If you’ve felt more sensitive, more anxious and/or depressed lately, you’re right on track. As we continue to receive more conflicting advice, to stack up and balance on top of the piles of confusion we already carry, many of us have been feeling desperate, overwhelmed and every flavor of our own personal craziness. I use the word crazy because it feels light-hearted to me, and mental health seldom has this tone. My hope is that you can find ways to approach your own well-being with more ease, as if befriending a part of you that has just gotten a bad name. Maybe you could even recruit your most benevolent parts to mother those vulnerable parts when they need care.
It feels perfectly appropriate that May is Mental Health Awareness month, as well as a time to honor mothers. It is also the month to explore prayer and meditation. For me, these are all connected. Mental and spiritual well-being are inseparable for me, but I am careful about when and where I say that. As a yoga teacher and conscientious citizen of the world, I never want to tread on the belief systems of my fellows. I am surprised by how hesitant most folks are to acknowledge any spiritual affiliation, and how even fewer want to get into the exploratory conversation with me. My culture tells me that this is private, so I do my best to respect this silent agreement.
At least a decade ago, I realized that practicing yoga, meditation and time in nature were more about mental resilience than physical robustness. Of course the two are intertwined, but my culture made it clear that I needed to look good first, then maybe get to other details later.
I feel so lucky now, to be freer of that hierarchy and spend my precious life exploring practices that meet me as a whole person, not just a body for consumption, with a neglected heart and soul.
These parts of me all need to be mothered regularly, by a universal mother, cared for unconditionally and brought to timeless truths. Yoga’s founding moral precepts, non-harming and truthfulness (Āmhimsa and Satya) are given before the postures (Āsana) and are also the foundation of compassionate parenting. Mahatma Ghandi lead a non-violent revolution by skillfully teaching, implementing and braiding together these concepts. Many paths uphold these beliefs.
I want to tell you about my Red Tara mediation practice, and suddenly feel vulnerable. Maybe this is the reason for shyness around this topic. I don’t always call myself a Buddhist , but instead say I do a Buddhist practice. The former sounds like I might get in trouble if I break the rules or someone might call me out as a hypocrite if I eat meat. Maybe this is why we can be tentative about committing to any sort of practices – we might fail or be shamed by critics.
So stepping bravely forward, I’ll tell you what I love about my practice. I get totry to experience liberation from everything I see, hear and think. I get to try to feel that my actual, true essence is the same quality that is in all living beings. This essence is called Buddha. I get to let go of everything that clouds my view of truth, of Buddha. I get to lean into the lineage of these teachings and lay down my worries, fears and delusions. I get to surrender and give it all up.
Tara is the female emanation of Buddha, and she purposefully incarnated over and over as a woman to clear up any misconceptions about gender influencing holiness. Her commitment is to stay with us, in samsara, until every living being is liberated from delusion and knows their true nature. She is the ultimate mother, because of her devotion to all beings and her detachment from our confusion and misbehavior. I don’t practice to please her or win her favor. She won’t be sending any lightning bolts or plagues of toads to punish anyone. She is detachment and love inextricably entwined.
…and yet! I do ask for her help. The center of my practice can sound kind of woo woo. But listen carefully: because I am learning to free my mind from all dualism, all illusion about any object being real in the way it seems to be, I can use this same detached strength of mind to visualize Tara in all her glorious regalia. She is decked out with splendid jewels, silken garments, a crown of lotus flowers and she is smiling, lovingly upon me. Yet I know that she is no more real than anything in the room.
The prayer of request is this, “Illustrious Tara, please be aware of me. Remove my obstacles and quickly grant my excellent aspirations.” The excellent aspirations are established at the very start of practice – enlightenment for the sake of all beings.
It is comforting to envision this universal mother clearing away all of my anger, my ignorance, selfishness, envy, and attachments. But the surprise is that she isn’t actually doing anything – I am allowing this all to fall away. In the safety of her “presence”, this wise, detached, loving mother, my ego can let go of its need to grasp fiercely to illusions. With the obstacles tamed, the Buddha that has always been here is simply revealed.
The colors of these prayer flags represent the five poisons of the mind that the practice addresses. As the wind moves through their fibers, slowly breaking down their illusion of solidity, so can meditation and prayer decrease our suffering and confusion. We have temporarily forgotten our greatness, but we can remember again, with support.
As a mother, this is my greatest wish for my children – that they see their unchanging perfection, and recognize this in everyone they meet. This just might be the mental health hack we’re seeking.
I do hope this was helpful and that you won’t make fun of my spiritual questing! It still feels a bit vulnerable, but I hope I can lead the way for you to find ways to communicate about those things dear to you.
Enjoy the day.
I am delighted to be able to offer scholarships again for yoga therapy. Please don’t be shy if you are in need of support or if you know a frontline worker who you could refer to me for stress relief. Likewise, if you’re moved to support this program as a donor, please contact me.
Remember that my website has all my past newsletters, recorded meditations and videos to support your mental health. Please visit CatEnrightYogaTherapy.com.