Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Ego and the Soul: Lessons from Seane Corn

The Ego and the Soul: Lessons from Seane Corn

Once upon a time, there was a baby soul.

This baby soul was without experience and contained within a human body. As the soul and the body grew, the soul craved experience, all of it. The soul wanted to be happy, sad, and experience success and great failure. The soul wanted to evolve through all of the challenges that were possible.

The human body, within which this soul was being, was growing too. She was learning, and trying hard, and studying in school, and making friends. She worked hard to get As and please her parents. She wanted to be pretty and good in sports. She sang songs over and over until she got them right. She was terrified of not being all she could be.

She didn’t even know she had a soul within her. All the while, the soul continued in this human body and experienced everything through her.

They were one, the soul and the girl. When the girl fell in love the soul was so happy. This was such rich experience. When the girl was hurt by her love, the soul was in bliss as this was also a rich and beautiful experience. The girl could face only the love and not the pain. She had no tools for pain. She feared the feelings the pain brought with it and blocked her heart from feeling them. The soul tried to feel all of this despite the girl’s escapes, despite her attempts to bypass this intended growth. But, sadly the soul could not. The girl worked hard-- always- at school and in the attempts to block her experience.

The hurt grew big. It reminded the girl, this human girl, of her past, when her mother was drunk and did not soothe her (sooth with no /e/ means truth- interesting isn't it?). Ahhh, the soul remembered too. The girl then so little, learned to escape. She learned to pretend she did not need anyone, pretend she had no heart. And the soul tried so hard to feel.

At a party, the girl was offered a drink. It was cool and bubbly and tasted funny. She drank. Ahh- she did not feel any of the hurt at all, none of it. The soul longed for expression and the girl drew further an further away. And so the story went for many years to this very day.

All along, this beautiful soul, longing for experience, for expression, for union, was hidden, obstructed with alcohol, with escape. This soul had become-- a lost soul.

This soul lived within Sherece, Zuri’s mom.

Zuri and The Yoga Bag

It is late and a Sunday night. Zuri has finished all of her homework. Her mom went out Friday night and is not back yet. Neither is Eric. He’s been gone since last Wednesday. This is another long one. Zuri and Rashan are on their own again. He’s really clingy tonight and its okay, cause so is Zuri. They lie on the couch, Zuri’s book in her hand as she reads the Hobbit for school. Rashan is curled up as she reads aloud. He falls asleep. Zuri rests his head on a pillow as she lifts herself off the couch. She stops and sees him sleep. She kisses him on the forehead.

She’s in a thoughtful mood. The stress of her mom and brother get to her and she needs something, something to give her hope. She goes to The Yoga Bag.

I see her dig into the big box in her closet and grab the bag. She finds my notebook from workshops and conferences. She finds a page titled, The Soul and the Ego. She’s curious. She wonders about Thomas’s soul (the boy who was killed in a shooting a few months back). She worries about Eric and her mom and the journey of their souls.

She worries about her own soul. She wonders if she is just bad, from the soul on through. “Am I bad?” She figures life is so hard because the universe, maybe even God, knows how bad she really is and no matter how good she acts, the universe knows that deep inside she is angry, hateful, and bad.

She finds my notes from a Seane Corn workshop on the chakras. There are pages and pages thick with notes. Seane Corn is an amazing communicator and says so many wonderful words. I must write so quickly to get them all down.

She finds Seane’s story about how she found yoga and God (see below to read the whole story in Seane’s words). She reads about how a soul exists in each of us. She reads about how the soul is searching for experience from a place of love. She reads that it is our ego that is our own sense of self and can manifest all of the should’s and should not’s, the be’s and be nots. She reads how the ego can function from a place of fear and judgment at times. As she reads, it is like always, it is like my notes tell her exactly what she needs to hear.

She wonders again about her own soul. She wonders again about Eric and her mom. She reads the words below spoken to Seane by Billy Sleaze:

"Ignore the story and see the soul. And remember to love—you will never regret it."*

It is when Zuri gets in her fear, in her story for her mom and Eric (these fearful stories in her mind do not end well, I might add), that she struggles to love.

But what was so powerful for Zuri, at this very moment, was that she looked to her own soul. She laid on her back and placed the soles of her feet together. Then she placed one hand on her heart and one hand on her belly.

