Friday, April 16, 2010

Practice is not an Outside-In Kind of Thing

Several people this week have asked me, "Do you practice every day?" And the answer, I suppose, is both Yes and No.

Also, keep in mind that when I use the word practice I am not using to refer only to asana. For me practice involves an approach to life that is anchored in a commitment to see clearly and to act from that vision. Practice, for me, includes but is not limited to asana, pranayama, meditation, what I eat, how I eat, why I eat, observing myself, may thoughts, my actions, my reactions, my responses, the cultivation of compassion for myself and others, study, serving, being a friend, a mate, a daughter, a sister and so on.

Do I do any one of those things every day- sure. Do I do every one of them every day? No. Do I try to remember to remember what guides my life every day? Yes. Do I succeed every day to live from my Highest Vision? No.

But , I really hate that question because it seems to assume a context for practice that is not my context. I mean I might practice asana everyday but not because I have some rule or admonition or idea that I am supposed to. Or I might not practice everyday but its not because I am blowing off my commitments or because I am not inspired to practice or anything like that. Its a much more fluid conversation than that for me.

A long time ago I was in a workshop with a Senior Iyengar Yoga teacher named Manouso Manos when someone asked him about how much they should practice. And he asked them if they were a parent. And the person said, "Yes." So he says, "Do you play with your kids because you are supposed to or do you play with your kids because you love them and love to be with them? That is how practice can be. Don't do it because you have to or because you think you should. Do it because you love to."

See, the things is, I love to practice asana. I am rarely bored because there is always something to work on, improve, try out and explore. Being on my mat is one of my favorite places to be. I love the way the each bend, each stretch and each breath wakes me up, brings me home, and calls me inward. When I feel strong I love to practice strong asanas. I love that asana can restore me when I am tired. Its got everything- static, dynamic, lyrical, staccato, etc. I might not be on my mat every day- I might need rest, I might have a day of travel, I might have a relationship that needs tending, I might have work that has a deadline. Life is happening all the time all time. To make it into a rigid, "have to" is not the point for me AT ALL.

Same with meditation and pranayama. I sit most mornings. But again, not because I have to or because I think I should. And I do not feel bad about myself on the days I choose sleep over sitting and so forth. The things is I love the way it feels to sit at my puja in the morning. I love the way pranayama clears the clouds in my brain and wakes me up in the most magical of ways. I really do. I feel it with each cycle of each technique, my brain gets cleared, my energy begins to flow and once again, I come inward to me. It is a very cool thing to do for myself. It is an act of the Highest Love to greet the day like this.

I love the repetition of mantra and how it moves me toward meditation. Repeating the names of God and filling my cells with the messages of Divinity is not some kind of "have to" thing at all for me.

And I love the practice of meditation- not always because it is so easy or so delightful to observe the endless machinations of my mind but simply because the practice of it, even on the noisy days, opens me to something decidedly Real. The practice of meditation seems somehow intrinsically meaningful to me. In the crazy world of outward focus, noise and distraction the quite contemplative mood of meditation- even for a few moments, is an act of love.

I could go on like this in most domains.

Like food also. People say, "Are you really strict with your diet?" and I always say, "No." I am really do not feel strict at all with my diet. It is a very expansive thing with me. In general I eat whatever I want. But truth be told, in general what I want falls within a pretty wholesome range of choices. I could never do it otherwise. If my diet required a iron grip to make happen, well, I would never last. I just wouldn't. I do not have that kind of will power.

So practice to me is about a different kind of will power. It is about creating enough boundaries over a long enough period of time that a shift happens and we want this life and its practices. One time Paul Muller Ortega suggested to us that sadhana should move in a direction where Grace was pulling us along and we were in its slipstream as opposed to trying to push against the wind in some heroic attempt to effort our way into alignment.

So, like everything this is a multi-faceted issue. Certainly, I am big on applying will forcefully at times. For certain purposes. To achieve a certain aim. Just not as a way of life. I think forcefully manhandling ourselves into "good behavior" is really dysfunctional and only sets up a pattern of comply-rebel that is at its essence quite childish. We are adults on the path. This is a path of skillful and informed choice. There is no Yoga Police. There is no "Mean Yoga Mommy in the Sky" or "Mean Yoga Daddy in the Sky" passing judgement on whether or not we are "good enough yogis". There is just the cry from our Self to come home. There is just the ever-present longing buried deep in the heart of each of us asking us to step into Our Truth. Practice is not an outside-in proposition to please some outside Force. It is an inside-out process of aligning with what is best within us and removing the obstacles to our Light so we can shine brightly.

