Repentance – The First Station

See my introduction to this series: The Sufi Journey through Yoga.

The First Station on the Sufi Path

Repentance, as an emotion or religious concept, usually carries the connotation of regret or remorse, of seeking forgiveness from a god that punishes sin. But that is not the sense of the word that I operate on. The repentance of a worshipper fearing punishment is not the repentance of the Sufi lover. The Sufi wayfarer repents as a way of turning inward, as a way of taking full responsibility for her own state and taking that first step towards a life more aligned with her deepest, most authentic self.

9th-century Sufi, Sahl al-Tustari, taught: 

“Repentance is to refrain from procrastination.”

What that means to me is that most of us live a life filled to the brim with procrastinating mechanisms that distract us from the life we truly want to live and the self we truly want to embody. We procrastinate to avoid what is unpleasant, as a way of veiling very real issues within ourselves that we refuse to confront.

And yet Sufism and yoga is all about “unveiling” (kashf), passing through levels of covering that separate us from our true Self by purifying the rust on the mirrors of our hearts. And we can only purify that rust by meeting our struggles with compassion and transmuting them into vehicles for our self-transformation.

Compassion to oneself is a big part of repentance. And so, even as we fall, we rise again and again in recognition of our strength and the lessons we have learned– never once deeming our efforts a failure.

11th century Sufi, Al-Qushayri, writes,

“My child,  don’t keep company with anyone who only loves you when you are sinless.”

And you, too, must love yourself without attachment to perfection. As Dr. Christianne Northrup writes in Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom, perfectionism is trying to impose external control to hide internal chaos. Yet it is the internal chaos that is the substrate of the alchemy of our hearts. Self-forgiveness is the catalyst to change.

Without self-forgiveness and self-compassion, repentance is a void exercise in self-defeat.

Exploring Repentance

This is what I did today to explore repentance in my own body, mind and soul:

  1. Sun salutations to warm up
  2. Hold plank, chaturangaside plank, forearm plank and other plank variations to build inner tapas (fire) and intensity – These poses are meant to challenge boundaries of comfort (not pain!), so you can practice meeting yourself at the point of struggle. At this point of extreme discomfort, choose to soften with compassion instead of turning to anger or giving up. Use these difficult core-challenging asanas to identify how you react to challenge physically, mentally and emotionally

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  3. Hold the following Yin poses for 1-5 minutes on each side – These will also help you meet challenge with compassion
    • Pigeon Pose
    • Lizard Pose
    • Deer Pose
    • Child’s Pose (Toes together, knees out, arms outstretched) – This is the peak pose for turning inwards and exploring repentance
    • Child’s Pose, variation (Knees and toes together, arms hugging body)Child's Pose Variation
      • While in Child’s Pose, chant a mantra of repentance as many times as you feel hits the mark. I chose a traditional Sufi Islamic dhikrAstaghfur Allah (“I seek forgiveness from God”). You can also just recite, “I seek forgiveness.” In this inward-orienting pose, images and thoughts of everything I was sorry for in my life began to bubble up. Once I reached a place where I was filled with grief, I began chanting “I forgive you.” Since we carry within us the divine spark, the cycle of asking forgiveness from God can only be completed with self-forgiveness. As I released each thing I was sorry for in my life with my self-forgiveness, I felt better equipped to move forward with my journey.
  4. Heart-opening stretch for 5 minutes or as much time as you are willing to spend here – After the release of self-forgiveness, a heart-opening sequence allows for the influx of grace and love from the universe to fill the hole that once housed all your suppressed sadness and guilt over the things you have been unable to reconcile in your life.
    • Supported Supine Butterfly PoseReclined Butterfly
  5. Gratitude Meditation (optional: Ujayyi Breathing)

    • Chant the Sufi/Muslim gratitude mantra, “Alhamdulilah,” (Praise be to God) or more simply,”I am grateful” (100 times on a Sufi sibha, prayer beads or a mala).
    • As I meditated, I called to mind how many times in my life my struggles blossomed into enduring foundations of my present joy. I used the energy of gratitude that this inspired to carry me forward to a place of resolution for my new journey. Whatever hardships I may face, I am empowered and can use them as a tool for my inner transformation.
  6. Journaling – These are the questions that guided my post-meditative writing, which I am using to track my journey. I feel called to share my answers, vulnerable though it makes me feel. Perhaps it may resonate with you!
    • What are some aspects of your current self that no longer serve your happiness?
      • My expectations of others
      • Conflating my self-worth with my physical abilities, appearance or outward accomplishments
      • Judgment of others for the choices they make
      • Holding a grudge against those that disappointed or hurt me
      • Choosing my laziness over acts of love
      • Overextending myself to secure others’ approval
    • How did you respond to the challenges in your yoga practice today?
      • Anger (clenched jaws betrayed this) – at myself?
      • Pushing myself too hard
      • Giving up in a second, instead of coming out of a pose with ease
    • Can you recall when you have responded in similar ways to challenges off your mat?
      • If someone disappoints me, or doesn’t acknowledge me – my first reaction is anger, then I doubt myself, then I withdraw and try to escape the problem/confrontation
    • What are a few ways you can show yourself compassion in these moments of struggle?
      • Taking deep, mindful breaths
      • Tuning in with my intuition to make an empowered and not reactive choice
      • Asserting myself with kindness whenever necessary
      • Repeating one of the following mantras when I feel overwhelmed: “I am in harmony,” “Everything is my shaykh/guru,” “I bow to my teacher,” “How does this act as my medicine?” or “Where am I now?”
    • What do you envision for yourself as you walk this path?
      • I envision a life of harmony, of response not reaction, of full/effusive love that doesn’t diminish me
      • I envision a life of deep meditation and contemplation, untethered by my lower impulses of laziness, anger, self-devaluation etc.

Here is an easy quick-guide to my repentance practice:

Screen Shot 2016-04-23 at 12.09.58 AM

I welcome any feedback on the format of the blogs in this series! This is an important journey for me and I would love the opportunity to improve the read for you!

Next time, we explore the spiritual states of Proximity and Distance, and how our perception of how far or near we are to our goals affects our journeys.

May you be filled with peace,

Screen Shot 2016-03-23 at 12.37.02 PM

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11 thoughts on “Repentance – The First Station

  1. I always know I will learn something from reading your posts. Thanks for your courage in sharing vulnerability! You are awesome. The read was very good, flowing and engaging. Keep it up.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I am lost for words. This is quite profound. As i read through the practice you outlines i could experience the anger, and the panic that i have within me at the moment… at the same time as i read through thr repentance and chanted the mantras alongside your post (without the poses for now) i felt calm… i forgave my mind for the panic and self doubt it created and began to trust in the prescribed way again.

    I tend to talk more about the impacts of your posts on me rather than talk about your actual post, hope you dont mind….be blessed… will practice this later in the afternoon

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for sharing your personal experience with it all Alia! I don’t mind at all! All of this is a collaborative exploration and I am very happy to hear your personal take on it! Warmest wishes to you my dear!

      Liked by 1 person

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