware of the karmic residue one leaves and aims to take action with regard to a higher purpose and/or selfless service.

Tapas is the Sanskrit term for heat, fire, and focus. It relates to discipline and burning off impurities that no longer serve. Dedication to tapas would be a discipline in dedicating the self with a specific focus in mind. For example, tapas in yoga may be demonstrated through breathing deeply into difficult poses and sticking with the heat and fire that arises. Tapas in daily life may translate to overcoming difficulties that arise through dedication and discipline; the inner strength to endure and push through whatever ails, contradicts, or despairs.

This is where the practice and teachings of yoga may prepare the yogi to endure whatever hardships appear in day-to-day life. Breathing into yoga poses such as binds, which may include Garudasana (eagle pose) or Svarga Dvijasana (bird of paradise) are strenuous and challenge the body and the breath. Such postures build heat and test the yogi’s strength. When we place such physical demands on the body and focus on breathing through the strain, stress, and sweat, we may teach ourselves to stay calm and endure the stressors that appear in our day. A practice for tapas is a practice for discipline to endure whatever experience arises, the good and the bad, to stay on the path we’ve chosen for ourselves. Authenticity may be born as we witness the evolution of our alignment, within our bodies through the practice of yoga and a commitment to tapas, and our alignment within the greater fabric of the universe.

Hungry Ghosts & Cycles of Samsara

In Buddhist teachings, there are six realms of existence characterized by the different ways in which we live. The six realms are beast, human, god, demi-god, hell, and hungry ghosts. As we enter different phases of consciousness, we move through the unique realms in the Buddhist Mandala of Life with the ultimate aim of freedom from the realms altogether.

The Realm of Hungry Ghosts is the realm of the addict and perhaps a means to escape the Hell Realm where characters of rage and fear where the characters of rage and fear rule. The Hungry Ghosts are depicted as bloated creatures with small necks, tiny pinhole mouths, and large bellies with no limbs. The bloatedness of the Hungry Ghost expresses craving, an emptiness inside satiated (momentarily) by an external substance. The Hungry Ghost is exquisite in showing the longing we may carry and how our addictions may thwart our path of authenticity. When we are bound by the chain of addiction, this may hinder our capacity to evolve and align with the harmonies of the world.

I previously discussed the Buddhist method of Emptiness, or sunyata, in sitting with loneliness to remedy the longing that craves external validation. Addiction is an expression of avoiding this longing and seeking an outlet to numb the pain. It becomes a way to kill the time we face each day. If one has the money and resources available, one might spend their time pursuing higher levels of education, indulge in sports, create a family, or advance their career. The poverty and despair in Vancouver’s East Side houses addicts from all conceivable backgrounds, many who lacked proper care and resources to focus their attention. Some may never transcend the Realm of Hungry Ghosts. Addiction is a disease for many who suffer drug and alcohol abuse. Providing a safe method to get high may be the best way to manage. The realm of the addict is a constant struggle to live with and without the substance of desire.

In Hinduism, the cycle of birth, rebirth, and death, is known as samsara. Sanskrit for ‘to wander’ or ‘to flow through’. Samsara is a result of our karma in this life or a previous life and based on one’s thoughts, words, and actions. The yogi strives to attain moksha, or enlightenment, and overcome the cycles of samsara through purging all karmic residue. The jiva is the soul of a person and in constant flow moving between the states of birth, rebirth, and death. The body, emotions, and senses keep the jiva tethered to the cycles of samsara in a state of maya, illusion. The metamorphosis and/or reincarnation of the soul is expressed as the jiva moves through samsara. The maya we experience is the stories of separation and avidya, ignorance. Maya causes one to act in ways to perpetuate the seeds of karma, keeping one bound to the cycles of samsara and furthering the separation.

Maya is from the Vedanta school of thought and was originally believed to be a magic power possessed by a god to make humans believe in something that turns out to be an illusion. Today, maya may be perceived as a cosmic illusion that the phenomenal world is real. Buddhist and Hindu traditions maintain that in order to move away from the realms of suffering, such as the Realm of Hungry Ghosts and addiction, one must transcend the limited perceptions caused by the ego where we feel lonely and seperate, to arrive at the higher truth of human existence where we know we are one with the universe.

