This BLOG is for your (1) if your fuel tank runs low, (2) if brownies have more power over you than you do over them, or (3) if you find that your self-critical voice goes up in volume this time of year.
In many ways, the practices of yoga are about containment. They require us to have a measure of discipline and self-awareness about our “container.”
We ask questions like: Who are we? Where do we end and others begin? What fills us up? What depletes us? How do we know where our boundaries are as we’re growing and changing? How do we tend to this “container” to support our inner urge for greater freedom?
While it may seem paradoxical, practices of containment do lead to freedom. We see this in nature as riverbanks prepare the river for the journey to the ocean. Weak riverbanks dissipate a river’s journey and can end it on a flood plain. We also know this with our car: when the gas tank is full we have the freedom to drive a long way; when it’s low, we ain’t goin’ very far.
When I speak to students about the practices of containment my intention is to help them contain their self-critical mind, fill up their vitality fuel tank, and reduce how often they cause themselves to become depleted. When we’re depleted, we truly can’t (and don’t) think as well, and our inner critic will have more power over us than we do over it. Also, a depleted mind or body will want to think in terms of short-term solutions, scarcity, or urgency. Generally, when we think from these places, we don’t arrive at our most stellar insights!
Containment during the holidays might mean setting healthy wake up and bed time routines, limiting how many hours you spend at certain holiday gatherings, focusing your shopping hours during times when you have better energy and focus, or for times when the shops are less chaotic, and specifically scheduling in times when you are on “retreat”.
A retreat is a container of sorts, right? But we don’t need to travel away to be on retreat (though you can still join me for the Yelapa, Mexico yoga retreat in February!). A daily retreat is like a daily time out, except it isn’t a time out with food, tv, alcohol, or any substances or behaviors you use to “numb out.” It’s a retreat with focused quiet, reduced sensory stimulation, and deliberate inner intention to have refuge from inner and outer insanity. (In other words, it’s not a time for ruminating or playing back the over-played, and might I say, outdated, self-critical thinking tapes.)
These are some of my personal daily retreat practices:
One of the lovely “side-effects” of these practices is the innate feeling of self-respect and love. I put “side-effects” in quotes, because this isn’t really a side-effect. It’s a central-effect!
For those of us who have looked at the holidays as a time to be unrestrained, out of control, off the “regular diet” and on to the party foods, or for those of us who just find that we eat or drink more of what we don’t normally eat and in greater quantities than we want to, we’re in a relationship with food and beverages that may metaphorically be our relationship to freedom: somewhat confusing with occasional clarity, and mixed “personal policies” that are subject to becoming arbitrary.
The decision to be unrestrained with food or beverages may be an urge for freedom, expressed as eating that brownie that haunts you from the kitchen. However, if the brownie has more power over you than you do over it, you’re not experiencing freedom.
Our culture is founded on our right to be free; yet it’s also heavily invested in a deprivation-reward mentality. For example, we decide that we ought to indulge because (1) I only eat this once a year, (2) everyone else is doing it, (3) I’ll be back on my “regular diet” (or my new diet) in January, (4) I made too many of these things, or (5) it just tastes so good, we may be talking ourselves into something that won’t lead to greater joy, self-love or freedom.
The teachings of yoga suggest that restraint is essential for freedom. I’d like us all to enjoy more freedom over the brownie in the kitchen; and greater freedom over our cell phones, our email, and our inner critic too. Restraint, in fact, does become greater freedom because with a measure of restraint we are able to make decisions from a place of clarity rather than compulsivity, habit, or cultural momentum. We’re also able to make decisions with respect for our selves, our vitality, and our journey towards awakening into genuine freedom.
Eknath Easwaran said this:
The impetus to gain mastery over one’s mind and senses does not come from a distant deity. It doesn’t come from any monastic rule, or even from one’s spiritual teacher. It comes from deep within yourself. You have had a fleeting glimpse of the shining presence within, and in its bright-remembered light, all your flaws and blemishes are thrown into sharp relief. You can’t wait to start removing them.
This is a great statement of self-love. Those “flaws and blemishes” may be the constant chatter of an inner critic or the actual ways in which you see yourself behaving less ideally than you would like (and suffering the consequences). Either way, the restraint required to tend to this process will lead to the freedom to know the shining presence within. You will then find that you make your decisions from that place, which is a real freedom!
This is deep self-love. And the present we’re all craving. After all, it was a shining star that encouraged the wise men in the dark night. And it is the light that returns at Solstice, following this period of darkening days.
May we all practice self-respecting containment, self-nurturing restraint, and genuine self-love.