Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Commitment: Revere It or Fear It?

It's funny that the same word that describes the decision to remain in a relationship with another human being (i.e. marriage) also describes the act of putting someone in a mental institution: commitment.

That says a lot about our society and how we feel about living up to our word.

Commitment gets a bad rap. And I will spend the following paragraphs describing the ways that commitment has saved me—not enslaved me. 


:: THE HABITS THAT MAKE YOU OR BREAK YOU ::

Obviously, not all commitments are created equal. 

Committing yourself to beat your head against a wall each day will provide different results than getting up every morning before sunrise and meditating. 

So much of my past "commitment" was of the beating-my-head-against-a-wall variety. 

Simply put, there are promoting and demoting habits. What we do each day creates our habits. And our habits create our life. 

Meditation is so amazing because it can break us of our habits. But the habit to meditate has to become stronger than the habit to beat our head against a wall. Otherwise, our head beating muscles are going to grow a lot stronger than our meditation muscles. 


:: STARTING A SADHANA ::

Sadhana is body-sculpting for the mind, enhancing circulation to the soul. It is a spiritual practice done every day without exception.

My first "sadhana" was a Kundalini Yoga meditation called "Kriya for Liberation." 

I committed to do it for 40 days. 

In many traditions, not just Kundalini Yoga, 40 days is considered the minimum amount of time to break a habit.

If you want to quit smoking... commit to 40 days of substituting cigarettes for some deep breathing.
If you want to start playing guitar... commit to 40 days of practice.

My first sadhana broke me of the habit of returning to the same dead-end relationship I kept involving myself in (i.e. beating my head against a wall). 

You know when you finally say "no" to that lurking temptation, and say "yes" to your own sanity? 

Yeah, it felt that good! 


:: SAVING GRACE ::

It wasn't until I experienced it for myself that I really understood the power of commitment. 

Sure, this kriya was "robbing" me of 11 minutes of my personal time each day. Sure, I could have done something spontaneous and awesome instead.

Would I have done something spontaneous and awesome though? I'm not so sure.

I waste a lot of time in my days... spontaneously checking email, awesomely checking my news feed on facebook.

And given the results, even if my other options had been...
-rock climbing for 11 minutes
-collecting berries in the forest for 11 minutes
-learning to speak Urdu for 11 minutes
... I would choose the kriya again and again.


:: THE MIND TRAP ::

I'm not sure about you, but here's the dialog I used to have with my mind about sadhana:
Me: "I'm going to do my sadhana now."
Mind: "Really? Wouldn't you rather start a movie on netflix?"
Me: "Yes, but I committed to doing this sadhana."
Mind: "Wouldn't you rather bake a cake?"
Me: "Yes, but I committed to doing this sadhana."
Mind: "Gosh, this is really taking over your life."
And the irony here is, if we are having this internal conversation, it's not the sadhana, by the mind that has taken over our life! 

My mind still takes the reigns to my life a lot of the time. 

Having no responsibilities—to others or to myself—is not the definition of freedom, or a heightened state of being.

No more is having a month-to-month lease (or nowhere to live) somehow superior to owning a home. Acquiring and maintaining responsibility is a facet of becoming an adult on this planet. 

Freedom is an innate quality of the human spirit. 

It is our relationship to the commitments we've made and the responsibilities we've taken on that define our state of freedom. 

When we commit to nothing so we are able to live "in the moment" at all moments, we are surrendering to the whims of our mind. 


:: ILLUSION OF FREEDOM ::

Hooray! If someone asked me to move to Africa RIGHT NOW I could go... because I don't have a job, a home, or a family!

Yay! Huh?

I know a lot of midlife crises happen because people get to a point in their life where they have taken on so many responsibilities they can barely breathe. 

But it's not the making commitments that traps us. It's the fact that we don't simultaneously forge a relationship to our own soul. 

We are just as free in a field of wheat wearing a flow-y dress, as we are in our own living room. 

Trapped is when we lose all connection to what's real and define our "self" by the things we've acquired, the bills we need to pay, the trophies we've won, and the job we perform.

