Seeing the dharma in films by Cherryl Duncan

I recently watched ‘I’m not an easy man’; a French film about switching of gender roles. Sounds heavy, but it’s not. First of all, I love French movies, they’re often simple and profound in a way that doesn’t beat you over the head while it makes it’s point, and usually set against the backdrop of Paris or some other beautiful European city. Yes, Summer is approaching which means I will go on and on and on about why I love Europe, but I digress.

‘I’m not an easy man’ is basically about a guy who bangs his head on a pole and wakes up from his unconscious state in a world where the gender roles are reversed. Women treat men as objects of desire alone, disrespect them regularly, have pressure to make money and be seen as successful, hell, the women don’t even wear bras and go topless in the streets during a jog (clearly the French don’t understand the benefit of a lululemon sports bra). Sounds kind of cheesy as I write it, but I found the film amusing and worthwhile and enjoyed the fact that my brain had to continually realign itself to the new women-run world. It’s incredible to me how defined our gender roles are and how much brainwork it took to keep adjusting to the reversal. Very trippy. Very Cool.

Of course the guy falls in love with a woman who, (Spoiler alert) at the end of the film bangs her head and we see her wake up in a world where men have the opposite roles again and we are left wondering how this will play out. We’re also left with a profound sense that the two lovers will both truly, finally understand each other.

What touched me most about the film was its ability to touch subject of perspective so beautifully. It avoids the debate of what’s right and wrong as well as the usual pitfalls of feminism gone angry, and explores the possibility of a world where both sides were able to genuinely empathise and understand another’s perspective.

Wouldn’t that be an incredible world?

This is something I often talk about in my classes and in my blogs and stories because I believe it is at the heart of our connection to others.

It’s not about who’s right, it’s not about the facts all the time, but rather, it’s about taking the other’s perspective, even for a little while. It’s saying, ‘I see you, I understand you, I can imagine what it’s like to be you’. And mean it.

It’s all we need as humans, to be genuinely seen and heard.

Practice this today when someone talks to you or even sends you a text. Hear them, get out of your own story for 5 minutes and imagine what it’s like to be them. Then respond in a way that has nothing to do with you and your story, but just a simple genuine reflection. Then watch and let the magic happen.

The Dalai Lama, and the Buddha (guess that’s where he got all this stuff from) talks a lot, almost all the time about compassion, but compassion is such an incredibly complicated emotion and something that actually needs to be cultivated and almost taught through practices and meditations; that I say, let’s rather start with empathy, a genuine and sincere seeing of others, because I think that’s more urgently needed. Then we can go on to compassion from there.

 Wishing you beautiful connections







Actually, spend less time alone by Cherryl Duncan

It’s not everyday that one wakes up feeling inspired and ready to take on the world. In fact, for someone who’s job it is to be with people, and not just one on one people time, but fairly large groups of people on a fairly consistent basis, it’s kind of a surprise to realise just how much time I need alone. My alone time is gold to me, it’s where I get to write, think, read which usually means exploring new and old ideas and interests. Yes, of and some Netflix binge watching, there I said it.

I’m someone who feels like there isn’t enough time in this life to learn about all the things that fascinate my mind. The trouble is, I can get too much into my alone time which often means I’m too much in my head, and while it’s endlessly fascinating (no doubt for me alone), the head is not necessarily the place where happiness resides.

We know this from what the ancient mystic traditions tell us. Happiness resides in the heart; it is after all where we feel fuzzy things like love, joy and compassion.  And yet, when we’re feeling disconnected or slightly off, it’s often the head we’ll go to for comfort; we try and think, plan, strategize, or distract our way out of the unease.

Of course there are many ways to get out of the head and into the heart and Yoga is a sure fire way to do this. A well sequenced breath and intention filled yoga practice will leave you with a greater sense of connectedness, ease, groundedness and well-being, guaranteed.

But there is another way to get out of the head, a way to break out of the often whirlpool effect of spending more and more time alone, and that’s to force yourself into a meeting with someone else.

