Living Yoga: dhrti (fortitude)

A gem cannot be polished without friction, nor a man perfected without trials.
Lucius Annaeus Seneca
I have long been a proponent of the expression, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” Lately, it has been falling short. As Seneca stated, friction creates perfection. What I cant quit wondering about based on my beliefs of yogic spirituality is if that is true?
What if we are already perfect?
That is a hard concept for most people who are not narcissistic to comprehend. Even then, their belief of self-perfection is likely as far as possible from the Truth I speak of here. Almost everyone I know, have been taught that no one is perfect, that we all must keep striving for something better. Like the boss who refuses to give you the perfect evaluation you deserve because, where would (could) you go from there?
Perhaps we need to start by defining perfection. Is it the ability to know all, love unconditionally, act ethically and compassionately, and having optimal mental, physically, and emotional health all the time?If so, as humans, clearly we are not perfect.
Or is there a human version of perfection that reflects the luminosity and brilliance of our perfect essence? Meaning, there is a purity, perfection if you will, within all of us that is contrasted by the experience of being human. Experiences that allow us to expand our conscious, light, and love.
These experiences are through emotions. If you were to contemplate perfected emotional states, what does that include? For me joy, love, acceptance, peace certainly come to mind. Considering this perfected state of emotions, the image of freshly fallen snow, blanketing the forest around my house in Vermont all glittery, blinding white as the luminous morning sun smiles upon it. There is little contrast.
Friction, the contrast lacking in the snowy image I imagine, which leads to perfection, contains challenges and shadowy emotions such as anger, grief, fear, doubt, loathing, unworthiness, grief.  Creating imperfection allows us to experience the shadow aspects of our being, providing an opportunity to experience the totality. Embracing the shadow aspects brings us wholeness.
If we were to make a soup of water and chicken, it would be nourishing, but boring. It is when we add spices and vegetables, the taste becomes more complex. If we were to brown the chicken first, even more flavor. But all of that is more work, more effort. It is not easy unless you’ve repeated the process many, many times and value the efforts that create such delicious results.
Our challenges, our shadow emotions, are what give us the flavor to our lives. That’s why we choose to be humans; the totality of the human experience. The first few experiences of limitation are very hard.We make a marker in our mind- I’ll never do that again. Our essence, however, seek purity, love in its truest form, and joy. It wants us to make something grand out of that chicken. On an unconscious level, we repeat the challenges in varying forms. Meanwhile, our human brain resists the discomfort or pain. It becomes a tug-o’-war that often leads to being stuck in self-defeating behavior. We form limiting beliefs to support and validate the challenging experiences.
Science knows that even in the darkness, it is impossible not to have some frequency of light. Our light is always there, within, waiting to increase. It is in the awareness that we have chosen to experience our shadow sides that we can begin to shift out of the darkness and into the light.
What are these challenges we have chosen? There are five, known as kanchukas in yoga, that you may recognize:
  • I can’t or I don’t know how.
  • I’m not ___ enough.
  • I don’t have time.
  • Attachment to outcomes and/or aversion to fear.
  • Ignorance of our essence.
Shifting out of the shadow and contrast, the stuck places and self-sabotage requires courage. You must be willing to look into the shadows and remember your truth- that within you is a slice of something much bigger, shared by all, all knowing, all loving, courageous and joyful.
Even the willingness to be present within the adversity or pain without running or hiding takes tremendous courage. That is called fortitude. To stand grounded and say, “I am here now and I don’t know what to do, where or how this will end, but I am willing to just be here and feel whatever comes up now” is what begins to change the paradigm dramatically.
Standing firmly grounded in the present means you’re not looking into the past for experiential lessons to apply to the unknown future, by-passing the uniqueness of the present moment and experience. This allows for acceptance of what is being felt, for the parts in the past that were not allowed to feel, and unifies you in a moment of marriage between shadow and light. Personally, I call this a miracle of grace.
Will it be easy? Probably not, though it will not be as challenging as you may expect, either. The results are profound. The freedom from the fear and doubt of the past provides peace and relief. Each time you repeat this process, you rewire your brain. Each time you engage fortitude, you build self-trust making each future decision to stay present even easier.  Until one day, the friction is merely polishing your own perfection.