She said, "Ignore the story and see the soul. And remember to love—you will never regret it."*

She thought about her story. It is not a good one. Her mom is an alcoholic. Her dad is gone. Her brother is in trouble and her little brother is essentially abandoned by his mother. This was a story of a lost, sad, hateful soul. Or was it?

Maybe, just maybe, her soul was a beautiful light. One that Seane might say, “had it’s a%# handed to it on a silver platter.” Seane says that for some souls, they get the full ride, all of the challenges-- because that is the plan for that soul. Zuri wasn’t bad at all. Bad things were not happening to her because she was bad and deserved it. No, not at all. She was just being handed a big, huge, soul wrenching challenge. Fair? No. Not fair. But it was happening nevertheless.

Zuri thought about this. Maybe her soul was what showed up when she felt strong and she wasn’t quite sure why. Maybe her soul was that energy that drew her to her teachers like Mrs. Klein and her Aunt Jasmine. Maybe her soul was that burning feeling she felt in her chest when the sun was setting and the sky was a million shades of orange, red, violet, and blue all at once. Maybe her soul, the one in her body, was up for big things and this part-- the alcoholic mom, struggling brother, baby brother part-- was just here to get her ready for big things.

Then, Zuri felt something more. I think she had a sense I could see her. I could. I was sending love and hope and strength. Thing is, it is not just me. God sees her too. Her Aunt Jasmine sees her too. Mrs. Klein sees her. When she’s sober, her mom sees her and Eric and Rashan see her. She is seen. Her soul is seen.

Zuri, we see you and your beautiful soul.

Zuri felt an urge to pray just then. She said, “God, if you are there, give me the strength to ‘Ignore the story and see the soul.’* Help me remember to love.”

She hadn’t prayed by herself ever before. The feeling in her heart was strong.

This felt right.

With a deep inhale and an exhale, Zuri headed back down stairs to look after Rashan until her mom got home.

The Process

Among the contemporary yoga teachers of the west, Seane Corn is know for her exploration of spirituality and mysticism. This is what makes her distinct. A master teacher of the asana and Vinyasa flow yoga, she dives deep into the connection of the asana and the search for and journey of the soul.

You can read more about her on her web page

And excerpts on her story and teaching through the links below. She teaches at most of the large journal conferences. You can find her schedule on her web page.

Go see her. It will change you.



Catherine Cook-Cottone and Seane Corn 2013

*Where I First Came to Believe in God
By Seane Corn

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Are you seen?

Are you seen?

This post is about the times when you are not seen. You do not feel felt. You feel alone in your triumph and/or your fear. It just feels like no one sees you at all.

This happens to Zuri, a lot. You can read about her experience (i.e., Zuri’s Story) and then read the processing after (i.e., The Process).

Zuri’s Story

It was raining outside. Zuri could hear the rain hitting the window glass and felt the coldness stealing in through the cracks in the old paned, school windows. The room was nearly silent. The rain, the shuffling of students in their seats, and her teacher’s heels click, click, click, click, click, click, down the isles, weaving around desks. Zuri was staring out the window. She sees a sparrow on the windowsill. It seems as if the little bird sees her. He tilts his head. Zuri tilts hers.

It was the pre-algebra test results. It was a hard exam and Zuri has felt over her head since September. She studies and goes to the library after school to look up math help online. She wishes she was one of those kids who could afford a tutor. She wishes she was one of those kids whose parents helped them.

She wishes she was…someone else. She even wishes she was that little sparrow. Maybe she could fly away.

Click, click, click, click, heels on the floor, paper after paper on students’ desks.

Yeah, she wishes that she was someone else. She watches the sparrow fly from the windowsill, struggling in the rain, and still flying away. “Fly, little one fly,” she thought. “Fly.”

Mrs. Connor stopped at her desk. She placed her paper face-side down on her desk. Mrs. Connor held her hand on the paper and looked right into Zuri’s eyes. Zuri did that thing she does that postpones tears. She blinks so tears can’t collect in her eyes. “God,” she thought. “Just get it over with.”

“Nice job Zuri,” Mrs. Connor says. “Best grade in the class. You’ve been doing the work and it shows. Good work.”

“What?” Zuri wasn’t sure she heard right. Just in case she smiled and thought “What?”

