I’ve been thinking about judgment lately. Judgment and perception and projection, to be precise. Why do we judge? Because we don’t know, because we don’t understand, and because we are afraid.
What don’t we know? That which we judge.
So what do we do about this?
First, I feel that if we could, each of us, be aware that how I view reality, how you view reality, how each of us views reality in each moment, is a culmination of each of our different and unique lifetime of experience.
(The concept of Pratītyasamutpāda or “Dependent Airising” from Buddhist teachings)
This means, what we think is real is only a PERCEPTION of what is real. And perhaps that is what the ancient teachings mean by saying this world is only illusion.
What I see before me is only my perception of what I see before me. If I can be aware of this truth, then I also can recognize when I am judging another. I can also can recognize when I am projecting that another is judging.
When I say “they are judging,” it is because I feel judged. I don’t actually know what they are doing or not doing (unless they tell me), so I can only PERCEIVE that they are judging because I am feeling judged. And perhaps what is ACTUALLY happening, is that I am JUDGING them as judging, because it is me doing the judging. So then, this is only a PROJECTION.
See, we are each of us the center of our own universe. And in life, we bump Shoulders with other centers of their own universe. And in between is an interaction. And that interaction can cause friction, or it can be smooth, depending on each of our unique lifetime of experience coming together in this moment (Dependent Arising).
The more aware I am of my perceptions and the more aware I am that the other person’s perceptions may be different than mine, the more easeful that interaction can be. When I am unaware, the more friction is caused between the two.
It seems that awareness makes the difference. There is no way around perceiving reality, it’s what we do. There also isn’t really any way around projecting, it’s how we seek to understand another’s experience (ex: “You must be so hot sitting in the sun!” This statement, true or not, is a projection of my experience of sitting in the sun onto the other person.) But if I am aware of my perceptions then I remain open curious interested. And there is so much joy involved in being open, curious and interested in learning about another person’s experience of this moment. Judgment, never enters the conversation.
Today I heard on the radio that we have a "perception gap" problem in America...
And that social media is only furthering this divide.
I rarely turn on the radio. It rattles my system in a way that I dislike. So I tune out most of the time, and tune in only to stay informed.
But this is something I could have told you.
What we have lost in the social media shuffle is the ability to see the HUMAN in front of us. We read posts, political views, lifestyles, opinions, and we make judgments. We judge that person as "other" and then when we [wrongly] perceive that person as "extremely other" we tend to become hostile towards them.
We react, rather than respond.
And our world moves so quickly. We are so externally focused. We forget that we ourselves are HUMAN, just like that “other” we are looking at.
And actually, this is the result of being unaware that the way we (you, I) see the world is a combination of our perception of it, which is based on our own unique lifetime of experience, then a projection onto the human in front of us to try to interpret their experience.
Actually, a humanly impossible task to overcome.
It is NOT about “we are all the same” and it is especially not about “we are all one.” These are the lies that common yoga-speak tell you.
As "positive" as they seem, these phrases are a bypass… avoiding what IS for what we believe will make it so we do not have to deal with it.
And avoidance never solved anything!
What IS the same is our essence… we all need to love and feel loved, we all need to feel safe, to have shelter, food and warmth. We all need to have a sense of belonging, of value and worth in this world.
And, we all need to be SEEN and ACKNOWLEDGED for our differences. That my experience of this life, and how I engage with it, is different than yours. We both ride a roller coaster, and yet one of us screams in terror while the other screams in joy. Same experience, different way of engaging with it, and different experience of it. And then, one says to the other, "Wasn't that awesome?!?!" We engage through perception and projection. And that is the only way we can understand each other. I understand you from a combination of my perception of reality, and then I project that onto you to try to understand you. And though I try my best, I will never fully understand, know, you. You will never fully understand, know, me.
So what do we do? How do we engage with others?
We practice, learn, develop tools to BE with what IS in each moment. To come to this present moment with as much clarity and neutrality… yes, the blank slate or empty cup analogy… as we can. And doing so allows each of us to remain open, curious, interested, and in wonderment of what is happening as we bump shoulders with another human.
We learn that past is a story that we carry into the present moment. We we develop the tools to discern what in this moment is happening vs what in this moment is from past, and we put them into practice in life. So, what do I need right now, to BE in this moment with what IS?
I need to get present to myself. First. I need to get quiet. First. To shift from reaction into response. This allows me to see the HUMAN in front of me, acknowledging there is a lifetime of experiences that they have had that I will never know. So that I am better able to BE with that person as they show up right now.
