Tag Archives: contemplation

Complementary, not contradictory

Standing on the head really means learning to stand on your own feet.
~ Swami Rama

Elly and I have recently started practising Wing Chun Kung Fu. Some people around me have been very surprised about this, asking me why a person who intends to be non-violent is interested in learning how to fight. I thought it was very interesting that so many people see a contradiction where I see a complement.

Swami Rama said that learning to stand on the head means learning to stand on the feet, and I have had to contemplate this statement for a while before it started to make sense to me. When we learn to stand on the head, we learn how to be in balance when the world is upside down. This gives us the confidence that we can remain balanced in virtually all circumstances. This confidence helps us to be relaxed and elegant when standing and walking on our feet.

This concept can similarly be applied to the martial arts. Learning to fight means learning to be non-violent. When we know how to defend ourselves, we automatically become less afraid. A fearless person can remain non-violent, because violence is a product of fear.

Another point related to this is that yoga does not prescribe any type of rigidity, not even rigidity about fighting. Yoga asks us to act according to what the situation requires with an attitude of non-attachment. For those who know (of) the Bhagavad Gita: Krishna instructs Arjuna to fight, because the war cannot be prevented and the situation demands fighting.

Even though the act of fighting and the act of violence, whether physical, verbal or otherwise, can seem to be the same from the outside, it is the intent that differs between these two. Fighting can be a training or a necessity, but violence is always due to ignorance. Marshall Rosenberg would say that violence is a tragic expression of an unmet need.

Through the practices of meditation and contemplation we gain clarity of mind. One of the symptoms of this clarity is that we start seeing complements where we previously saw contradictions.

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Mindfulness and negative emotions

This article was originally published on MyYogaOnline.com under the title “3 Ways Mindfulness Can Help with Negative Emotions“. You can help me to build my profile at MyYogaOnline.com by reading this article there.

“What’s wrong with me?” is a question most of us tend to ask when we experience negative emotions. When we ask ourselves this question, we are perceiving our negative emotions as something “bad” or “wrong”. This perception prevents us from using negative emotions in a positive way; in a way that serves our personal growth. Being negative about negative emotions is my definition of suffering.

The rise of negative emotions in ourselves can be compared to a traffic light turning red: it is a message to us that we need to stop. If we believe that a red light in traffic is something “bad”, it means that we don’t fully understand and appreciate its usefulness. Just imagine the chaos that would result if we were all to choose to ignore the red light’s simple message to us.

In the same way, positive emotions can be compared to a traffic light turning green: it is a message that we need to keep moving on. It would lead to disaster if, alternatively we were to hit the brakes whenever we saw the traffic light turn green.

Instead of shooting the messenger (our negative emotions), I suggest practicing the following three steps when experiencing negativity:

1. Awareness: Become mindful of the present moment.
The foundation of yoga is awareness. Whatever it is that we are doing, if we are not doing it with awareness it is not true yoga. Awareness, in the context of experiencing negative emotions, means observing that we are experiencing negativity without getting dragged along by it. Emotions are a powerful force that can sweep us away, and if the emotions we are experiencing are stronger than our current ability to return to the present moment, we can practice these three steps at a later time when the mind has become calmer. We practice mindfulness by bringing back the memory of the event that triggered our negative emotion. By practicing at a later time, we can start to train ourselves to be mindful when experiencing strong emotions.

2. Contemplation: Coming to an understanding of the source of our negative emotions.
Contemplation means engaging in a pleasant self-dialogue. When I say this, I literally mean that we will need to have a conversation with ourselves. In this dialogue, we will assume the role of somebody who is listening to a friend in need. We ask questions when we don’t understand that friend; we don’t assume the role of somebody who is ready to give advice and judgments.

There are two important questions we should ask ourselves in this dialogue, they are: “what is it that I really need?” and “how can I give myself what I really need?” When we ask these questions to ourselves, we need to remember that yoga is the practice of non-attachment. One meaning of “non-attachment” is to be independent of anything or anyone outside of us for our happiness and fulfillment. If, for example, we hear as an answer to the first question “I need my boss to show me some respect and acknowledge my work”, it means that we are dependent on our boss for “respect” and “acknowledgment”. Instead, try saying “I need respect and acknowledgment”, and then, in answer to the second question, ask yourself: “how can I give myself the respect and acknowledgment I need?” The answer to such a question will come from within.

3. Practice: Readjusting our mind, actions and speech to the insights gained in the previous steps.
Practice means following the insights that we have gained through our contemplation. Not following these insights is like having a cookbook but never actually cooking any recipe from it. The recipe book soon only becomes a burden.

These three steps have been, and still are, helping me to gain a deeper understanding of myself. It is my hope that they can do the same for you.