I’m not talking about your trusted friend who’s always up for a coffee or a glass of wine to chat, or your buddy you can easily convince to have dinner with, or more comfortably numbing, an ex girlfriend/boyfriend because it’s oh-so-fun to rehash that yet another time. I'm not saying don't hang out with your friends, I'm talking about shifting energy out of funk town and into inspiration city.

I’m talking about collaboration! For those of you not following me on Instagram (why not ? :-) my word for the year is ‘collaboration’.

Because as capable as I am on my own, and as much as I hate team sports or team anything, unless of course I can be the leader of said team (not proud, just true),  I have come to realise that we are simply stronger together.

BUT!.. and here’s the big but; you’ve got to choose your collaborators carefully.

Essentially, they have to be bringing their A game (which means you have to be bring yours too).

So, when I’m feeling drawn to excessive alone time,  I will now often make an effort, as hard as it feels sometimes to not get sucked into days of head time,  to reach out to those that sparkle with their own enthusiasm for whatever it is they’re doing. A shared interest helps, although you’d be surprised at how contagious authentic enthusiasm is no matter the topic.  And by reach out I mean meet with them, call them, come up with a crazy ass idea that may go nowhere and pitch it to them. I’ve even reached out to people I’ve never met before and sometimes nothing comes from it, but the mere act produces an energy that often sparks another idea, thought or just general warm, fuzzy feeling in the chest.

I’ve managed to collect a handful of these people who, even if we don’t speak on a regular basis, I know that if we connect, if for no other reason, I’ll be sparked into action. I’ve worked with each of them in some capacity and now make it an important value to be open and on the look out for more, and it’s interesting, because the more I open this channel, the more comes my way. Mysterious but true.

In an age of fast and instant digital connection, we can easily lose sight of good old-fashioned telephone, or person to person meeting. I even find myself staring blankly at my phone when it rings wondering what kind of sane person calls instead of texting or emailing.

So for you introvert/extroverts out there – like me, as wonderful as you find yourself, and yes, of course, alone time is crucial for sanity and rejuvenation, make an effort, when you feel THE LEAST INCLINED TO DO SO, and do something daring and meet with someone to do something weird, wonderful, scary, mad, creative or …. ___________(Fill in blank here)

Keeping the fire burning



Your yoga pants are more see through then you think by Cherryl Duncan

Call me old fashioned but I am starting to miss the ‘old days’ of yoga where the space was seen as a sacred space. A clean space. A space that was different from the rest of the chaos of our lives. A quiet space. A space to retreat.

So you can understand my growing concern about the objects I am, with increasing frequency finding in yoga classes.

Just the other day I was deep in my practice, in a public class, when a cell phone screen lit up next to me with an incoming text. The phone belonged to a fellow yoga student who, from her downward facing dog literally read the incoming text message.

I was torn between the yogic equilibrium I was trying to maintain and dramatically rolling my eyes, sighing heavily and making my disdain and annoyance clearly visible (I’ve learnt how to do this with much success from the Germans). Never mind the radiation or radio waves or whatever fucking signals are transmitting next to me while I am trying to channel and transmit only pure and healthy energy, Yoga is the one place I want to not see a screen, the one place I’ve chosen to be where I’m not reminded of my own to do lists and people needing stuff lists, the one place I’ve chosen to detach from my own somewhat unhealthy (but essential) relationship with my phone. Come on, do I even need to say it?  Phone in the yoga room is just a no. On or off. Well, if it’s off, then what’s the point? Talk about unhealthy attachment. It’s like its mere presence is enough wtf?

The yoga space is also traditionally a no shoes area. Hell, my own apartment is a no shoes area. This makes total sense to me, both from an energetic perspective (ergo yucky, black street goop energy) and from a cleanliness perspective. It’s also quiet when people walk barefoot.  All round no shoes is a bloody good idea. So you can again, imagine my surprise, this time while I was teaching, when I happened across a pair of beach sandals lying, albeit neatly, next to a person’s yoga mat.