I have tired it the other way. It is no way for me to live. As I was reflecting on these themes this morning, I actually recalled a scene from my early recovery from bulimia. I must have been 5 or so years into the recovery process at this time. Keep in mind that my early recovery was pretty strict, rigid and full of dogma of all kinds. In order to gain some control over myself and my life I weighed and measured my food, abstained from sugar, caffeine, ate only 3 times a day, called my sponsor every day to give her a food plan, and was at 12-step meetings daily. So- extrapolate from there and you see it was a pretty authoritarian regime.

Now that structure had been necessary for a time. It seriously helped me. I mean the situation was drastic and I needed to take some drastic measures. And because I did, I am alive today. No regrets there. So, like I said, for period of time, I get that kind of approach, but I was in early- intervention mode still after 5 years. So anyway, I was at a therapy workshop and we were doing pretty major emotional catharsis work. We had a debriefing session and were asked to share how were feeling and all I could think about what how badly I wanted to kill myself. I literally felt suicidal.

Well, lucky for me, I had a world-renowned Jungian Analyst facilitating the group that day named Jeremiah Abrams. He listened to my story and then began to speak. He told me,"Well, from the Jungian perspective the desire to commit suicide is simply the desire for a radical transformation. Your psyche wants and needs something to change so badly and in such a total and complete way that some aspect of you- and I propose to you that it is your inner child, not your mature adult- has come up with this idea of suicide as a logical solution to the situation. That urge is your psyche telling you that you need a big change and you need it right now."

So at this point I get kind of interested. Not just kind of interested. At this point I am riveted by this man. (He was actually a visiting therapist that day and not the primary facilitator but that is another story.) I am still crying while he is speaking, but it was the kind of crying that we do when someone is speaking our truth with better words than we have for ourselves at the moment. It was a crying that came out of recognition, from being heard, from being seen and of hope because those words actually began to shine light on my path. They began to show me a way out of my darkness.

"So," he asked me, "Christina, what about your life right now...what about your relationship with yourself right now... needs to change? Dramatically and completely and immediately?"

So, to make a long story short, what needed to change and change quickly was a whole way of living and responding and being with myself that was rigid, authoritarian, rule-based and with no possible chance of ever being good enough. It was as though my boundaries and guidelines had become a prison of my own making that trapped me in a life that was called "recovery" but was devoid of any pleasure, joy of delight that would make recovery even worthwhile! And so long story short, I left the workshop, did not kill myself, lightened up, found I could eat chocolate without going to hell and could take a day off from exercise and still feel self-worth and so on.

So we fast forward now into Yoga Land where the opportunities for rigidity abound and where the do's and don'ts of the path are ever-present and so on and I get a little prickly when I around a lot preaching like that or when I get questions that assume a certain context of "should", "have-to" and so on and if we are not careful we can re-play out all kinds of childhood samskaras within yoga. (actually, we can assume we will do just that. Its not such a bad thing because once we do it, we see we are doing it, we can purify it and so on but I digress.)

I am really passionate about this idea of why we practice because I do not want a prison of rules to be the only place I feel safe or to be from what I draw my worth. I want the freedom to move, to play to explore, veer from the straight and narrow of convention and to still trust that my Heart is my very best compass. My Heart has never failed to call me home. My Heart has never failed to nudge me back toward my best whether I did down dog that day or not.

So I could go on but it is time for the day. Lots of fun things I want to go do!


Jeremiah Wallace said...

Thank you for speaking my truth with better words than I have at the moment.

Don Livingston said...

Hi, Christina,

You wrote, “It was as though my boundaries and guidelines had become a prison of my own making that trapped me in a life that was called "recovery" but was devoid of any pleasure, joy of delight that would make recovery even worthwhile!”

That was marvelously well put. I was sitting here a bit ago thinking of all my tasks and obligations and the mental list of things that I need to get done. I felt like crap. And then I realized that I had let the list become a cage for my soul that didn't allow for rest or delight.

Now my sense of humor has kicked in and I'm laughing at myself. I will do the things I do today not because I have a list, but because God lives inside me and He/I love to do the things that bring joy and wisdom to myself and others.

That's a much more restful place to be.