That's not who we are!

We are limitless, free, playful, divine beings having this human experience. Let's not take this too seriously, shall we?

Buying a sport's car and having an affair with a supermodel isn't going to change the fact that we have no connection to the truth of our existence—our Sat Naam. 

Unless we can find the freedom inside—with a spiritual practice—we will never find it. 


:: MY MARRIAGE ::

Perhaps the most epic commitment I've made recently is getting married. 

Marriage was never something I took lightly. My parents have been married for over 35 years and I've seen them go through everything together. I know it's work. 

I also know that it is the best decision I ever made.

Many people feel that committing to one person for their entire life is an unreasonable idea. 

I can't really speak to that, because I don't feel that way. I'm sure there are some people who would do better not to be married. I know I am not one of them.

On the day I said "yes" to my husband's proposal, I knew I had made the right choice. 

We had a very difficult time adjusting to each other's life rhythms at first. We had never lived together and it was very rough coming to agreements on very basic things like how to decorate, how to clean, etc.

Each time I felt myself doubting my decision, wanting to throw in the proverbial towel, I had to catch myself. I had to remember that there was a reason I made this commitment. 

I had to retrain my habit of leaving when things get hard. When things get hard is the perfect time to delve deeper and face them. 

Eventually, the friction in our daily life subsided, and I am so glad we both had the strength to stick around and work it out.

I'm sure there will be other moments in our lives when things will get uncomfortable and challenging. 

But if we can maintain our sadhana, I know we will be the stronger for it. 


Blessings in all you commit to.

Choose wisely.

Love,
Sirgun



















Pictures on Silence

I really loved this quote by Leopold Stokowski. 



Once we "paint" on the silence, there is still nothing tangible about music except in recording it. With every work of art—whether painting, sketch, sculpture, watercolor, collage or textile—there is at least a momentary something you can feel and look at. 

With music, it only exists in the moment it is created and we cannot feel it except with our hearts. We cannot hold it, except with our memory. 

Recording music is a way to feel it again and again and again... 

If you haven't already (and THANK YOU if you have!), please consider pre-purchasing my new album while I am still running my campaign. You can be a part of this creation... lend a stroke to the musical canvas of this new album.

In gratitude,
Sirgun

Friday, December 7, 2012

Healing My Relationship to Food

I have been wanting to write this article for a long time. I offer this narrative of my difficult journey with eating, not as a lament of my past, but rather as a testimony to the power that we possess to change our own life.

I believe it is because of the challenges I've chosen to overcome, that I am the happy and healthy woman I am today. I am grateful for all of this...


ENTER THE DISORDER

My battle with what I would call "disordered eating" lasted a little over 8 years. Like many dysfunctional habits, it was not something that became full-blown overnight. It started in stages, built-up some momentum, and then (thankfully) faded away just as quietly as it appeared.

If it had not been for a very supportive community, and a lot of Kundalini Yoga and meditation, I do not think I would have so easily been able to let it go. Thankfully, it never got to the point where my health was seriously at risk. However, it did completely take over my life and temporarily alienate me from people I love.


FRESHMAN 15... or 20... or 25?

You've heard of the Freshman 15, right? I never weighed myself then (still don't), but I know I put on the freshman 3 dress sizes.

The funny thing was, I had no idea you could gain weight. Seriously.

Growing up, it never registered to me that body weight was something we had any control over. I thought it was like complaining about anything how large your nose was, or how small your breasts were. There were things about my body that I didn't like (I was, after all, a teenager), but I never thought I could do anything about it besides complain.

Because of this, when I arrived in college and had to make my own food choices, I was oblivious to the connection between what I ate and how I felt and looked. (P.S. How I managed to preserve this innocence in France, quite possibly the most weight-obsessed country on the planet, is beyond my ability to reason).

Almost every meal I had eaten up until college was prepared from scratch by my mother. She never touted how "healthy" anything was—ever. It was just food. To me, cafeteria food from the Brown dining hall may not have tasted as good, but, just like my mom's, it was just food.

