Advice I would give my 30-year-old self
A fellow yoga teacher recently asked me if I would give her some advice as she approached the ripe old age of 30. She was hoping I could shed some light on this next part of her journey. Of course, I felt honoured that she would ask. I must admit that it took me several weeks to clarify my thoughts. I have decided to share my letter to her with all of you. It is quite personal so this was a tough decision however I hope that if you are reading this you can gain some insight as well.
So here is the letter I would write to my 30-year-old self.
Hello 30 year-old! Looking back, I can say without a doubt that the 30s are an amazing and remarkable time. I feel more confident and calm as I approach 40. I actually do feel wiser. I think wisdom comes with time and experience. So most of this you are just going to have to learn on your own, in time.
However, a lot of my knowledge came from yoga and the yoga sutras. Yoga gave me the signposts along the path. As I aged and explored these ideas they made more and more sense. Then, with the experience to back up the ideas, they solidified into wisdom.
So although I can’t give you the wisdom, I might be able to give you some signposts for your journey.
1. Don’t worry so much!- Basically, you think too much. Now that I’ve had some experience living through some horrible things that I quite literally thought would kill me (brain cancer), I know that everything is fine. Really, everything is fine.
When I get worried now I like to ask myself, “What is the worst thing that could happen? Am I going to die?” Well, probably not. As long as I don’t die then I know I can handle everything else, I’ll survive. And, if I do die, well then I’m dead and I won’t really care too much! So everything is fine, really. You will survive the current drama. In the big scheme of things, it isn’t such a big deal.
2. Find out which morals/ethics really speak to you… then do your best to live by them- This is probably one of the most helpful and significant lessons that I’ve learn in the last 8 years. Yes you (30 year-old Christina) were taught the basics; don’t lie, don’t steal, yada yada yada. However, there was never a clear, systematic set of principles that you could define. It was more general, like just be a good person. And, of course, what I was told and what I saw in the world around me were often in direct conflict with one another.
I have found the Yamas and Niyamas of the Yoga Sutras beyond helpful in clearly defining what I believe in and giving me a systematic way to approach ethics. You can find any set of ethics or design your own, just find out what you really believe and then try to live by it, at all times.
Don’t just define your ethics; actually try to live by them, this is so important! Once I really committed to trying to live by my ethics, all the time, my self-esteem shot through the roof. I could hold my head high, knowing that I had always done what I believed to be right, even when no one was watching. I had nothing to hide.
Try to live by them all the time. A good example, paying your taxes. It is socially acceptable to ‘cheat’ the government and ‘steal’ from the system as long as you are working within the law and you don’t get caught. In fact, many people brag about it. Pay your fair share to the government, don’t cheat and steal even though no one would condemn you for it. Do it because it is the right thing to do.
Of course you’ll mess-up, you won’t always act with integrity, which is ok. Believe it or not, that is part of the learning process. When I act within my ethics (Yamas and Niyamas) everything in life goes smoothly and I am calm and content. Whenever I decide to try to cheat the system it bites me in the butt! Everything becomes harder and my life doesn’t flow as easily. This is always a reminder for me to stick by my ethics.
Author Michael Stone says in The Path Unfolds (emphasis is mine):
Each situation is brand new and requires a wise and spontaneous response; we can’t just superimpose our spiritual philosophy across the board.
Even when we are anchored in the breath, we come to see that the breath too is changing, that the anchor is shifting.
If we only take action to feel good, the possibility of awakening remains limited, because it revolves around a ‘me’ that needs to feel good.
Experiences can be sudden, but the work of a committee spiritual practice is slow and circular.
Our insights need to be tested out in order for them to become sources of wisdom;
Otherwise we can rest in our insights and move slowly back into states of unconscious apathy, ideology, or unawareness.
Lastly, and probably most importantly, when you are acting in a honourable way you can sit with yourself at night. You can meditate and find stillness. This is where the calm comes from. If you are acting in ways that go against your ethics you don’t even want to sit with you. The calm comes from knowing that you’ve been the best you possible.
3. Do all that you can and then surrender- My yoga teacher in India, Yogi Sivadas, taught me this. At the time, I was having a lot of anxiety over my brain cancer. I was trying to figure out what caused it and how could I get rid of it. I was in a lot of emotional pain over all of the conflicting information, theories, and conspiracy theories regarding cancer. I just wanted to figure it all out and have the one right answer. We were doing yoga therapy that day and reviewing the causes of many illnesses. Afterwards I approached him, almost in tears, and asked him, “What do you do if you don’t know what caused it?!” He calmly replied, "do everything you can and then surrender."
This idea is from the Niyamas; tapas (intense discipline or inner fire), Svadhyaya (self-study) and Ishvara Pranidhana (surrender to the divine). With intense focus and discipline you study yourself (Svadhyaya) and your tendencies. You use this inner fire (Tapas) to motivate you to do what you can do on your end. Then, you surrender (Ishvara Pranidhana).
Surrender to whom or what? That is up to you to decide. You can call it God, Universe, Mother Earth… whatever label speaks to you. I sometimes like to call it the mystery. There is a mystery to life that I don’t understand, that I will never understand. There are some things that I can control and some things that I can’t.
So I will continue to do the best I can with the knowledge I have and then surrender the rest. Breathe and let it be what will be.
Okay 30 year-old self…. Go in and find your peace.
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