Yoga for Clarity
What if the secret to Happiness begins with clear thinking? Most people do not think clearly. Most are confused about their relationships, how to effectively communicate, what is important in life, how they feel, what they need, and especially what they “should” do. In fact, confusion is so normal for most people, many have given up their inherent preference for clarity and have opted for defense strategies like numbing, avoidance, and denial. What’s your relationship with the pursuit of Clarity?
In childhood, we are rarely encouraged to look within ourselves. It’s no wonder so many people are confused. We are told to listen to others, but seldom told, let alone instructed on how, to listen to ourselves. From this external focus, we learn to look for cues from outside our own inner knowing.
The external focus prohibits us from knowing ourselves. We may become clear about what others expect from us but lose sight of our internal guide. We do not become clear about what is actually good for us or what it even means to be our true self. I’m convinced this is one of the reasons there is so much unhappiness and suffering in the world.
When it comes to clarity, we can’t forget the context. We can’t lose connection to our roots in compassion (ahimsa) and truth (satya), as defined in Patanjali’s Yamas on the 8-limbed path. To do so would undermine both the Inspiration process and the Yoga practice. In other words, if we do not honor compassion and truth in navigating our next step, Clarity will NOT bring Inspiration and, in fact, might cause greater suffering.
Inspired Living is a practice rooted in Yoga to align INTENTION, ATTENTION and ACTION for the purpose of Clarity in pursuit of ENLIGHTENMENT also known as bliss, happiness, joy and contentment.
When aligned, attitudes and actions always move you toward happiness. When clear, and specifically when you ACT from clarity, you avoid so much pain for yourself but also for others. Clarity in mind brings about clear action. Clear action brings about a sense of purpose with yourself and the universe. As a practice of transformation, in pursuit of oneness, Yoga seeks clarity as the means to that ends. Clarity gives you power. Clarity gives you direction. Clarity gives you confidence. Clarity gives you purpose. Let’s look at 3 progressive strategies for cultivating Clarity according to Yoga tradition.
The Journey of Alignment
The practice of cultivating clarity is an on-going process, a journey in which each cycle brings greater consistency, alignment, and insight. As we’ve come to the conclusion of the Inspired Shift journey, it’s time to begin again. This doesn’t mean we throw out the whole story, but rather that we emphasize what matters most. We narrow our attention and FOCUS. Ironically, we narrow in order to broaden and expand. Clarity comes from investigation, self-reflection, authenticity and truth.
Mindfulness as Attention
Yoga is a holistic system that encompasses physical postures (asanas), breath control (pranayama), meditation, ethical principles, and so much more. While it is not a philosophy in itself, yoga is often associated with various philosophical traditions, such as Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, Samkhya dualism, and the Upanishads, which provide insights into the mind and consciousness. In the context of clarity and clear thinking, yoga philosophy emphasizes several principles, principles such as mind-body connection, introspection and reflection, and control of the mind’s fluctuations.
Lack of clarity is simply unclear Intention, or the absence of alignment with a value-based purpose to connect our Intention and Actions. The link to align Intention and Action is ATTENTION. Simply stated, clarity resides in the attention. The discipline of mindfulness is simply an invitation to pay attention, with the added meta-incentive to pay attention to attention itself.
So, how do we practice paying attention? By putting intention into action. For me, it often looks more like a pause, a non-doing to get my bearings and notice the moment as it is. To just pause is a powerful ritual in itself, especially in our fast-paced modern world where value is often rated in miles per hour, estimated time of arrival or return on investment. The modern priority for efficiency is depicted in shorthand acronyms referring to the measures themselves: MPH, ETA, ROI.
What’s often missing is the connection between what we value and what we give our attention to. Just because we can measure something doesn’t mean it provides value. Leza Lowitz has a poem I often refer to when I want to test the alignment between my intention and attention. It’s titled, Lovers Count Laughter.
Wise men count blessings. Fools count problems.
Lovers count laughter.
It is not uncommon for me to play the fool, given this definition.
