I have practiced yoga on and off for over a decade. Like most things, I would go when I felt like it, which meant when I was being “good” and then when life seemed shitty, I felt like smoking cigarettes and drinking red wine.
If you’ve ever been to a vigorous heated yoga class with a hangover, you know it’s enough to make you swear off for a couple of months.
The yoga, of course.
Several years ago though, I found myself in a tough spot and cigarettes and red wine were no longer a viable option. At this point, freshly sober and no longer using food as a drug, I still didn’t feel like doing much except sitting in a darkened movie theater for a few months.
There is a significant lag time between the release of the old coping skills (drinking, smoking, crazed eating behaviors) and the adoption of new ones. And it’s only grace that gets any human being through that fallow period. The vulnerability and exposure can feel akin to those dreams where you show up naked at school, except this is real life.
So grace, in her inscrutable way, nudged me back to yoga. In the smack dab middle of an endless New York winter, I found a warm and tiny studio and some kind of magic happened. I kept showing up, in whatever state I was in, and the practice took root. In those 75 minutes, linking breath with movement, sweating and staying with it, some hungry place within me took nourishment, then rest.
Slowly by slowly, I learned new ways of meeting the daily challenges of life. Meetings brought relief from the shame and secrecy of addiction and a road map for recovery. Consistent yoga and meditation practice began to mend the broken trust between my body and my restless mind.
Heretofore, I had only done anything because of what I thought it would give me. I had no concept of practice for its own sake. I exercised because it meant I was “good” and in control and I needed to keep my body in check.
I honestly believed that my body was this wild creature that would rise up against me if I didn’t do everything just right. Which was a perfect mirror for what I believed about life. One wrong move would leave me paralyzed with shame and fear that the whole damn thing was going off the rails. It was my job to keep the train on the tracks.
As I said before: ruling the Universe is fucking exhausting. It was no wonder a girl needed a drink at the end of the day.
Funny enough, as I’ve learned that I am 100% powerless over just about everything, I quit using “feeling like it” or “being good” or “being bad” as a reason to do or not do things.
Slowly by slowly, all the kind parts and the greedy parts and the strong parts and the scared parts have coalesced into a sort of wobbly harmony. Grace does that, if we allow.
I still go to yoga, and meetings, and meditate and journal and pray. It has almost nothing to do with discipline or willpower. Instead it is about orienting myself toward sanity and opening up to daily grace. It takes a lot to keep this gal on the beam.
Sometimes, these things help me feel really good. And other times, I do the practice anyway, because showing up consistently and not turning away from what feels difficult is what builds trust in myself and in life.
Which is the direct opposite of the way I seem to be wired.
Not turning away from myself, be that breathing through a demanding yoga sequence or slowing down enough to feel it when my heart is breaking to bits, is my only hope of offering true presence to others.
What I cannot be with in myself, I cannot abide in you.
Wanting to fix, advise, or otherwise manipulate someone else’s experience, is a sure sign that there is something in myself that I don’t feel brave enough to be with.
Pema Chodron teaches about compassionate abiding, the direct practice of hanging in with ourselves when we’d prefer to eat cake, pick a fight, or buy another pair of Frye boots. (ahem)
It’s a life changing practice and I will discuss it in depth next week.
Meanwhile, I invite you into the “staying with” practice of deep listening this week. See what happens when you tune in, fully, to the people in your life. The idea is to listen with a soft focus, paying attention to both the person in front of you and to your own experience. Without trying to change a thing.
Notice if you want to offer advise, or subtly dismiss the person. Notice if there is an impulse to get away or impatience for your turn to talk. See where you get uncomfortable, where you get judgmental, where you make assumptions. And drop your agenda. Drop in to listening for its own sake.
Notice and drop in. Notice and drop in. Stay with it.