本文原刊登於 MyYogaOnline.com ,原標題:為”以覺知面對負面情緒的三種方法“。透過以上連結閱讀,你可以幫助我建立在MyYogaOnline.com的知名度。

「我到底怎麼了?」當我們經歷負面情緒時,這往往是我們提出的問題。當我們如此提問時,我們視這些負面情緒為某種「不好的」或者「錯誤的」事情。這樣的看法使得我們無法正向地運用這些負面情緒,以協助個人成長。對我而言,受苦的定義,正是對於負面情緒抱持負面態度。

負面情緒的出現,就好比亮起紅燈的交通號誌,它告訴我們:該停下來了。如果我們認為交通中出現紅燈是不好的事,那表示我們並未完全了解這個號誌的用處。想像一下,如果我們都選擇忽略紅燈號誌代表的簡單訊息的話,那麼結果將會出現什麼樣的混亂局面?

同樣地,正面情緒就如同交通號誌裡的綠燈,它的出現告訴我們,該繼續前進了。如果我們反而在綠燈時踩下煞車,那又會帶來什麼樣的災難呢?

與其處決傳遞訊息的使者(即內心的負面情緒),我建議,當感受負面情緒時,可以試著練習以下三個步驟:

1. 覺知:注意當下
瑜珈的基礎在於覺知。不管我們做什麼,如果我們不保有覺知,那就不是瑜珈。當我們面臨負面情緒時,覺知即意味著在經歷負面情緒的同時,不受這樣的情緒擺佈。情緒是股強大的力量,輕易地就能將人淹沒。如果我們所經歷的負面情緒,比起我們回到當下覺知的能力,要來得強大,那麼我們可以等待心情較平靜時,再練習我所提的這三個步驟。這個覺知練習,是藉由將記憶帶回觸發負面情緒的事件發生的當下。在心情較平復時練習,我們可以訓練自己,於經歷負面情緒的同時,仍保持覺知。

2. 沈思:了解負面情緒的來源.
沈思的意思,是參與一段愉悅的自我對話。我的意思正是我們需要和自己進行談話。在這場對話裡,我們可以扮演一個傾聽朋友需求的人的角色。如果我們有所不解,就向朋友提出疑問,但不要扮演一個提供建議和評斷的人的角色。

在這場對話中,我們應該向自己提出兩個重要的問題:我真正需要的是什麼?我如何給我自己我所需要的?當我們向自己提出這些問題時,我們必須記得,瑜珈是練習不執著。不執著的意義之一正是,我們的快樂或成就,並不取決於任何自身以外的人或事。舉例來說。如果我們對第一個問題的回答是:我需要我的上司對我的工作能力表達尊重與認可,這表示我們依賴上司的尊重與認可。請你試著回答:我需要尊重與認可。接著問自己第二個問題:我應該如何給自己尊重與認可?這個問題的答案,將會發自內心而來。

3. 練習:依據上一步所得的觀察和洞見,重新調整自己的心靈、行動和言語
練習即是依循沈思所得的洞見而採取行動。若我們不依循這些洞見,那就好比手上有本食譜,卻從來不能試過其中任何一道菜。很樣一來,這本食譜很快地會變成負擔。

這三個步驟一直以來都幫助我對自己有更深的認識。我希望它們也能夠對你有所幫助。

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Subtler than our desires

In a previous article I mentioned that I am exploring and practising a method of contemplation which helps me to understand and direct my emotions. The key to that method is becoming aware of the needs and/or desires which come before our emotions1.

There is something that is even more subtle than our needs and desires and in yoga psychology they are called samskaras: they are the mental impressions that we have stored in our mind and they are at the root of our personality (and by extension, our actions). Up to a week ago I wasn’t able to use this concept to gain understandings of my personality, but this changed when it suddenly ‘clicked’ after a recent training2.

The most straightforward way in which I can explain this insight is by example. I remember an incident from when I was still in primary school, where I was standing on a bulky book so that I could grab something from a shelf. My teacher told me not do that and when I asked her why I shouldn’t, she said that books should be treated with respect. That answer didn’t make any sense to me, so I asked her why books have to be treated with respect. She told me that when she was young, she was taught by several people that books should be treated with respect because they contain knowledge.

The ‘dialogue’ I had with my teacher started from her

  • demand: don’t stand on that book; which was the result of her
  • belief: books should3 be respected; which was the result of her
  • samskara: she was told in her youth that books should be respected.

That dialogue I had with her is a dialogue we can have with ourselves. When we use the method of contemplation we can become aware of our feelings when we question what motivates our thoughts, and we can become aware of our needs when we question what motivates our feelings. To become aware of our samskaras however, it appears to be easier to question our (subtle) demands instead of directly questioning our needs4. Our demands are the strategies to meet our needs which are very closely related to our beliefs, which are in turn very closely related to the past experiences that we have stored in the mind.