In a perfect world, we would each come to know our personal mission, our dharma as a right of passage, as we mature from childhood into adulthood. Culturally, we see evidence of this evolution in such rites as Bar and Bat Mitzvah in the Jewish faith, Confirmation in the Christian faith, and Vision Quest in many First Nation customs. Even Vision Boards are a modern adaptation to assist in this kind of clarity cultivation.
Role of Rituals
And yet, these rituals are only tools to help provide context and generate opportunity for insight or clarity. When we show up, consistently, often enough to do the things, inspiration will find us. As my meditation teacher taught, “Meditation practice makes us accident prone,” The accident being those glimpses of samadhi.
Clarifying one’s intention can be overwhelming without these kinds of rituals and communal rites of passage and may feel, literally impossible. These kinds of feats require super-human or god-like qualities, which frankly, I just don’t have. Therefore, we begin with the very human quality of attention. Attention is the energy to simply pay attention to what is as it Is in this moment. To notice. To observe.
We as humans are hard wired to notice way more than we give our attention to, which means we have the innate ability to notice more than we have been noticing! However, most of us have a diminished capacity (skill in practice) to pay attention for any measurable length of time.
The reason for this diminished capacity is a topic for another day. For now, let’s suffice to say, we have all had times where focus and concentration were difficult or even seemingly impossible.
I’ve heard that the average adult’s attention span is less than 15 minutes. But in my experience, as a teacher and a human being myself, I am thrilled if I can pay attention, especially when life is hard, for even a solid 60 seconds.
Practice is the Secret
The good news is that we can practice paying attention. And with practice comes greater skill. In a nut shell, that means that with practice, we can strengthen our ability to pay attention. Additionally, with attention comes opportunity … opportunity to choose our actions. As I call them, the doings, non-doings, re-doings and un-doings of Inspired Living. The actions that cultivate clarity and give form to our intentions. I see this process of gaining Clarity as a life-long journey. A journey I call the Adventure of the 7-Cs.
From my frequent travels on this path of the 7-Cs, I have learned that Clarity sometimes shows up in the tiniest of slivers and other times like a eureka bolt of lightning! The yoga practice helps us to notice all the luminosity levels of inspiration and to gather insight like breadcrumbs on the path to enlightenment. Once gathered, the experiential breadcrumbs under go introspection and reflection. Swadyaya, becomes the next right step.
To really know anything requires consistent, disciplined, diligent study, and yet, to study requires but one thing: attention. The yogis called it Swadyaya and it refers the dual-pronged approach of personal practice and wise reading of scripture.
Like all yoga practices, the purpose of swadyaya is not the memorization or even articulate debate but rather clearer seeing, clarity in order to overcome myth, illusion, and falsehoods. The pursuit of Vidya. We’ll come back to vidya, as the intended outcome of mindful attention. But first, the process: Swadyaya, to study.
Swadydya is this two-pronged approach to study, (1) personal experience AND (2) wise guidance offered via texts and teachers.
Ancient yoga texts and even modern retellings of epic tales offer rich content for reflection and study to provide guidance for achieving clarity. By guiding our introspection and personal choices in day-to-day living, these teachers and text support and complement the personal practice of inquiry and experimentation.
One of the greatest Yoga texts is the MahaBharata. Mahabharata translates to the Great Bharat or India, or the “great work of India”. This Indian tale from which we get the Bhagavad Gita and the story of Arjuna, is an epic poem narrating the events and aftermath of the Kurukshetra war between two princely cousins, family fighting family for the throne. In this poem, we meet Arjuna and learn the source of his suffering as the lack of clarity regarding his dharma.
As Arjuna struggles with his lot in life and the battle that awaits his efforts, Lord Krisha, presenting as Arjuna’s chariot driver and best friend, teaches Arjuna that to know your purpose you must first know yourself. Arjuna is so distraught about the battle that awaits his arrival. He is so distracted by the details of the moment that he loses sight of the bigger picture. He is torn about his life’s work, and conflicted about his contribution, precisely because he doesn’t know who he is. He doesn’t know how he fits in. He doesn’t understand the value of his personal contribution.