Mrs. Conner moved on and Zuri flipped over the paper. There it was 98% an A. Zuri’s heart pounded and she had to start blinking again so that she would not full-on cry. Only this time, it was because she was so happy.

She could not wait for school to be done. She could not wait to show her mom. Her mom was going to see this paper and wrap her arms around Zuri and pick her right up off of the floor. Her mom was going to be so proud.

I see Zuri practically running home from school. She is so excited. Her mom had half day at work so Zuri knew she would be home. I see Zuri running thru the big front door into the house. She slows a bit. The house is dark, shades are drawn, and the TV is on. She can hear it. She turns the bend from the kitchen into the TV room. Nervously, Zuri peers in. The room is filled with the smell of stale cigarette smoke and alcohol. Ugh, she can barely breathe.

Zuri’s mom is curled up on the couch, blankets around her. There is an infomercial on the TV, loud, something about weight loss. I see Zuri’s eyes get big.

“Mom?” she whispers. “Mom, you okay?” She touches her mom’s shoulder.

“Oh, hey, Zuri, you home from school already? What time is it?” Zuri’s mom turns to check her phone and falls off the couch. She’s drunk. Zuri helps her back on the couch.

Ignoring what just happened, her Mom says, “What’s going on ZuZu?”

“Nothing” Zuri says.

“How was school?”

“Well, if you really want to know, I had a sort of great day. I got a test back from Mrs. Connor, my Pre-Algebra teacher. I got the best grade in the class. I got an A.”

Her mom doesn’t respond. She has dozed off.

“Mom? Mom? Did you hear me?”

“Sure honey. That’s great. You got to play.” She dozes off again.

“No. Mom.” Zuri says to no one as she walks out of the room. “I got an A. Best grade in the class. Yay.”

Zuri walks into the kitchen and starts making dinner for Eric and Rashan. Her mom wasn’t going to do it. Her brothers would be home soon, hungry.

Later, Zuri had finished dinner, cleaned the kitchen, packed lunches (she calls them ‘make-do lunches’ cause…., well, you know) and finished her homework.  She decides to dig through the yoga bag and flip through the yoga notes. Her eyes land on a class I teach every few months. It is titled, “You are the one who tries. You are the one who sees. And that is all that matters.”

Lying on her back, she places the soles of her feet together (just like in my drawings). She places one hand on her heart and one hand on her belly. She closes her eyes. She whispers, “I am the one who tries. I am the one who sees. And that is all that matters.”

In my notes, I explain that our efforts are between our souls and ourselves. For some, the soul is a reflection of God. For others it’s a drop of the universe within. For all of us, it is our soul, our God, that sees our work. No matter how drunk your mom might be or how invalidating any one person, or all the people in your life, may be-- your soul knows that you tried and that is all that matters.

I see her breathing. I see the very slight upward turn at the corners of her mouth. I see a peacefulness fall over her face. Again she thinks, “I am the one who tries. I am the one who sees. And that is all that matters.”

The Process

External validation is critical. It is so critical that there have been entire interventions built around invalidating environments as a core principle (see Dialectic Behavioral Therapy; Linehan, 1993, In fact, the neurological location in the brain that feels physical pain is the same area at which we feel social rejection (* We need to be seen by, included with, and accepted by others.

It actually hurts when we are not.

But what if it is just not in your cards to be seen today, or for lots of days, or even for big chunk of your childhood? What then?

There is an emerging concept/practice in psychology called Self-Validation (see There is still lots of research needed and a lot of what is talked about now is about loving yourself even when you make a mistake. Still the essence of this is that we can be validating for ourselves. We don’t need the world to validate our efforts (although it would be super awesome if it did).

So lie on your back. Place the soles of your feet together. Close yours eyes. Place one hand on your heart and one hand on your belly. Breathe in and out. Say “I am the one who tries. I am the one who sees. And that is all that matters.”

Because truly, that is all that matters.

