The Self Unpredictable

I’ve mentioned before on this blog that I have a little competitive streak.  Well, I’m not sure it’s competition exactly, because it would be ok with me if everyone was the best at everything.  I just want to be really good at anything I do.  Since I’ve also grown up in a culture that believes in a consistent “self” at the center of being (even though I’ve been teaching about the absence of this center for 20+ years now), this has led me to reject – wholesale – activities that I’m not “good at,” in an assumption that I will never be so.  Sports is (are?) an example.

In school, I was really awful at sports, with the exception of individual things like archery and bowling.  Anything that involved speed or hand/eye coordination was a big no.  I always felt conspicuous and things like picking teams made me want to fade into the floor.  After high school was over, I tucked sports into the “things I don’t do” category.  The only exceptions made where for individual activities that I felt like I had a shot at doing well in.  I biked, because what I lacked in speed I could make up in determination.  I lifted, because my upper body isn’t so strong, but my leg muscles like  nothing better than to bulk up into huge knots (little did I know that this would be to my later sadness in yoga).  I avoided any sort of team sport or casual sport like it was a plague.  This was “me.”

And then yoga came along.  At first, it was about feeling better from RA pain.  And then it was about seeing what my body could do.  And then it was about calm and peace.  And eventually, it was about yoga.  I’m not saying that there aren’t still days when I get annoyed at myself because I can’t do a pose or feel envious that someone else can, but I don’t see those things as “me.”  I just see them as the moment.  Yoga does that for me, because on any one day, I’m a different me than I was the day before in a class, and I’ll be different again tomorrow.  My mind has a different texture, a different process, a different sense of the world.  In one class, I find it easy to be on my mat (mentally) and keep my focus in the present.  In the next session, I can’t stop worrying about work, or the curtains I’m sewing for the family room.  My breath will happily stay in ujjayi for a whole practice on Wednesday, and then on Friday I cannot maintain it for 2 breaths in a row.  My body can do a pose one day and then refuse to do it completely the next day (in fact, last Friday, it did a move 3 times in one hour, and then the following hour couldn’t even approach it).  It will shock me completely by going into a complicated arm balance on one side, and then refuse to even consider vasishtasana on the other side.

I guess if I was really intent on maintaining the sense of a core self, this would bother me.  But, I’m not.  I’ve rejected (rationally, at least) that idea for many years, so this simply reaffirms for me an idea that the self is not at the center (though I do believe that the Self – in the sense of the connection to the greater or divine – is there, but that isn’t about personality traits or abilities).  And it’s so freeing.  I don’t know what my body, mind, breath will be like tomorrow, or even in 10 minutes – not much sense fretting about it.  There is a certain peace in that.  The world of possibility is there.  There is a certain excitement in that.

I love yoga. Have I mentioned that?



Yoga and Unexpected “Ahhhhh”

It’s Wednesday morning, but I’m writing about Monday night.  Why?  Because it was great – really great. Of course all my classes are pretty great, but this one had something special going on.  It left me feeling both completely relaxed and totally invigorated! So, after class, I jotted down some notes about what I thought was making the difference and have expanded upon them here.

The circumstances of the class didn’t necessarily bode well for me.  Evening is not my best time for yoga.  I’m a morning person (more or less) and by 7:30, I’m almost ready for bed.  I have to push myself a little harder to get out the door for a class at that time.  Helpfully, our teacher training requires that we take one Vinyasa class a week with Lisa or Beth, the two yogis leading the teacher training.  Based on my  schedule, that means either Monday night or Saturday morning, and Saturday morning is my only day to sleep in even a little, so…   All that to say – evenings are not my best active practice yoga time.  In addition to the time, I went in with some stomach issues and the remnants of a bronchial illness that keeps hanging on.  So, not in my peak physical condition – whatever that is.  It’s also a class that I’ve only attended a few times, meaning that I’m not fully comfortable with the people in the room.  And, the class was packed.  When I say packed, I am not even kidding.  There was about 2 inches (maybe) between my mat and the mats to the left and right of me.  That’s close!

With this as a starting point, I wasn’t sure how class would be.  But, it was fabulous, wonderful, stupendous.  Why?  Well, that’s a good question and I’m not sure of the answer.  Maybe it was just a fluke that my breath was easy to focus on, my mind stayed in the moment without the effort that I sometimes need to bring it back, and the poses jived with  my needs at that moment.  But, maybe it was other things.  Maybe it was the closeness of the room and the energy from all of those bodies and minds in one place and one time working toward one end.  Perhaps it was the fact that Beth, the instructor, talked about stillness and steadiness early in the class and wove that theme back through in ways that caused me to really reflect on how I was approaching the poses, and adjust my expectations to work toward those ideas – rather than trying quite so hard to “do” the poses perfectly.  It might have been the presence in the room of several fellow teacher trainees.  We haven’t been together long, but the training class is already developing a very nice, comfortable, safe group culture.  Maybe it was the selection of poses, that nicely balanced what was achievable and comfortable with what created challenge and some dissonance.  It might have been the music selection, that focused on the idea of stripping away our illusions (delusions) of wh0 we should/could be and coming back to who we are.  And, I’m completely sure that Beth’s frequent return to the idea that it didn’t matter if you “made it” into a pose – whatever; you were there and doing it and that was what mattered – made a difference in my experience.

