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your thoughts don't call the shots

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EVERY WEEK I SEND OUT A LOVE NOTE FILLED WITH RESOURCES, MUSINGS, AND INSPIRATION ABOUT WALKING THIS PATH OF YOGA AND LIBERATION. CLICK HERE TO SUBSCRIBE!

Your thoughts create your reality.

This isn’t just some woo shit, either.

It’s called confirmation bias.

When you hold a belief (even unconsciously) about yourself, other people, or the world, your brain is constantly looking for information that confirms what you already know. It interprets neutral (and even contradictory) information as supportive of your pre-existing belief.

If you believe that women are terrible drivers, your brain will naturally notice and remember examples of women failing to use their turn signals more readily than men doing the same thing.

If you believe that your friends are secretly annoyed at you most of the time, your brain will interpret your BFF’s terse text message (because she’s busy) as being pointedly at you (because you are so annoying.)

It stands to reason that if you hold some crappy beliefs about yourself, investigating your thoughts could improve your life. Figuring out how they are shaping your world might help you to suffer less.

And that's the whole damn point. 

Investigate and recognize the scripts that keep you suffering. Look at where they came from. (maybe with the help of a therapist?). Many of us have internalized beliefs from our families (particularly in childhood) and from the culture at large.

Figure out what you don’t actually believe.

Be strong with your mind. This story, tell yourself, is no longer allowed. Give yourself a boundary. Don’t let yourself cross it. 

Write some newer, better, truer stories for yourself. When the old narratives re-arise (and you know they will!), be strong. Firmly contradict them.

Remind yourself of the new story.

Don't let your thoughts call the shots.

Much love,

Bear

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Just Show Up

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Every week I send out a love note filled with resources, musings, and inspiration about walking this path of yoga and liberation. Click here to subscribe!

Just get in the door.

Why is it that getting to a yoga class is so difficult? Getting yourself to the studio is usually the hardest part. There are so many obstacles, real and perceived, that keep us from being able to show up: work to be done, children to be cared for, errands to be run.

These barriers are real and I don’t mean to diminish them. (Also if money is a barrier, please let me know and I’m always happy to find ways to make it work.) But often, just showing up is deeply transformational on its own, without anything else having to happen.

Part of why it’s hardest to show up is that you have to choose to do it, over and over. For several years, I went to yoga class with my teacher most mornings at 7:30am. I am NOT a morning person. Once I got there, all I had to do was whatever she told me to do.

That was the easy part.

The hard part was choosing to set my alarm the night before. The hard part was choosing to keep my eyes open when it went off. The hard part was choosing to put one foot on the floor and then the other, and then getting dressed, and then getting on my bike and riding across town to the studio.

I feel better before the class even starts.

I feel better because I've chosen something good and healthy for myself. I'm surrounded by people who are seeking something similar, and that feels great. Whatever happens in the time between when I walk in and then walk out, I can high-five myself for getting my ass on the mat. Even if the class is challenging or frustrating, chances are I'll leave feeling better than I walked in.

I joke that going to therapy is good for me half because it actually helps and half because it’s so profound to opt-in to working on myself.

For sixty minutes every Friday at 3:30, I choose my own healing.

Maybe it’s yoga or therapy, or maybe it’s running or painting or fishing or meditating. Whatever it is that makes you feel cared for, do that thing. Even if you do it badly. Even if it kind of sucks today. Do it anyway.

Putting in the energy towards your growth,  affirming your own worthiness, is its own reward.

So remind yourself that. And remind your friends.

Just show up.

It’s worth it. And so are you.

Much love, 

Bear

P.S. If you like what I write each week, I'd love to keep in touch. Sign up for weekly love letters direct to your inbox by CLICKING HERE. If you have the means, consider making a financial contribution to support my work

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Your Yoga Teacher Takes Xanax

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Every week I send out a love note filled with resources, musings, and inspiration about walking this path of yoga and liberation. Click here to subscribe!

I’ve had panic attacks that crippled me.

I spent the majority of my twenties coasting along, having occasional bouts of low-key depression or existential ennui, but generally doing fine. I had been through plenty: a chaotic childhood, a traumatic adolescence, Hurricane Katrina (and the federal levee failures that followed).