Another student had a fruit juice – yes, a fruit juice next to her mat, along with a hair brush! A hair brush.  What’s next? A facial mask and curling iron?

At the risk of sounding like a complaining killjoy, oh what the hell, I’m going to be 40 this year, let’s just say I’ve slipped into being old fashioned, and I’m fine with that. But I ask, can we please bring back the quiet, clean, and stuff -free feeling of the yoga space?

Oh, and another thing, ladies,,, your pants are more see-through than you realise. Seriously. Before you buy a pair –regardless of the expensive brand name, bend over in the mirror and ask a good friend to tell you what they see.

Unless you don’t care, in which case, more power to you. But if you don’t want your yoga teacher being able to tell the approximate date of your last bikini wax, I suggest checking in the mirror before checking out of the store. – I can give you a list of brands If you like.

Peace out, that’s my yoga moan for the day.

I’m going to do a self practice now because it’s a clean, clear, quiet space – at least there’s still that.

What's your ONE THING? by Cherryl Duncan

A lot of my blog posts in the past start with ‘I’m reading this book…’ and I’m happy with that, because I believe in reading something other than news snippets, Instagram feeds, quotes (although I do love a good quote) or things that require more than a 30 second attention span. This blog is no different in that way as it begins with ‘I’m reading this book’.

It may however differ somewhat in content given that most of my books are about human nature, how to be happy, yoga, philosophy and the like, and this one is about being more productive. Ok, let’s just go ahead and call it a business book. Yeah, I know, business and yoga; an unlikely, unsuitable and potentially explosive and destructive union, or so I used to believe.

Long story short, I got my head out of my ass and realised that I couldn’t live on fairy dust and Matcha lattes and I had to get a little bit more serious about my relationship to money if I was going to keep doing what I loved, which is teaching yoga, sharing ideas and if I may be so bold, being somewhat significant in the lives of those who choose to take my courses and share their journeys with me.

But I digress, back to the business book. It’s called The One Thing and is written by Gary Keller.  It’s essentially a book about productivity. His idea is that you’ve got to figure out what the most important thing is and then do it. Ok, I’m simplifying. But for me, focusing and choosing one thing, forsaking all other sparkly ideas, directions, activities, tasks and projects was like mourning the death of my unborn children – and their were many. This is metaphor, albeit a poor one; but for someone who doesn’t have children, you can forgive me; besides, my ideas are my babies and I want to birth them all. Simultaneously.  NOW.

Gary Keller says NO. So because I chose to listen to him for a while, I gave this a try.

Apparently it was ok to write my ideas down in a little book and save them for another time (thank god), but for now, I had to choose THE THING, and focus on it.

And I have to say, it’s working. Really. Smart guy. I still sometimes doubt my one thing and I get distracted by the new shiny idea, but for the most part, I’m doing this one thing.

The other thing he says is that you should do this ONE THING at the time of day when you are most likely to do it. We have a finite amount of willpower and it’s best not to waste that energy and willpower on Instagram chats, phone calls, checking email, painting your toenails or whatever else you have to do in a day. Now that got me thinking because it reminds me of a Buddhist teaching that kinda sorta says the same thing. It goes like this : When you take on a new value, do everything you can to create the best conditions that will best allow you to keep your value.

Values can be new healthier habits, for example, or getting away from bad ones, or taking on a new value like being on time, or being er more productive, a nicer person or whatever else you’re wanting to take on. The Buddhist teaching creates a framework of rules (They call them vows) that involve not drinking alcohol for example, because they say that you’re less likely to keep your vows and be the person you’re aiming for if you’re drunk. Simple but true. (for the record, I do drink and love wine so please don’t go thinking I’ve taken this vow) but there is something to it because my new value of productivity is impaired if I drink too much wine, but anyway, you get my point, well mine and Gary’s point.

