Transformation comes in many different forms. It can manifest as something physical, mental, emotional or spiritual.
I believe on some level we are all here to transform and if we are not, then something has gone wrong.
In this talk we will explore why your most difficult lessons often transform into your greatest blessings.
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[The following is the full transcript of this episode of “Dare to Awaken Podcast.”]
Welcome to episode number two; Transformation, of the Dare to Awaken podcast. Now, very often, when we think about this word transformation, which is very inspiring to many of us, many of us are motivated to transform something. And very often in the beginning, we think about physical things within the material world. For example, we may want to transform our body composition where we increase muscle, we decrease fat, we improve range of motion, we improve our flexibility. Or we may want to transform our spaces, the spaces that we live in. We may want to transform a cluttered space into a space that’s clear, and clean, and spacious. Or we may want to simply accomplish some sort of a goal: we want to run a marathon, we want to meditate for 30 days straight, we want to go all plant-based for a certain period of time. We had these physical goals. Now, Michael Hyatt, who has written and done quite a bit of research on goals says, “A goal is not just about what you accomplish, it’s about what you become.” And it’s so true. I think about a couple of years ago when I had an opportunity to run a 50K through the mountains of Northern California. It was something that I always wanted to do. I always wanted to try and set out to run an ultramarathon. And not on pavement, not on roads, but just being out in nature. And the freedom of being out in the mountains and running through the forest, for me, is invigorating and very liberating.
And so I began a training regimen in September. I ran the race in December. I spent a few months really diligently training for this race and for this event. And I wasn’t doing the race to race other people. I was doing it for my own journey. My own experience. And when race day came and I ran that race and it was challenging but also incredibly, incredibly fulfilling in so many different ways, and it was a very successful race for me because I was able to complete the race without hurting myself. And just completing the race, I was really happy about. And so I achieved that goal of running 30-some miles through the mountains, but it was really more about who I became within that journey. It was about overcoming challenges and moving through adversity and doing something that scared me. Something that I was intimidated by. And every time we do that, every time we move through our fears, every time we move through the things that scare us, we develop greater willpower. We develop greater self-confidence. We cultivate more and more of an inner strength. So the next time we face a challenge or we face a fear, we’re ready for more. In the same way that when you lift weights, you stress your weights. You lift a certain weight that’s challenging, and then the muscle responds to that. It becomes stronger and now you can lift a greater weight. You can handle more challenge.
Now, sometimes transformation comes in more subtle ways beyond the physical. It may be something more mental where we want to transform a mind that is busy, or noisy, or frenetic, into a mind that’s more calm, and patient, and peaceful, and tranquil. Or we may want to transform more on an emotional level. We may want to transform anger into compassion. We may want to awaken more and more unconditional love on an emotional level within our relationships and also the relationship to our own selves. And then, of course, there’s spiritual transformation where we become less materialistic and less ego-driven, and we become more and more connected to the oneness of all things. We transform ourselves from the small self into the big Self.
Now, very often, and I would say at least for myself in 99.99% of cases, transformation comes through challenge. Is there any other way to grow than being challenged? The great philosopher and writer Joseph Campbell used to describe this as the hero’s journey, and he would examine all the great mythology. And he would find these common themes that in order for the hero to become the hero, in order for the hero to unlock their fullest, greatest, deepest potential, they had to move through what he described as the dark night of the soul. The dark night of the soul is when you are in despair, when you are in the trenches of despair, and uncertainty, and doubt, and yet somehow, the hero perseveres through all that. They do not give up. They do not succumb to these weaker parts of themselves. They don’t succumb to external influences that may be bogging them down. They make it through that. And because of that, they become the hero. And of course, we all have this hero within us. And we all also move through phases in our life that are the equivalent of the dark night of the soul on an individual level and also on a collective level. We can do that as communities, as nations, and as the world.
