In yoga, there is a lot of talk about the goal of enlightenment, but what does that really mean? Enlightenment is a lot simpler than many of us have been led to believe, but it does requires practice. A lot of practice. Living enlightened means to practice staying consciously grounded in love and compassion, instead of reacting from fear and confusion. The more love and compassion you generate, the more you can emanate joy and goodness towards others. You can be healthier and happier. It is often said that you “glow.” The more light, literally means that you are more enlightened.  Enlightenment means to live more from your highest expression.

There are an estimated 36-37 million yoga practitioners in the United States today. There is immense possibility to enlighten this country, but there is a lot of darkness present that can no longer be denied if that is to happen. To elevate the world to more love and light, we each can choose to participate in acknowledging not only our own personal shadows but also the shadows of our culture, society and leadership.

The shadow part of who we are is important and can never truly be denied. Our shadows cower in the corners of our psyche because they are fueled by fear and confusion, usually from some past experience of hurt. There is a limit to how enlightened we can become without acknowledging our shadow side. It is incredibly vulnerable to acknowledge our shadows. Shame often arises when we become aware of times in our lives when we have made choices driven by fear and confusion. For example, you feel regretful after you have said something you didn’t really mean towards someone you love because you were hurting. Through the lens of yoga, acknowledging your shame is a form of tapas. Acknowledging shame is a display of vulnerability, and vulnerability can be deeply transformative.

My first teacher Marianne Williamson wrote, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. … As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

Paying attention to and being aware of our shadows eventually leads to acceptance of them as part of our past. Acknowledging that your shadows may have served, or even protected you, at some point in your life is an important step to dissolving their power. Over time, we begin to bring our shadows into the light. Imagine holding the hand of your shadow and coaxing it into the light. Do this every time you become aware of the temptation to choose fear and confusion over love and compassion.

Gandhi said this: “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. We need not wait to see what others do.”

Through the lens of yoga, there is no separation between you and THEM. If we want to lift up the collective consciousness to BE light, then it begins with being light ourselves. As my teacher Marianne Williamson taught me, it doesn’t stop there. Karma is not personal, it is universal.

If you want to live more enlightened, practice love and compassion with yourself and others. Be willing to listen and understand others, especially when you disagree with them. It is an essential step to shifting and changing the collective shadow. The current political climate is ripe for that. We are learning a lot about ourselves and each other in this process. The most important thing in this process is to stay grounded in love and compassion – not being tempted into fear and confusion. This is how we can change the world.

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