But I was fine. Fine. Fiiiiiiiiiine.

At 27, it started catching up with me.

I had a series of panic attacks that put me in the ER four times within a span of six months. The racing pulse, the pressure in my chest, my hands that wouldn’t stop trembling. Unable to speak or get off the floor.

I thought I was literally dying.

It was as though every terrible experience I’d minimized, stuffed down and ignored suddenly broke through the dam of self-protection I’d been diligently building since I was very small. All the trauma I’d ever been through came rushing towards me like a wall of water.

Yoga helped some, but it wasn’t a magic bullet. Meditation and breathing could sometimes take the edge off, but it wasn’t always enough.

So I threw everything I had at the panic attacks.

I went to therapy. I took medicinal herbs (no, not that kind). I saw a psychiatrist. I got a prescription. I got acupuncture. I kept a gratitude journal (and scoff as I might, it helped more than I’d like to admit.)

For seven years and counting, I’ve been getting gradually better.

The anxiety itself has improved. The panic attacks don’t come as frequently and when they do, they’re not as severe. It’s no longer the first thing I think of when I wake up in the morning.

But what has really changed is my ability to deal with myself in these instances of massive terror and all the tiny fearful moments in between. Mostly I work towards being okay with the fact that I can be present with whatever life brings me, with however I am in this moment, and the next, and then the next.

While yoga likely won’t solve your anxiety issues on its own, it can help, precisely because of its capacity to help us connect with the present.

Anxiety is anticipatory. It’s a future tripping unease about some unknown outcome.

Yoga is present-centered.

Donna Farhi says, “Yoga is a technology for arriving in this present moment. It is a means of waking up from our spiritual amnesia, so that we can remember all that we already know.”  

Much love,

Bear

P.S. If this reminded you of YOU, I’m teaching Yoga for Anxiety on Sunday and I’d love to have you there. We’ll learn poses, breathing, and other esoteric practices for calming anxiety. Click here for more info.

P.S. If you like what I write each week, I'd love to keep in touch. Sign up for weekly love letters direct to your inbox by CLICKING HERE. If you have the means, consider making a financial contribution to support my work

 

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Treating Myself With Compassion, Finally

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Every week I send out a love note filled with resources, musings, and inspiration about walking this path of yoga and liberation. Click here to subscribe!

My mind had wandered off for the 400th time.

I was doing my meditation practice one morning a few weeks ago, as I do most days. I was sitting cross-legged on my cushion. I was breathing in and out. I was watching myself breathe.

And then, I was somewhere else. My back hurt a little, which made me think of my massage therapist, which made me think of her house, which made me think of my own housing search, which made me remember.....

I exhaled.

I recognized that my mind had wandered off for the 400th time.

And then, perhaps for the first time ever, I met myself with real compassion.

“Oh hi,” I said to myself softly. “There you are. Welcome back.”

It’s slightly hyperbolic to say I’d never done this before. I have been kind to myself in the past, at least theoretically.

I cognitively understand that meeting myself without judgement is at the essence of the practice. After 11 years of practice, you’d hope I’d have that one down.

But somehow underneath my attempts at self-compassion, there lurks a condescension. A snarky voice that says, “Of course you got caught up in thinking.” That sneering you holds all my unworthiness, disappointment and self-loathing.

And last week, just for a moment, it dissolved.

I've been told that one of my strengths as a teacher is creating spaces where my students can show up in their flawed fullness and feel warmly welcomed. The nicest feedback I’ve ever gotten about my teaching is that I talk to my students the way they wish they could talk to themselves.

For the past eight years, I’ve been talking to my students the way I wish I talked to myself. And last week, I finally used that voice on myself. I’ve been teaching them how to talk to themselves so that I could finally learn how to talk to me.

A friend congratulated me on my breakthrough, but it didn’t feel like anything nearly that forceful.

It felt like sinking. 

It felt like melting.

It felt like rinsing off my salt-crusted heart.

It felt painful.

It felt sweet.

It felt different than anything else.