And this is why YOGA, and Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy that I practice, can be a means to cultivating the tools so that we can create a world where we can do just this. So that we can engage with life, and with others, better. So we can respond and not react. Live. Life. Better.
When we can do this, we become better able to see, to sense, to listen. Our world needs this now. And it is up to you, to me, to do the work. Because you are reading this, you are ready. Be that difference. Be the one that closes the "perception gap." Because, the gap was never there to begin with. It is the illusion created by people in reaction to others. The illusion created by fear of the other. And we are all so much stronger than fear.
This post came from a question from a good friend, as we were talking about all things life, love and the universe. You said you were curious how my knowledge of yoga and how it meshes with modern psychology… I can tell you more, and it is years of study for me, but it is a paradigm shift.
The current paradigm is, “I am broken and I need fixing,” which is closely aligned with what I feel from Christianity, “I am a sinner and I need to be saved.”
Yoga as a spiritual philosophy does none of that.
And it is important to recognize the difference between a spiritual philosophy and a religion. Yoga is the foundation of many religions (Hinduism and its many varieties, Jainism, Buddhism) but yoga is not a religion itself.
So when the word “Divine” is used, it does not necessarily mean “God” in the sense that Christianity, Judaism or Islam use it. “Divine” to me evokes something greater than me, or the whole of the universe being made up of everything in it. And that whole or greater thing is not a personality. It just is.
In yoga, I am, you are, they are, whole beings that are already perfect, divine, and a part of all (not “I am god” but “god is me” - there is a subtle difference, because there is no claiming… and god is not only me, but also you and him and her and them).
One of my teachers said, “we are here because god loves stories.”
Our purpose (Dharma) is to act out the stories, to learn and to grow through them.
Another part of this philosophy that ties into having many lives is that we “contract into” this life to learn. That means, all the people we encounter along the way have a role to play in our growth as spiritual beings. And that means after this life, we go back to that universal all, and contract into another life. Then another. Then another.
So, as spiritual beings, we come into this existence. Then, life happens, and it is hard to remain that pure essence. So, layers of protection get piled on. These layers, while supporting us for a time, if we are unaware of them and how they block our own growth, they begin to build a wall that shuts out true connection, and hides our authentic self.
So then our work here (in this existence) becomes one of developing awareness of the layers, and that some of them may not be serving anymore, more so, they might be preventing us from becoming. (Becoming what? No, just becoming… what we are, or what we are meant to be, it doesn’t matter, we are just becoming… because we are that spiritual essence, not this personality or ego that we believe ourselves to be.) We are learning to break through those layers, and eventually to be in such a way that those layers are not even needed. (This is why I find the concept of “boundaries” limited.) But the catch is, some people never do. They can’t. Layers get piled on and on, until they have lost a connection to self - to that spiritual essence they truly are.
And that is suffering. Disconnect from self. (Some would say from god, because it is the same, when you get to the core of it all.)
And when we do this, we begin to be more authentic in the world. We begin to make choices more aligned with ourselves (and not what we were told to do). And those choices begin to come from a place of “expansive awareness,” meaning an awareness of how all is impacted by what we do. (The opposite of expansive awareness is “contracted awareness,” which is doing things for myself alone, self-serving. This is where most people operate from.)
When we live from expansive awareness, we also have a more substantial relationship with our own self, true self, true nature. We know our place in all things. And this gives us the ability to be more present in the world. Not pretending, protecting or hiding. Because we realize there is no need to do so.
I don’t believe this is “enlightenment” as a goal. It is rather “being” as a way of being. Riding the waves, knowing they will carry in the direction needed to be able to ride the next wave. And the next one.
Joy and sorrow are just two sides of one. Can you BE with joy, as you BE with sorrow? Is there a difference? It is not indifference. It is awareness. “Oh, joy is here. I’ll be with it and feel it, and not attach to it in a way that says, ‘I like joy and I dislike it’s opposite.’” Then, “Oh, sorrow is here. I’ll be with it and feel it, and not attach to it or allow it to define me in such a way that says, ‘I dislike sorrow and I like it’s opposite’”
We learn to BE with what IS. With the AS IS, As we are, in each moment.
Full acceptance. Of each moment.
And it’s not easy, because so many moments are horrific. Some things are painful. And yet, they are. They exist. And while some may be prevented, until everyone operates from this place, those painful things will continue to exist.
Yoga … some concepts:
Purusha (changeless) and Prakriti (changing nature)
The Koshas, or illusory layers of our being (annamaya, pranamaya, manomaya, vijnanomaya, then anandamaya and finally Atman)
The Gunaa: Rajas, Sattva, Tamas… the fluctuations of the mind, which to me could represent what we now know as the nervous system.