Our true self knows this to be true: the interconnectedness of all things. Carving out a space for your authenticity is a part of the process in recognizing the oneness in the universe amidst the unique colors and textures in expression, idea, and form.

Madness and Misalignment On the Path

We’re all a little bit mad, striving to overcome anxieties and addictions. Addiction may be a symptom of the madness we all live with, the insecurity and fear. The pull towards addiction might be transformed into a will for tapas; the ability to overcome our suffering through persistence, patience, and love, to create authenticity and alignment within ourselves and the universe.

A little bit of madness and misalignment sheds light on our experience. It may be through our failures and our flaws that we gain a greater capacity to understand the inner workings of the self and a life of authenticity. Life is a mystery, rules were created by humans to establish order and reason. What works for you, may not work for someone else. Life may be illogical, messy, prone to disorder, and full of craziness depending on where you’re standing. There’s no guidebook to living. Our becoming is a solo journey where one might arrive to refine, accept, and awaken to what it truly means to be you.

May our madness wake us up to transcend our limited perception of reality and connect to the authenticity we have within.

In madness,
Stephanie
stephaniedawntrembath

Avoidance: Transform Your Cycle of Suffering

?Avoidance: Transform Your Cycle of Suffering.

If you are in the garden, I will dress myself in leaves. If you are in the sea I will slide into that smooth blue nest, I will talk fish, I will adore salt. But if you are sad, I will not dress myself in desolation. I will present myself with all the laughters I can muster. And if you are angry I will come, calm and steady, with some small and easy story. 

– MARY OLIVER –



When I was small, I’d avoid the monsters who secreted themselves at the clothes in my closet by staying up all night; I’d hide under the bedcovers with a book and a flashlight. Nevermind the fact that I read Stephen King novels. Those were psychological spooks I could manage by taking a break with a Betty & Veronica comic. As a teen, I avoided phys ed classes by joining jazz band, so as to avoid any game involving a ball (which was every game when I was in school) thus pointing out my devastating hand-eye coordination along with ridicule from the cool athletic girls. My cheeky attempts at skipping the conversations I couldn’t handle in my youth, be it ghouls or teenage girls, fostered my love of literature and musical aptitude. I wouldn’t be who I am today had I gone to bed when asked or obliged to playing team sports. 

?Avoidance: Transform Your Cycle of Suffering.

My parents worried over me in elementary school when they discovered I ignored all the kids to sit on the bench and read The Chronicles of Narnia at recess and lunch. I’d remove myself from any situation I didn’t prefer, crafting ways to opt out of classes I didn’t enjoy and skipping social settings where I felt uncomfortable.

My avoidance is a character of suffering; a result of my inability to come to terms with how I feel and sit with all the sensations we experience in life. 

 

 

I still prefer to witness and revel in the conflict of characters marked by the turn of a page, which caused me a major step in development. Conflict is necessary to develop boundaries, discover your voice and personal power, and more importantly, the skills to resolve disagreements. I never established such skills in my youth, and what little skill I did cultivate, wasn’t strong enough to match my super power of avoidance. I’m not alone in my distaste for sticky situations in relationships, but there has to be a space where you acknowledge all of these uncomforting, sickly, swollen, belly-aching emotions in yourself and with others. There has to be room to express the full spectrum of emotions in the darkness and the light for you to truly face all that you are and the space you take up in the world. 

“Character — the willingness to accept responsibility for one’s own life —
is the source from which self-respect springs. – Joan Didion

I avoid tricky conversations with others to escape how I feel. It has little to do with the other person and it isn’t personal. As a kid, instead of saying “I’m scared,” I said, “I’m going to read my book.” As a teenager, instead of saying, “I suck at sports, my feelings are hurt,” I said, “I’m going to join the school marching band.” And now, as an adult instead of saying, “this relationship doesn’t work for me, here’s how I feel and why,” I say, “everything’s fine, I just need space.” 

Same coping tactic, same character, same storyline; just a few different twists thrown into the equation to thicken the plot.

?Avoidance: Transform Your Cycle of Suffering.
Image source, Ann Arbor District Library.