The writer Ernest Hemingway said, “The world breaks everyone and afterward, some are strong at the broken places.” So when we get broken, when we encounter the great challenges, whether that’s the loss of a relationship, or the loss of a loved one, or a health diagnosis that rocks our world, that shakes us at the very foundation of who we are, we all have that capacity to persevere through that, to grow from that, and to become stronger at those broken places. Now, we sometimes wonder, “What’s the point of challenge? What’s the point of enduring suffering? Why do so many of us suffer in this world?” Well, it turns out as human beings, we need that. You see, the universe isn’t here to make you happy. The universe is here to awaken you. This podcast, Dare to Awaken, is all about that theme of awakening or enlightenment, but I prefer that word awakening over enlightenment because that’s kind of a loaded word, and there’s a lot of misconcepts around that word enlightenment. But in order to become fully awakened, we have to move through challenge. And so when we look back on the dark night of our soul and those phases that we move through, we can think about, “Who did we become at the end of that process? What did we learn?” Maybe we became more humble.
Sometimes the universe punches us in the face to make us more humble. Sometimes our world gets rocked so that we can see beyond our own selfish needs. Desmond Tutu says, “Suffering can either embitter us or ennoble us.”
So it’s really about perception and how we look at it. And I’m here to encourage you and, hopefully, to inspire you to look at challenges and to look at moments of adversity as the necessary step for transformation. Many of you know this. I’ve talked about this in other podcasts. And whether it’s the Be Ultimate podcast, my old podcast, or being on someone else’s podcast, or you’ve read it in one of my books, I moved through some near-death experiences early on in my yoga path where I had a near-drowning experience in Kauai, and then about a year after that, I almost died again when the tsunami of 2004 hit Thailand. And those were very challenging experiences, as you can imagine. But what it did was it set me down a different path than what I was heading. And I like to think of it as an upgrade. I evolved into the person that I was supposed to be and moving now on the path that I was supposed to be moving on. But of course, we get so stubborn, and we put up our blinders and we think that we’re on this path and we’re just going to stay on it and stay on it. And when it’s not for the greatest good of all, very often it takes a crisis, it takes some sort of cataclysmic event to steer us down a different direction.
Now, there was some research that they did in Arizona where they studied trees inside of this biosphere. So they put these trees into this enclosure where it got all the clean air, and water, good soil, and natural light that it needed but it was isolated from weather conditions. And part of it was to explore what we might have to do if we were ever to go to another planet like Mars and we needed to grow our own food and vegetation. Could we do this? But what they found out at the end of this study was that once the trees reached a certain height, they would actually fall over because of a lack of wind and being exposed to adverse weather conditions. The adversity was necessary because it made the bark on the tree stronger, and it also made the roots stronger. As Dolly Parton says, “Storms make trees take deeper roots.” So we need storms. We need to be challenged. We can use suffering as a way to make the bark of our bodies, and our minds, and our emotional state more resilient, more strong. And these storms and these challenges, they come in cycles. They come in phases. Sometimes it just feels like we’re just being pounded over and over and over and over again by these storms. It’s one thing after another. And then we make it through the other side. We make it through the storm and we’re coasting, and things are going great. And very often in those phases, it’s so easy to become complacent. It’s so easy to start getting a little bit lazier and lazier and lazier. But we need to remember even in those phases when everything is going well, that it’s important to give gratitude for what we have, and it’s important to remember that all things must pass. And it’s inevitable that the storms will come down the road in a different way.
Pablo Picasso said, “Every act of creation is first an act of destruction.” So the storm comes, the destruction comes so that then we can create a new paradigm. And in yoga philosophy, we often associate this with the energy of Shiva. Shiva is known as the destroyer. In order for the new paradigm and the new reality to be created, first, we have to destroy the old way. And this can play out in so many different ways. It can play out on a physical level within our external world, it can play out within our minds. We want to eradicate and destroy old patterns of thinking that are holding us back so that then we can create new thoughts and new habits and a new reality. So living with wisdom is about navigating the vicissitudes of life with grace, with dignity, and with nobility.