Whatever it was, I liked it.  It really worked for me.  After the class was over, I felt fabulous.  There was no self-recrimination, even though there were plenty of poses that I couldn’t get fully into.  There was no second guessing my responses or abilities.  There was no wondering how anyone else in the room was judging my practice.  And, I had a wonderful positive energy flowing through my body.  Ahhhhh…  So, nope, I’m not sure exactly what made it so fantastic, but I’m going to keep thinking about it, because this is the experience I want to have in class, and it’s certainly the experience I want to bring to my students some day.

A Grateful Stance or The Seven Wonders

Let us rise up and be thankful, for if we didn’t learn a lot today, at least we learned a little, and if we didn’t learn a little, at least we didn’t get sick, and if we got sick, at least we didn’t die; so, let us all be thankful. ~ Buddha

I’ve posted this quote on The Veganasana facebook page before, and it’s one of my favorites (admittedly, I have many favorites).  I love this reminder of all that we have in this life.  Lately, I’ve been hearing a lot of whining and complaining around me.  Now, don’t get me wrong, everyone needs to have a little whine now and then.  It’s good for clearing out that emotional stuff and it’s nice exercise for the vocal chords.  Plus, it is true that we all have our troubles, our sorrows, and our pain.  But, the flipside of that coin is that we also all have something(s) for which to be grateful.  I’ve been working on cultivating my gratitude for a good while, not always as successfully as I would like – I can sometimes be uber-whiny.  So, I am going to take a moment here to put out there seven the wonders of my life (there are more, but I’m going to cram as much as I can into seven).

~ I woke up this morning.  See what I did there?  That’s a biggie.  I woke up.  I opened my eyes and took another breath and I got to spend another day with my friends and my family and my coworkers enjoying this beautiful world.  Nice.

~ When I woke up, I was in my body, with all of it’s pretty cool parts.  Yep, I have RA – and it’s flaring a little right now.  Uh huh, got that lymphodema in the right leg, reflux in the gut, and a kickin set of allergies.  BUT, I’ve got eyes and they see such beauty.  I’ve got limbs and they allow me to move and do things and wear nice pants : )   I have muscles and joints that allow me to participate in the practice of yoga, which I adore.  I’ve got a digestive system that does frankly fascinating things (everybody poops – I don’t know if you knew that, but I read it in a book once – true story and very cool).  I’ve got a heart that keeps beating, all the time, and I’m not even doing it.  I’ve got a mind that allows me to think about stuff and ponder it and write blogs about it and study and understand it.   I could go on, but seriously, isn’t the body nifty?

~ I’ve got people I love.  I have a spouse who makes me giggle so hard that I snort and keeps me intellectually challenged.  I’ve got kids who love me and annoy me and amuse me all at the same time.  I’ve got siblings and parents who bring me much joy and give me a sense of place.  I’ve got in-laws who have added a wonderful whole additional set of family cultures to my life.  I’ve got friends who keep my head above water, listen to me when I’m not feeling grateful, and make me laugh until my stomach hurts.  Nice.

~ I have a job.  Rockin.  And, you know, it’s a pretty cool job.  I get to contribute to the life of the mind of a whole bunch of people day in and day out.  And I get to work in a nice climate controlled building with bathrooms and running water and pictures on the wall and computers and a little mini fridge in my office and a teapot.  That’s pretty sweet.  I’m freakin’ lucky, huh?  Sure, every day and every moment isn’t a delight.  It doesn’t always go the way I want it to or the way I think it should, but still.  When I think about all the jobs I could be doing and that would be way less enjoyable for me and when I think about what having this job allows me to do for myself and my family… well…

~ I’ve got hobbies that I enjoy.  I get to blog.  I get to read. I get to tweet. I get to do yoga (did I mention that I love yoga?).  I get to read about and cook vegan and vegetarian food.  I get to listen to music and watch TV.  I have time to do these things.  I have the ability to do these things. I have the financial wherewithal to do these things.  I’m in a pretty swell place.

~ I’ve got people I don’t love.  Yep, them too.  There are people in my life who I don’t feel super warm and cuddly about.  They aggravate me (sometimes intentionally).  They dislike me.  They make things harder.  Maybe they say things that are painful.  But, they help me grow.  They help me to work on my sense of humor, my equanimity, my gratitude.  They help me to see the areas I need improvement in.   So, I’m grateful for them as well.

~ I’ve got pets and other animals around me.  Animals rock.  There is something about having a dog or a cat, or even a lizard looking at you with eyes that say, “I trust you with my life and my wellbeing” or “I’m SO AMAZINGLY HAPPY you came home!”  They really do bring something special to my life and I’m so glad that I get to have that experience.

So, there you go – the seven wonders of my life (and yes, I do know that I crammed about 27 things into each one).  Sorry about the gooey-ness  and positivity of the post. If that stuff annoys you, see me later and I’m sure I’ll find something to complain about.

All in all, I’m one lucky and grateful person.  Are you?