Much love, 

Bear

P.S. If you like what I write each week, I'd love to keep in touch. Sign up for weekly love letters direct to your inbox by CLICKING HERE. If you have the means, consider making a financial contribution to support my work

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How To Let Go, as taught to me by the adult swim instructor

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Every week I send out a love note filled with resources, musings, and inspiration about walking this path of yoga and liberation. Click here to subscribe!

I never learned to swim as a kid. I got a few haphazard lessons from a family friend when I was in elementary school, so I could get into water without fear of imminent death. I always joked, I won’t drown...immediately. *shrug*

So last fall, I signed up for free adult swimming lessons at the community center. Every Friday at 4pm I showed up to reluctantly change into my deeply unflattering one-piece in the clammy locker room, and made my way into the lukewarm pool.

We started with the basics: putting my face in the water, blowing bubbles, learning how to kick my legs on a kickboard. I made some progress, and then got to try putting all the (very basic) pieces together.

Swimming is a complex exercise. It was no easy feat coordinating the movement of the legs, the head and the breath simultaneously. (I wasn’t even using my arms yet, except to hold onto the kickboard for dear life!) It was super challenging, and every week I left exhausted.

After a few weeks of lessons, I had a revelation in the pool.

I was so uncomfortable going underwater that even when I put my face in the water, my neck was still gripping fiercely to try to keep my head from going fully under. I would put just my eyes, nose and mouth under, and grip hard to keep myself from having to put my ear or throat or hair under the surface.

I was exerting so much effort trying to keep myself from letting go, even as I was in the process of letting go.

It was incredibly exhausting.

I had to chuckle at myself. This tendency to let go a little, but still cling fiercely to some modicum of control, was laughably familiar. This is how most of us go about trying to let go of control.

We want to surrender, but not all the way.

We want to let go, but still hold on.

We’ve been so well practiced at gripping and grasping and clinging, that to let go feels unfamiliar, and for most of us, pretty scary. For a long time, holding onto the perception of control is what kept us safe. So to let it go can feel utterly terrifying.

Releasing my head fully into the pool felt like a death wish. It made my heart pound and my pits sweat. Honestly, it still does.

But here’s the thing--we have to let go in order to grow.

Surrender is the prerequisite for transformation.

And I want to keep growing. Even when it requires relinquishing. Even when it scares the shit out of me. I want you to keep growing too.

So look around--where are you half in the water? Where are your old habits and coping strategies keeping you from really letting go? How are you holding yourself back, even as you’re diving in?

This is how we truly let go of control.

I’m not there yet (wherever “there” is.) It's still hard for me to relax my neck in the pool, but at least now I notice that when I’m holding back. I'm on my way to being able to make a different choice.

I can imagine a day when swimming will feel relaxing, intuitive, pleasurable even. This is the future I’m practicing towards.

Can you exhale? Soften? Can you release yourself fully with faith that the water will hold you? Can you breathe out and trust that you won’t drown?

Much love, 

Bear

P.S. If you like what I write each week, I'd love to keep in touch. Sign up for weekly love letters direct to your inbox by CLICKING HERE. If you have the means, consider making a financial contribution to support my work

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Finding Our Way

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Every week I send out a love note filled with resources, musings, and inspiration about walking this path of yoga and liberation. Click here to subscribe!

On our third night in Delhi, we got tremendously lost on our way to meet a friend of mine from high school who lives there now for dinner. We got in the Uber at our hotel and began to drive. We’d been in the car about half an hour when the driver pulled off the main road down a dark lane lined with trees.

“The restaurant is over there,” he communicated with a series of gestures in the direction of a wooded thicket. “Ummmm....pretty sure that’s not where the restaurant is,” we said. But he swiped to end the trip and opened up our door.

Perplexed, we got out of the car and began walking to one end of the road, and then the other, and then back again. We had not yet acquired our tourist SIM cards, so we were sans cell service and thus, relying on our intuition and an offline map app. We wandered for nearly an hour, asking any random stranger if they knew where the restaurant was, to no avail.

I grew more and more frustrated. Sensing this and trying to appease me, Johnny, my travelling companion, began loudly and enthusiastically narrating our every move. “At the end of this block, we’ll make a right. And then walk five blocks down, dog leg left then right, and then it *should be* on the left.”  