Jon Kabat-Zinn, the great mindfulness teacher says, “You can’t fight the waves, but you can learn to surf.” So let’s learn how to surf by using these techniques, these practices, whether it’s from the yogic tradition, or the mindfulness tradition, or any of the ancient wisdom traditions. They are there and they teach us that when those waves come, when the storms come, we all have the tools that we need to surf that, to spin it to our advantage.
Now, they’ve done some research on some students, and what they found was that students that journal about past traumatic events and challenging experiences, students that journal for 15 minutes a day for about four days writing out their deepest thoughts and feelings about these past traumas, that they found it incredibly valuable. And 98% of them said that they would actually do it again, and that they also reported less visits to the university healthcare center because they were more healthy. So when we process our challenges, when we reflect, and we journal, and we digest the intensities of what we move through, and we express that in a healthy, positive, uplifting way, it’s transforming for our own health and our own well-being.
I want to share a story from one of my teachers, Jack Kornfield, who writes about this prisoner, this lady incarcerated. Her name is Anita. Anita was a former prisoner who served 14 years as a reluctant accomplice to a botched armed robbery. Anita talks about how hardened and territorial she and the other women were and the degrading conditions of prison. So to keep their peace and their sanity, they established simple routines and very strict boundaries. Periodically, their routines would be disrupted by short-timers; women that were serving less than one year, who because of overcrowding, were forced to double up in the long-term cells. The short-timers were usually pushed away and ignored. When Noni, a quiet woman, came into Anita’s cell for four months, Anita was wary of her and told her where she could put her things, which part of the cell she could use, and warned her not to cross any boundaries.
This new girl mostly sat sick and depressed and would hardly even eat. Then she began to throw up, especially in the mornings. Finally, it dawned on Anita that Noni was actually pregnant. Anita began comforting Noni, becoming her protector and supporter to ensure she was taking care of herself and this innocent baby. Word about the pregnant girl got out and women up and down the maximum-security cell block began to help with special food and comfort. The compassion for Noni and her baby became communal. It brought the prisoners together. After Noni was released, news came back to the prisoners that her child, Julia, had safely been delivered. They felt themselves to be Julia’s aunties and grandmothers. New life had touched the sorrow of their cells. Anita, especially, had been changed. Her barricaded heart had been opened, and she started on a six-year path of healing and redemption. Now, Anita works full-time on projects that bring hope to incarcerated women. So Anita found transformation. She found transformation while she was incarcerated. She made it through the dark night of the soul, and when she came out on the other side, she took what she learned. She took the wisdom and the insights that she gained. And now, she pays it forward. She passes it on to other women.
And I’ve done quite a bit of work in the prison system and I’ve seen this time after time after time. These men who have gone into prison and found the teachings of yoga and meditation, and have transformed themselves physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually. And now, they’re in prison and they’re helping other men to transform themselves by teaching these yoga and these meditation classes. So whether you’re on your yoga mat, your meditation cushion, or you’re out there on the stage of life, this is why we practice. It’s all for transformation. And one way or another, remember, the universe isn’t here to make you happy. It’s here to transform you. It’s here to awaken you. So see if you can remember that. Maybe you’re moving through a challenge right now in your life. Maybe there’s a challenge coming down the road in your near future. As you’re moving through that, see if you can have the awareness, the voice, the wisdom in the back of the head that says, “This is happening for me to help me awaken. What can I learn from this? How can I use this experience to make my bark stronger? How can I use this experience to make the roots of my tree and my being also stronger?”
Albert Camus writes,
“We all carry within us our places of exile; our crimes, our ravages. Our task is not to unleash them on the world, it is to transform them within ourselves.”
Thank you so much for tuning in to this week’s episode of the Dare to Awaken podcast. Much health, much wealth, much love to you. May we all dare to awaken. See you next time.