My yoga teacher is fond of the phrase “It’s yoga practice, not yoga perfect.” The point of our yoga practice is not to be stunningly beautiful on the mat, have the perfect yoga outfit, or do the yoga poses flawlessly. The point is to keep learning, evolving, and flowing with our experience. Some [...]
My yoga teacher is fond of the phrase “It’s yoga practice, not yoga perfect.” The point of our yoga practice is not to be stunningly beautiful on the mat, have the perfect yoga outfit, or do the yoga poses flawlessly. The point is to keep learning, evolving, and flowing with our experience. Some days, we’ll be in flow; we won’t fall over in Tree Pose, we won’t struggle to do yet another sun salutation. Some days, we’ll feel grumpy and stiff and our bodies won’t do what they could do perfectly well the day before. Yoga is a practice, a way to keep present, and to connect with our bodies and minds. There is no ‘goal’ in yoga, no place where you can end up and can then go no further. When we get too good at a particular sequence, when we don’t even have to think about it, it’s time to change things up, to add poses that challenge us to keep growing.
Life is like this.
I’m terrified of making interpersonal mistakes. If I get too emotional and someone sees it, I can feel ashamed for weeks. Sometimes I have to literally bite my tongue to keep from asking, yet again, for reassurance from them that they don’t now despise me for having had an emotional reaction. My practice, then, is working on being comfortable being emotionally open, even when the emotions are uncomfortable. If I didn’t have this particular struggle with having people see this part of me, I wouldn’t need to practice letting go of the shame for having an emotional side of me.
Our struggles are like this. They are our practice. If we didn’t have them, we’d be perfect, and there would be nowhere for us to go. There’d be no reason for us to be here.
It’s hard to remember this when we’re in our difficult places. Just like when we’re in a strenuous yoga pose and all we can think about it how uncomfortable it is and how annoying the yoga teacher is for talking when all we want to do is get out of the pose, when we’re wrapped in our stories and our struggles, we forget to breathe, forget that THIS, this discomfort, is our practice. All we want is for the discomfort to stop, to get to a pose we like.
For me, yoga has always been more than just a fitness regimen. It’s been about training myself psychologically to be in uncomfortable spaces and to stay there, feeling the sensations but not collapsing under them. I’ve seen myself evolve off of the yoga mat, too, though I’m still nowhere near perfect (as if that were the goal). I’m better at sitting with uncomfortable emotions, better at focusing my attention and re-centering myself. When I fall over, I still struggle with accepting this and being kind about it, but I’m getting better.
Life is a practice, not a pursuit of perfection. When we meet our goals in life, hopefully there will always be more to strive towards. The goal, then, is not really the point. It’s the process that’s the real goal, the practice of learning how to get back to stability and balance in challenging new poses.
How do you use your life as an evolving practice?
For a several years, I’ve been aware of a young blond girl who inhabits my subconscious. She came to be once when I was consumed by fear and anxiety. Meditating on that fear, I saw this girl, 6 or 7 years old, with long, straight blonde hair, who rocked in the corner of a room, trembling in fear and crying. Eventually, I was able to go to her and take her into my arms, comforting her. I’m aware of her as my little Fear Girl, the one who’s communicating with me when I feel deathly afraid, insecure, or anxious. She’s shown up to me many times, once when I was overcome by despair, sitting on the edge of my bed. Suddenly I felt a presence there, a young girl, who came to me and hugged me, in a moment of my supreme loneliness and fear. She doesn’t have a name, or I haven’t heard it. But I know she’s there.
Recently, discussing a new dating situation with a friend of mine, I described my feelings of anxiety and agitation by saying that the situation was triggering all my ‘Little Girl with a Rejecting Daddy’ stuff. It’s the same little girl. She’s sensitive. She’s exuberant. She just wants to be loved and to give love. But she’s so afraid and confused by her loneliness and by peoples’ reactions to her, that she sometimes hides in a corner to cry.
One of my first memories is of being in a high chair in the house of family friends where my family stayed as my parents looked for a house in the area to buy. My father, at least in my memory (I don’ t know if this really happened this way) is laughing at me as I cry, desperately, because my mother has just left the house. I want her back. The feeling is of desperate loneliness and of not being taken seriously. I cry and cry. And all I get is laughter and mockery. And I can’t leave because I’m trapped in the high chair.
I saw a counselor once who helped me revisit this scene. He helped me visualize my older self coming into the room, taking the girl out of the high chair, and out the door, over to the park that was – in real life – across the street from the house. In my new vision, we play in the park. There’s a dog. The sun is shining. We throw a ball and the girl’s white-blond hair is limned with sunlight.
Getting to know this little girl has helped me understand so much of what’s driving my emotional responses, especially the ones that feel difficult and desperate. When I’m anxious or afraid and I can remember to be this self-aware, I will go visit her and take her in my arms again. I tell her she’s going to be okay, and that I will protect her. I feel her relax in my arms. I feel myself relax.
