e/u: meditation. mindfulness. equanimity.

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In the Absence of Practice

This past week has found me in a strange place. It was the culmination of many stress factors, poor time scheduling, and an exponential increase in obligations and responsibilities. My health has obviously been effected: from an almost-fainting spell to a days-long migraine. I found myself overwhelmed, grumpy, exhausted, on the verge of tears, and generally unhappy. 

 

In the middle of all of it? I lost my practice. At one point during this week, I found myself staring at a picture of Neem Karoli Baba and thinking about how much I missed my sadhana. I have been absent from my much-loved early morning Mysore classes. I had allowed my meditation and chanting practice to take a hit too, squeezing in a few minutes here or there, but not truly committing time. The balance of our lives is all too easy to push off kilter.

 

I also found myself this week telling the story of how busy I am, how upset, how tired. Telling the story of it only makes it worse. Trying to compete with others in the “how busy are you” game means no one is winning. I was telling everyone that would listen about how stressful things were and how I didn’t feel like I was handling it well. By continuously repeating the stories, I amplified the stress and missed the ability to open up and make space for what was happening. I closed down instead. It’s all easy to do, especially in the world we’ve structured for ourselves.

 

But on the other side of it, I am grateful to have lost myself a bit this week. Losing footing in practice can help clarify the reasons why we do it to begin with. This week let me know that, yes, I am doing these things for a reason. Ashtanga yoga is an anchor in the sea of life and meditation is the piece that connects me to everything. With them, I can find the still point inside, that never-ending resource of equanimity. They help me cultivate compassion and patience, two things I think we all could use a little more of around here. I can slow down a little and not let outside forces push me into certain mindsets or ways of being. I can see the real things, not the stories. I needed that this week and every week.

 

So what do you do when you lose your footing a little? Don't assign any blame or judgment. Start where you left off. Begin again. I am pleased to have done so and to have found a little bit of rest and calm after feeding myself and my stress demons for a few days. No matter where you land, you can always come back to where you were. You can always come home again.

 

 

As a side, related note: I am offering the 30 Day Sit again this coming June.  If you have fallen away from practice or just interested in discovering what benefits mindfulness can bring to you (and perhaps a week you may have had like mine), head over here and read about it.
Nine Lives: Not Just for Cats

It’s possible that I’ve had one million lives. I’ve had so many lives, I’ve forgotten half of them. They come back as they are needed: “yeah, I used to lift weights until I hurt my back.” or “I went to a tiny private Christian college for awhile” or maybe “I was a barista for about a week once.” Sometimes I have to consult friends to make sure I know what I’m talking about: “this happened, right?"

 

Maybe I don’t forget these things, but I certainly don’t remember them outright. Because I have started a new school program and am making a lot of introductions, I find myself saying new things each time. “Oh, remember,” my brain says, “you did this! This is applicable!” And then I say it out loud and wonder why I can’t remember it all the time.

 

My life has taken me on many different side trips. I have been lots places on the religious spectrum, the mental health spectrum, and the work spectrum. I thought I’d get a degree in English and ended up in HR. I wanted to move to California, ended up staying in Ohio.  These variations may lead you to believe that I just can’t make decisions, but I really think that they were all leading me along to the experiences that I needed. Life does that. 

 

For about a year or so, I have joked about going to acupuncture school.  By “joked,” I really mean that I was feeling out others’ reactions. In my mind, I had already started creating the box: “Life looks like this now and it’s going to look like this for awhile. I’m going to be in this office and then another office and the next office until maybe I can retire? Oh, wait. Probably never able to retire…"

 

But that story isn’t real. (I obviously forgot about all those other stories that didn’t stick either.) Maybe that’s where life is in a moment (“here I am in this office”), but the rest of it? Story. So I stopped telling myself the story about not being able to handle acupuncture school or not being able to do x, y, or z and I decided to just do it. Why? Because you and I aren’t our job titles or any of our other titles either. We are something far bigger than any of that and we are capable of far more than we think.

 

Practice has helped me to start seeing past the personal and societal stories. It helps me to look for what’s actually real versus the games that we play. It helps me be open to the present and the possibility that lies in each moment. And there really are so many possibilities.

