We may not at all like them, but we can wish them to be free
You know those books that are so good, that arrive in your life at just the perfect time, speaking exactly to what you need to learn or hear or act on at that time. Those books that one time through was just the beginning. Going back through them over and over reveals more. “The book fairies put that in there since the last time I read this,” a friend of mine would say at our weekly book study group.
This month’s Post-It Note that I have carried with me everywhere is key to not only how we relate with other human beings, but how we relate to our own being.
Have you ever considered how you define yourself? The word define is from Latin, “ dē + fīniō (“set a limit, bound, end”). So many times, we limit ourselves, set a boundary, as if it were the event horizon from which there is no escape, an end there is seemingly no going past, as if we might fall off the edge and no longer be.
I have spent the past 8 months considering what I have been defining myself by. Yoga, strength building, and endurance conditioning are all excellent opportunities for this kind of self-inquiry. When you are practicing in class, when you are (or are not) practicing outside of class, are you ever giving attention to what the poses, the movement, the sensations, the effort trigger? Are you aware of the body sending messages to the brain, “This body is good,” “this body is bad,” “this body is neutral”? Or “This sensation is good,” “this sensation is bad,” “this sensation is neutral.” Carry that along to “This effort is good,” “this effort is bad,” “this effort is neutral.”
Doug Peacock is an American author, filmmaker, wildlife activist, and Vietnam War veteran. He is best known for his work dedicated to grizzly bear recovery in the lower-48, his book Grizzly Years: In Search of the American Wilderness and serving as the model for the well-known character George Washington Hayduke in Edward Abbey's novel The Monkey Wrench Gang. Doug is the co-founder of several conservation organizations including Round River Conservation Studies and Save The Yellowstone Grizzly.
A culture like ours, we fear what we don’t know, and we really hate what we fear. To know the bear, to know the unknown. . .. It approaches that quality of wildness that lives in all of us.” What grizzlies do for people, he says, is to instill in them an “enforced humility.”
If we have not attended to getting know the body and to the underlying experience of feeling - which means a generalized bodily consciousness of a physiological sensation, we will fear the body and the underlying experience of feeling.
When we have become companion with the body and its’ physiological sensations, it is then we can more skillfully relate to how we use those sensations to define ourselves. Are these now defining you? Have they become uncrossable boundaries? If you went through the boundary, would you fall off the edge and infinitely drop?
It is that we find security and stability within the definition of ourselves. That is a good thing, but it becomes a bad thing when held on to and used to contain oneself within the confines of a fixed identity. We might fear “this body is good.” We might fear “this body is bad.” If we fear “this body is good,” that may be that we do not know our body like we think we know it, and because we do not know it, we fear it, because we fear it, we hate it. Unintentional self-aggression.
For all of us, we are surprised to learn what our companion human beings fear and hate- from our perspective, they seem to have it put together or coming apart, complete with self-esteem and confidence or occupied by self-doubt and uncertainty.
I know a lot about this- my external identity is seemingly all a life of pushing the boundaries, walking the edges, refusing to be defined by circumstances of class, education race or gender. But what you do not know are the fears that do dominate me. The ones that I define myself by – there is something innately wrong with me, something that is a given about me, something that has not changed, and so is unchangeable.
You, reading this, know that is a construct, a fabrication I have created to explain a repeated pattern of circumstances I have encountered over 56 years. You would encourage me to let go of that belief.
I have the great privilege of witnessing your vulnerability, effort and self-protection when you attend class with me. Just as I work to free myself from confinement of definition, I hope to offer you support upon your same effort.
“These are the groundwork for working skillfully with The Hindrances- the 3 Bases of Skillful Action: Generosity, Commitments of Non-Harming and Meditation." Ajahn Thiradhammo, Working With the Five Hindrances, (pdf) pp. 37-38.
I have been keeping a Post-It Note of this close at hand; life has been playing big league hardball with me since late September 2021.
Crash Davis: “You know what the difference between hitting .250 and .300 is? It’s 25 hits. Twenty-five hits in 500 at-bats is 50 points, OK? There’s six months in a season. That’s about 25 weeks. That means if you get just one extra flare a week, just one, a gork, a ground ball — a ground ball with eyes! — you get a dying quail, just one more dying quail a week and you’re in Yankee Stadium.”
