Category Archives: Suffering

Alignment

In my yoga class this week, we considered the notion of “alignment.” As a Hatha yoga teacher, this concept is central to how I teach. The most fundamental, obvious understanding of alignment in asana practice (the act of putting our body into a particular sequence of shapes) is to be sure that we line up all our parts in a way that allows for the fullest expression of the particular pose, enabling us to get the most benefit and not hurt ourselves or anyone else.

An even deeper understanding of alignment is an individual awareness of where we are and what we need. This means that even though the teacher might cue a particular alignment, our individual energy and experience may require an adjustment. This level of alignment requires the student to practice discernment, to trust themselves to know what they need and to honor that need.

Another quality of alignment we practice in yoga is “union” or mindfulness, which simply means making an effort to have our mind, body, and heart in the same space at the same time. We are conscious of our body, our breath, our thoughts and emotions. We cultivate a quality of curiosity about our experience and generate a sense of compassion. We show up for ourselves. We don’t abandon ourselves. We are integrated and whole, making space for whatever might arise as we practice, and not judging any of it as “good” or “bad,” not judging ourselves as good or bad. The intention is if we are fully present, all our parts, and we approach our experience with curiosity and compassion, that we can learn to be with whatever shows up, respond with wisdom and skillful means, and that this will serve us both on and off the mat, enable us to be of service to others.

I’m trying to find this sort of alignment in my life off the mat, (off the cushion, off the page, off the leash). I tend to lean towards the dark, the difficult in life. I’ve always been that way. When people around me were clinging to the positive trying to keep themselves afloat, I was diving down into the deep asking “yeah, but what about this?” As an introverted Highly Sensitive Person, if there is suffering it is incredibly difficult for me to ignore it. I’m completely open and vulnerable, like a sponge, completely porous. I naturally have a much lower tolerance for engaging with the world because of this, and yet I also am driven to connect and to help.

For a lot of years, my boundaries weren’t great. I worked a people intensive and demanding job at a university for two decades, I was a teacher on and off that campus holding space for people working with hard stuff, and was in a series of harmful relationships with difficult people, experiencing trauma on a daily basis. All of this lead to a pretty significant state of burnout. Add to that recent events — the impeachment trial, the SOTU (where Rush Limbaugh was awarded a Medal of Freedom), DTs behavior at the National Prayer Breakfast, what happened to this sweet little girl, and a person I love whose addiction is spiraling out of control — and I feel completely and utterly overwhelmed. I internalize all the stink and the shit, hold it, carry it around, all that sad, all that anger, and at some point it gets too heavy and the only options are to collapse under the weight of it, let it bury me, or to put it down and walk away, to heal, to restore, to get strong enough to try again.

So I’m trying to shift my focus for now. In no way do I intend to swing the other way and start practicing toxic positivity. I’m not burying my head in the sand or ignoring what’s happening, but I am turning the volume down — which in and of itself is an expression of my privilege, that I can choose to engage or not, that much of the suffering happening in the world isn’t part of my direct daily experience unless I decide to let it in. That said, I’m tuning in to where I’m at and what I need, working to trust and honor myself, approaching my experience with curiosity and compassion so that I can learn to be with whatever shows up, respond with wisdom and skillful means and hopefully in this way be able to help.

 

The Shit is a Metaphor

goldenraintreecolor02I find myself constantly amazed by the color this time of year, how everything is lit up, the way some of the leaves are so bright on some plants that they look like they must be plugged in, electrified. I’m also gripped by a tender sadness as our garden gets too cold and stops producing, as things begin to die off, as the trees drop their leaves and stand naked, gray and bare.

It’s necessary, this cycling between blooming and resting, this transition from awake to asleep, from life to death. It’s the way things are, the way this works. We can resist it or try to deny it, but that only leads to more suffering.

I was watching myself this morning on our walk, noticing how I deal with obstacles. I work so hard in my practice to allow things to arise as they are, to be present with reality but without judgment or agenda, to show up with an open heart, to maintain my sense of curiosity and humor, to be patient and kind. I work at it, but so often I fail. I get triggered, hooked, irritated, upset. I act out.

that's not dirt, that's shit

that’s not dirt, that’s shit

This morning, there was horse poop about every 20 feet on at least three of the miles of trail we walked. With a puppy who doesn’t have a very good “leave it” yet when it comes to something so appealing, that means I spent an awful lot of my time trying to keep him out of it and it out of him, either by having to pull him away from it or reach into his mouth after it.

So I spent a lot of our walk this morning covered in shit. It was on my hands, the leash, and my pants. I wanted to just accept it for what it was, no judgement, but I confess after a bit, I was frustrated and looking for someone to blame. I was mad at everyone: the horses, their owners, my dog, myself. All we were trying to do was have a nice walk, to enjoy the cool air and beautiful colors and quiet and time together, and instead our path was littered with shit.

There was so much of it that at a certain point it was comical. When we came up the hill and saw the bridge we needed to cross was covered in it, all I could do was laugh. In that moment, I felt myself soften, shifting from wanting to bag up all the shit and dump it in the living room of the first horse owner I could find to feeling a genuine sense of kindness towards all of us, how hard we try and how messy and challenging the whole thing is. We cling so tightly to our sense of security and comfort that we can completely forget to look up, to see how the sky is lit up, that the leaves are glowing, to know that it is fleeting, all of it, and we must pay attention because soon it will be gone.