And the free cookies at every meeting I went to were also just food. And so was the unlimited cereal bar, and the late-night falafel, and... Well, you get the point.


REALIZATION

After an entire year of this, I felt really gross. My skin broke out and I had to buy new (larger) clothes.

My battle with acne, as well as the death of a childhood friend, made my sophomore and junior years in college very challenging. Having no other tools at my disposal to deal with this sadness and seeming loss of control over my life, I began to diet.

My first attempt was a do-it-myself version of the South Beach Diet, where I ate heaping quantities of salami and stayed away from all carbs including brown rice. It was not very successful.

The second thing I tried, which stuck for a great deal of time, was giving up all things involved with land animals: no dairy, no beef, no pork, etc. I became a sort of dairy-free pescetarian.

My diet restrictions didn't stop there. I began to mentally tally all the food I ate, trying to eat as little as possible during the day. This made me extremely hungry at night and prone to overeating.

I don't wish to go into too much detail about my actual diet. I do want to illustrate the mental change that occurred within me: I began to take a meticulous mental inventory of everything I ate.

And...

I began to live for the next meal. It was pretty much all I could think of.


SKIPPING AHEAD

After I graduated from college I went on a trip around the Pacific Rim that should have been a wake-up call. I spent a great deal of my time in Australia and New Zealand at grocery stores and in hostel kitchens making meals for myself. That's not to say I didn't do anything else, but my schedule definitely revolved around what I was going to eat next.

When I returned from my trip I had to make a change.

A close friend was in town on business in New York City (about one hour train ride from where I was living). She was on expense account and, in my opinion, was not using it to its fullest. I suggested trying an expensive restaurant I had heard of from a yoga teacher called Pure Food and Wine.

Thus began my 2 and a half year dance with raw foods and aggressive cleansing.


BEING "RAW"

Eating a raw vegan diet (and all the lifestyle choices that went along with it) taught me a great deal about discipline. Once I got into it, it had its own momentum. I didn't really want or feel I needed "cooked" food.

On the other hand, I went from being slightly vigilant about my food intake to full on neurotic.* As if eating a diet of salads, fresh juices, nuts and seeds wasn't strict enough, I spent most of my time cleansing on top of it.

I went through weeks of drinking just fresh juice, just smoothies, just watermelon, just greens, and doing well over 15 liver "flushes." Have you ever drunk a half cup of olive oil? Yeah, I have.

I began to chronicle everything I ate in my journal. Did I say journal? I meant journals. Yes, several hundred pages detailing every meal I ate... as well as meal plan ideas for the next day.

My thoughts were totally consumed with food intake.

*P.S. I am not suggesting that all raw vegans are neurotic or have an eating disorder. Eating raw food happened to feature in my food neurosis, but it could have been any other diet. 


FACING THE FACTS

By the end of 2 and a half years, I had to face the facts: it was the idea, not the feeling, of being raw vegan, that kept me going.

The idea behind eating raw vegan was to feel vibrant, alive, and energized.

Instead, I felt sluggish and alienated from society.

My acne had reappeared, my digestion had come to a grinding halt, I couldn't eat or drink anything without feeling bloated and tired, and the only people I socialized with were fellow raw foodies.

I also became obsessed with trying to feel as "light" as possible. To that end, I tried to see how little I could eat in a day.

Times when I did eat until I was full, I forced myself to throw up several times because the feeling of being "full" became an uncomfortable sensation.


WHY REVERT?

Integrating cooked and processed foods back into my diet was really difficult. And the casual health food nut reader might think: why would you want to eat processed foods again?

The answer is simple: for all the physical "junk" I avoided not eating pizza, or even steamed broccoli, I was gaining some serious mental weight. As I got more into yoga, I realized that thoughts can be even more toxic than the way we process food.

It was time to come to some dietary balance and mental peace.


A CAPACITY FOR CHANGE

That was when Kundalini Yoga walked into my "perfect" world of nutrition.

Have you ever done Kundalini Yoga?