In case you didn’t

Do the things (or if you can do The Thing) that will make the most significant change to you life when you have the most energy to do it.

Stay away from activities, influences, people, input etc that takes you away from that Thing or that doesn’t support this Thing.

For me it’s first thing in the morning.

The night before I decide what’s most important to me, and then I do that thing first thing in the morning before I start to lose steam and focus.

There you have it, merging my Buddhist ideals with my Productivity Ones- I love it when this happens.

PS. You don’t have to choose. You can keep your yogi ideals and be successful and human all at the same time, in fact, I highly recommend it.






What's love got to do with ...Yoga? by Cherryl Duncan

It may surprise you to know, if you don’t already, that there are many paths to yoga, and when I say yoga, I mean the state of yoga. Sometimes described, and I personally find this to be the most satisfying depiction, as being in a state of complete absorption.
You’ll know you’ve been in a state of yoga (union) when you, for a moment or two or hopefully for even longer than that, lose your sense of self. This can often sound terrible in principle, but when we totally  forget ourselves for a moment, we drop the identification with all our neurosis, anxieties, fluctuating moods, pain and anything else that makes us ordinary human beings. The most practical examples are being so completely absorbed in a piece of music, or art, or an idea, or nature, or some extreme activity, or yes (you knew it was coming) love.
As yogis, we try and make this experience, this state of union, come about independent of music, or art, or an idea, or nature, or some extreme activity, and yes, definitely independent of needing to have to fall in love (That would be problematic). That’s basically why we jump around our yoga mats, meditate, breathe and try get in touch with that part of ourselves which is capable of spontaneous and total absorption with, well, consciousness.
As I said, there are many paths and jumping around a yoga mat, breathing and meditating is just one, and happens to be a popular one because of all those seductive side benefits of having a fit and healthy body and being able to show off at parties doing headstands, but there are other ways and one way, made most popular by people like Ghandi, is the way of the karma yogi. The idea that you dedicate your life to serving others, and here’s the real catch, without attachment to the outcome. So basically, there’s meant to be some deep liberation and total absorption buzzy feeling in the mere act of kindness itself. That means whether someone says thank you or not, whether someone even wanted your help or not, and even if someone turns around and stabs you in the back for your efforts.
Because I’m into making this and other yoga ideas really practical and useful, I take this idea and offer the following; because while Ghandi was a bit extreme for me to use him as a role model for my life here in Western Europe, I do think there is something in doing things simply because they feel good to do. And I mean really good. The kind of good that is deeply satisfying on the level of the soul (as opposed to how blueberry pancakes are good).
Do things for others because it simply feels nice – with no expectation. That’s right, It’s a practice. And here’s a little extra tip; don’t do it  if you expect something. Simple.
Wait until your heart is genuinely in the right place.
Here’s also a whacky idea, do something that is completely meaningless and purposeless and creative and fun just because the mere act itself feels good.
PLAY! Draw, create, write, dance, laugh, throw stuff – without thinking if anyone else will like it, see it, care about it, or if you can make money off it.
We definitely don’t do this enough.
Do these two things and you too can be a karma yogi and, even if you don’t reach the state of Yoga, you’ll definitely be on your way to a happier existence- for sure. There really is something to this yoga stuff isn’t there?

Have the courage to be Patient by Cherryl Duncan

I recently read, or dreamt, or had this sentence reach me in an entirely different way as is often the case, and that sentence goes like this ‘Have the courage to be patient’.

And it really struck me, given that I have a lot of courage and almost no patience. Well, that was true up until fairly recently.

It kind of blew my mind to put these two qualities together because they’re seemingly contradictory. Surely it’s the brave people that are going for it no matter what, the brave ones that are facing their fears and compelled to action? and it’s the timid sort that sit and wait and do little (or so it seems) but of course, when I think about it, patience does require a lot of courage and this is why.