The Kleshas and Our Bondage to Suffering

In Buddhist and Hindu traditions, removing the self from dukkha, suffering, is the ultimate goal to attain enlightenment, or samadhi. Suffering is caused by the five afflictions or mental states, known as kleshas. In Sanskrit, kleshas translates to the form of poison as they are toxic and cause mental suffering through bondage. The five kleshas were identified by Patanjali  in the Yoga Sutras. 

The five kleshas are: Avidya (Ignorance), Asmita (Egoism) Raga (Attachments), Dvesa (Aversions), Abhinivesa (Fear). 

  1. Avidya is wrong knowledge, or ignorance. Each of us approaches life with preconditions ideas based on our culture, education, social conditioning, past experiences, expectations, values and preferences. We create our own reality based on these judgments and believe this to be the true reality when in fact, it’s subjective. Our subjective identities are important in shaping who we are and giving us our independence and yet we need to live in harmony and co-exist with each other to survive. Acknowledging our own ignorance, that what we believe to be true may not in fact be, creates less suffering.
  2. Asmita is the ego-self, the small-self that clings to attachments and desires, acting from a place that serves the singular self over others. We need our ego for survival and to develop emotionally and psychologically, but an ego-centric individual takes everything personally, feels disconnected from others, and sees only a very small portion of what reality is. Understanding asmita would mean acknowledging others, striving for selfless service, and seeing the vastness of the universe and the connectedness of all beings and events.
  3. Raga is the pull toward attachments and desires. Attachment affects our behaviors, moods, and actions, causing suffering through stress and anxiety when things don’t go as we hoped or planned. Addiction is a very big component of attachment as we become addicted to things that bring us instant gratification inclusive of food, drugs, sex, technology, relationships, and the like. When we become so dependent on something outside of ourselves, we suffer when we don’t receive or attain it. Overcoming attachment would mean welcoming all the experiences, and learning to sit with how we feel. 
  4. Dvesa is the avoidance of the things we don’t like and works with raga in a tug-of-war to avoid negative sensations and pursue positive affirmations. Labeling things as good or bad is a judgment based on our past experiences and cultivated in our upbringing. What resists, persists. It is important to face our emotions as they arise, especially sensations we don’t ‘like’ such as sitting in our own fear, resentment, anger, shame, guilt, sadness. Avoidance provides insight to look into why we are feeling how we feel, our triggers, and why we feel this way. It’s a crack to peek through to examine our misinformation and judgments of the world and how we may shift our perception.
    Aversion (dvesa) is the opposite side of attachment (raga). It is a repulsion that leads to enmity and hate, like the same poles of two magnets pushing away from each other. ” – B.K.S. Iyengar. 
  5. Abhinivesa relates to our fear, the fear of the unknown and ultimately the fear of death itself. Examining our lives and accepting our eventual departure from this world can bring joy to the life that we’re living. When we accept death we have to opportunity to see the blessing we have in this life, in this moment. The fear of the unknown requires a deep trust in the universe and greater powers outside of the self, outside of your ego, and coming to terms with being present and open to all that the world offers. 

“There is only one reality, but there are many ways that reality can be interpreted.”
– B.K.S. Iyengar

Examining the way the kleshas appear in your world is the first step to seeing how ignorance, ego, attachment, aversion, and fear keep you tied to patterns of suffering. B.K.S. Iyengar believed in the power and practice of yoga to heal the body, mind, and soul. Meditation, yoga, and studying Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, is a way to align yourself physically, mentally, and emotionally to transform your limited perceptions of the world. 

The Stoics on Avoidance and Obstacles

Buddhist and Hindu traditions weren’t the only cultures to identify the avoidance of pain in causing immense suffering. The Stoics believed in the virtue of judgement to lead a contented life. Stoicism was practiced and preached by Zeno, Seneca, and Marcus Aurelius in the early 3rd century BC. Stoicism was founded on the idea that we don’t control our surroundings, all is in constant flux, and the only way to manage the uncertainty we live in is to rely on ourselves and our response to our external environments. 

The Stoics believed strongly in transforming obstacles into moments of opportunity. Avoidance was not an option; those who chose a stoic life would welcome hardship and use challenges to strengthen their character. Acceptance was a virtue of the highest regard and management of the self through sound judgement, discipline, and control of emotions. By observing the emotions and responding accordingly, and welcoming hardship and using conflict as a means to express and resolve, Stoicism is still a relevant guide to live without bondage to suffering.