 

We live in a world that tells us what to do, who to be, who our friends can be, what our family should be, etc, etc. It takes away possibility and hands you a life fully scripted instead. So it’s probably time we all let what the world tells us to drop down a notch in our hearing and start listening to what’s really going on. Everything changes. So how can we possibly be the static characters that we pretend to be or that the world tells us we are?

 

If I believed the things I’d previously told myself about life, I would not have been following this path that seems to be the culmination of all the weird things that have happened. I would not be finding new ways to serve others, to try to live in a space of love as practice. Life had to take me to a lot of places to open me up and it’s still doing that. 

 

Take a breath. Can you open up a little too? Take another one. Maybe in this moment... or this one... or this one... 

Love is the Practice
To train in love is to train in attention.
— Sharon Salzburg

"Love" and "practice." Two words that get thrown around almost ceaselessly, especially in the yoga community. But what do they even mean? As someone who has hidden away from vulnerability for the better part of three decades, I know the word "love" gets uncomfortable. I know it sounds cliche. I want to build a fortress around myself to block out the bright, shiny sound of it. But that fortress doesn't feel like a home. After awhile, it gets uncomfortable in a whole different way. The separation it brings is a false sense of security. The thoughts that create it aren't based in reality, just the never ending loop of anxiety in my brain.

If I've learned one thing, it's that I want to live in reality. I don't want the stories that society tells me, that other people tell me, that I tell myself. I want the real deal. I want to see things as they are and I want to be open to whatever that means. I want to pay attention. I want to wake up.

 

I love telling the story of the first time I met a dear friend. She was sitting off by herself, smiling. She had her feet dangling in the pool, minding her own business. And smiling. Just... Smiling. I was standing some distance away in a group. I kept looking at her and thinking, "I just can't stand people that are like that. Smiling like that all by yourself? Ugh. THOSE people." I know I am not alone in that reaction. I know because I have friends that I would say these things to without hesitation and they know what I'm talking about. You might know too. 

What I didn't know then (and have a better grasp on now), is that my dear, smiling friend knows a lot of things that I do not. I will not speak for her on what makes her smile like this. I've seen her do it many times since and it's something that I love about her. Instead of bringing out my cynicism, that smile now inspires me. What is to smile like that? What is it to smile at others that way? Something I keep coming back to for myself: love.

 

So what is it? What does it look like to truly love people? To love the moment? To love the earth? To smile all by yourself? 

It can take a mighty shift not to focus on the "I."  The I wants things. It wants to be recognized and satisfied. Our society teaches that the I is the important thing, that one upping the neighbor is where our value lies. Our presentations of the I can make us worthy or unworthy of attention and affection. But is that reality? Is that how we wake up?

I don't think so. I think we wake up through love. Neem Karoli Baba often instructed his devotees very simply: "love people." So I can't quite get out of my head lately that maybe, just maybe love is the practice.

 

Love as practice can open us up to our own experience.  If training in love is training in attention, then we must learn to be open to the moment that is, as it is. We must learn to see the real details, to be attentive to the whole picture. Love doesn't allow for false narratives based on the never ending loop of thoughts we create. Is that loop even real? 

Love as practice helps identify the areas where we are acting out of a lesser emotion. It shows us where our fortress boundaries lie and how we can push past them. It helps to amplifiy our compassion, both for ourselves and others. If you are truly present and aware, your heart can expand instead of contract. It can make room for all that is, instead of pushing things out. When was the last time you felt really good about that tightness in your chest or in your mind? Probably not any time recently, if ever. What does support us and open us? Love. Compassion. Awareness.

 

Love is the practice. It doesn't require much. To love is to pay attention, so you must learn to focus. Take some time on a cushion or a mat. Get to know your mind, learn the patterns, learn the the loops and the stories that hold you back. See if you can let them go a little. 

You can live here, you know: this moment. Maybe even in ones similar to that which my friend was experiencing: a beautiful day, a warm sun, nice people. Why wouldn't she smile? I know I do now, or at least I try to.

 

Live in this moment. This one. Not the one before it or the one ahead of it.  See the people in it. See the world around you. Let the great "I" go a little, with tenderness. Open yourself to love in all it's many forms and ways. Love is the practice.