It has taken me years to realize that the essence of a yogic path leads us to maturing our inner adult.
What does it mean to be an adult? How does an adult behave? What are the hallmarks of being mature? And what does this have to do with spirituality and yoga?
Essentially yoga in a modern context is very much about learning how to be in relationship with others. Because we are often confined by limiting beliefs, everything we do and every relationship we have is a reflection of those limitations. If we have our own insecurities and fears, (which we all do) we are bound to project all sorts of nasty things out there in the world. Inevitably this leads to strained connections, and less overall enjoyment of what could be endless fulfilling and healthy relationships.
As you read through the following hallmarks of an adult it is obvious to see how they are all markings of honesty (satya) and kindness (ahimsa), which are integral teachings in yoga.
Here’s my list of trademark adult behaviors:
1. Take responsibility. Maturity means that you can accept responsibility for your role in every situation. It means that you do not blame others for your hardships or fumbles. No matter what hand you are dealt, every day is an opportunity to rise above, move forward and do the best for yourself that you can do without getting stuck on the blame train of why things haven’t worked out. (This is assuming you are not addicted and a sufferer of abuse. Not to say it is not possible to accept responsibility in these cases but there is more work at hand to get to this stage).
2. Forgiveness. Maturity means that you are capable of letting go and moving forward. You see your role (accepting responsibility) and others roles in each situation, and you understand that each person is doing the best they can with the skills they have at the time. You recognize that everyone is dealing with their own fears and misperceptions (kleshas), and you can forgive them knowing that they too are fighting a hard battle and sometimes simply haven’t learned the skills. It helps when we can turn each situation into an experience of gain—recognizing what you can learn about yourself, how you contributed, how you might be able to understand yourself better through the challenges with others.
3. Use the past. The past is full of juicy material that can be used to refine our skillfulness at being our happiest self. The crux of what separates Eastern teachings from Western is the is the former tends to focus on the present and the future, and the latter often gets tangled in a web of what has already occurred. Both are incredibly useful depending on the person and the needs at the time. While I tend to lean more to the Eastern approach myself, there are times when it is incredibly useful to investigate the past, sorting through things that were said or done that have perhaps been the source of a certain belief. Understanding the source of your habits and tendencies can sometimes be enough to poke a hole in that balloon. Other times it requires much more than just figuring out where things are coming from. This is because our habits are so deeply ingrained (samskaras) that we cannot simply stop behaving in certain ways now that we know where they come from. Either way the past is full of teachings. Einstein said the definition of insanity is to continue doing the same thing expecting different results—we can use the past to inform us of things we keep doing that we recognize we don’t want anymore. A caution is to not let yourself wade in those childhood waters too long. Every day we can practice becoming aware of the goodness of today (gratitude/santosha) and the future you aspire to have (sankalpa).
4. See the good and the beauty. Remember when you were a kid? How nasty we used to be to each other? There is a strong sense of needing to separate and distinguish oneself from others who are deemed different, and to coalesce with those who can boost something we are striving to have. As an mature adult we no longer need to use others in order to establish our sense of self or worth. We become rooted and self-empowered (First and Third Chakras), and we can recognize other’s differences as unique and extraordinary (Fourth Chakra). A mature adult knows how to look beyond the surface and see the deeper treasures inside of each person that sits in front of us. To only run in circles with those who you are similar to is just another expression of confinement which is what yoga aims to stretch out of.
5. Listening up. Developing good listening skills is a mark of maturity and wisdom. It means that you can put yourself aside and really hear and see what is in front of you. This cultivates the most common theme of Eastern traditions which is being present and attentive, and being mindful of the delicate balance of give and take. If both involved are aware of how much they take and how much they give this is a recipe for a fantastically rich and satisfying dynamic.
6. See for yourself. You base your decisions of someone based on your own personal experience of them, not what your friend or acquaintance has told you about them. We all have done it. We hear through the grapevine that someone is this or that. We hear a story of how something went down with someone and our friend. We join sides as a way to strengthen our bonds—we can then be right together. We suddenly have an opinion of someone without our direct experience. This is also something young children do that are trying to establish their identity and community. For children it is more understandable because they have yet to develop a sense of self and so they look to their peers to figure out who to like and not to like.
As a mature adult we no longer need to prove ourselves, we understand that everyone deserves face to face discernment. This is one of the main teachings of the yoga sutras—to be able to see things clearly without projections (viveka) of the kleshas. We are no longer bound to ideas and influences of others and can give every person an equal opportunity to discern them from our own personal experience rather than the story of someone else’s.
A mature adult honors their own changing ways, their own evolution and can appreciate that everyone around them is doing the same thing. I know personally I am not the same person I was a year ago and a year before that. And so I give other people the benefit of the doubt that it is also true for them.
7. Knowing when to cut the ties. Sometimes it is true, the chemistry and the level of awareness of two people is not aligned in a way that produces health, balance and nourishment. Being an adult means that you have done all the work above and recognize that this dynamic doesn’t bare vibrant, colorful and ripe fruit at this time. You have the courage, willingness and inner strength to let it go (vairagyam), and sometimes to boldly cut the tie. This you have decided for yourself from your own personal experience. You remove the layer of snake skin, however painful it is because you see with clarity it is the best for the wellbeing of both involved, and you can be open to things changing and evolving with that person as things are always doing that—changing and evolving.
There you have it. My list of 7 trademarks to being a mature adult. It is not difficult to see that these are also working with yogic principles and contribute to the wellbeing of your spiritual side. We can think of the spiritual side as our deeper side. The spirit knows no suffering (jyotish), and being a mature, responsible adult cultivates a greater presence of spirit. For a yogi this is what it is all about—more spirit less pain and suffering. Adult life equals less pain and suffering, and who doesn’t want that?