?Avoidance: Transform Your Cycle of Suffering.

In Conversation with Your Avoidance

A bildungsroman is a coming-of-age novel that deals with a character’s psychological growth. Some of my favourite books of this genre include Donna Tartt’s, The Goldfinch, John Irving’s, The World According to Garp, and Wally Lamb’s, She’s Come Undone. The main characters undergo considerable spiritual development and are repeatedly confronted and challenged by the five kleshas. This is one of the ways the authors created memorable characters who evoked the readers empathy. 

When you confront your patterns of ignorance, avoidance, ego, attachment, and fear, you create the space and power to shift your cycles of suffering. The only way to overcome this cycle is to see it for what it is and accept it and move through it.

Last year, I started seeing a therapist who specializes in professional development more so than sifting through childhood traumas. I went to one appointment where I was asked questions concerning how I feel about my current lifestyle, what I desire most in life, and what steps I could take to get to where I desired. I went on to repeatedly cancel and reschedule the following appointment on three separate occasions. Seeing my pattern, my therapist messaged me to say, firm and polite, that she did not work with people who wouldn’t commit to themselves. Her message hit hard and I’ve kept my original appointments ever since and made a conscious effort to sit with how I feel instead of running away

“The willingness to accept responsibility for one’s own life is the source from which self-respect springs.” — Joan Didion.

Commit to yourself. Find something that helps you meet your character of avoidance and break the cycle of suffering. For me, it’s through writing. Unlike the characters I meet in fiction, I cannot escape who I am once I’ve committed words to paper. Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras is one way to understand the world and how you operate in it. Yoga is so much more than asana practice, it’s a way to unite your body, mind, and sense so you may accept and align with yourself within the greater context of the universe.

Big love,
Stephanie
stephaniedawntrembath

Transmutation

Snake medicine people are very rare. Their initiation involves experiencing and living through multiple snake bites, which allows them to transmute all poisons, be they mental, physical, spiritual, or emotional. The power of snake medicine is the power of creation, for it embodies sexuality, psychic energy, alchemy, reproduction, and ascension (or immortality). 

The transmutation of the life-death-rebirth cycle is exemplified by the shedding of the Snake’s skin. It is the energy of wholeness, cosmic consciousness, and the ability to experience anything willingly and without resistance. It is the knowledge that all things are equal in creation, and those things which might be experienced as poison can be eaten, ingested, integrated, and transmuted if one has the proper state of mind. Thoth, the Atlantean who later returned as Hermes and was the father of alchemy, used the symbology of the two snakes intertwining around a sword to represent healing. Complete understanding and acceptance of the male and female within each organism creates a melding of the two into one, thereby producing divine energy.  

This medicine teaches you on a personal level that your a universal being. Through accepting all aspects of your life, you can bring about transmutation of the fire medicine. This fire energy, when functioning on the material plane, creates passion, desire, procreation, and physical vitality. On the emotional plane, it becomes ambition, creation, resolution, and dreams. On the mental plane, it becomes intellect, power, charisma, and leadership. When this Snake energy reaches the spiritual plane, it becomes wisdom, understanding, wholeness, and connection to the Great Spirit. If you have chosen this symbol, there is a need within you to transmute some thought, action, or desire, so that wholeness may be achieved. This is heavy magic, but remember, magic is no more than a change in consciousness. Become the magician or the enchantress: transmute the energy and accept the power of fire. 

          –Medicine Cards


This is a time of great transition, within and without. With the autumn coming near an end and winter beginning, this is the time when we start to ask ourselves the bigger questions. Reflecting on how we have gotten here and what we would like to do with teachings we have received. The shadow aspects of ourselves tend to show up around the holiday season when we spend time with our extended family. Old patterns/habits also tend to surface. Questioning who we are as individuals and what is our role in our communities, both global and local. 
I found this card especially apropos after the US election next week. Life as we know it here in North America is changing. The question is what do we want to do with the poison? 
As this card suggests, we can become the magicians and take this fire being given to us and transform it into medicine. The key is we must be vigilant, we must stay present through the whole experience. There must be a willingness to change: our thought pattern, our roles, the way we think the world should work, and our affect on the world.