Inconvenient Truths

Some of what we hear when we practise yoga, meditate and generally quieten down our lives is very inconvenient indeed.  That is probably why we spend so much time creating the hullabaloo in our lives: so that we don't need to listen to the inconvenient truths that we know inside.

It's hard to discern between the things you can have in your life and the things you need, or think you do, but can't have.  For instance, sometimes I long to go to an ashram I know in India, so that I can spend my days in service and meditation and devote myself to my practice.  The call is sometimes very strong.  But I am a mother and my children need me and are a blessing to me, so that is one call that will have to wait... when they are both settled at university/in their adult lives I'll be there, but right now, my responsibilities lie here at home and I am thankful for that and for them and for everything they are teaching me.  I think of that call therefore as one that is from far away in my life, one that I hope my life's path will lead me to.  I am patient.  It's not meant for me right now.

Other things are plain inconvenient.  We might realise that what we do for a living is diminishing our capacity for joy, for example.  Our rational mind tells us that we need to pay the bills/we should be glad to have a job in these uncertain times/we are not qualified for anything else.  In this sense, our rational minds are like a sensible older sibling telling us to be careful and wanting to keep us safe.  But in your quiet moments it doesn't matter what your rational mind tells you: if you hate your job, you hate your job.  If it doesn't feed your soul, then it just doesn't.

Or you might be behaving in ways that don't serve you.  Drinking too much for example, or eating too much; spending too much time with people that you don't really want to be with out of politeness or a sense of duty; procrastinating and never achieving the goals that you have set yourself.  It is hard to break out of ingrained habits, particularly if the people around you indulge in them too, or are used to you being a certain way and conducting yourself in a certain manner... you might be the family's sensible one for example, the one on whom everyone else relies to get everything done - great, but what you are seeking just now is to break free/do something different/take a risk; or perhaps people see you as the quiet, safe one, when you have been working to build your skills and confidence and are ambitious to prove yourself in new ways.  It is even harder to change when those around you resist that change - you can prove yourself by living the life you wish to live, but this will inevitably force others to question their lives and some of them might wish that you would get back to where you have always been and stop making everything so awkward!

When you get quiet, there might be pain: the pain of ongoing or historical hurts that are demanding to be looked at and heard, accepted and understood.  It can be very uncomfortable sitting quietly with painful feelings that you have managed so far in your life to ignore, bury and tuck secretly away for another day.

I am grateful to the psychoanalyst Shawn Smith for suggesting the concept of values.  Our values are the ideals we hope to live up to; they are ideas about ourselves and the way we live.  They are not specific to the facts of our life (what we do for a living, how many children we have, whether we are single or married, etc.), rather they transcend those specifics to form a sense of identity over and beyond the relative trivialities.  So for example, one of my values might be to help others.  Knowing this, I might look at my life afresh and consider how well I am living up to this value.  I might see how I help my family every day, that I am positive and helpful at work and this might be enough.  Or it might not.  On consideration I might see that the job that I am doing helps nobody in any way that I find constructive.  I might decide therefore that I can no longer spend my time doing that job, regardless of what my sensible, rational brain tells me.  Or I might seek to find ways to fulfil my value of being of service in my spare time, or by setting up and being involved with charity through work.

I hope you see my point.  If you take a pen and some paper now you can write down your four core values: what are they telling you about the way you want to live your life versus the way you are living your life?  What changes might you make to accommodate those values?  Not all of us have the opportunity of throwing everything to the wind and moving on in drastic ways, so how might we begin to bring more fulfilment of our core values into our lives than we have been experiencing to date?

Facing up to how much your life is being lived in accordance to your core values is part of what you will come up against in your practice.  You cannot ignore discrepancies between the life you are living and the life you want to live when you are engaged in a consistent yoga practice. 

I once taught a man who came to yoga relatively late in life, but who fell for it immediately.  He had no children and a job that he did not enjoy; he had loved it once, but more recently it had become soulless to him.  He came to me one night and told me that he was going to India to learn how to teach yoga, he'd bought his flight, handed in his notice and was leaving in three weeks.  He promised to keep in touch, but he didn't and I have no idea what became of him, although I hope it was all good.

This is not how it looks for most of us though, and nor should it.  But you can ask yourself what changes you need to make to live in accordance with your values, so that your soul can be at peace, so that you can experience more joy in your life and serve the world more.  You can start small.  Cutting out that glass of wine and seeing the effect it has on you and whether it is for the good; getting up early and walking to the train slowly instead of dashing out every day in a panic, driving or taking a taxi.  When you start doing this, you will find the resistances in yourself (never mind anyone else's) and that can be informative too: how have you been holding yourself back? what fears will you have to confront in becoming more of the person you would like to be?

Yoga transforms you, or you stop practising yoga.  It is only when we consider the inconvenient truths that come up in our practice that we can begin to make changes for the good.  It doesn't need to look radically different from the outside: some of the most fundamental changes go on quietly inside and are more profound than anything that would be discernable to our friends and neighbours.  The longest journeys begin with one step.

Thanks to Sam for asking the question xx



  1. Companies profess to have values and publish their "mission statement", then they have audits to see they are adhering to these; so it makes sense for individuals to do the same for their own lives. v.

  2. What is an ashram? And what is the service you would do there? V.


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