It is funny how life works out. Recently I was practicing to one of Cyndi Lee’s yoga DVDS and heard her saying, “Can you be in your practice without wishing it was different, without losing awareness and drifting into the past or future?” This resonated hugely with me and I started to repeat it to myself, almost as a mantra.
“Can you be in your practice without wishing it was different, without losing awareness and drifting into the past or the future “, can easily translate as, ‘can you be in your life without wishing it was different, without losing awareness and drifting into the past or the future?’ Little did I know at that time how much this sentiment would assist me in the challenges of life in the weeks ahead.
Of course I was already very well aware how much one’s awareness shifts from the present but I liked the way she put it. It never ceases to amaze me how much we reflect on the past, go over and over situations in our minds, imagining different scenarios, and wishing that if we had said this or had done that, then our present situation may be different, so that at times we almost torture ourselves, blaming ourselves for the way in which our past actions create our present reality…if only we had known…and over and over it we go...
And then we plan for the future, running over and over potential scenarios in our heads, scheduling, worrying, thinking, trying to second guess, what if, what if, what if, and stress ourselves out in the process, and get all anxious and worried so that sometimes things become overwhelming and we want to turn and run. And then we create all this expectation, thinking about and imagining that wonderful night we have planned, or the trip away, or whatever it may be, and then we end up feeling disappointed and upset when things do not turn out the way we expect because life rarely works out that way…
And I am also very aware that beating ourselves up, or staying stuck in the past, or creating expectation, or living for the imagined future can only really lead to more disharmony and suffering, because it generally means we want things to be different somehow, that we are resisting our present reality or indeed have forgotten to be present at all. And the funny thing is, it is generally us (good old us) who creates this suffering.
Frequently there is a tendency to want to blame someone else or the world or God or whatever it may be when things do not go our way, but often our suffering is caused by our thoughts and the way in which we engage with them and allow them to take control of us so that before we know it we have reacted to situations and events and fuelled our own habits and negative tendencies and played out our dramas and stories.
And I find it interesting how this shows up in our yoga practice. Can we be in our practice without wishing it was different? Can we be in Pigeon Pose for example, with our body feeling a little challenged, and just sit and breathe with our discomfort, without losing ourselves in the story, without wanting to get out of the pose, or leave the class or drifting off, without judging ourselves or the teacher or someone else in the class, or feeling sorry for ourselves, playing the victim role, or doing whatever it takes – on some level – to remove ourselves from our present experience?
Can we be in a forward fold and be aware of the sensation in the back of our body and the change in our breath as we fold in on ourselves without allowing the mind to drift so that perhaps we notice our toe nails need cutting and before we know it we are thinking about nail polish and booking appointments with beauty therapists and wondering what we will wear to a party on Saturday night, if only we had a party to attend, but if we did have a party to attend what we would eat and then we notice we are hungry and we think about the foods we may eat after the class and then we remember that we are on a diet and we start imagining how much our life will change, heck we may even be happy, when we can get into those size 10 jeans. It’s true isn’t it? It is amazing what happens, all those lives imagined in one single pose let alone a whole yoga class!
And so to our life, for the interesting thing is that what happens in our practice tends to show up in our life. Or to put it another way, what happens in our life shows up on our mat. So that we can begin to notice our habits, our negative tendencies then, our thoughts processes, the way we react to challenges in our practice and from there we can start to notice how these traits show up and influence our choices and the decisions we make in our life so that this shapes our experience of life; every cause has an effect.
For example in the past, when things got a little challenging in my life, I had this habit of running away, booking another trip and getting the heck out of there! It showed up in my practice, in fact I noticed it there before I did in my life (in life everyone else noticed it but I was in denial!). In Pigeon Pose then, which for me was always very challenging, I had this overwhelming sense that I had to run, get up and get out of the class and just go very far away. Sitting with the sensation was incredibly painful, physically uncomfortable to a point (in the discomfort territory opposed to the- injure-oneself-territory, there is a huge difference), but painful and uncomfortable on many other levels too.
On the times I sat there with it – on my yoga teacher training course for example we were encouraged to hold the pose for a significant length of time to really check in and see what would arise the more we stayed present to it, be curious to it then – a few tears would arise and some anger and frustration and agitation, not from physical pain as such, but just the awkwardness, the discomfort then, from the sickie “urghh” feeling deep within.
And from this experience I learned that when you stay with the sensation, when you go deep into it and breathe and stay present with it, well things start to shift (for me at least), so that you notice how everything does quite literally arise, abide and dissolve. And I noticed that the discomfort arose deep within my belly and that at its core, right at its very core, was fear, good old fear, false evidence appearing real, an illusion no less. And once I recognised the fear and stayed with it rather than running away from it, well it too dissolves and loses its power…
Of course life with a family now means that I cannot run away so easily when things get tough. But that aside, over time I have worked with it, so that the pathways have shifted, the fear does not have quite the same hold. I mean it arises still of course - I am human after all - and it is there when things get challenging and I feel I am out of my depth, but I try to catch myself and remind myself what is happening now – ah yes, fear arising, ok, let’s breathe and get back to the mat, to the ground and to the heart, and sit with it and allow it to dissolve, to pass, “this too shall pass”.
All of this, at its essence, is teaching us about retaining one’s equanimity, about staying grounded and sane and ordinary when all around you is chaos. It is about letting go of the story lines and the drama and the victimhood, and about accepting things for what they truly are. There is a lot of loving strength and power that comes from living one’s life in this way, from a place of love and understanding, rather than fear and drama. And with practice it strengthens our faith in, and trust of, the process and knowingness that there is a time for everything, a bigger picture then.
