I'll never forget my first encounter with iRest® founder - Richard Miller. I was in the Gold Coast at the first wave of teacher trainings to come to this part of the world, feeling very much out of my depth and wondering if I should even be there - I mean, who was I to think I could teach people to meditate? But there I was, and so was Richard Miller. I wasn't at all sure what to make of him, but I walked over and, with all my nervousness, the first thing I said was, "Hi, I recognise you!" And he said, "Ah, but do you recognise yourself?" And I knew I was in for something, and in the presence of someone, well, different.
Years later, after completing the two levels of iRest teacher trainings, and an immersive retreat on a ranch in Montana, I found myself talking to Richard again. This time we were about to embark on seven days of silent meditation in Sydney. I told him about our first encounter and he laughed. So did I, because now, after steeping in these non-dual practices day in, day out since that first training, I got the joke (could see the humour in all of it), and could finally give him an answer: "Yes, yes I do recognise my SELF."
I feel so passionate about offering iRest teachings to my students now because I know, first-hand, the potential this yoga nidra practice has to transform. For me, there was life before, and life after, iRest - and, in the immortal words of Sesame Street, one of these things is definitely not like the other. So, how, exactly, has it made a difference?
Before iRest , I was at war with myself. Today, I look back and can see how I was always drawn to yoga, to meditation, because of such deep misalignment (and not of the anatomical kind). I was so off-centre, regularly engaged in self-judgement and self-hatred to the extent that I was emotionally and spiritually dried up and completely fed up. I was severely depressed.
I can see that I needed an -'adjustment'- I needed a compassionate teacher to come over and, instead of saying, "You might try moving your hip over here to free up the pose", they would offer, "Here's how you can lay your ego to rest. Here's how to reconnect with your True Nature of whole, already complete, loving Presence. Here's how to breathe and live again - to free yourself up. And the key is simply in Being, just as you are."
For me, the practice of iRest is one of wholehearted, unadulterated, welcoming - of yourself and of life. At first you may feel like you are doing or practising welcoming as you ask, can I welcome it all in - welcome the body, the breath, the mind and all these thoughts? Not just accept, as acceptance can veil a subtle rejection if you feel into it long enough, but unconditionally welcome. Can I be with my beliefs and doubts, my fears and sense of not enough? Can I meet my anger and ugliness and not push them away or cling on to them until my knuckles are white and stiff from the clinging? And if, today, I feel like all there is is rejection, all there is is pushing, can I welcome this in, too?
With iRest and in welcoming, we're meeting ourselves and the realm of the koshas - the many layers or sheaths of identification that we learn to dress ourselves in over the years. You may have heard about the koshas in yoga nidra practice. I think of them as layers we put on and wear like badges, or a pair of trousers (sometimes even a cloak of invisibility!): "I'm a mother, a lover. I'm 34 and a yoga teacher. I'm happy, focused", or "I'm angry and anxious", " I'm worthy. I'm not worthy" etc...."
You might try this on and see if it fits: we take on identity as an -'I/me/ego'- and invest in it to completion. We believe in ourselves as a body, an intellect, and we not only feel our emotions, beliefs and thoughts, we become them. We fight for these beliefs, go to war for them, fight battles with our loved ones just to get that point across. We see life as something -'out there'- to seize and make work for us or to control, and the body/ourselves as something to manipulate, to fix and make better. I need to achieve a better pose, because that means, somehow, I am better. Ego says, "Look at me! Look at how amazing I am now!"
Self-help becomes subtle self-hatred.
iRest gives us tools to safely meet and greet and be with all of this - the good the bad and the ugly - as the witnessing presence of all of this. We learn to step away from our involvement in self, while simultaneously compassionately embracing this involvement with self. Nothing rejected, nothing left behind.
What I've found (and the paradox of what I'm about to say isn't lost on me), is the more this -'I'- sits down to practise, the more transparent this -'I'- becomes. Because eventually, if you practise long enough, you come face-to-face with your sense of -'I-ness'-, or the doer. The question often then becomes: "What is it that is witnessing this -"I"- thought anyway?" When -'I"- practises long enough, the emotions and the thoughts melt away, even -'I'- melts away, and all there is left is the stillness of welcoming, witnessing, loving presence. No one doing the welcoming, no one doing the witnessing. And we come into ourselves as, not the doer of welcoming, but Welcoming Presence itself.
iRest is my yoga practice now and it's changed my life. What began as a journey to re-align in all ways imaginable with hatha yoga, led to a deep understanding (and I'm talking deep down in my bones kind of understanding) that there is nothing that needs fixing and there is nothing to judge. It's taught me that, actually, life isn't something that needs fixing, and I'm not someone who needs improving. No -'self-help'- is required.
