Rubin’s vase: Do you see a vase, or two faces?

You’ve probably heard the famous song, “Respect,” written by Otis Redding, and powerfully sung by Aretha Franklin. It’s an anthem to anyone who has felt wronged, and needs words of empowerment to regain confidence and courage.

If you’ve ever been in that emotional place of feeling small and stripped of power, you’ll recognize how uncomfortable it is! How can you find shanti, or inner peace, instead?

There could be as many possible paths of forward action as there are ways to practice Hatha Yoga asanas. And I believe you will find the best way forward to create inner peace for you! However, the root of the action will be the same for everybody. At the heart of the discomfort, we must recognize the concept of Maya, which is the illusory world that our minds perceive to be reality. To Yogis, everything we perceive is Maya.

Maya doesn’t mean that when you pick up a coffee cup, you aren’t picking up something solid. It doesn’t mean that the sun doesn’t actually exist and provide us with light. To understand Maya, we must first recognize that whatever we perceive in the world is multi-faceted. When we perceive a situation in the present moment, we also mix in all of our memories of past situations. How we observe an object will be influenced by our past knowledge and study of similar objects, or even our desires and expectations. Therefore, whatever we perceive is a mix of this moment and infinite moments in time both past and present. Only some parts of our perception would exist as “real” for other people, as a “shared experience.” That’s what makes our perception an illusion.

So when you feel small and stripped of power, the first step you can take to relieve the discomfort is to really think through your situation, and discover what created this perception. Does this situation remind you of a previous situation? How about the people involved in the situation? Do they remind you of people you have known before? What were you expecting to be different about this situation? Try to ask yourself what parts of your story are assumed, perhaps from the past, the future, or your imagination. Also ask yourself what parts are objective, meaning that the majority of other people would share that same “fact.”

There is a type of meditation frequently practiced in Yoga that can help you develop this type of cognitive strength. The meditation starts out with sitting in a comfortable position, and then mentally repeating to yourself, “I am not the chair” (or cushion, or whatever you are sitting on). Then, you mentally repeat to yourself, “I am not the body.” Then, “I am not the emotions.” Then, “I am not the mind (thoughts).” Essentially, you want to start with something easy to feel separation from, then work your way towards things that feel more difficult to dissociate from or identify with. The meditation is meant to help you dispel confusion, bolster non-attachment, and recognize that the real you is something infinite and unaffected by anything that happens to you during this lifetime.

When you feel small and stripped of power, practice connecting with that part of you that is infinite, even just for a moment. It helps calm your consciousness. You’ll be more open to accepting the current situation, and more able to see possible routes forward. You’ll be better able to decipher what would be a shared reality (like “I am experiencing difficulty”) from what is subjective and illusory (like, “I’m no good,” “I’ll never succeed,” etc.).

Whatever practices you try, and whether or not you restore shanti quickly to your heart, just know that you don’t need respect from other people to give you confidence. Maya is just clouding your thoughts. The real you is unaffected by the karma you experience in this world. And, the real you is an infinite being of light. :)

About the Author

Michelle Dortignac, founder of Unnata® Aerial Yoga, is an E-RYT 500 certified Yoga instructor of over 20 years, while during most of those years also being a professional aerial acrobatics performer. Her most influential Yoga teachers include Dharma Mittra, Alan Finger, Cyndi Lee and Susan Braham.

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