My face burned. His bombastic orienteering was not helping. I wanted to shout at him, would you just shut up already??

But instead I paused.

I walked a little slower, and when I was about ten paces behind him, I had a little convo with myself (in my head).

I asked myself, “Hey, how are you feeling right now?” And when I paused to inquire, I realized that I was feeling shame. “Oh,” I said to myself. “You’re ashamed. Okay. What do you feel ashamed about?” “I feel ashamed that we’re going to be late to meet my friends. I feel ashamed that we have to ask for so much help. I feel ashamed that people in this hip neighborhood might perceive that we are hapless foreign travellers lost on our way to dinner.”

And then I just talked to myself kindly. I said, “Oh honey, it’s okay that you’re running late. It’s okay that you’re lost. It was an honest mistake. Everyone makes mistakes. You are trying your hardest and everyone knows it.”

And then, miraculously, the shame dissolved. I felt the hardness drain from my abdomen, the tension soften from my throat. I laughed at Johnny’s (eventually fruitful) attempts at navigation.  We finally found the restaurant and had one of our favorite dinners of the trip. And I carried on.

Travel holds up a mirror.

Like yoga and mindfulness practices, travel shows us all the parts of us. All our habits and tendencies, good and bad. And I got to practice meeting myself in my flaw-ful-ness with love and sweetness. With patience and compassion. With acceptance that I am still growing and changing.

But a past version of me (and, let’s be real, probably some future version of me too) would have flipped out.  I would’ve blamed Johnny for the discomfort of my unaccounted for shame. I would’ve raised my voice and picked a fight.

I never would have asked, listened, or soothed. I would’ve picked a fight and felt some release but I wouldn’t have actually resolved the issues.

But I’m learning how to do better. I’m learning how to listen to myself on a deeper level. I’m learning how be present with what’s actually happening. The practices are having an effect on my ability to navigate the world. 

I am suffering less. That's the whole point.

And that feels really fucking good. 

Much love, 

Bear

P.S. If you like what I write each week, I'd love to keep in touch. Sign up for weekly love letters direct to your inbox by CLICKING HERE. If you have the means, consider making a financial contribution to support my work

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The Land of Never Enough

 Photo by  Keit Trysh  on  Unsplash

Photo by Keit Trysh on Unsplash

Every week I send out a love note filled with resources, musings, and inspiration about walking this path of yoga and liberation. Click here to subscribe!

There is no such thing as enough.

Perhaps our sense of scarcity is innate. Our ancestors, always seeking their next meal,certainly never had the type of food security available to most of us in modern times. Or perhaps it’s a result of living in a financial system that mandates constant growth in order to be economically healthy.

Whatever its origins, for most of us living modern lives, there is only (real and/or perceived) scarcity.

For example: a 2010 study of very wealthy people (those who have 25 million in assets or more) asked if they generally feel financially secure. “Most do not consider themselves financially secure; for that, they say, they would require on average one-quarter more wealth than they currently possess.” (from the Atlantic Monthly)

If even the wealthiest people do not feel stable, how can the rest of us expect to ever overcome financial insecurity? This sense of financial scarcity can spill over into all aspects of our lives. This can be especially true at the axis (axises? axes?) where we fall outside the default norms of power and privilege (for me as a queer person, for instance.)

We end up feeling dissatisfied with everything, like we must always be improving ourselves, our bodies, our minds, our lives.

Do any of these sound familiar?

I would feel better if I just....

  • Made more money

  • Had a better partner

  • Lived in a nicer house

  • Lost some weight

  • Had a more successful career

  • Healed all my wounds

  • Was a more “evolved” person

Unless we set clear criteria for what enough is, we will never know if we’ve reached it.

All of these goals are vague, nebulous targets to aim for. And what’s worse, many of them have been predestined by our deeply oppressive culture. We have to get clarity about exactly what enough looks like for us, and here’s a hint: it’s probably not a weight on the scale or a dollar amount. It may not be anything that even vaguely resembles what we’ve been told should satisfy us.

In order to undo this deep attachment to scarcity, we have to get to know contentment. Unless we acquaint ourselves with this most unfamiliar of feelings we will never be satisfied. In yoga we call it santosha, and it’s one of the five niyamas, the guidelines for self-governance for living a yogic life.

