Friday, February 20, 2015

Man’s Search for Meaning: Being on Purpose

Man’s Search for Meaning: Being on Purpose
The Yoga Bag
Catherine Cook-Cottone


Viktor Frankl was inspired to write Man’s Search for Meaning after internment and substantial, inconceivable loss in Nazi Germany. What he explained remains true today. We, us humans, are driven- by our nature- to find meaning. 

How do we know this? There is evidence everywhere. We were and are driven to create and use language. We are the only species to manifest and appreciate art. We are compelled to write and read poetry, novels, and blogs. We say things like, “That is not what I mean!” and feel very passionate about it. We are in our essence containers of meaning. Our sheer presence is a holder in space of everything that has happened to us, as well as everything that will happen to us. We are meaning makers, truth tellers, and holders of the story. 

I tell this to my yoga classes all of the time: 

“You were born with three things-
 (1) YOUR BODY (the physical thinking and feeling self), 
 (2) YOUR SOUL (the spiritual and essential self), and 
 (3) YOUR DHARMA (the reason the physical and essential come together).”

So, DHARMA is your reason for being- your- ON PURPOSE- in your life. It is as much part of you as your body. You can’t ignore it. You need it like breath. 

Consider this- no matter what- humans seek meaning. 

Consider this- if you do not cultivate positive meaning in your life- there is an empty spot.

Consider this- if you don't fill this spot- it will be filled for you. 

So what happens? What risk is created when you don’t seek out your dharma on purpose? A few things can happen, for example:

You can languish. Positive psychology people describe languishing as the place that you hold when you are not necessarily sick and not necessarily thriving. You just are. It’s not good or bad. You just are. 

You can get sick. This might show up as risk for depression, anxiety, addiction, eating disorder, dysfunctional relationships, school failure, etc.. 

And there is this….. You can find illusionary meaning in hatred. I am going to talk about this one for a bit.

Hate, for me (and informed “people” like Webster), can be shown by this math:  

judgment + deep anger + hostility = hatred

I am not talking about passion for community change that is inspired by the witnessing of something that is not okay. I applaud this type of passion. No, I am talking about HATRED. It is out there and it is important to be able to see it and know it for what it is. You can see hatred on television, on your computer, and in the verbal narratives of people that you encounter. When someone is caught up in hatred, you will notice that they hold this as very meaningful.  

And I ask, is it? Is it meaningful? Or does it give us the illusion that we have found meaning in our lives?” Why would Viktor Frankl come out of the hell of Nazi Germany and write Man’s Search for Meaning? I argue that what he found in himself  (i.e., meaning from a place of love) was the anecdote to what was missing in his context.

When we long for meaning, are afraid, feel lost, and we forget to (a) consult with our soul or (b) cultivate the necessary meaning in our lives from a place of love- we are at risk for getting passionate about fear and judgment. We are at risk for getting passionate about hate. It feels good and solid to land there. And some of us, well, we get stuck there. 

If you have been alive for any amount of time, you know that some aspects of life are hard. There are moments and events that can be down right terrifying.  Sometimes life can be so difficult, in fact, that we cannot breathe. In these times of challenge and stress, the truth is that anger is much more palatable than fear, judgment feels meaningful, and-- AHHHHH there it is- I hate this, that, you, and/or them. I have good reason (please refer back to my judgment). Now, I can talk about it. Post about it. Maybe even be in action about it. 

When humans don’t have an ON PURPOSE SENSE OF MEANING that comes from a place of LOVE- we are at high risk for thinking that hate and judgment are meaningful and actionable. We are at high risk for creating us and them and/or blame dialogues. We are at high risk for fighting for our group and fearing your group. We are at risk for hate. 

I have been working in private practice, researching at the university, and teaching yoga for a long time now. I can say from deep felt experience, lots of reading, and working with many people (including myself) that hatred and judgment have never cured or helped anything. I can also say that love and acceptance have helped many. People that come from a place of love in their dharma are healthier and happier- they thrive. More than that, they make a difference. When you live from love and purpose, you win and we all win. 

So- you need meaning. Why? Because you are human. And- if you don’t cultivate it on your own- ON PURPOSE- from a place of LOVE- you are increasing your risk for languishing, some types of mental illness, and the illusion that judgment and hatred are meaningful. 

So CHOOSE- and I hope you choose love. Better- I hope you choose to live ON PURPOSE from a place of LOVE. Not only will do you do better and feel better, you will inspire others. You will make a difference. That is a journey that will bring you health, happiness, and fruits beyond measure. On your way, please come find me. I am walking that way too. 

Catherine Cook-Cottone
The Yoga Bag

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Dear Yoga.... A Thank You Letter to a Good Friend

Dear Yoga,

I saw you, a beautiful expression of the human soul, way back in California where I grew up. It was the 1970s and you were hanging around with the cool kids. My mom called them hippies. I was a little afraid of you because my dad was serving as a Naval pilot in the Vietnam War. Your friends, the hippies, were calling the war and (it seemed) my dad-- bad. Years later in graduate school, I came to understand the powerful role you and your friends played in our country back then. But as a little kid, I did not know. It was confusing. And, still, you were so beautiful.