Patience requires that we sit in the discomfort of uncertainty; it requires that we let go of the control, and the action and the doing that, certainly for me, can alleviate a lot of anxiety around not knowing.  I don’t know about you, but I feel less anxious when I am able to control (even if it’s delusional because how much do we actually control?), when I do things, when I take action, which in a way is a certain kind of madness.

It’s madness because these actions and this doingness (it’s now a word, live with it) don’t always result in the outcome I want, and yet, I often find myself lost in a flurry of activity in order to avoid the discomfort of uncertainty, the boredom and frustration of waiting or, gulp, the fear of trusting. Trust, ultimately is what it seems to come down to.

Mark Manson, a revolutionary and modern day thinker who swears a lot and is one of my long distance mentors, has this to say ‘There’s a certain level of joy and meaning that you reach in life only when you’ve spent decades investing in a single relationship, a single craft, a single career. And you cannot achieve those decades of investment without rejecting alternatives.’

For me this means, that one requires a lot of patience to sit with this one thing, to narrow one’s alternatives and to not jump ship out of impatience, fear, boredom, or frustration.

If you’re reading this and you know me well, just know that I can hear you laughing because you can’t believe that I, Cherryl Duncan, am writing about patience, and commitment, and of narrowing of ones alternatives. 

Well stop laughing you judgmental critters and hear me out because it’s kind of confession time.

Yes, it’s true, I have mostly lived my life embracing alternatives. When I have an idea, it feels like nothing less than divine fucking inspiration. Seriously. I am not kidding. It floods my body with a rush of what can only be described as electricity. But light, and not painful. It takes possession as my heart pounds, my head spins in a way that makes perfect sense to me, and I feel an almost uncontrollable urge to take action. NOW!

The problem is that this happens often. And even more disturbing, the new idea can easily be contrary it’s predecessor. It’s in these moments when I don’t know if it’s evolution or madness, but it’s very hard to ignore.

I remember asking my business partner awhile ago, when I had a yoga studio,  what she found most challenging about me, and she said ‘Your constant changing and new ideas’. ‘Just when I feel I’ve got on board with one idea, you swoop in with a new one’. Bless her heart, I must’ve been a nightmare.

If you’ve ever experienced ideas that possess you to action with enough force to move mountains, (or just a lot of paper, and pens and yes, very often other people) then you’ll  now how hard it is to, as Mark Manson says, reject alternatives.

It’s hard to open to the idea that perhaps meaning and fulfilment is not found in more and more different experiences (and ideas), but rather in careful selection and then real commitment to that thing.

So, that brings me to today, where I now start to see my electric force with it’s 100 ideas as kind of childish and quite frankly, afraid; afraid to stand the discomfort of uncertainty. Its nature is (yoga reference alert), Shiva which is creative and destructive. Wonderfully Creative, Devastatingly Destructive and oh so powerful.

So now I recognise another part of me, that sees the force, acknowledges its existence but works and plays with it, instead of being possessed by it. This happened as a result of following the force almost every single time it came to visit and the one day, just one day, saying NO. I can't anymore. One day I realised I actually had a choice. 

When I have those moments now, I try not to act. (ok, I write it down) but then I wait. I tell myself everything in it’s own time. Not everything has to happen now.

There’s value in non-action. To stop. To wait. To …trust.

To get to know uncertainty. To let that idea, that inspiration sparkle on the page, having it’s own life, it’s own journey, waiting for the right time.

Maybe, and I know this sounds weird, maybe it’s for someone else. Maybe it moves away from me and finds someone else to possess; someone who it is the right time for. I think that happens when you see someone do something you thought of.

So, this idea I give to you.

It didn’t come to me in a dramatic flood of electricity. It crept in slowly but steadily. It gently tapped me on the shoulder and said ‘Hey, what about this?’

We chatted over some tea and I decided to let it stay.

If you find yourself filled with inspiration and you throw something out there that no one sees or responds to - maybe it’s just simply not the right time for it.