“‘What I learned from this,’ my son wrote, in a phrase that my daughter appropriated for her essay as well, ‘is that a softball is not soft.’ Things are not what they seem, we all realized for an instant. The tiger can swoop down at any time. I did not say it to them, but to myself I repeated a somewhat different moral. The world plays hardball with us, I thought, and we are not in charge.” Mark Epstein
No matter which way I turned or who I asked for help to get through this, all directions and support have been some variation of “Be kind, be patient, take care of yourself. Pursue that which creates in you a sense of ease and inner peace."
I am only able to work on how I relate to what is happening, how I relate to my own being and how I relate to other beings. How I relate to what is happening may or may not help foster the outcome I desire. It will change whether I go through and come out without adding to the difficulties and pain I am in or that of others. Difficulties and pain that are physical, emotional or mental.
Generosity- Oh, Noble One: Understand that generosity is not just the giving of material aid. Generosity is also the giving of protection from fear and giving of truth of being. The origin of the word is immensely helpful- “From the Latin word generōsus, which means ‘of noble birth’. Generosity came increasingly to identify a nobility of spirit—that is, with various admirable qualities that depend not on family history but on whether a person possessed the qualities. In this way generosity increasingly came signify a variety of traits of character: courage, strength, gentleness, and fairness.”
Commitments of Non-Harming: This is my commitment to learn to stop my aggression (“to approach, address, attack”), whether self-directed or other directed. It will appear in the guise of non-acceptance, of non-allowing, of forcing. The source of the aggression is fear. Instead, could I use generosity? Could I offer protection from fear?
Meditation: I recently have adopted Mark Epstein’s personal definition, “Being with my own mind no matter what state it was in. Even while being buffeted from every possible direction.” It is Kalyāṇa-mittatā- the Buddhist concept of "admirable friendship" to oneself. This likewise “Being with another’s mind, no matter what state it is in. Even while being buffeted from every possible direction.” Could I be a generous friend here, too? Offering to hold the truth of being as it is right here, right now instead of approaching, addressing and attacking it?
“Through the practice of generosity, we begin to understand where we are closed, where we are holding back, where we feel our fear. We learn what keeps us from being generous. We take on the practice to see where we resist it.” Gil Fronsdal
When the Dalai Lama spoke of inner peace, he was talking about nonviolence rather than relaxation. Not only nonviolence in the outer world but also nonviolence in one’s inner world. Just as he had not urged me to jettison my sense of self, he was neither encouraging an empty mind nor recommending meditation simply as a form of rest and repose. He was asking us to use meditation to look into our minds and examine our behavior, to listen to the way we spoke to ourselves and thought about others, and to explore the attitudes we held in our most personal and private thoughts. From his perspective, inner peace is possible only when one has made peace with one’s own mind, when one’s own inner violence has been dealt with. This requires honesty and an internal ethic that is endlessly challenging. Inner peace comes not from turning off the mind, but from deliberately confronting one’s own innermost prejudices, expectations, habits, and inclinations. Meditation as stress reduction, as a way of calming the mind, does not address its mission to challenge, confront, befriend, and change one’s innermost mental attitudes. - Mark Epstein
"The extension of an elastic object is directly proportional to the force applied, provided that the limit of proportionality is not exceeded." - Hooke's Law
âWhat if passion is tied to intensity? Intensity may not be a result of trying to achieve something, it might just be energizing. I am not saying that I don't strive to get somewhere in many of my poses and in life, but sometimes, I just enjoy intensity for the thrill. Therefore, intensity might lead to consistency.â
thanks for the feedback. Your ending question is a wonderful one- a great one to ponder within your practice!
I have three questions forâ¯you regarding intensity:
So glad what I wrote was valuable to you,
First off, let me point out that no one is saying that one canât have intensity from time to time- no one is coming to take it away from you, throw you in the slammer if you get caught indulging in something with intensity. However, for some, it is a form of intoxication that is sought too often, with destructive consequences.
Second, let me suggest that being consistent can be an intense thing itself! I know because two comments I receive are, âMichelle, you are pretty intense,â and âMichelle, you are really consistent.â They are not unrelated.... â
Okay- so, letâs start with terms and definitions so that we are all on the same page. There is the official definition of âIntense,â complete with its etymology and thereâs the common usage of intense here in the United States.