Think about what “enough” would look like in different aspects of your life. What would need to feel satisfied in your work? In your family? In your self? Where have you internalized a culturally dictated norm about what you should have in order to feel satisfied? When you get to “enough,” can you let yourself enjoy it before setting the bar higher?

Can you let yourself attain enough?

Much love, 

Bear

P.S. If you like what I write each week, I'd love to keep in touch. Sign up for weekly love letters direct to your inbox by CLICKING HERE. If you have the means, consider making a financial contribution to support my work

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You Are An Ecosystem

 Photo by  Jeff Cooper  on  Unsplash

Photo by Jeff Cooper on Unsplash

Every week I send out a love note filled with resources, musings, and inspiration about walking this path of yoga and liberation. Click here to subscribe!

You are an ecosystem.

You are not required to constantly grow.

Capitalism teaches us that the right way, the only way, is for things to consistently and constantly grow. Our economy must grow in order to be healthy. This need to always grow means there is only scarcity or abundance. In our current economic model, there is no such thing as enough.

This isn't natures way.

In nature there are seasons. One time of the year is for growing; another is for culling. And even in spring time somethings are dying. Something is being culled. In nature one tree is growing while another tree is dying. 

Even after some devastation like the current California forest fires, the mycelium are working their magic beneath the soil and the bugs and grubs come to feast.

In nature everything is growing and everything is dying and all of it is happening all at once.

In coaching culture, and in self help culture, we prioritize constant personal growth. But this isn't healthy. This is an effect of living in capitalist culture. As in nature, it is vastly important, vital even, for us to take breaks. To allow for fallow periods. To not need to constantly grow.

And to allow for the complexity of being human, being a living breathing ecosystem in which one thing is going great and growing and another isn't doing so well.

To wit: This year my five year relationship went up in flames. I've felt creatively blocked in most every endeavor. I overdrew my bank account a half dozen times. I'm currently crashing with friends and I don't own a stick of furniture.

But/and/simultaneously:

My coaching business is doing better than ever. I'm healing my relationship with myself in ways I didn't think were possible. I'm about to travel to India for six weeks for no reasons except my own pleasure and edification.

It's a pernicious myth that we can grow constantly.

I am an ecosystem. And you are too.

Parts of my life are alive and thriving. Parts of my life are shriveling up and dying. And it's all happening at the same time.

Just like nature (and Arcade Fire), its everything, now.

Much love, 

Bear

P.S. If you like what I write each week, I'd love to keep in touch. Sign up for weekly love letters direct to your inbox by CLICKING HERE. If you have the means, consider making a financial contribution to support my work

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On Spiritual Stewardship

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Every week I send out a love note filled with resources, musings, and inspiration about walking this path of yoga and liberation. Click here to subscribe!

It is difficult to keep up with all of the tragedy and trauma constantly happening in the world around us. I read recently that we were not built to be empathetic on a global scale. I don't know if I think that's true but this week (month...year...decade...) I understand the sentiment behind it.

I do think that we have to examine our privilege in relationship to our responsibility. I think that the more privilege we have the more responsibility we have to stay tuned in and not checked out to what's happening around us.

The less personal impact these tragedies and traumas have on us, the more important it is that we stay open to helping, feeling, and just generally staying engaged with them.

The problem with this line of thinking, is that the more privilege we have the more comfortable we have tended to be. And the less capable we are, therefore, of staying present when intensity arises.

Unless we have made it our purpose to get better at being uncomfortable, either through yoga, meditation, or some other spiritual practice, we are likely to be quite sensitive or fragile when faced with our own discomfort, even if that discomfort is based on having to witness the discomfort of others.

So it might be, then, that some of the best and most useful work that we can do is to get better at being uncomfortable.

The more able we are to sit with our own discomfort, the more we will be able to show up for the quite uncomfortable work of undoing systems of oppression. We can aim our spiritual practices towards building up a capacity for discomfort with the explicit intention of getting better at engaging with the difficulties of the world.

What if, instead of thinking of our spiritual practice as for our own growth or well-being, we envisioned it as part of our work towards a more just world?

