While I occasionally have a plan for what I’ll talk about in the opening meditation for class, most of the time it’s a surprise even to me what comes out. Sometimes, it’s what has been showing up in my own life and practice, what I’ve been reading about or what I am consistently hearing from students. Other times the message seems like it is arriving from the universe as a dharma lesson for me personally as much as it might be for anyone else in the room. Over the many years of teaching, I have come to trust the impulse of what rises whether planned or unplanned, comfortable or not.
I had a few comments after class last Tuesday that caused me to go back and think about what I’d said- or at least reflect on what was mirrored back to me. Part of the deal with letting the spirit guide is that most of the time I have absolutely no idea what I said after the fact. But all of the comments I received were around this statement: yoga doesn’t fix everything.
I know this. We all know this. But the information with which we are bombarded day in and day out keeps us on the lookout for a cure-all, as we consistently are told that we are not enough. We do not measure up. Everyone else has it figured out. Everyone else is happy and fulfilled. The answer? Do something, do anything, do everything.
If x, then y: x as the variable of external change and y, as the variable representing happiness, fulfillment, contentment, success. If I can only get/do/have x, then I will be y. Everything will be okay. We know it’s not true, but perhaps in part we want to believe that happy and okay are final destinations. But no, no they are not.
I think the reality is that everyone is struggling, in the myriad ways that that manifests. I also believe that we all want the same things: to spend more time happy and less time unhappy; to enjoy a healthy balance of productivity, rest and play; to be thriving more and suffering less.
Again, we find a paradox held in the yoga. It doesn’t take away the sting of life. It fixes nothing. It doesn’t remove pain, disappointment, sickness, sadness, betrayal or loss from the course of your days. Even with a disciplined, daily practice of yoga, you will still be regularly faced with other humans who are not behaving the way you want them to; you will be occasionally plagued with fear, doubt and depression; you will be hurt in body and in heart by life as you travel through it. Nothing will get any easier on the outside, no matter how diligently you practice. Yoga does not wrap life into a prettier package.
And yet at the same time, yoga does have the potential to make it all better. Why? Because the yoga, when practiced consistently, over a long period of time, without attachment to results, changes the only thing we can change: what’s on the inside. There is exactly nothing you can do to escape the trials and tribulations of being human, but you can change your thoughts, habits and reactions to life as it’s served up in all its splendor, glory and chaos. In fact, the yogic toolkit for doing so is wide and deep.
So, while you cannot make it better for your child who is suffering with depression or retrieve your partner who is on an extended visit to Crazytown or ease the actual physical pain of illness or injury, when you change your thought patterns and their associated reactions, your reality does change. The pain doesn’t go away, but how you handle it does. As you learn to manage your mind, there is the opportunity for a wise response instead of a spontaneous reaction. There is the possibility to see the bigger picture and this moment as a drop in the ocean.
The time you spend perseverating on what you cannot change creates suffering. Every thought form or conversation you engage in which resists or fights the present moment creates suffering. When you shift the focus from what was, what isn’t and what might be to what actually is, right here and now, you taste freedom. This one moment may not be pleasant, but when it’s uncolored by the past or future, can be breathed through, no matter the content. And when you do this, you get a little closer to the truth. You learn to live with pain when it visits, without inviting suffering to stay as well.
Perhaps as you move through this day you might notice where you want someone to bend to your wishes, or when your mental spin is spiraling you out of steady center. What if you were to simply stop and take one breath? What would happen if you changed the course of your thoughts to what is- and perhaps even to what is right- in this moment? What if we could release the grip of the spin, the story, the past, and breathe the freedom of the present? I think if we could collectively try this for one day, all at once, we just might change the world.