Once we have brought our samskaras to our conscious awareness we can process them and examine their usefulness to us. I imagine that this can significantly increase our self-understanding and ease our self-transformation, but as this insight is new to me I will need to make experiments myself to verify this.


1: Two recent examples of how I used that method on myself: 1, 2.
2: This was a training on leadership and coaching, for which my employer had hired FPnP).
3: We can recognise our demands and beliefs from our musts/mustn’ts and shoulds/shouldn’ts.
4: This is because we all share the same needs. It is unlikely that we will find anything specific to us when we analyse what we all share in common.

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The yoga psychology of the Twitter follower count

I read an article a few weeks ago with statistics on fake Twitter followers of Dutch politicians. It was a reminder to me that having followers on social media is generally considered to be an important thing, and served as an extra trigger for me to try and understand the psychology of having Twitter followers a little bit better.

The method that I use to understand such subjects is self-study1 through contemplation. In this case this started for me by observing my reactions to gaining and losing followers on Twitter. I found that whenever I gained a follower I had a sense of happiness, and whenever I lost one I felt a bit sad or annoyed. I also started noticing that thoughts of my Twitter follower were popping up in my mind more regularly during the day. I took this as an indication that underneath this ‘follower count’ there is something that is important to me.

I asked myself why I am having these feelings; more specifically, I asked myself what needs of mine are being fulfilled by gaining followers. The answer that my mind gave me was loud and clear: “Attention, recognition and approval.” This means that I was unconsciously seeking the attention, recognition and approval of others, and that I was interpreting being followed as being given attention to, being recognised and being approved.

I consider spirituality to be the process of making my happiness independent of other people or things outside of me. This is what I consider to be the practice of non-attachment2. I therefore always remind myself of the following: whatever I seek outside of me is something that I am not finding or giving to myself, and that will eventually lead me to misery.

I have noticed that only the realisation that I am seeking something outside of myself is not enough: as long as I have the perception that I am indeed finding what I seek, I am not able to change the behaviour of seeking that something outside of myself. I have already described one method of breaking this habit on this blog, which boils down to coming to the understanding that if somebody likes or dislikes someone/something, it has (almost) everything to do with that person and (almost) nothing with that someone/something. This understanding paves the way to self-fulfilling our needs.

In this specific case of Twitter followers however, it doesn’t even go to ‘liking’ or ‘disliking’. I have observed that quite a large number of people don’t follow others out of interest, but merely as a strategy to be followed back!

This whole idea of having Twitter followers has become almost entirely meaningless to me after this examination. It has left me with amazement at how our mind leads us to nonsensical behaviours when we seek to fulfill ourselves through external means.

1: ‘svadhyaya’ in the Yoga Sutras
2: ‘practice’ and ‘non-attachment’ lead to Self-realisation according to Patanjali in his Yoga Sutras

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A practical meaning of the tàijítú (yin-yang symbol) 陰陽符號的實用意義

A few months ago I was in a very relaxed mental state when I started contemplating the relationship between my inner and outer life. I became aware that I am very happy with the balance that I have found between my spiritual and material life. I asked myself if there is a way in which I can make it clear to other what this balance is that I have found. I then had a visual insight into the meaning of the yin-yang symbol, which I would like to share with you now.

I’ll use the relationship between our personal and professional lives to explain my understanding of the yin-yang symbol. There is a natural relationship between the personal and professional aspects of our life: through our experiences in personal life we grow and shape ourselves, and we use whatever we have gained from those experiences in our professional life. Sometimes we do this consciously and sometimes unconsciously, for example when we make decisions at work or talking to our colleagues. In the same way, we also use what we have gained from our professional life in our personal life.

As you know the yin-yang symbol is composed of two colours, usually black and white. Let’s say that our personal life is represented by the colour white and our professional life by the colour black. The balance that most of us have is as follows: we often think about work when at home and we quite regularly think about home when we are at work. One common expression of this is what I call “midnight-worry”; when we are at home, ready to sleep, and all kinds of thoughts and worries of both home and work come rushing in the moment we close our eyes. This ‘disorganised’ state of mind could be visualised something like this:

That figure does not look nice to me. When I look at the picture, I feel disturbed inside. It will make it easier to understand the article if you identify what you are feeling when you see the figure above before you continue to read.

If you feel disturbed like me, you might look for a way to organise the picture so that you do not feel that. One attempt might be to do this:

The meaning of this picture is that the relationship between our personal and professional life is severed. There is a sort of a ‘Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’-like touch to this idea: you are one thing here and something completely different there. I believe that that is an unnatural state of being. I feel slight anxiety when I look at this picture, because the two aspects (white and black) seem to oppose each other rather than support each other.