Most of us have one or two deep, soul-shaking issues that we carry with is on our life journeys. For whatever reason, they are imprinted on us; they are the patterns that we revisit over and over in our lives, trying to come to some resolution. Wherever these patterns come from, one way to understand them deeply is to personify them, to envision the characteristics they would have if they were a sentient being. What age are they? What gender? Are they even human, or do they take a different form? What do they look like? What are their characteristics? Often, when we personify our deepseated issues in the form of a being in this way, we can have more empathy for them, we can separate ourselves from them to a certain extent, and we can work on how we relate to them, so we can give them — and ourselves — what they (and we) need.
My little blond girl needs to feel safe, protected, and loved. As do most children, she looked for this from other people but didn’t receive what she needed. Now she’s extremely sensitive to rejection or abandonment, even if only perceived. It sends her into paroxysms of confusion and despair, often way more than the situation dictates. The role I can play is to acknowledge her when she makes her fear known, and go to her with a hug and comforting words. I can be the adult who actually IS there for her.
How about you? Have you characterized any of your emotional experiences in this way? How do you use this image to help yourself when you experience difficult emotions?
By Melissa Kirk
So last Thursday night I was on the bus coming home from work. Normally I take BART – the subway - for this leg of the trip, but there was some delay on BART, so I took the 72 bus instead. It’s a LOOONNNGGG bus ride. For some reason, I was just sitting there without a lot of jibber-jabber in my head. That’s not normally the case for me, but this night, I was just sitting, my mind relatively quiet, observing, open to the people around me.
The first thing I noticed was the noise. This was one noisy crosstown bus. I think if I had been more my normal self – more in my head and more judgmental – I would have been really pained by the noise. There was a group of high-school-age kids in the back talking back to each other as kids will, a woman talking rather loudly into her cell phone, and two other women having a loud conversation. As it was, I let the noise just wash over me, and it did feel like some sort of sonic wave.
The next thing I noticed was peoples’ energy, bouncing around inside that steel box. The lady on the phone was getting mad because another passenger was looking at her as she talked. Two young girls were eating sweets (one had a huge, rainbow-colored lollipop, the kind I didn’t think they made anymore) and talking quietly. The two conversating women were swapping stories of their painful childhoods – and they did sound painful. One said the last time she had seen her father was when he had come running to her house, t-shirt covered in blood, looking for shelter. The punk-looking guy next to me was staring out the window but his fingers never stopped moving.
Eventually, as I watched the restlessness on that bus, I realized what I was seeing. It was like I opened up to what was really going on. And what was really going on were that everyone’s egos were desperately seeking comfort, bouncing around inside that bus like ball bearings in a pinball machine.
The lady on the phone was seeking acknowledgment from her friend on the phone and also making a big show of getting up and moving so the guy watching her couldn’t see her. The comfort of self-righteousness is one of the nicest feelings there is. The girls eating sweets were enthralled with the comfort of the food. The two women sharing horror stories were wanting their pain to be seen – really seen – by the other, and also wanting it to be OK that they didn’t feel responsibility to treat other people respectfully because, as one of them said “Nobody ever said sorry to me.” The loud kids in the back of the bus were seeking comfort in numbers, seeking physical and psychic safety by taking up space. The guy next to me was, like me, en route to something else that would give him some kind of comfort. A lover, maybe, or a concert or a drug deal. I was going home to be safe in my cave, where I was in control and nobody could touch me unless I wanted them to. We were all just bare-naked egos in that bus that night, crying like little babies wanting to be fed and held.
I know that this is true of most people most of the time. I joke sometimes that you can take the person out of the schoolyard, but you can’t take the schoolyard out of the person. All of us at some time or another, and most of us most of the time, are in the schoolyard, at least in our psyches. We hit and kick when we think the bully is coming after us, or we ingratiate ourselves in exchange for being left alone; we seek solace in something outside ourselves – food, love, sex, booze, TV, self-righteousness, religion – because we aren’t getting our needs met elsewhere and don’t know how to ask; we seek cameraderie with others so that we can feel safe and not alone, the way zebras do on the plain, and we’ll do whatever we can to be accepted by our crowd, to not get kicked out and left for the playyground bullies.
And there’s nothing wrong with all that – it’s the way humans are. But that day on the bus I saw it clearly than I usually do. I’m usually as blind and ego-driven as everyone else, and I was on that night, too, but for some reason, I saw something differently, some break in the curtain between what we tell ourselves is real, and what is actually real. It was like when the light falls in a certain way, illuminating a familiar object differently than normal, and you see that object in a new way, for just a second. I felt a strong compassion for everyone on that bus, for the little kids inside us all, who just want to be loved, acknowledged, appreciated, and touched.
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