Upon his request, Krishna reveals the world to Arjuna. But Arjuna is quickly overwhelmed by its immensity and cries for relief. It is all just too much! To put it plainly, Arjuna asks instead for the world to be put into perspective, to be narrowed and filtered to that he can emotionally handle what’s in front of him. This is essentially Krishna gently teaching Arjuna to trust him, and to do what is asked of him, to do his dharma. Additionally, Krishna reminds and affirms Arjuna that he is not alone.
Although I can’t say that I’ve seen the fulness of Krishna’s power revealed to me, I can relate to moments of overwhelm as blinding as I imagine Krishna’s reveal was for Arjuna. Blinded by the light itself can feel like too much. All the more reason we practice and specifically practice intentional pause for introspection, reflection, even consultation with teachers and texts.
Struggle for Attention
If the average adult’s attention span is less than 15 minutes, how can we hope to make any real progress? One day, one minute, one breath at a time. Sixty seconds is about five full deep breaths. Pause and take five breaths. What do you notice?
Likewise, Mantra, helps control the mind’s energy to unite with the body to notice the breath. Now try the Himalayan Tradition (and a personal favorite), so-hum mantra for 5 breaths. “So” on the inhale, “hum” on the exhale.
Moving on… we paused for attention, then we focused our attention through practice which brings us to vidya, or clearer seeing where we discern wisdom.
Vidya: Clear Seeing
Yoga philosophies guide practitioners toward cultivating a clear and focused mind by addressing the fluctuations of the mind, emphasizing self-awareness, promoting ethical conduct, and encouraging practices that lead to inner stillness and concentration. The ultimate goal is to attain a state of Samadhi, a state of deep absorption and spiritual realization that arises from a mind free of distractions and disturbances.
In the yoga tradition, particularly within certain Hindu and Buddhist contexts, Mara and Vidya represent contrasting aspects related to the human experience and the path to spiritual realization. The relationship between Mara and Vidya can be understood as the interplay between ignorance and wisdom on the spiritual journey.
Mara is often considered a malevolent and tempting force that represents the obstacles and distractions on the path to enlightenment. Sometimes described as the personification of desire, delusion, and the egoic mind, Mara’s goal is to keep us bound to the cycle of suffering (samsara) by fostering attachment, aversion, and ignorance.
Vidya, on the other hand, is a Sanskrit term that translates to “knowledge” or “wisdom.” In the context of the yoga tradition, Vidya represents spiritual knowledge, insight, and wisdom. It is often associated with the understanding of one’s true nature, the nature of reality, and the interconnectedness of all things. Vidya is considered a key element on the path to liberation and self-realization.
As the link between body and mind, the breath serves as a powerful negotiator for clearer seeing. We begin with attention, with the effort or the applied energy to pay attention to what is, as it is, in this moment. What better place than here? What better time than now, to begin again? As T.K.V. Desikachar said,
“We begin where we are and how we are, and what happens happens.”
If you are struggling for clarity, consider making paying attention a purposeful practice. For me it begins with a pause. Schedule Pause into your agenda today. For anytime convenience, check out the recorded Just Pause practice in the Inspired! app or joining me LIVE in the studio.
However you pause, give yourself this time freely to explore your attention. Set an alarm for 3, 5 or even 15 minutes. Once seated comfortably, ask yourself: What do you notice?
Start by noticing your breath. Then perhaps use a mantra. You could use “so-hum” or try the starter sentence, “I’m aware of… “. Fill in the blank. Whether you repeat or have an original thought with each sentence. It is simply a practice to cultivate paying attention.
What are you noticing?
If you notice judgment, critique, or criticism, simply shift to compassionate, loving acceptance. Or stay in the neutral state of observation. If you cannot shift out of judgment, turn to your Circle. This is where your sister yogis and your Teacher or Guide become critical for healthy growth and transformation.