Guru Brahma, Guru Vishnu, Guru Devo Maheshwara Guru Sakshat Param Brahma Tasmai Shri Gurave Namah
Transition: Our creation is that guru; the duration of our lives is that guru; our trials, illnesses and calamities is that guru. There is a guru that is nearby and a guru that is beyond the beyond. I humbly make my offering to the guru, the beautiful remover of ignorance, the enlightenment principle that is within me and surrounds me at all times.
The Focus of the Month for May 2018 was written by Yogeswari, a guru from my recent yoga teacher training in India, much of this post is her exact words of wisdom with my ramblings interwoven. This focus of the month feels particularity sacred to me at this time. I start to write this late in the evening of the night before my 25th birthday. My birthday is often a time of great reflection for me.
This week I have been reflecting on the love I receive from my friends who have given me such thoughtful gifts. On my birthday I often reflect on my life up until this very day; how wonderful my life has been so far, how grateful I am for the trails and tribulations which have stretched me – enabling me to grow. I find myself thinking about my parents, who by the way, despite their acrimonious divorce more than half a lifetime ago, continue to be my first and most beloved gurus.
Guru means teacher, the enlightenment principle. The Hindu Trinity of Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva symbolizes the process of creation, sustenance and destruction that all of manifestation is subjected to. Brahma is creation and refers to the circumstances of our birth, our parents, the relationship between our parents, the emotions and energies our mother exposed herself to during pregnancy and birth, and the culture and socio-economic circumstances. In experiencing this mantra, we are invited to look at all these aspects as a teaching. In Western society, there has been an increasing trend towards individualization and single-handedly taking credit for everything we accomplish. We have forgotten the people who have opened doors for us, and we take any sacrifices our parents have made for us for granted. We have replaced gratitude with entitlement, and we no longer know the secrets of what holds an ecosystem, a community or a family together. We are all suffering in varying degrees from the disease of disconnect.
I have had an intense personal experience of this, in my relationship with both my parents and my step parents. So angry was I that my family did not fit within the parameters of what I considered a normal family to be that I spent years at a time without any contact with my parents. Now that I am training to be a clinical psychologist, my childhood experiences and attitude towards my parents is again at the forefront of my consciousness, indeed something I spoke to a colleague about today after our therapy for therapists session. Then eerily, after our lunch break, my teacher held up the discarded notebook of one of my colleagues which read:
“If first you don’t succeed, blame your parents”
"Some years ago, respect became confused with punishment and oppression, instead of an attitude of deep love, reverence and appreciation. We began to reject expressions of respect towards our parents, teachers and elders, and have stopped teaching it to our children. When yoga students are asked to reflect on their parents, the mood tends to become very quiet, solemn and tearful. So many of us have heavy issues with our parents, and often have stopped talking to them altogether. We continue to live with unresolved pain and hurt lingering under the surface, until it is too late. A parent falls ill or dies. Misunderstandings, unskilful communication or abusive patterns are left in a puddle of darkness, confusion and regrets. Some of us are in our eighties, our mother or father has been under the ground for 25 years, and still, day after day, we are making ourselves miserable thinking about what horrible things our mother or father did to us. We are still waiting for the deceased parent to apologise or somehow fix the situation, not realizing that the only person, who can relieve us from all of that suffering is us.
Yoga practice teaches how to reconcile the relationship from our end. The physical presence of the other person may not even be required. We train ourselves to be humble, get over false pride and see strength in making the first gesture towards reconciliation. Often, it is not even a matter of a huge drama or catharsis, but just a small energetic shift, comparable to actively engaging the spiralling movements in our thighs, lifting our inner arches or pressing our big toe mounds into the ground. These are small, almost invisible adjustments that will create a ripple effect through the whole body and bring the whole pose into balance. In the same way, a small internal shift brought about by setting an intention to look at one good quality in each of our parents, can totally change the relationship. Remember: any rift with our parents is a reflection of a rift within ourselves."