First, the Oxford English Dictionary, for some of us the standard bearer of the language:
And there is the common usage:
âBecause Steve gave me permission to use his query for this monthâs newsletter, I am going to reply to his question, knowing that it is a question for all of us.
To learn more about what the intention of Steveâs intensity is, letâs also look at the antonyms:
Whether your desire or fear is intensity, you showed up at Aspiration Community Yoga and asked me to teach you. I teach from the perspective of yoga, informed as I am by strength training and Buddhism. Yoga is the practice of equanimity, the yoking of whatâs easy and whatâs hard, being the space that is held in the container of the two extremes.
But letâs stay in the less than esoteric, metaphysical of why being that space between the two is everyday beneficial to you. Hereâs a good one to start with: Flexibility.
Hookeâs Law The extension of an elastic object, such as a spring, is directly proportional to the force applied, provided that the limit of proportionality is not exceeded. â¡â¡ = â¡â¡â¡â¡ where: - F is the force applied to the spring, â¡â¡ - K is the spring constant, â¡â¡â¡â¡â1 - X is the extension.
âI donât think any of you ever wished to be less flexible. But what is it to be flexible? Look at the graph and the Hooke's law of physics Hooke's law - Wikipedia. Your muscles work just exactly the same. The sweet spot for flexibility aka plasticity, is not at the point of extreme force or extension. So, if in your endeavor to make yourself more flexible, you are applying as much force as you can, applying as much extension as you can, you are getting in your own way.
Want another practicality for everyday health? Letâs go with a former popular buzz term, still in circulation, parasympathetic vs. Sympathetic stimulation:
ââMobility requires more parasympathetic stimulation than sympathetic, but needs to build off sympathetic stabilization Long, slow breathing with more of a âreleaseâ of breath versus expulsion.â -Dean Summerset, Complete Hip Training
Whether you are dealing with chronic pain, chronic disease, or anger in traffic, practicing so that you can access that long slow breathing when attacked by pain or cut off by another driver will cut down on the chances of flare up or attacks, whether the attack is oneâs own immune system, heart, or another human being on the road.
I am going to end with one more- Internal âlistening,â aka interoception.
All day, men â no women â took the microphone and spoke. There was always a buzz in the audience, whispers, an audible hum of excitement. Then it was time for John Cage. He walked onto the stage and began to speak, without the microphone. He stood at the center of the small stage and addressed the crowd. He talked, without amplification, and soon people in the audience shouted, âWe canât hear you, use the mic. We canât hear you.â John Cage said, âYou can, if you listen.â Everyone settled down, there was no more buzz, hum or rustling, there was silence, and John Cage spoke again, without the microphone, and everyone listened and heard perfectly.â - At the Microphone, What Would Lynne Tillman Do?
And yet the soul, despite its toughness, is also essentially shyâjust like a wild animal. It will flee from the noisy crowd and seek safety in the deep underbrush. If we want to see a wild animal, we know that the last thing we should do is go crashing through the woods yelling for it to come out! But if we will walk into the woods quietly and sit at the base of a tree, breathing with the earth and fading into our surroundings, the wild creature we seek may eventually show up. Parker Palmer A Pedagogy of the Soul
âve had two students ever show up at yoga to calm their thoughts. All others come for corporeal fears and desires. They want the pain to stop, but they canât figure out what is causing it. They want to be more flexible, stronger, do a handstand or just bend over and clip their own toenails, tie their own shoes, reach overhead and brush their own hair. Despite effective marketing since the arrival of modern yoga, yoga does not work on you as force that changes you from the outside. Rather, it is one of many technologies that can renew the ability to perceive sensations.
Do you know if you are tipping your head back right now? Are you able to discern whether the lower bottom edge of your rib cage is expanding and contracting with each breath? When you go up and down steps, are you paying attention to the hinge or lack thereof of the knees and groin?
This is using any of the senses that detect conditions within the body. This is yoga 101 and PhD yoga. This is easily drowned out and found only by finding that âinternal quietâ where one can listen for the non-amplified communication of the body that emerges when it is safe to emerge.
The therapist job is to slow things down enough so that it becomes obvious how someone is getting in her own way, in order that she may learn to lift the restriction, if she so desires. â Mark Epstein, âGoing On Being, pg. 25