I’m up early, as has been my custom here. And I awake with what feels like the beginning of a sinus infection and something in my lungs. The change from Southern India to Dehli to Northern India in less than 30 hours may have been a bit much, especially considering the pollution in Dehli. Nonetheless, I’m grateful to be here where I sleep through the night on the river bank of the Ganges and awaken to a sliver moon in the pre-dawn sky.
Before heading to the pranayama and chanting class, I do my own practice to address my physical yoga needs and my sinuses, as best as I can. I practice being comfortable with the uncomfortable. An hour later as I’m walking to the group class, I’m still puffy eyed but feeling energetically well. The pranayama and chanting act as terrific medicine and I’m able to breathe, swallow, sing and speak!
As we walk out of class into the daylight, there is a line for tea and hot cereal. Of course, since we’re in India, people form several unorganized lines to head toward the tea, even though there are only two smallish containers (which get continually refilled). As it’s also frigidly cold, I get to practice being comfortable being uncomfortable again…I’m shivering and the lines aren’t moving. Funny that only amusement arises, whereas historically it may have arisen accompanied by annoyance. I then realize, I haven’t had one moment of being annoyed by India! She just doesn’t get on my nerves.
Life will offer us countless moments of discomfort or encounters with being uncomfortable. While it seems we spend much of our time trying to figure out how to make ourselves comfortable or protect our comfortableness from being disrupted, perhaps the real resilience comes from being radically comfortable with the uncomfortable. Sinuses and cold weather are minor places to start, but, as with physical asana, we start with beginning poses and then widen our capacity for the advanced work of deeper discomfort.
I attended my first Yoga Nidra class today. It’s the practice of deep rest, not sleep, but deep rest while staying conscious. The teacher talked us through several visualizations, some related to chakras, some to body parts, intended to support our dissolving any tension that would keep us grasping or separated from God (my interpretation). At one point she suggested we imagine ourselves on the vast ocean, floating and at ease, with the immense sky and radiant sun above us. As she went on with her analogy all I could think of was the terrible sunburn a person could get in this situation! I wasn’t dissolving into God in those moments, but I was smiling at myself and my “smart-ass New York upbringing.”
Many minutes later she asked us to bring up a painful memory, a time when we felt physical pain, or emotional times of feeling angry, deceived, hurt, lonely, humiliated, or wounded. Since I’ve been on the planet for 40 years and had dozens of sports related injuries in early life (three broken bones) and a recent hip surgery, and countless experiences of humiliation in the face of my father’s anger through my adolescence, moments of loneliness in my growing up household where feelings weren’t expressed, and when mine were, I frightened my parents into more criticism and resulting isolation (Go to your room!), and experiences as an adult where I have felt let down, disappointed, hurt, misunderstood, or frustrated as well as times when I imposed my own suffering in thoughts, stories, angst, too high expectations, or too firmly held attachments, I had plenty to choose from. Yet, gracefully, in this moment, nothing arose. Not one speck arose on the screen of my mind and not one flicker showed up in my body’s response to her suggestion. So deeply connected was I to the greatest easeful awareness that even though I tried on the “movie” of several possible clips from my life, nothing landed. Even very recent experiences of interpersonal pain that had led to useful explorations of early life patterning (aka belief systems) floated by without raising a hair. There was no residue of any of these pains anywhere in my physical body, nor was I able to generate a response to any story I actively tried to remember.
Is it the river’s power, the great Ganges? Is it the power of this teacher’s presence? Is it the strength of this gathering here at the IYF? Or the grace of Love shining through?
Yes, yes, and yes. Though I’d have to also acknowledge the power of Willingness. We have to say Yes to this grace as its saying Yes to us.
I’ve been studying yoga and meditation for 20 years. For the first decade, I studied out of inexplicable devotion to what I called the Mystery; and as a way to “medicate” my life. Fortunately, it worked and I was liberated into a larger and more loving life and a desire to continue on the path. Over the last decade of my study, I’ve actively attempted to integrate my Western psychology studies with the psychology of yoga and its prayerfulness. I’ve deliberately cultivated a desire and capacity to “sit with what is” as its arising, painful or celebratory. And I’ve deepened my curiosity and sensitivity to the undercurrents of life in myself and others. Looking back I can see that all of these endeavors reflect my basic desire for and my willingness to live in Love.
The most slippery challenge I faced along the way was the subtle difference between willingness, in this regard, and attachment to my “process,” which can translate as attachment to my story and the unraveling of all of its parts.
Of course we know rationally, and I’ve taught frequently over the last year as my focus was on the Koshas, Love doesn’t require us to unravel all of these painful parts, nor to grasp for our joyful parts.
Eckart Tolle is a remarkable example of this. He has never described himself as a seeker. He was not looking to “wake up.” Yet, after a long term period of depression, he woke up to that which was not depressed, which was not identified.
A window of willingness opens in us and Love steps through. If it enters only intellectually, we may have to keep “holding” the blaze of insight and attempt to steer our lives toward it. But when it fountains up through the heart and infuses the very fabric of the body, where memories and belief systems are stored, Love “holds us,” burns away the residues of the past, and alights us firmly in the ever present Now. While we may need conscious remembering in times of great distress (Eckart calls this a stimulation of the pain-body), the Love itself can not be forgotten, just as when a curtain falls over the window, we still remember the great river flowing by.
But this can be done not just by the decision to travel, but also the decision to meditate, or study yourself, or consciously choose a different route to work, or a new morning rhythm, or to try on someone else’s rhythm, or to give up entirely for a day, two days, then maybe three. The point is to explore whether or not these preferences have become trances, or little places of self-soothing, that we still benefit from, or not. Perhaps it’s time for a wider circle of comfort in the world?