If you find yourself running in circles following everything that sparkles, feeling tired and directionless, try my technique of writing them down, closing the book and focussing on what’s important, what makes you happy, what you’ve been doing for a long time, and what’s stuck around regardless.

Please don’t try and silence the inspiration, or the ideas. Don’t misunderstand me. That force can be scary and overwhelming for some ; but instead, find a way to talk with it, tell it to sit down, make it feel welcome but firmly state, that they will not be running the show.

Ps, No, I am not suffering from a psychiatric disorder (at least not diagnosed)

Nor am I on medication.

I’m Just on a lifelong journey to understand all of the forces that drive us.



How yoga was actually making me unhappy... by Cherryl Duncan

This is a story about how I used good things like yoga, meditation and Eastern philosophy to make myself unhappy and how I found my way back to happiness by keeping some things but throwing out a whole bunch too.

When I got into Yoga, I went extreme. It’s kind of my nature, to go all in or nothing. So I gave up my job, went to India, then when that wasn’t enough, I went to New York. I gave up my job, my relationships, a became vegan, took Buddhist vows, went on silent meditation retreats, studied Eastern philosophy, and Western philosophy, I even floated for hours in sensory depravation tanks just so I could try to feel what it was like to die.  What else? I went on weekend retreats alone in the woods, renting some tiny cabin and meditated for hours along side a stream desperately hoping to experience something more and deeper and truer than I believed we could all see.

I sat for hours in psychotherapy, for years, tried hypnotherapy, cranial sacral therapy, light therapy, every kind of yoga you can imagine, sang kirtan, learned to play the harmonium, retook up flute playing again, formed communities, left communities, joined cults, left cults, held séances , summoned the dead (ok, fine, I did that when I was 13 so probably doesn’t count), walked up mountains, toyed with the idea of jumping off of one, took drugs, chanted mantra, visited temples, read read and read more books, hung out with gurus or people claiming to be gurus, sat in churches, monasteries, temples and graveyards. Ok you get the idea… all in search of happiness.

Because I believed happiness existed somewhere very deep within me, and if I could face every single one of my fears, which mostly involved death, then I could somehow trick death and transcend my human condition.

I didn’t trick death. I now, absolutely believe that I am going to die. I also know that I am probably not going to enjoy the process, no matter how many sensory depravation tanks I float in.

Of course I learnt a lot about myself along the way, I leant how the consistent practice of yoga and meditation makes me a happier, calmer, and more centred person. I feel closer to myself. My inner wisdom, or whatever that thing is, has shown me what is false and what is true in this world. (and continues to do so).  I learnt that the power of observation without judgement has the power to awaken a profound curiosity about the world that never leaves me bored and always in a constant state of inquiry.

I learned that it feels good to be an overall nice person and to wish well for others – as well as to take responsibility for my own life and to not blame the world around me. I learnt that life is mysterious and there are good and bad forces in some kind of cosmic dance and that nothing is inherently bad or inherently good and the exploration of that if often where our deepest creative urges lie. I learnt that no one else can do the work that leads you to happiness for you- no Guru, and no God.

I also learnt that being authentic and vulnerable facilitates connection and that connection to others is one of the happiest states we can know as humans. And that’s it.

What I let go of, was the restrictive rules that I tried living with and beating myself up with.

Strict rules including beating myself up with a karma stick. Yes, understanding karma is vitally important, but not in the Catholic guilt sort of way.

Strict rules that involved impossible diets

Strict rules that involved a gruelling yoga practice

Strict rules about how much time you should spend alone, meditating and in silence.

Strict rules about a punishing God, or Gods, or ones that take credit for all the good things in your life, and none of the responsibility for the shitty stuff, but require total devotion and superhuman love and devotion. Talk about a toxic and narcissistic relationship.

Strict rules involving rituals that took up two hours before you’d even had your morning coffee – if you could stand the guilt of drinking said coffee.

I’m not going to go into all the restrictions I lived under for so many years trying to be perfect and make it through the doors of heaven, but there were many.