The Yamas and Niyamas, the 10 practices. Abhyasa and Varagya… consistent effort without attachment to outcome.
Two quotes I have lived by for many years:
“If you practice yoga from the perspective that you are not good enough as you are, that something is wrong, or something needs fixing, then your yoga cannot fulfill its ultimate purpose because it is founded in wrong understanding. It can only go so far as fulfilling the limited purpose that has been conceived by your ego-mind.
However, if you undertake the practice of yoga with the right View of Self, that you are already a perfect and whole expression of the Divine, and that you are doing yoga to realize and then fully express what is already true, then you have empowered your practice to take you all the way.” - Abhinava Gupta
* remember, if this is a spiritual philosophy and not a religion, “Divine” is open-ended, how you conceptualize of it.
“Forget the past. The banished lives of all men are dark with many shames. Human conduct is ever unreliable until anchored in the Divine. Everything in future will improve if you are making a spiritual effort now.” - Swami Sri Yukteshwar
Note: a SPIRITUAL effort, not a religious one. Yukeschwar definitely meant that effort according to HIS system of yoga, and he was the teacher of Yogananda, who formed the Self-Realization Fellowship in Encinitas, but I believe in all my studies that he would not limit it to that, because I do not believe that yoga is a reductionist practice.
And a mantra:
“I know who I am in Truth. I know what I am in Truth. I know how I serve in Truth. I am here. I am here. I am here.”
Sometimes “I am here” is replaced with “I am free. I am free. I am free.” Depending.
And it is important to realize that “who” and “what” and “how” do not require specific answers.
It will take a while to unpack all of this.
Yoga says to believe in something. Who cares what. If you believe in yourself, then you are doing it.
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (from ca. 200 CE, a “how to” guide summing up 4000 years of writings)… the first three sum it all up:
1.1 Atha Yogunasanum… NOW we practice yoga. (And NOW. And Now. And now.)
1.2 Yogesh chitta vrtti nirodhah… Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind-stuff (the gunas... rajas, sattva, tamas)
1.3 Tada drashtuh svarupevasthanam… then the seer abides in itself, resting in its true nature. (Self-realization)
Yoga is about self-realization. What does that mean? Nothing, until you have direct experience of self. All the teachings and techniques might guide you there, but it is yours to experience. Does it matter? No. And Yes.
Because what is is. And there is no ahead or behind or right or wrong. That is duality. Yoga means union or yoking together. There is no duality. But our world is duality. And to get beyond that takes a lot of work. It’s a paradigm shift. Recognizing that “right” and “wrong” do not exist in isolation of each other, and more than that, they are one thing. That takes a TON of work. Lifetimes, actually.
And in that realization that there is no right and wrong, there just is, suddenly feelings of shame and guilt and anger and frustration and fear get to fall away.
But that too is a lot of work.
Forgiveness plays a huge role. Forgiveness of self, first and foremost, for all the things you’ve done. And in forgiving self, forgiveness of other goes hand-in-hand. (Forget the past… the banished lives of all men are dark with many shames…) Forgiveness of others (for your own freedom).
And no, that doesn’t absolve the murderer, the rapist, of the crime. What it does, is give a window of breath for the victim to no longer have to be a victim. For the victim to once again realize they are a whole being. For the victim to eventually also recognize the perpetrator is also a whole being, with layers upon layers, hiding their own self. Forgiveness of other for your own freedom.
But that takes a lot of work. Lifetimes, actually.
It is a paradigm shift. One that shifts towards full trust. But just look at my facebook post on June 26, 2019, and how many people do not trust, or trust conditionally, or trust is earned and not given. These are those layers of protection. They get to be there, and in many cases they need to be there. For me, “the universe conspires.” Conspires for what? I don’t need an answer. It is a shift towards knowing beyond knowing that all is as it is, and as it should be. A shift towards becoming LOVE. Not in the “blissed out” sense that we see on social media. Love is actually quite steady, and clear. It is strong, immensely strong. And it emanates from deep within, to embrace all that is.
Because I know who I am in Truth. I know what I am in Truth. I know how I serve in Truth. I am here. And I am free.
And I feel this. Sometimes feeling it is fleeting. And when I don’t feel it, I know something is off, something needs to be explored deeper. That I am not there yet.
Kristen is a certified Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapist and Life Mentor. She offers online and in-person healing sessions. She lives and teaches in Denver, Colorado