Maybe this makes you bristle and your skin prick. You might be thinking: "What do you mean? Isn't change good? There's nothing wrong with improving yourself!" And I hear you. The challenge I offer is to be open to the possibility that you already are everything you ever wanted. That you already are whole and complete, and that this is something you've forgotten.
And make no mistake, with iRest changes definitely do happen. But instead of being motivated by -'not-enough'-, they can arise from a deep connection with innermost centre and happen organically, in response to an almost magnetic re-aligning with True Nature.
For me the war is over and in it's wake is compassion and a profound gratitude for the fight. After all, without it there would not have been this re-discovery of wholeness that Richard prompted me to make with the very first words he spoke to me - that arrow straight to the heart of the matter. And so I'll pass it on to you, whisper in your ear: "Do you recognise your Self?"
Many thanks and endless gratitude outflow to the founder of iRest Richard Miller, the embodiment of non-separation. To my certification supervisor and mentor, Fuyuko Toyota, who first brought these teachings (and Richard) over to Australia, and whose loving presence always shines through. Also to Stephanie Lopez and Jennifer Cabernero, senior iRest trainers whose teachings and encouragement have made such a difference to my life.
Readings on iRest:
Yoga Nidra: A Meditative Practice for Deep Relaxation and Healing (Richard Miller)
The iRest Program for Healing PTSD
Life moves on, whether we act as cowards or heroes. Life has no other discipline to impose, if we would but realize it, than to accept life unquestioningly. Everything we shut our eyes to, everything we run away from, everything we deny, denigrate or despise, serves to defeat us in the end. What seems nasty, painful, evil, can become a source of beauty, joy, and strength, if faced with an open mind. Every moment is a golden one for him who has the vision to recognize it as such.
I have a beef with anger. And that beef is simply this: I really don't like it. I don't like it when someone raises their voice, yells, or in some way shows their displeasure. This, in turn, has made me a peacemaker. I'll go out of my way to make sure all is well in the world, just to avoid the discomfort of being with another's anger. It's prickly and unsettling, and because of this I have, no doubt, unconsciously created a whole host of evasive tactics that I use when I feel threatened by this emotion. Ironically, I might even get mad at the person expressing their anger, because I really don't like how all this feels. Sound familiar?
It might not be anger that presses your buttons, but experiencing another's sadness, depression or negativity. It could even be someone else's success or happiness that makes you feel uncomfortable in some way. Or maybe it's their grief, their hurt. Who knows? And the normal human reaction to all that is unsettling or disturbing for us is to make it go away. We want the pain and the tears to stop. We want our friend to be happy if they're depressed. We might even want that guy at the office to fail for once so we can feel better about ourselves. We want to take away our own or another's hurt, or sometimes inflict pain so that we don't have to feel it ourselves. It may all seem twisted, but it's also all a normal part of being human.
If you get to the heart of the matter, isn't all this a result of being uncomfortable with sensations of discomfort? At it's base, I don't like how another's anger makes me feel. I want to take their pain or sadness away because I don't like how this discomfort expresses within me. So we try to make our own or another's anger, fear, grief, depression or discomfort go away. But life continually shows us that this doesn't work. As hard as I try to make depression leave, or really wish the world would be at peace, the world is not at peace and depression is still here. Avoidance doesn't work. As Henry Miller said, everything we deny, run away from or despise comes back to bite us in the end. So the question becomes: Can I make friends with discomfort? Can I learn to be comfortable with what makes me squirm - build up antibodies to the "discomfort virus ", so to speak, and learn to be ok with it as just another sensation arising within me? Can I learn to accept life unquestioningly, no matter what it brings?
Making friends with discomfort doesn't mean we don't occasionally set boundaries and say no to abusive or inappropriate behaviour (after all, sometimes discomfort is a messenger telling us that we need to act to help ourselves out). Part of this is learning to discriminate between the need to set appropriate boundaries versus the use of avoidance strategies. I see it as getting very familiar with our own reactions to life and how we act in our relationships with self and others. We might be unconsciously engaging in patterns of behaviour that push away the people in our lives, or even deny parts of ourselves- sending signals like "I can't accept you when you're angry or depressed, or sad or overwhelmed because I don't like the sensation of discomfort it creates for me." "I don't like tears, so go away!"
The truth is, sometimes we need to feel sad and sometimes we get angry. Life happens in waves and ups and downs, never stationary. It can be a real roller coaster ride we didn't actually ask to get on. But, if we sit in meditation, we can feel into this deeper ground of Being that is always the same, always welcoming whatever arises - a deep ground of stillness and love that is always here, even when discomfort is present. We can have a greater capacity to be with unease, distress, unhappiness when we move through life from this centred, grounded place and see the emotions and sensations of discomfort as movements within the unchanging field of Being that we are. And this, in turn, allows us to simply be unconditionally with ourselves, the people in our lives, and whatever life brings.