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Posts Tagged ‘resistance’

Fortunate to have a few days off at Christmas time, not charged with any social obligations, I took long walks in the snowy forest, watched BBC TV-series after Jane Austen’s masterpieces, did research for work from the comforting depth of my arm-chair, met with the few friends staying in town for holidays. Was reconnecting to my inner tortoise, one could say. Like Austen’s Emma, I had time to explore the workings of my own heart/mind.  Unlike Emma, I had my yoga practice to turn to for wise guidance on the begun journey into the love-light country. In romantic relationships, as in yoga, we have a chance to meet all sides of ourselves, the ugly and the beautiful, the stuff that makes us shine and that which holds us back.

Here come a couple of my favourite lessons off the yoga mat (but then again all life is one if we do not try to compartmentalize it, right?)

Am I ready?

One of the most profound lessons that yoga has been teaching me about myself and life is that at every moment it can become more than a stretch just as falling for another always has a potential to be a much larger journey than the initial experience of falling in love.  Both can be truly transforming experiences. And as I’ve discovered, transformation is simply not possible without resistance and the underlying fear of change.

As I watch the yoga teacher suspending herself in the air in a beautiful arm-balance, my heart jumps with excitement and I feel the subtle shifting in my own muscles. The next second I catch the Controller in me go, “No-no-no, you could not possibly pull this one off without injuring yourself or destroying the apartment. You certainly should not consider venturing into it without a thorough preparation.”

What I forget is that every pose I ever tried have been preparing me for this next balance. Now whenever I think the pose is too much for me, I remind myself that I don’t need to do it in its entirety right away but can break it down into components to gently and patiently explore each of them. Likewise, in relationships, whenever something feels overwhelming, my beloved and I can break down the larger issue into smaller parts and see what each of them asks from us, one at a time. Suddenly I feel how my own tension subsides, see the face of my beloved relaxing, the first glimpse of smile showing in his eyes.

Throwing oneself into the fire

One of the first things we discover in yoga is the disproportionate restrictions in our body, those tight spots. So the physical aspect of yoga is about cultivating openness in those restricted areas by constantly playing the edge. In his wonderful book on yoga Erich Schiffmann defines playing the edge as “sensing where your edges are and learning to hold the body there with awareness, moving with its often subtle shifts.  Your skill in yoga has little to do with your degree of flexibility or where your edges happen to be. Rather, it is a function of how sensitively you play your edges, no matter where they are.”* I am reminded that there are no such thing as the ideal posture (or perfect relationship for that matter!) but rather each posture is ever-evolving, changing from moment to moment. Sensitivity for me is in the first place about listening for both the words and beyond the words, the ability to drop the agenda (this is how I am going to do this pose or what I am going to say) when I am listening to my own body or to what my beloved says. Even in relationships we can practice listening with the body, as we do in yoga. We can colibrate ourselves to become more sensitive and receive the waves we otherwise might miss.

 

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Well, maybe the new way will not be better. But it surely will be different. In retrospective I find that it is definitely worth trying: an external shift makes it easier to take a new perspective which is always enriching. Besides, it’s a great opportunity to learn something new about my own reactivity and resistance to change that I don’t approve of.

For a while I was at a loss: should I encourage my sangha-friend to open up to this change and at least give this new way a try? I noticed how my thoughts went in different directions almost simultaneously: one side of me was concerned with my self-image (how will this influence how others see me?); another side was glad the person spoke up; yet another one wished he had said something in the line of  “I feel uncomfortable and disconnected from the sangha by splitting into groups for the discussion but I am willing to give it a try”. A friend and sangha-member helped me out by voicing the need she sensed coming from the person, that of connection, which I heard in the beginning but lost when it did not make sense to me (splitting into groups is not the same as splitting the sangha!)

