Yesterday I completed a five-day Off the Mat, Into the World Yoga, Purpose and Action Intensive led by Seane Corn, Hala Khouri, and Suzanne Sterling. It was a profound experience. I hope I can do it justice in words.
My biggest learning was to be aware of where your motivation to be of service comes from. Oftentimes, your desire to serve is rooted in your shadow, the parts of yourself that are difficult to look at, but want to be healed.
Sometimes the connection is obvious: you have an eating disorder, so you decide to work with people with eating disorders. Other times it is circuitous, your parents gave you things instead of attention, so you are passionate about reducing consumerism. Being aware of the stuff about yourself that you don't like isn't supposed to make you feel badly. It's the opposite. Your wound is your gift. It gives you empathy, and can reveal your passion.
For myself, I realized that one of the reasons I like to help people figure out what their purpose is, and to facilitate their taking action to live their big vision, is to heal my own lack of clarity and fears about living my big vision.
You might be thinking, why does it matter why I want to serve? The most important thing is to get things done! Results are absolutely important, but the idea is that you will become a more effective changemaker, activist, volunteer, or whatever you want to call your role in service, if you understand why you are doing it. Your awareness will help you serve from a place of compassion, rather than from judgement. Regular activism oftentimes requires one set of people to be wrong, and another to be right; conscious activism comes from empathy.
Many of the world's problems happen because of a sense of otherness based on things like class, race, politics, gender, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, etc. The idea is to become aware of those dark icky parts in yourself that you project onto "the other," so that you can serve from empathy and compassion rather than from pity, anger, or arrogance.
For myself, I've had to look at the qualities I hate in Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin, and ask myself, how do I have (and hate) those qualities in myself in some way? By learning to hold the light and dark parts of ourselves equally we will not only feel better, we'll also be able to serve better, and be less likely to get burned out.
One of yoga's roles in all of this is to help release the physical tension, stress and anxiety that difficult feelings and experiences can cause so that we can relax and feel them. By opening ourselves up to feeling all of our feelings, we will become more empathetic, compassionate, and grounded. By relaxing and slowing down, we will be more likely to respond to challenging situations, rather than to react to them.
In addition to all of this soul searching (bring your Kleenex if you do this training!) we also practiced nonviolent communication, and did some exercises around clarifying our purpose.
One of the last exercises was to:
1. List 2-3 qualities that your best friend would use to describe you.
2. List 2-3 ways you express these qualities.
3. Describe in a couple of sentences how the world would look if the problem that breaks your heart was solved. (I'm not sure if this was the actual prompt . . .)
Then, fill in the blanks below to create a purpose statement:
I intend to use my ( answers to #1), through (answers to #2) so as to create a world where (answers to #3).
For example, my purpose statement is:
I intend to use my insight, creativity and resourcefulness through big vision consulting, blogging, and cooking so as to create a world where people are clear about their joyful purpose and living it in a way that is fun and fulfilling for themselves, and beneficial for others.
As I said at the beginning, it was an intense 5 days and words aren't capturing it all, but if it interests you at all, I highly recommend it. Seane, Hala and Suzanne were some of the most grounded facilitators I've experienced, and are expert at integrating the spiritual and the practical.
For more information about upcoming trainings and events, go to http://www.offthematintotheworld.org/training.html