Perhaps this intentionality is the more active counterpoint to spiritual bypassing. Spiritual bypassing, as discussed last week, is a phenomenon that happens in which people use spirituality to avoid dealing with the difficult things in life in the world around us, often by choosing to focus on only things that are "positive" or "high vibration".

The opposite of spiritual bypassing may be spiritual responsibility. Or perhaps, spiritual stewardship. (Thanks, Lynn, for this language.)

It’s a good first step to stop bypassing. And then, can we  make conscious choices to spiritually engage? To take responsibility? To see it as our responsibility to keep growing our capacity for discomfort?

This may be a growing edge for most of us. Look any area or identity where you have privilege--how can you keep getting more comfortable with your own discomfort? Can you use your practice with purpose to steward your own growing edges?

Much love, 

Bear

P.S. If you like what I write each week, I'd love to keep in touch. Sign up for weekly love letters direct to your inbox by CLICKING HERE. If you have the means, consider making a financial contribution to support my work

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Against Spiritual Bypassing

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Every week I send out a love note filled with resources, musings, and inspiration about walking this path of yoga and liberation. Click here to subscribe!

I wrote last week about the effectiveness of yoga and other spiritual practices, if we know what they’re there for. But just like anything, we can manipulate spiritual practice for other needs, other ends. The concept of “spiritual bypassing” was coined by psychologist John Welwood in the 1980s to describe the tendency of spiritual seekers to use the practice as a means of going around life’s difficulties.

As Thich Nhat Hahn says, “No mud, no lotus.” We have to get down in the muck in order to attain the beauty of the flower. Spiritual practice may make our lives better, but it's because we get better at engaging our life, not because it takes us around the parts of life we don't like. To use an oft-referenced metaphor, spiritual practice doesn't take us out of the ocean, but it can teach us how to ride the waves. 

But spiritual bypassing shows up in more nefarious ways when we use our spiritual practices to overlook or disengage with the suffering of the world around us. This might look like people who say, “It’s all love and light.” It’s folks who think, “All this talk about racism (sexism / homophobia / ableism / etc)  is an illusion because we’re All One.” It’s demanding, “High vibrations only.” It’s saying, “I’ll pray for you,” and doing nothing more.

Spiritual bypassing is requiring niceness over truth, positivity over authenticity.

This is a profound misunderstanding of the spiritual path.

Here’s the thing: I do believe that we are “All One.” On a divine level, I believe we are inextricably interconnected. The web of life binds us to one another--our shared humanity, nee our shared sentience--links us to each other in ways we can’t always understand but we can often sense on a deep level.

And beyond the woo, on a purely physical level, we must be symbiotic on this fragile planet if we are to have any hope of surviving the impending crises of our changing climate. (Thanks to K for reminding me of this salient point.)

But when we pretend that this inherent interdependence negates the very real inequities that exist in our world, we are inadvertently perpetuating the systems that create those imbalances.

When we presume that our similarity as humans means that injustice isn’t worth talking about....

When we feel more bothered by the “negativity” of people talking about (or taking a knee over) racism than we do over the racism itself....

When we aren’t concerned about people who experience oppression because they have “created their reality”...

We are probably spiritually bypassing.

And inadvertently, we are helping those unequal societal conditions to continue to exist.

One of the most important mechanisms of systems of privilege is to make itself invisible, and when we choose to look away, we are upholding the status quo. Another mechanism of systemic oppression is to silence anyone or anything that would draw attention to the inequalities of the system. So when, in the name of spiritual evolution, we shut down someone’s righteous anger at injustice, we are participating in their oppression.

This silencing is deadly. This tuning out and willful ignorance has grave effects.

This is not what spiritual practice is for. When we choose to tune out the world around us, we are abusing these sacred practices for ends they were never intended for.

Rather, these practices are to make us, as Donna Farhi says, “more attuned, more sensitive and more resilient.”  

I’m here for it. Are you?

Much love, 

Bear

P.S. If you like what I write each week, I'd love to keep in touch. Sign up for weekly love letters direct to your inbox by CLICKING HERE. If you have the means, consider making a financial contribution to support my work

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