This month will cumulate 3 years of steady, monthly writing on the body, emotion and mind of a yoga practice. I write my own experience, “Jo-Shmo” yogini, just one of thousands of yoga teachers in the United States.
Looking at the Archive, (Did you know there is a Newsletter Archive page? Have you ever perused it? It’s not well tagged, so hard to navigate, in a way, I admit.) I feel the impulse of creating a better organization of the subjects. Let me know if you would make use of the past writings.
In looking at the Website’s Newsletter Archive page, I feel like it’s all been written, emailed, posted, verbalized. It’s all been said. I don’t know what else I could teach you that would help you. For now, it’s up to you and I to practice what has been offered.
I think what happens over the course of long time practice is we focus in for a while on a particular something. After a period of time, we come up out of that focus and hopefully investigate again all the many other things. In those will be some familiar and some forgotten, some that was not before accessible or comprehended. At some point again, a particular something in the collection of knowledge becomes a new focus for another period. The cycle begins again.
I have now been practicing yoga for 20 years. That’s not very long. Honestly, I feel like I’m just getting started! Reflect back on your 20-year-old self. How much experience did you REALLY have at 20? I feel things I never felt before, just now understand some of what I was queued by teachers years ago.
Yet, at 20, I have a better idea of what I like and what is helpful. I have let go of many agendas, “should-be-able-to-s” and goals. I have settled into pure practice. Practice just to practice. Practice just to be present and sensate. Practice as the opportunity to breath and feel my own being.
This summer our classes will, as well, settle into pure practice. Practice just to practice. Practice just to be present and sensate. Practice as the opportunity to breath and feel your own being.
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