Now observe the yin-yang symbol:

This is where I experience harmony. The beauty of the yin-yang symbol is that the two aspects are not opposing each other, but supporting each other. That support is indicated by the ‘fish eye’ (small black circle in the white area, small white circle in the black area). At the same time, the two aspects retain their individuality, which is expressed by them having their own space.

This is what a harmonious balance between personal and professional life could be like as well. Work can support our personal life, because it has the ability to, amongst other things, give financial stability. Personal life can support our working life, because it can give rest, clarity and inspiration which is needed to do the work well. It’s nearly impossible to do your work well with a disturbed mind, and it’s very hard to be relaxed and happy when you are fighting for your basic needs.

My insight is that the yin-yang symbol gives a clear direction on how to balance the so-called opposites of life. A good understanding of the yin-yang symbol can make it easy to understand how to balance your time in fulfilling spiritual and existential needs; how to be both an individual and a partner in a committed relationship; how to find a right balance between taking a break and doing efforts; etc.

All these ‘opposites’ are there in support of each other, and both aspects can be enjoyed in their own right.

幾個月前,我處在一個非常放鬆的心理狀態中,開始思考內在與外在生活之間的關係。我發現自己對於目前在靈修以及物質生活之間的平衡,感到很滿意。我問自己,有什麼方法,可以讓他人也清楚了解我所獲得的平衡狀態。後來,我對於陰陽符號有了進一步的理解,在這裡我想和大家分享這份觀察心得。我會運用我們在個人以及職業生活之間的關係,加以解釋我對陰陽符號的理解。在我們生命中的個人以及職場生活間,存在著一層自然的關係:透過個人生活的經驗,我們成長而成為現在的我們,而我們將這當中獲得的經驗,加以運用於工作上。我們時而有意識地、時而無意識地這麼做,例如在工作上做決定或者和同事談話時。同樣地,我們也將在工作上獲得的經驗,運用於個人生活之中。

如你所知,陰陽符號是由兩個顏色組成,通常是黑色與白色。假設我們的個人生活是以白色為代表,而工作職場生活則以黑色為代表。我們大部分人的個人與職場生活之間的平衡狀態是如此:當我們工作時,腦袋裡想著家裡的事情;當我們在家時,卻經常想著工作的事情。有一個很常見的狀況,我稱之為午夜憂慮。我們在家準備要上床睡覺時,突然間所有有關個人和工作的思緒以及憂慮,就在我們閉上眼那一瞬間襲捲而來。這種雜亂無章的心靈狀態,可以用以下的圖象代表:

那幅圖象,在我看來並不那麼好看。當我看著這幅圖象時,我的內心感到不安。在你繼續往下閱讀之前,如果你可以先辨明當你看著以上的圖象時的感受,那麼你將更容易理解這篇文章。
如果你和我一樣感到不安,也許你可以試著找找看重新組織這幅圖象的方法,好讓自己不會感到不安,例如以下的方法:

這幅圖象意謂著,我們的個人與職場生活是完全切割的,這樣的想法彷彿是變身怪醫一般:在這裡你是這個樣子,到了那裡你又是另一個完全不同的樣子。我相信這並非生命的自然狀態。當我看著這幅圖象時,我感到些微焦慮,我看到黑與白這兩個層面似乎完全地彼此對立,而無法互相支持。
現在,讓我們看看陰陽符號:

在這裡,我感受到和諧。陰陽符號的美妙之處在於,黑與色兩方並非彼此對立,而是互相支撐。這份支持表現在兩方的「魚眼」(在白色區域裡的黑色小點,以及在黑色區域裡的白色小點)。同時,這兩個層面仍保有各自的獨立性,這表現在它們各自擁有的空間當中。

這正是個人與職場生活之間和諧平衡的樣貌。職場生活可以支持個人生活,例如它可以給予我們經濟上的穩定。個人生活可以支持職場生活,因為它可以提供工作所需要的休息、清明和啟發。當你心思不安時,幾乎不可能有好的工作表現,而當你必須為了基本生存需求而掙扎時,也很難感到放鬆、快樂。

我對於陰陽符號的觀察,提供我們一個清楚的方向,教我們如何在所謂彼此對立的生活之間尋得平衡。對於陰陽符號的理解,可以使得我們更容易瞭解如何在滿足靈性以及生存需求之間找到平衡;如何成為一個獨立個體,但同時成為一段認真關係中的伴侶;以及如何在休息和努力付出乲間找到最佳平衡。

這些彼此對立的事情,其實可以互相支持,而兩方都有箇中樂趣,值得被發掘。

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