I see you Zuri,


*An experimental study of shared sensitivity to physical pain and social rejection
Naomi I. Eisenberger a,*, Johanna M. Jarcho b,*, Matthew D. Lieberman b, Bruce D. Naliboff c,d
a Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology, University of California, Los Angeles, CA, USA
b Department of Psychology, Franz Hall, University of California, Los Angeles, CA, USA
c Center for Neurovisceral Sciences and Women’s Health, David Geffen School of Medicine, University of California, Los Angeles, USA d VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System, Los Angeles, CA, USA
Received 21 March 2006; received in revised form 8 May 2006; accepted 19 June 2006
Recent evidence points to a possible overlap in the neural systems underlying the distressing experience that accompanies physical pain and social rejection (Eisenberger et al., 2003). The present study tested two hypotheses that stem from this suggested over- lap, namely: (1) that baseline sensitivity to physical pain will predict sensitivity to social rejection and (2) that experiences that heighten social distress will heighten sensitivity to physical pain as well. In the current study, participants’ baseline cutaneous heat pain unpleasantness thresholds were assessed prior to the completion of a task that manipulated feelings of social distress. During this task, participants played a virtual ball-tossing game, allegedly with two other individuals, in which they were either continuously included (social inclusion condition) or they were left out of the game by either never being included or by being overtly excluded (social rejection conditions). At the end of the game, three pain stimuli were delivered and participants rated the unpleasantness of each. Results indicated that greater baseline sensitivity to pain (lower pain unpleasantness thresholds) was associated with greater self-reported social distress in response to the social rejection conditions. Additionally, for those in the social rejection conditions, greater reports of social distress were associated with greater reports of pain unpleasantness to the thermal stimuli delivered at the end of the game. These results provide additional support for the hypothesis that pain distress and social distress share neurocog- nitive substrates. Implications for clinical populations are discussed.
Ó 2006 International Association for the Study of Pain. Published by Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Letter to Zuri-- I lived in a neighborhood segregated by caste...

“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”
Mahatma Gandhi
Namaste Zuri,

A long time ago, I used to live in a neighborhood that was segregated by caste. Walk a few streets from my home and you would arrive at slums where the ‘untouchables’ lived. As a child I made many friends there and they are some of the kindest, smartest people I have met to date. I have worked very hard to communicate my deep appreciation of equality and rejection of the idea of caste segregation.

Even as I write to you, I remember it uncomfortably because it was filled with unfairness. It was painful to watch the struggles of the lower caste people just because they were not allowed to take up certain occupations or go to a certain school because of their scheduled caste. There is also a societal understanding of physical features that go with each caste. Members of the upper caste would most likely be fair, have a high bridged nose structure and would look very prosperous in terms of nutrition and health as opposed to the lower caste people. All of these man-made characteristics created a society that would work to dominate and/or suppress the ones who did not fit the bill. This is what I thought of immediately when I read about some of the hurtful things the students at your school said to you in the cafeteria. I know how you must have felt. But you can choose to feel otherwise.

I made it a choice to dine, study and play with friends from every caste from the day I understood how this system worked. I have found it to be very gratifying and painful at times. Painful especially when friends from higher castes would turn me down because of my liberal ways of associating with the ‘others’. But, I have always found it gratifying. 

You see Zuri, there will always be negativity around us, whether it is a parent struggling with substance addictions, a brother who is never present, negative impressions of body image or a societal construct that works to suppress her people. I have always believed that when the going gets tough, the answers very often lie deep within us. Look inside yourself and recognize that both happiness and sorrow dwell within you. 

You have a choice, choose happiness over suffering and bring your attention back to dharma instead of falsehood. 

I must ask that you consider wishing well upon Eric, for seeing his demise before his death removes the possibility of the purpose of his life for himself and takes you far from your dharma. Be kind to him, for the kindness will take you closer to him and in doing so- you will find yourself.  

I wish you well.

Your friend

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Letter to Zuri-- Rachel

Dear Zuri,

      I must start off by saying that I have no advice or magical words to give you-nothing I say can fix the world you are living in. The only real words I have for you are words of gratitude and thanksgiving. I don’t know you and I am sure I have little in common with you but you have changed me.
     When things get tough and you feel alone it is easy to think that you are insignificant or have no impact on the world. It is easy to feel helpless and fade into the background. You must know that as little as it may seem you have impacted my world. You have made me think things and do things I never dreamed I could. I have been on autopilot or safe mode for a long time but it is something in your words, in your story that has woken me up. As I look around I don’t see fear and pain, I see life and abundance. I see choice and hope. I hear myself saying, “Maybe I can,” instead of,  “No I won’t!”
     So next time you are feeling sad or alone or insignificant know that I am thinking of you and thanking you for waking me up.

                                                                                    With a grateful heart,