Suddenly I felt the tiredness of the last few weeks coming down on me. I saw the person next to me, also quite tired and obviously very uncomfortable. I backed off, invited everyone to rejoin the circle and do it the way we used to do. I felt relieved as the peace in the room was restored and we could finally turn to the poem which,  incidentally, was about impermanence and not clinging to the solid picture of the world we carry with us.

During the discussion one person said that he thought we did not have to be shaped only by “some immense storm” but in fact could allow every little thing influence us. Back then that comment didn’t strike a chord with me but as I am writing this I can see how our everyday lives here in the West are not that stormy but still consist of countless situations in which we can allow ourselves to get softer, let go of holding on to the ways we are comfortable with for the moment. A sensitive soul can feel the touch of a breeze…

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“Put those things that naturally go on a high place onto a high place, and those that would be most stable on a low place onto a low place; things that most naturally belong on a high place settle best on a high place, while those which belong on a low place find their greatest stability there.”

Dogen’s “Instructions for the Zen Cook” with commentary by Uchiyama Roshi, p. 5.

yesterday evening I facilitated the discussion at the gathering of my local meditation group. As a topic I chose a very rich in imagery and symbols poem by Rilke “The Man Watching”. I have been carrying it with me for about a month now, letting it incubate and listening in. There is still a lot in the poem that doesn’t make sense to me but there was a lot that struck a chord. Here’s how it starts:

The Man Watching

by Rainer Maria Rilke

I can tell by the way the trees beat, after
so many dull days, on my worried windowpanes
that a storm is coming,
and I hear the far-off fields say things
I can’t bear without a friend,
I can’t love without a sister

The storm, the shifter of shapes, drives on
across the woods and across time,
and the world looks as if it had no age:
the landscape like a line in the psalm book,
is seriousness and weight and eternity.

What we choose to fight is so tiny!
What fights us is so great!
If only we would let ourselves be dominated
as things do by some immense storm,
we would become strong too, and not need names.

……………

We had a very fruitful discussion that was deeply rooted in our personal experiences rather than trying to understand the meaning of all images. Or maybe we were trying out how the poem fit our personal experiences? Some of us initially reacted to the lines like “let ourselves be dominated” because we automatically translated it into “giving up”. After some reflection we came to the conclusion that it meant “surrender”  and not “giving up” and to us the poem was about surrendering to Life itself  based on trusting it and being willing to be shaped by the storms on our journey.

The following lines especially resonated with me:

When we win it’s with small things,
and the triumph itself makes us small.

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Since I started doing sitting meditation one of my legs (or both) would inevitably fall asleep and for the most part the sitting would evolve around staying with those sensations in the body. I know it is not harmful for my health and would probably pass with time so I just accepted it as something I could sit with and even learnt to appreciate as those sensations in the body helped me stay connected to it and the breath.  With time those sensations built a background for my sitting, something I sort of knew would be there and I guess I started identify the sittings  with.

Doing some yoga practice right before the sitting has proved to be very successful in helping me get grounded in the body and those sensations in the legs suddenly disappeared altogether. Now the body feels alert yet relaxed and pleasantly warmed up. However, I soon discovered that when the body is more comfortable the mind is more likely to wonder away and engage in daydreaming and I have to apply more effort to sustain concentration.

I find myself wishing one condition away in preference of the other only to find out that the latter is not at all as I imagined it to be.

Friend, please tell me what I can do about this world
I hold to, and keep spinning out!


I gave up sewn clothes, and wore a robe,
but I noticed one day the cloth was well woven.


So I bought some burlup, but I still
throw it elegantly over my left shoulder.


I pulled back my sexual longings,
and now I discovere that I’m angry a lot.


I gave up rage, and now I notice
that I am greedy all day.


I worked har at dissolving the greed,
and now I am proud of myself.


When the mind wants to break its link with the world
it still holds on to one thing.


Kabir says: Listen my friend,
there are very few that find the path!


From Ecstatic poems by Kabir, versions by Robert Bly

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