In learning about karma, I have come to realise that the fluctuations of conflict and tension with my parents and family more generally are karmic cycles, perhaps from previous lifetimes ago. The body is made up of karma’s. If you have conflict with your parents it is said that your base chakra (Muladhara chakra) is unbalanced, which may mean that you have a general instability within your life, typified by instability in relationships with other family members, career and money – read, other things that provide stability. How do we overcome this? Something Sharon Ji said on my teacher training still rings though my ears to this day, “You should wake up with a desire to get on your mat and work through your karma’s”.
Harmonizing the relationship with our parents and our teachers is the key to managing all other relationships. We need to stop projecting outward, stop blaming, stop looking for fault and start by generating an energy of gratitude. We have to stop making exceptions that Yogic teachings only apply to certain situations, but not to others. We need to assume our responsibility in the conflict, and see it appearing from of our own projections. In responding to any form of abuse, resentment will not lead us to liberation. Forgiveness is the only thing that will allow our hearts to become light. Forgiving is not so much about letting the other person off the hook, but it is about dropping the darkness that makes us sick and stops us from moving forward. Forgiveness is essential for spiritual growth. A famous quote by Martin Luther King Jr. says:
“I have decided to go with love, hate is too heavy a burden to bear.”
I can certainly speak to the burden of hate, as well as the grief, anger and despair that comes with having an un-harmonious relationship with my parents. For years it plagued me and I have been in psychotherapy because if for much of my life. However, I can also speak to the liberation I experienced when I decided I could no longer bare the burden of hate. I realised that although many of my experiences of parental figures were ugly, complicated and even abusive, I could be free of this if I wanted to be. And I really, really, wanted to be free. My desire for liberation from the bondage of parental conflict meant that for the first time in my life, my desire to be right was less important to me than my desire to be free. I forgave my parental figures, all four of them. This was greatly facilitated by the psychotherapeutic practice of writing down each significant trial in my life and what I learnt from it. Shortly after this I was accepted into university, moved interstate (far from my family of origin) then found and fell in love with Jivamukti yoga.
“Psychotherapy is for getting you to a place of normalcy, yoga is for enlightenment” – Sharon Ji
"When we are young, we see our parents as perfect, and when we grow up to be teenagers, our parents look like everything but perfect. Yet, our expectation of perfection remains and creates a constant friction with our criticism. Can we perhaps accept that our parents always did their best, but may not always have been able to do this skilfully, because of the difficulties and suffering they encountered? Perhaps, if we ourselves are now a parent, we can see that being perfect all the time is an impossible task? Sometimes parents forget that a child cannot be forced into the mould of their unfulfilled dreams. Sometimes, a mother is incapable of nurturing a child with maternal love, because of her own trauma. Still, she is doing her best. We may wish to see ourselves as totally different from your parents, but as we age, we may realize how much we are like them; we are a continuation of our parents, and our ancestors."
Certainly my psychological mindedness and training got me to the point of understanding the factors that account for some of my parents behaviour; their relationship with their parents, their childhoods, their traumas, their dreams. I truly believe that at any given point in time, any given person is just doing the best they can, with what they have. I apply this principle to people who are considered some of the hardest people to understand – people who are addicted to drugs – so its only fair I would extend the same kindness to my parents. Having said that, they still irritate me, I still am hypersensitive and overly reactive at times to what I perceive as provocation. Although, I have learnt that this is less about others, especially my parents where this experience is most salient, and much more about me and my sadhana (discipline of routine spiritual practice). My karma means I chose my parents. And they chose me. I continue to choose them as my first and most beloved gurus. Although some days it is easier than others, I humbly bow and give offerings to my gurus, my parents. I give thanks to my parents for birthing me into the world, this time 25 years ago. I thank them for allowing me to experience the beauty and the ugliness of life. My parents, were the gurus that were near, every day they nurtured and cared for me and in doing so allowed me the opportunity to have a lot of opportunity. I had the opportunity to find Jivamukti yoga and in doing so, the opportunity to resolve my karma’s through yoga practices. I have the opportunity, as we all do, to experience the enlightenment principle (or God) that is operating around me and within me at all times, the guru that is beyond the beyond.
You chose exactly the perfect parents that your soul needed to experience for your spiritual and personal development. If we love our parents, we don’t have to say anything; our love is enough, and when they pass away, the love will continue, and there will be no regrets. Michael Franti gives us this beautiful contemplation:
Your father is just an ordinary guy who fell in love.