So all this came to mind in good timing really, quite a coincidence then (not that there is such a thing!), for it is one thing to understand a concept, and quite another to put it into practice and “know” deep inside you what the words mean. So often in life, and more so these days I find, there is an awful amount of chatter, about what we should be doing to change the world, how we should be eating this, or thinking that, or buying this or watching that, but I really do wonder whether we would be better using our energy to turn inwards, to practice and to discover and realise our own truth and increase our own sense of equanimity for a more harmonious world.
So it follows that we experienced a failed IVF cycle. It came as a little bit of a shock really as we had only known IVF to work, resulting in the healthy delivery of our son Elijah. But alas clearly this time it was not meant to be, and with the shock came sadness for the imagined life that I had hoped to create. There were also tears and confusion and I could feel the old tendency for drama-when-crisis-occurs beginning to kick in (reach for the wine to numb the pain and be melodramatic type thing)…but it was there, that mantra, repeating itself in my head, “can you be with your practice without wanting it to be different”…could I be with my life without wanting it to be different, could I accept my present reality without drama and, more importantly, allowing myself to become a victim…
I took some quiet time that day to be with myself and took to my mat. I gain a lot of comfort from practicing yoga, especially when things get tough, for it encourages me into my body and out of my head, so that you feel the stability of the earth beneath you and your heart beating in your chest and if you are lucky you gain some respite from the thoughts, or at least they don’t grip you so much. And then the angels, there is always so much comfort to be gained from communicating with them, to feel supported and to be reminded of the bigger picture.
And the timing this time, quite simply, was not right for us. There is a time for everything, you only have to observe nature to know this. And deep, deep down, I had known this before we even began the cycle, so absolutely no need for comfort or kind sentiments. I had felt too much fear and doubt during the whole process and a lack of connection to the implanted blastocyst; there was some part of me resisting the process, sabotaging it actually, I was still not ready, not all the jigsaw pieces had fallen into place, quite different from the first experience where I was excited and had absolutely no doubt that it was the right time, all the signs were there and I felt it deep inside my heart.
Furthermore I was well aware before we even began the cycle, that it would be inevitable that at some point I would need to know what it felt like to experience a failed cycle. A number of friends and students have also experienced failed cycles so it means that now I can be a more empathic and compassionate friend, teacher and healer plus it has also given me a much greater understanding of the dynamics of an IVF cycle and the manner in which it needs to be approached and felt on all levels (I could write for some length on this, but now is not the time).
It is perhaps also not surprising that after receiving our news and processing it that day and coming to a level of acceptance - helped enormously may I just add by the fact that we already have Elijah I do appreciate that - I came across this fabulous quote from one of my favourite authors, Stephen Cope, which reads, “Through practice, I've come to see that the deepest source of my misery is not wanting to things to be the way they are. Not wanting myself to be the way I am. Not wanting the world to be the way it is. Not wanting others to be the way they are. Whenever I'm suffering, I find this war with reality to be at the heart of the problem".
And this made me chuckle, because it is so very true. There is much relief and comfort in just accepting things the way they are, not blaming others or the world, not wanting things to be different, but just being ok, regardless of the challenges, with how things are. So it is not ideal, two months of pumping drugs into your system and not receiving the outcome you intended is of course heartbreaking, but what makes it worse, is the holding onto it, the not accepting, the drifting into the past or into the future, the ruminating and imagining, the blaming and disempowering yourself by becoming a victim, and forgetting the bigger picture.
It made me laugh a little more a few days later too for yet more opportunities presented themselves for me to put into practice my practice and the mantra I was repeating (you have to be careful with mantras it would seem!), so that our television broke (and even funnier, within minutes of me saying to Ewan that I wanted to reduce Elijah’s exposure to it) and then hours later our boiler broke so that it was cold showers all around (but oh so refreshing, I had forgotten!). Can you be with your life without wanting it to be different…a challenge yes, but doable too, humor helps a lot.
And so I am eternally grateful to my practice for all that it has given me and continue to give me in recognizing my tendencies and habits and helping me to stay sane and grounded and ordinary when chaos prevails. I take great comfort in my practice for this, for the sense of equanimity it provides me, for the faith and for trusting in the process. This is the reason I take to my mat each day, however confronting and challenging that may be. And this is also the reason that I like to teach yoga and share my experiences with others because I sincerely and utterly believe in the practice and I am sincerely grateful to Cyndi Lee and Stephen Cope for sharing their practice and experience with me – their wisdom has been of great comfort and help to me.
It’s funny, because I wasn’t quite sure how to end this blog post, it has been an interesting time of it, I’ve learnt a lot, and then I read this posting from Rebekah Shaman this evening, which summed it up nicely: “Last night some deeply hidden fear and sadness came up (thank you Taurus full moon!!) As I acknowledged it for what it was and gave myself permission to just feel it, without judgement, shame and regret but with compassion and love, I felt my heart melting, dissolving the fear and sadness away and tears started to flow!
On the shamanic path we know that without fear, there can never be courage, without happiness, you can't know sadness. It’s the blessing in the burden and the burden in the blessing...when we recognize our shadow side and learn from our mistakes we begin consciously creating a different future...”God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference”( Reinhold Niebuhr).