Unfolding on the Mat
Expanded Content and Thoughtful Guidance
have to tell you about this amazing experience I had last week. I went out to Firm Foundations Equine Services in Wimberly, Texas. Lindsey, the therapist there, had reached out to me to see if a collaboration might be something worth exploring. (Hint--yes it is!) My event curator, Angela, and I went out there to see and experience what they do.
We played a little game called "horse handshake." After a brief but informative explanation from Lindsey's partner, Elisa, of how horses communicate, we went and stood in the corral with the horse, Charlie, and attempted to get a "handshake." (We extend our hand in a fist, and if he sniffs our hand and accepts our communication, it's considered a handshake.)
Just standing in the corral trying to get a horse to engage with me took my mind into many creepy crevices of discomfort and uncertainty. I COULD NOT MAKE HIM do anything he didn't want to do. I could not rush him. I couldn't speak his language, I couldn't ask, force, or plead with him to play with me. I stayed--but everything in me wanted to pick up my toys and leave in a huff.
See, I LIKE to be where I understand the game, where I know the rules, and where I can easily foster communication and reach an intended goal.
This was NOT that.
It felt like chaos in my mind. I had no experience to stand on. All I could do was breathe and stare at him while my mind spun a web of uncertainty all around me. "Why can't I make this work??"
So I just kept breathing. And staring... And it got better.
I loosened up my expectations of achieving the goal and just sat with what was. It was a chilly, windy, sunny day and I was staring at a horse eating hay. That's it. The rest was in my mind.
In this week's podcast, I read again from Pema Chodron's book,
Comfortable with Uncertainty. The first line of of the fourth teaching is,
"The central question of a warrior's training is not how we avoid uncertainty and fear, but how we relate to discomfort."
Well I found out I want to RUN AWAY! I want to seek security and a place where I know the rules and can play the game! Like most normal humans, I want to get away from doubt and fear.
Now, I could leave the corral anytime. But that's not always the case. Sometimes there's nowhere to run, no matter how hard we try. The only thing to do is stay and breathe and have compassion and patience. As Pema puts it,
"We can bring ourselves back to the spiritual path countless times every day simply by exercising our willingness to rest in the uncertainty of the present moment--over and over again."
May you learn to "relax in the midst of chaos," and "be cool when the ground beneath you suddenly disappears."
This week I'm continuing with Pema Chodron's book, Comfortable with Uncertainty. This practice, or mindset, of being ok when you don't know how things will end up, continues to strengthen me. I am getting better at seeing fear arise in my mind and simply labeling it, "fear." That way, it's not that I'M AFRAID (identifying with the fear), but rather, "I have fear." (I am separate FROM the fear so I can look at it.) Or, I have fear, just like I have joy, and support, and love, and sadness, and anger, and faith. It's part of my full spectrum of experience...cuz I'm human. The fear does not define me--there's a lot more going on here than just that!
In the reading I do in this week's podcast, we come across Pema's words and use of the cocoon metaphor in a way I have never encountered. She describes the cocoon as the life we create around ourselves that is safe, predictable, convenient, and trustworthy.
I believe that practicing ways that expand our adaptability makes life more memorable and our compassion run deeper.
When you FEEL your environment, you are likely more present. If you don't like it, don't run. Be in it. Watch yourself automatically try to adjust towards comfort and stop yourself. Name it. Then with compassion think of those whose environment cannot be changed, whose discomfort cannot be soothed. Send them love. Be with them in your own little way--your life then expands across the globe.
When you listen to dissenting views, rather than typecasting and dismissing the speaker, consider broadening your range of understanding where people are coming from. You don't have to agree--you don't even have to particularly like them--but do watch how your mind responds and give yourself a good ego check. There is way more to you and to them than social, religious, or political affiliation!
You get the idea.
This week, I'm challenging us all to watch for our discomforts, and make a practice of sitting in them with curiosity. We can breathe deeply while we let our mind have a battle, then plunge into the vastness of our unbreakable hearts. We can wiggle our toes, get back in our bodies, and remember we feel these things because we are ALIVE!
May you bust out of that cocoon and fly, butterfly!
Do you often wish you had a crystal ball? Do you want to know how things will end up? Are you sometimes impatient with times of transition, putting off being happy until some situation is resolved?
True confession: when I read murder mystery books I read the last page first. I want to know who's still there in the end!