Prior to participating in my first Kundalini Yoga class at the Golden Bridge in Los Angeles, I was a hard core vinyasa (hatha) yogi. I attended classes that made me sweat puddles. I was in the best physical shape of my life. After all, how could I not be—with that much exercise and eating only raw vegan food?

It wasn't until I started Kundalini Yoga that I experienced how a spiritual practice could positively transform my entire life. Funny enough, thanks to eating raw foods, I was prepared for the kind of discipline this involved. (After all, what's waking up at 3am, when you've had to make every single meal for yourself from scratch for 2 and a half years?)

There were specific events that led to the slow break-down of my neurosis around food, but without the tools I was learning (and applying) in my Kundalini Yoga practice, I probably would have resisted every one of them. Instead, I was able to transmute said events into opportunities for change.


EXCLUSION AND REVELATION

I think the breaking point of my "perfect" diet was this:

The Golden Bridge was having a private teachers lunch at Gurmukh's house one day. Because I had subbed a few of the children's classes, I was invited!

Did I go?

No. I opted out because I was on yet another cleanse.

Days later I thought to myself:
"What are you doing? You just turned down the opportunity to spend personal time with some of the leading spiritual teachers in Los Angeles and you opted out because you were on a diet? How is this enriching your life exactly?"
I had no response for myself.


BACK TO THE OTHER AISLES IN THE GROCERY STORE

The weeks that followed were filled with guilt-ridden mini-trips to a local Whole Foods. There I purchased such forbidden victuals as organic ketchup, vegan cheese and, dear God, sprouted organic bread.

It sounds absurd, but I felt really naughty. And I had to make "mini-trips" because I couldn't bring myself to purchase more than a few such evil items at one time. Also, spending less time shopping meant a decreased chance of running into people I knew who might judge the contents of my cart.


FEAR. FEAR. FEAR.

I feared so many things transitioning out of 100% raw veganism.

I feared getting fat.

I feared that going back to eating cooked food would reverse all that I had worked for—both physically and emotionally. Raw foods and yoga had helped me overcome several ailments including hypothyroidism and severe mood disorders.

I feared getting depressed.

Thankfully, nothing but some neurotic thoughts occurred as a result of changing my diet. It took a period of about 2 years, but eventually, my ability to digest food returned.


BACK TO BALANCE

Since then, I have gradually gotten out of the habit of maniacally monitoring my food intake.

The two things I credit the most for this change are my Kundalini Yoga practice and my husband.

In 2009 I recorded a song called "Bliss," which used this mantra:
"I am the light of my soul. I am beautiful. I am bountiful. I am bliss. I am. I am." 
Repeating this mantra during recording and on tour was perhaps the most healing thing I could have done for myself. Through it, I developed a love for my self that was not dependent on how I looked or how "good" I was in my eating habits. I learned to unconditionally love myself.

My marriage has reinforced this love.

My husband told me once when I was complaining about my weight that he couldn't imagine me being any thinner. He liked me this way. It doesn't sound that ground-breaking to retell it, but in the moment, it was just the thing to break me from my spell.

Looking back, my journey with food was based on an idea that there was a pre-requisite to being loved: I had to be perfect. 

My husband's off-hand comment (which he didn't even remember when I reminded him later) made me realize that there is nothing I had to become to deserve love. I had made it all up!


TODAY

Today I have a very healthy relationship with food. I have read so many articles, so many books on food I might as well have become a nutritionist or health coach.

For this reason, I am confident about my food choices, and I don't always select the healthiest option.

I believe in the power of good diet, but I also know what happens when there is too much focus on "perfect" eating.

So many other factors contribute to our health: laughter, love, community, faith...

MY CONCLUSION

In trying to consume the "perfect" diet so I could become the ME I would finally love, I now realize I was going about it totally backwards.

What I know now is that as a result of deeply connecting to the ME inside of this body (through my yoga practice), I am now actually selecting the "perfect" foods. They are perfect not because I read they were, or because someone very thin endorsed them.

They are perfect because I choose them in that moment, because I consume them without stress, and in the company of those I love.

In my humble opinion, there can be no diet more perfect than that.


Love,
Sirgun




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