This time of year can be a challenge. The cold darkness starts to outstay its welcome for many of us in the northern hemisphere. The realities of January, a “new year, new me” (– blegh) and all those demeaning pressures and expectations become apparent. We are summoned to attempt to revamp all that we are in favour of something better and brilliant. And so begins the difficult process of looking at our lives (with a wry smile or a defeated scoff), reflecting, analyzing, comparing, commiserating and somehow, after all of that, cheerfully identifying and declaring our dreams and goals for the coming year.
I don't have any problems with self-improvement. What I take issue with, is the need to mask any unsightly parts of ourselves in favour of sellotaping on a “better” person. The idea that one might earnestly gulp down a magic tonic with enthusiastic but unrealistic expectations, hoping it will conveniently discard anything unsavoury. In many cases, we end up dropping off the metaphorical wagon, which in turn ends up making us feel worse than when we began. Double drat.
This examination of our flaws and feats become magnified and a little too “Rosie Gaines' uncomfortably close”.
///props deserved though Rosie, for those tones.///
I don´t know about you, but being all up in that stuff when i´m grumpy and vitamin d deficient and surrounded with such harrowing news stories, declaring my “new me” tends to be the last thing I feel like doing. Instead, i´d rather hide away from all the pain that wrenches inside. I fantisise about running away somewhere (ideally balmy) and escaping stuff (the horrors of the world and my newsfeed, and ultimately myself).
Sometimes I feel like running away in my yoga practice too.
There might be a long hold on a strong standing pose for example. Inside i´m wondering how long i´m going to be there. Same in more “passive” and restorative poses, when i´m invited to release and let go of tension that i´m holding. Instead my eyes might wander to the clock. Or my to-do list. Or supper options. Anywhere but there.
Yoga has a way of asking us to be present. And sometimes that can bring stuff to the surface. Which can be confrontational. Take yesterday for example. Reluctant to get on the mat, I preferred to wallow in my blanket cocoon, convinced there was nothing that could make it better. I decided instead to run my own story about how I was blue and somehow that involved my head categorically scrolling through every incident that I ever felt like a failure. It was like a really drab and melancholic channel. My friend Poppy calls it “Shit FM” which I think is rather apt.
My fella promptly pulls up his trusted playlist of “funny animals on youtube doing things like talking, generally being brilliant” – fail. Concerned that this fool-proof tried and tested method couldn´t permeate the blues, he streamed a yoga class for me (Jason Crandell, my hero) and I sat there blubbing at him, well, at the screen, whilst simultaneously watching my snotty and resistant state. Eventually, (with encouragement and a bit of prodding), I gave in to his instruction. And somehow, a few rounds of breathing, coaxing and opening the body into some gentle movement and also stillness, followed by a rigorous breath-led flow, ended up being just the remedy I needed. To get me out of myself but at the same time, to face myself. Warts, mucas and all.
I´m not here to wave a “yoga fixes all” flag by any means, but merely offering a nugget for chews: Sometimes, getting out of ourselves is the best way to get, um, “into” ourselves. I like to think of this as presence. To be able to sit with what we have, wherever we have it (brain, body, spirit), is an empowering course of action. It might not “fix” things, but it can help us to put some space around stuff. Often we can be so busy running from all the pain/sadness/feelings that we´re carrying around, we will do anything to distract ourselves from it. Avoid sitting with it. And who can blame us, we might not be sitting with pleasant stuff.
Despite it all, the good, the bad, the ugly, the highly crap, i´m suggesting we try a radical intervention. To consider not running away. To consider being present each and every day.
When we can give ourselves more space, we open up the conditions to cultivate change, but before that happens we need to first learn how to be with ourselves in the realest way possible, that is, learn the art of acceptance. I decided that it´s an art, rather than a skill. Actually I think it´s both. And I think it´s one of the hardest things folks can do.
I´m not suggesting we become victims and put aside any possibility that we can change anything that isn´t working for us right now, rather, i´m suggesting that instead of focusing on what has been, or setting sights on future goals, for moments in each day, we pause to consider what is first. At risk of sounding somewhat ethereal in approach, I urge us all to remember to come back to the moment that is now. That it´s really all we have. That it might seem insignificant or arbitrary (especially if we´re the go-getting kind, or mourning for days that have passed…) this moment is what our lives are made of. Instead of being distracted by outside influences/societal pressures/others measures of success or failure/ our own imposed expectations or self criticisms/ an experience that has left you with a residue of sadness, we can halt the legacy of pain in its tracks.
Find a way that helps you to be in the moment. Whatever that might be. Yoga. An alarmed reminder on your phone. A stranger´s dog. A song. Fondling avocados too pleasurably. Whatever.
Consider not running away.
Consider presence. Each and every day. (Working on it, always)
Be gentle with you. And take care of yourself.
Let me know how you go, fellow humans!
logged 8th January 2015