I hate this so much (Why do I feel so relieved?)
As so often happens in yoga: today, I had the sensation that I might be having both the deepest and most obvious thought ever. It brought to mind something I’ve heard various mentors say, in some way or another, many times over the years: “What we resist persists” and “The thing you cannot be with runs your life” and “When you avoid the ‘bad’ stuff, it’s hard to let the good stuff in, too”. Like OKAY I GET IT—I’M SUPPOSED TO HAVE A FULL, FELT EXPERIENCE OF ALL OF THE THINGS; EVEN THE THINGS I DO NOT LIKE AT ALL AND WISH WOULD GO AWAY. Geesh—I get it, okayyyyy? Now can I go back to binge-watching MasterChef Junior and pretending that Barack Obama is still the president???
Here’s what happened: I spent the first 20 minutes of class moving through poses that are difficult but pretty comfortable for me with the teacher occasionally giving adjustments and complimenting us on our breathing (he meant me, right? I’m crushing this inner peace thing right now!) But on some level, in the back of my brain, there was this low, constant hum saying “I hate chair pose so much, I’m so glad this isn’t chair pose, I hope we don’t do chair pose later/ever, God chair pose is so dumb, and so hard, and why do I even need to do it, anyway?”
So y’all know what happened.
It’s not going to be much of a spoiler at all when I tell you that yes: eventually, it was time to do chair pose. For a long time. And repeatedly. And I did hate it. At first.
And then, as I let myself just hate it (while also doing it), something shifted. There I was, in big scary stupid pointless chair pose, and when I acknowledged my physical experience of struggling, of wishing I was somewhere else, wishing I was feeling something else, I didn’t have to hate it anymore. I could just be there: feeling it, maybe even being a teeny bit curious about it… (Let’s not get too carried away here, I’m not going to say that I liked it because I did not.) So here’s the thing: once chair was over (actual angels sang), I realized I wasn’t dwelling on/dreading/bashing chair pose anymore. I was alive, instead, in each present moment—without the weight of “hating” and simultaneously preparing for and dreading something else. Now, I understand that this concept of contentment or peace with the current circumstances as they are is not a new idea, and that it is certainly not my idea. (And when I say it is not my idea, what I mean more deeply is that I come to the practice of yoga with humility, gratitude, and the full knowledge that none of it belongs to me.) All of that said, the embodied experience of ‘I have avoided this and yet here I am in this’ was a resonant reminder.
It's never the crying that is so painful, it's always the lump in my throat from trying not to.
And this is where coaching comes in: part of the work, as I see it, is to support folks in learning to stay present in their own chair poses—the things in their life (or self) that they are actively avoiding. To ask them, essentially: where are you being an ostrich in your life, and is that working for you? And how much energy is that head-burying taking away from things you would actually like to have energy for—the things you want to be fully awake to in your life; that are being dulled by the ones (you think) you’d rather sleep through?
Also: I know full well that chair pose (and lots of other kinds of physical endurance and even suffering) is very small potatoes compared to the forms of loss and pain available to us humans. So, I am not comparing a few seconds of quad-burn to the real and searing grief and heartbreak in so many of our lives. What I am saying is that we all have these small opportunities to grow our emotional muscles; to practice letting ourselves be with whatever it is we are afraid we cannot stand, and that this (even in its smallest form) is meaningful and generative work. It is the work of being alive.
This practice of being alive, the best we can, in this moment to whatever is happening (especially when it is too painful or too "much") is the only way to let a little air into these places—to open into compassion and the possibility of transformation. Imagine the impact you could have on yourself and in the world if you could free up all that creative energy currently being used to numb something(s) out? And how would building this muscle allow you to also open yourself to the truly 'unbearable' suffering of other human beings? How could this perspective change the way you see the world; from the panhandlers in your neighborhood to all of the terrified families praying on small boats in oceans not so far away? Who could you BE if you let yourself bear the weight of these things, even for a moment?
Your compassion and brilliance are precious and necessary—for you and for all of us—and they are not meant to be tied up in patrolling unruly feelings, or in tamping down the vivid and aching experiences of being alive.