Think about it.
I had this dream, as a child, that my Grandfather and I were being chased by a fire-breathing dragon around the nursery school I attended. We were running for our lives through the labyrinthine hallways, narrowly escaping the monster. With the shadow of the beast reflecting off every wall at every turn, I could hear my Grandfather’s laboured breathing and I knew, in the end, we wouldn’t make it–the monster would win.
As an adult, this is how I’ve led my life, running from one dragon or another, only now the dragon has shifted from the green, scaly beast to invisible entities with names like Shame, Rage, Fear, and Love. Any “large scale” emotion gets my feet feeling like hot potatoes and, before I know it, I’ve busted out along the road, running and wheezing, although not really sure why.
This past week delivered me to the shores of the poisonous lake of Shame. Shame of my body. Shame of womanhood. Shame of aging. Shame of sexuality and relationships and body hair and simple everyday thoughts. Whatever it was that was going on in my life, it seemed to be coated in the corrosive slime of Shame. I knew it was there, I could feel it in my body:
- rapid pulse
- shallow and quick breathing
- a sense of constriction in my chest
- interrupted sleep
- reduced appetite
- feeling a need to wretch
(Do you know any of these?)
And my mind followed after my body, becoming cloudy, with thoughts trying to move through a thick, pudding-like fog.
Shame. Although it could have been Fear or Love or anything.
What do you do when you get triggered by large emotions? Me, like I said, I run. I run like crazy and I run in all sorts of different ways. I become obsessed…with ANYTHING. I feel the need to keep doing, and what I do tends to push my body to an unhealthy edge. I push too hard in the garden. I push too hard in exercise. I feel it’s utterly necessary to dance, and then I push too hard once again. I simply push too hard…in my relationships, in my body, in my mind. All of this in the simple attempt to outrun the beast, the thing I don’t want to face, the thing I am convinced will kill me if I stop for even a moment to look around.
A person cannot run forever. I, for one, am super tired. Yesterday, as I was beginning to lose steam and was starting to think, “This thing is going to catch up with me. I’m doomed,” a new thought entered my mind, “What if I just…stop?” What would happen if I just stopped running? If I know, in the long run, I cannot sustain avoidance, that avoidance will ultimately kill any joy and vitality in my life, what’s the risk in stopping? If I don’t, I will lose everything anyway.
Many schools of martial arts teach that, instead of engaging in a conflicted relationship with an opponent by pulling away, soften the interaction, make connection by stepping towards the threat and into the situation. Channel the energy inwards. Yesterday my friend emailed me this gem, “Shame only says these things because it fears that you will figure out how truly awesome you are and leave it behind for good.” Something about that broke my heart. Nothing likes to be abandoned. Why, then, do I abandon that part of me, the dragon, that clearly wants to make contact, that is asking for something from me, that is asking for my time and my love? Why not move inwards and make a connection with the thing I fear the most?
So I stopped. I put on the brakes and fixed myself to the spot. And the dragon stopped with me. Soon I will drum up the courage to turn around, to sit down, and to observe this thing that chases me. I will give it my time and my attention. Eventually, I hope to approach the beast (perhaps with a yummy slice of pie) and to give it a hug. This is the woundedness in me that begs to be touched, to be comforted, to be heard, to be healed and there is no one in the world but me who can do this. And there’s no one is the world who does not have this woundedness within them–we all have it; no one is alone in this experience.
I think we’re given these big emotions as tools to break open our hearts. How can we shame someone else when we know the crippling pain of shame ourselves? How can we actively threaten the safety of another when we know abject terror? How can we not extend love freely when we’ve fully taken love into our own hearts?
So the next time you get the sense that you’re freaking out, that you’re running away from something that is making you uncomfortable, take out this tiny little note that I’ve sent along to you and with you: This may be the tool, the opportunity you’ve been waiting for. Stop, breathe, look, love…and offer it pie.
Maybe we’ll both get the chance to see that the dragon just isn’t all that scary.