Photo from:

As we drove by in our white station wagon, my nose fogging the window, my forehead on the glass, I looked out at you. You and your friends, the hippies and Hare Krishnas with flowers in your hands and hair, white robes and jeans that flared at the bottom were at the parks and by the apartments. As I watched, I felt like I knew you. My mom shook her head. “Who are they?” I wondered.

One day, in the same old white station wagon, my mom had the radio on and there it was, “Escape (The Pina Colada Song).” We all sang along, my brother, my sister, and me.

"If you like Pina Coladas, and getting caught in the rain. 
If you're not into yoga, if you have half a brain.”
And ……

And you left, yoga, with the hippies and the Hare Krishnas and the war.

We moved to the East coast and I entered middle school. There would be fleeting images of you on the public television channel. I saw you and didn’t speak of you.

I got sick a little after that. It was the 1980s. I wonder now if I would have gotten sick if we had met before then. There was a lot of stress and I decided that being dangerously thin would help me cope. It didn’t. Man, I wish you were there.

I ran. I swam. I made bad choices, super bad choices.

You were nowhere to be found.

It was sometime in college that I started seeing you around again. You had new friends. They didn’t look like the hippies you used to hang around with. These people were nothing short of gorgeous. It made sense, just like my Cosmopolitan Magazine made sense. The pretty people surrounded you. You were still this beautiful expression of the soul. I felt it somehow. Yet, in a new way, you remained as inaccessible to me as when you were surrounded by the hippies.

Not only were your new friends handsome, they had raw talent. The poses you guys were doing were far beyond anything my tight hamstrings and medium build frame could manage. I saw you and your new friends like I saw ballet dancers. You were the other people- the lucky ones. I was sad I was not like you. And I was still sick.

Now that you were one of the populars, you were everywhere. You even got your own magazine, Yoga Journal. Turns out, you had your own magazine since 1975, but now…. You and your Journal had made it big. You had fancy friends like Rodney Yee, Seane Corn, Baron Baptiste, and Bryan Kest. The cover was adorned by other beautiful populars doing poses that people like me believed that they could never do. I was still sad that I was not like you and your friends. Truth be told, I was still sick.

I had admired you from afar for so long that I decided to get to know you intellectually. I read all about you- your American past, your eight-limbs, and your struggles (see The Subtle Body and The Great Oom- If there had been a Facebook back then, I would have secretly watched your page. I wanted to know you.

In the late 1990s, a friend encouraged me to go to party where you’d be (i.e., a yoga class). She said, “I know you guys would love each other.” I declined many times. I had been put in the back row of dance class my whole life. I didn’t think anyone like you would want to talk to anyone like me. I was a runner. You were yoga. No- it would not work.

She persisted. I went.

It was somewhere in the second half hour of class that I realized that the image that I had seen of you over the years was as false as the idealized image that I had tried to force my body into-- the media-propagated idealized version of things.

Yoga, you were so kind. You were accepting. You were comforting. You were fun. You didn’t care about my hamstrings. You connected to everyone in class- not just the populars, the pretty people, and the ones who could do all the poses. You really didn’t care. Sure they all liked you- who wouldn’t- you are great. But you seemed interested in something much more valuable than the external bodies and shapes that were in the room. You, yoga, cared about what was inside- my heart, my wounds, my soul.

Cautious, I invited you to be part of my research team- on a purely scientific level. Once in a while, we’d hang out. But, I wasn’t sure about you. I had trust issues. I also had running and red wine. A person can only have so many close friends. Things can get unmanageable, you know.

I could not deny it. You were fabulous in research. You helped me prevent eating disorder symptoms among girls in middle school. You helped me decrease eating disorder symptoms among young women in college. You were therapeutic. The more we hung out on research team, the more I began to let down my walls.

I started hanging out at your place- yoga studios, the YMCA, the Himalayan Institute. You were so patient and no matter how long it had been since I was around, you opened your arms and welcomed me. You offered me sun salutations, warriors, and savasanas. Years passed. There have been so many truly wonderful times.

We are so close now. You are one of the most important aspects of my life.

It is strange that I am writing you. We were just together yesterday. It is that I want you to know, in writing, what you mean to me. You help me make the healthy choices. You know and love the real me in all my doubts and limitations and strengths. You are always there. You ask nothing and give everything.

My mom always said, “You know love is real when you make each other better.” 

I love you, yoga. I know you love me. I know you love how I share your teachings with complete and utter joy. I know you love how I take your life altering practices to people who can’t afford the fancy places. I know you love how you and I have shown through research how truly amazing you are. We really were meant to be together.

I feel like somehow I knew, way back in California, that you were going to change my life.

Thank you for waiting for me to find my way.

I love you Yoga.

Thank you,

Catherine Cook-Cottone
The Yoga Bag