Let's just call it what it is, shall we? It's a desire for CONTROL. Not having control over parts of our lives is SCARY!! We might want to hide until the hard stuff passes. We might avoid uncomfortable situations and conversations because we don't know how they will turn out.
This last year in my life has been full of uncertainty, tons of change, lots of sitting through uncomfortable waiting. I've come up against being out of control time and time again. Which is why I decided to read Pema Chodron's book, Comfortable with Uncertainty.
In it she begins to train us to be warriors--"not warriors who kill, but warriors of non-aggression who hear the cries of the world." Warriors who don't run away. Warriors who are brave enough to stay and be with what is.
The world needs us to stay the course with loving kindness.
We must remove our armor of defensiveness and engage with life wholeheartedly.
She challenges us to ask ourselves, "Do I prefer to grow up and relate to life directly, or do I choose to live and die in fear?"
What does Yoga say?
The three steps of Yoga in Action:
1) Study the situation and yourself to determine what is the best response. (Give yourself TIME to do this.) Figure out what you know, what you don't know, what the scriptures say about it, and what your past experience has taught you in similar situations.
2) Do the action that seems best, honest, simple, and clear. Remember--not taking action is still an action, and sometimes it's the best choice. You can decide to remain uncertain. That's still action, but it's not running away or avoiding--it's just staying and breathing.
3) Surrender the results of the action. Give it up to God. Let the Universe handle the rest. Release attachment and gripping to a certain outcome. Exhale.
I'm going to add a fourth step: Phone a friend. Talk about your uncertainty. Let them stand with you in the gap. I guarantee your friend has been uncertain and out of control at some point. These stories we share are how we bring our suffering to the world, and in doing so they lessen.
You'll know you have learned to be a warrior when you can sit with someone who is crying, and not try to fix it or fix them. You just listen.
You'll know you are a warrior when you learn to sit with the sick and dying.
You'll know you are a warrior when you engage with loving presence with the person experiencing homelessness.
You'll know you are a warrior when you see and hear the cries of the world, inhale their suffering, and exhale compassion for all. Then do the same for your neighbor.
May you realize you are a warrior, just by showing up with your whole self.
Ready for some more happiness advice? On this week's podcast, I'm drawing again on one of the gems I found in this issue of TIME Magazine.
One of the articles, titled Nine Ways to Feel More Joy (by Kate Lowenstein), encourages us to do something that honestly hadn't occurred to me as a way to feel happy:
"Forget self-improvement and "[bask] in what's already great about yourself."
Well, la-ti-da! Take a little break from thinking about thinking? Pause the analyzing mind and be happy with what IS?
You mean act like my dog?
She's told all the time she's "such a good girl," and "so sweet," and "what a smart doggy." I'm convinced she agrees and has no shame about it! And believe me, she IS HAPPY! She sure isn't spending much time worrying about being good enough in any of the categories we like to create: looks, smarts, worthiness, loveability, capability, income, status, athleticism, etc. She just likes herself and loves her humans. See? She IS a smart doggy :)
The article continues on to talk about how to "identify your strong suits" with the free Values in Action Survey of Character Strengths. It's like a fun scavenger hunt to find the words that describe your awesomeness. They divide the words out into six broad virtue categories:
From there, they describe the words in those categories, so you can get a working definition of each strength. There's even a quiz to take to help you narrow it down!
Let's do a little practice to what you already know about yourself:
May you recognize all the ways you are already wonderful, and may you let the world see them as well.
Ready for some happiness advice? For my next two podcasts, I'm drawing on some of the gems I found in this issue of TIME Magazine.
One of the articles, titled 14 Ways to be a Happier Person, gives some great thoughts on how to infuse your day with more fun and joy.
My favorite part is that it mentions something like what I have recommended to my clients: A Happiness Journal. Making daily entries into a book that records the moments you stopped to notice, savor, and enjoy something creates a total mind-shift towards the positive. This gets your happy juices flowing, which can push back at the blues and give you a genuine sense of more life satisfaction and joy.
Remember--your brain is like Teflon to the positive and Velcro with the negative. It's just the way we're made! We have to stop and savor for a full 15 seconds to give our brains a chance to remember a sweet encounter.
So grab an empty notebook and title it "Moments to Savor." Get your entries started today! You will live a longer, healthier, and happier life.
May your life be full of moments to savor, and may you take the time to do so each day.
Jessica lives, has a family, and teaches yoga in Austin, Texas.