If you catch sight of me the next time you’re running, screaming, down that road, stop and come grab a seat beside me. We’ll breathe together. Maybe we’ll do lunch. Just know I will be there, that I have been there, and will, no doubt, wind up there again. This learning is forever. ;)
May we be happy.
May we not suffer.
May we know peace.
All my love and blessings,
Posted in Healing, inspiration, Yoga, tagged acts of compassion, balanced position, chronic responses, healing, Inspiration, standing balance yoga poses, yoga, yoga class on April 24, 2013 | 2 Comments »
Standing yoga balances–the art of standing on one foot–are known to increase concentration, to strengthen the legs, knees, ankles and feet, to calm the nervous system, and to increase mental focus. That’s what they’re known for but the reality, as I consistently witness in my classes, can often look like something else. Nothing seems to get the majority of my students more riled up than standing balance poses. This is where I most often witness anger, frustration, despair, and “giving up” as bodies teeter, with feet and legs working hard to keep an upright, balanced position. This is where my students are more likely drop out of practice after only a few short moments by leaving the body and entering the realm of speech. Instead of doing the pose and experiencing the challenge in the body, they will turn to me and exclaim in wonder at how hard it is, at how they simply can’t do it and don’t understand why; in short, they will run away. And this is where it all gets interesting.
We humans hate like hell to feel off-kilter. We don’t like to feel wobbly. We don’t like to feel out of control. We don’t like to feel vulnerable, especially when other people are around to witness our struggle. So why, then, would we take a standing balance pose and purposely put ourselves in a position where we are constantly at risk of falling over? For precisely the reasons we resist: to feel wobbly; to feel out of control; to feel vulnerable, especially when other people are around to witness our struggle. We take these stances and challenge our comfort zones in a contained way so we can learn more about ourselves, so we can understand our chronic responses to feelings we often label as “less than desirable”. In trying to stand on one foot in a yoga class, we may discover that we get right pissed off when we lose balance and fall over, and this leads to us wanting to give up. Or we may find out that when we feel vulnerable, we begin to talk…A LOT; we try to escape the feelings in the body by moving into distracting speech.
All of this acts as a signpost to how we behave out in the world. Life is an endless stream of events that work to throw us off balance. How many times have you had your day set with all the tasks perfectly spread out and timed, and then the curve ball came crashing in–your car has a flat tire, you get an emergency call about a family member, you wind up in bumper-to-bumper traffic getting nowhere fast? Disorienting, isn’t it? Can you come back to balance when things have thrown you for a loop? Can you maintain your composure and stay calm? Can you allow your mind and breath to settle before deciding on how to proceed? Can you take a few breaths? Maybe. Maybe not.
I always hear the voices of my teachers when offering standing balances to my students: Teacher One: ”It’s not about whether you will fall out of balance, it’s about what you do when you get there.” (Will you try again?) Teacher 2: ”Ah, not today.” (Some days it’s just not working. Some days you need simply to stand still…on both feet.)
Trying to find centre in the midst of the chaos that can erupt when thrown off kilter is an amazing way to break your heart open and to find compassion, both for yourself and for all the others out there who are working to do the same. So the next time you fall over (and you will), whether it be physically or otherwise (like when you lose your composure and your temper), instead of scolding yourself for failing somehow, offer yourself compassion for your humanity; say to yourself, “Ah, not today. Today, in this moment, I cannot achieve balance,” and take 3 deep breaths. See how that one simple thing can change your life.
And when you’re out in the world and you witness someone else losing her balance in some fashion, feel your heart open up. If you can, offer assistance. If you can’t offer assistance, perhaps offer compassion in the same way you did for yourself: ”Ah, not today. Today, in this moment, she cannot achieve balance,” and take 3 deep breaths for her. And if even that feels like a stretch, because sometimes people, in their loss of balance, can act in ways we just cannot understand or soften towards, just breathe and see how that one simple thing can change the world.
I’ll be seeing you, face-planted, on the mat and on the mat of life. Maybe, when we lock eyes, we can smile at one another; we won’t be alone.
Until then, much love and many blessings,