In the end, I was more disconnected from the people around me. If you weren’t vegan, we needed to have a conversation as to why.

If you didn’t do Yoga, you were just a disappointment.

I was superior, judgemental, above it all with my moral high ground, strict disciplines and my oh so independently free spirit who disregarded important facts of life, like the money system, for example.

Mostly, this search for happiness was making me unhappy. The very thing I was searching for became the source of my misery- isn’t that true of all love affairs? I digress…

The unhappier I felt, the more restrictions I put on myself. It’s because I was still eating too much sugar, or I wasn’t meditating long enough, or my yoga practice wasn’t strong enough, I wasn’t living my real purpose, I hadn’t met my Guru, I hadn’t surrendered enough to a higher power, the list was endless.

Until one day, Life really happened.

I found myself in a foreign country, having just walked out of my second marriage, on a friend’s couch staring around in disbelief at what had become of my life. I was 37 and I realised with shocking clarity, I was not where I wanted to be.

I had no money, absolutely no employment opportunities, (there aren’t a lot of jobs for people with a lot of education in philosophy and sensory depravation tanks) a broken heart, my family thousands of kilometres away and absolutely no faith in anything. All of my practices, beliefs, ideals, theories, and philosophies were absolutely useless. I was like WTF?? Isn’t this when all that training is meant to payoff?

It was then that I threw out EVERYTHING that wasn’t working for me and started gathering up what did work.  I didn’t know it then, but that was really the start of dharmaKaya® yoga.

I remember being in a yoga workshop with David Swenson 10 years before, and the women, mainly women then for some reason, were debating at length whether ashtanga yoga should be practiced 5 or 6 days a week. They were so passionate about this number, and the debate got quite heated, until David answered with the one sentence that I had no idea would impact me so deeply years to come. That sentence was,  ‘Enjoy your life’.  He didn’t say you should practice 5 days or 6 days a week, he simply answered with a slightly exasperated, ‘Enjoy your life’.

And I was like, Yes! And then of course I  ignored that until all these years later.

I threw out everything that wasn’t making me happy and kept the things that did.

Eating well makes me happy

Yoga practice makes me happy

Meditation makes me happy and the values I mentioned above which have now formed the basis of the dharmaKaya® yoga method that I teach.

No more, no less.

My mantra now is Enjoy your life.

And no, I don’t know the Sanskrit for that.

Since I decided on my own values, I am thriving in my work, having accepted and embraced the money system, I enjoy what I do every day, I find ways to have fun, I have dear friends both old and new that I invest in and cherish and who bring me so much joy and laughter – some of them are yogis, some of them are not. I am health aware, but not obsessed, my yoga practice is sometimes strong, sometimes not, I read fiction and non-fiction, I travel to places that have nothing to do with yoga sometimes, I enjoy my food, whatever it is I’m eating, I seek meaningful connection, I laugh, I play and I hold the mystery of life close to my heart, and I’m finally ok with accepting that I will not, and cannot know everything there is to know.

And that is why I teach yoga, and mentor people on how to Enjoy life. I want others to use the deeply transformative and often times challenging practices of yoga and meditation to Enjoy their life more.

Dangerous compassion by Cherryl Duncan

'The Able Ones, the Buddhas, who have considered this for many aeons, have all seen bodhichitta to be the most beneficial. Because through it countless masses of living beings can easily attain the supreme bliss of enlightenment.' ~ A guide to the Boddhisatva’s way of life (Bodhisatvacharyavatara)

Bodhichitta, for those not familiar with this text, is essentially the wish for enlightenment for all other beings and can roughly be translated in Cherryl’s words as compassion on a mega grand scale.

If you’ve been practicing yoga for longer than a few months, you most likely would’ve come across principles like non-violence, mindfulness and compassion, to name just a few, and even if you haven’t yet come into contact with a text like the one above, you would’ve hopefully started some kind of inquiry into the different paths and states of consciousness available to you.

