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.


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。





1. 覺知:注意當下

2. 沈思:了解負面情緒的來源.


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



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.


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


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.