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?
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.
Hi, welcome to our new blog. I say ‘our’ because this blog is meant to be a community effort. I want YOU to write for it. I want YOU to comment on posts you like or that make you think. I want YOU to repost, retweet, and forward the link to people you think will [...]
Hi, welcome to our new blog. I say ‘our’ because this blog is meant to be a community effort. I want YOU to write for it. I want YOU to comment on posts you like or that make you think. I want YOU to repost, retweet, and forward the link to people you think will appreciate what we’re saying here.
I have a confession to make: this blog almost didn’t come to fruition. A few months ago, I was flying high. Everything was working out. I was happy in a non-Polyanna way; I was feeling balanced and centered most of the time, I was creatively engaged, I was busy, I was having the time of my life, enjoying my life in a way I hadn’t in a very long time, maybe ever. I figured something had shifted in me, so I wanted to share it, as well as to build a community of people who were also finding the tricks to living that lead to a calm heart and balanced mind. I wanted this blog to include posts by people from all walks of life who had discovered the wisdom to live life in a way that acknowledged the joy at the heart of things, even when life was hard.
Then, my life became harder. Not because anything terrible happened, but because we can’t remain balanced and centered all the time. I became creatively frustrated instead of buzzing with creative energy. I was beset by doubts. Connections I thought were strong with other people started to feel flimsy and weak. I got upset, tired, depressed, and moody. A situation in my life started to trigger some hard emotions. And as I struggled, I started to doubt that I could, in good conscience, start a blog that was about staying centered in joy when i was having trouble doing that. Not that we always have to feel joyful (read about this blog using the tabs above to find out what I mean), but I was actually struggling mightily to even get out of bed in the morning. How could I pretend that I knew anything about joy when things were, at the time, so difficult?
But even in that dark place of struggle, a light came one and I realized that it’s those dark places that teach us the skills to get back to balance and calm. Just like we can’t practice a skill if we aren’t in the situation that warrants it, we can’t practice returning to the joy at the heart of things unless we get shaken from that knowledge, tossed off the surfboard, thrown for a loop. I realized that this blog can come from the knowledge that we all struggle sometimes, and that we’re here to help each other when we are struggling, not when we’re feeling happy and peaceful. None of us would need the words on this blog, or be able to write any, if we never struggled.
So I stopped procrastinating and got back in the saddle and now I present this blog to you. At the time that I’m writing this, there are only a few posts up that I’ve written. Read about the blog using the tabs at the top of this page, and contact me if you would like to write a post, if you know someone who might want to write a post, or if you know someone who would make a great interview subject.
I want to build a community here, of people who think about and practice better ways to live life, more skillful ways to deal with what life throws at us. So please write, comment, share, and participate. I look forward to hearing what you have to say!
Email me!honey_b_temple (at) yahoo (dot) com
Participate!If you'd like to write a blog post for Joy at the Heart of Things, click on the Participate tab above.
Words of Wisdom
Find a place inside where there’s joy, and the joy will burn out the pain.— Joseph Campbell
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