And if you’re like me and have been practicing and studying this stuff for more than a decade you would’ve most likely delved a little deeper into these principles and started living them, dissecting them, debating them, trying them on and even throwing some of them out.

It’s a complicated one to really get. But if the text on developing compassion i.e Bodhichitta is to be believed, then total enlightenment is within our grasp. The above quote is just an excerpt from an entire poem that basically says total enlightenment is not possible without the wish for enlightenment for everyone else (In case you didn’t get it). You can read the whole poem in

A guide to the Boddhisatva’s way of life  - How to Enjoy a Life of Great Meaning and Altruism By Shantideva, translated under the guidance of Geshe Kelsang Gyatso. It’s available on Amazon

So let’s look at compassion.

It isn’t sympathy, because sympathy is said to exacerbate our already hard-wired belief that we are separate from everyone and everything around us, and being sympathetic puts you firmly in a ‘I am here and you over there suffering’ relationship.

Empathy, while closer, is still not compassion exactly. While empathy allows us to truly feel what another is feeling, it doesn’t necessarily compel us to action. We simply feel with the other.

Compassion is when we feel with the other, and then are compelled to perform some act to alleviate the other person’s suffering. And this is where it get’s tricky. It get’s tricky because I don’t think compassion is possible without empathy. I think empathy comes first, and then we take the extra step to help, or do something about the other person’s suffering.

Developing true empathy alone means taking the step to stop thinking of oneself for a time, and to step into someone else’s world and situation irrespective of our own relationship to the topic. It means dropping our own beliefs and opinions about their situation and just being in another’s space as they see it. We look, but only for a moment, into our own memory bank of feeling and bring up similar experiences we’ve had (sometimes we need to use our imagination), but only so we gain access to the feeling so we can feel with another.

Some of us will do this more easily than others and some of us will do this too often for our own good. So how do we know when it’s good?

Gregory David Roberts, in his book Shantaram wrote ‘Every virtuous act is inspired by a dark secret’ and while this seems to be a rather grim way of seeing great acts of kindness, I believe there is some real truth in what he’s saying.

We must look deep within ourselves and ask ourselves the motivation for doing the ‘kind’ things we do or accept from others.

Here are some examples of dark-secret-motivated acts of kindness and why they cannot be classified as acts of compassion:

Compassion is not doing something for someone else with expectation of some kind of pay back or return..

Compassion is not putting someone else before you because you believe you don’t deserve the respect, the validation, or the love.

Compassion is not giving someone your time, your energy and your resources out of a sense of obligation or threat.

Compassion is not performing outlandish acts of kindness in the hope of filling up your karma bank and then feeling self righteous about it.

Compassion is not indulging someone else’s selfish pathology and allowing them to cross your own personal and healthy boundaries even if you can understand why they do the heinous things they do.

I encourage looking closely at this word, and getting more honest about it. My view is that empathy is the key. When we can truly feel with another, and then act from that place, then we have a chance to practice compassion. We also have a chance to act authentically compassionately which often comes with the wisdom on how to act, which doesn’t mean giving the person what they are asking for necessarily.

And while we’re on the topic, let me also add that you do not lack compassion if you are driven, have vision, are motivated, inspired and are giving yourself the love you ask for from the world. Because I have come to realise that the more love you can give yourself, the more compassion you can show yourself, the more you can give to others. Not out of pathology but out of genuine empathy, which leads to wise and most likely helpful action.

The world needs compassionate people. The world needs empathetic people. It’s critical. We need to be both these things for our sakes and for the sake of humanity, so let’s get real about it, let’s take the time to truly understand it.

- Cherryl Duncan

Cherryl Duncan is the creator of dharmaKaya yoga and is committed to the path of demystifying the ancient truths of yoga and Eastern philosophy and harnessing its power in a practical and useful way for personal transformation and empowerment. She offers 0ne on one coaching, group coaching, and teacher training in Munich, Germany. Email to book a session