I just returned from a restorative yoga class, and I feel… restored.
It had been several weeks since my last class due to the holidays and related chaos. We arrived uncharacteristically early, and I felt anxious as I sat on a bolster, resting against the wall. I had spent a lot of time planning earlier in the day – what some might call “blue-skying”, but what I called dumping all the hopes, dreams, and responsibilities of the impending new year onto paper. Several of those planning points included radical things like:
- letting “X” go, where X is some task, perceived duty, or state of mind that otherwise makes me miserable;
- starting to take the first tentative steps away from counselling toward personal mastery;
- learning to trust my instincts; and
- taking action to care for my own needs and boundaries.
No wonder I felt like a wreck. Of course, I’m a responsible, obsessive-compulsive adult. I’ve taken care of a lot of people in my life. However, I never really learned to be kind to myself, and as a result, I really wasn’t myself for anyone else. In fact, a lot of the time I was trying hard to be someone else. Someone I didn’t always like.
As I began doing the postures, my thoughts about all of these things swirled around me. If thoughts could be made real, these ones were like visceral daggers striking me. I felt sad, overwhelmed, and beaten down. The pain in my kidney increased, and moved through my abdomen – as those daggers tore away at me. I breathed slow and deep, but each breath brought with it a new wave of pain. I tried to slow the movement even more. My chest hurt, and as I tried to let each thought pass as just a thought as the teacher reminded us, there was another to replace it. I felt like I would burst.
At some point, I sank into a meditative trance. I felt myself fading in and out, slowly leaving the place where the blades of racing thoughts carved me. My breath became truly slow and deep, not my desperate approximation of it.
In the trance, I stopped grasping for peace, for release of pain, for the wisdom to ease my own suffering. I let the thoughts go, and as a result, my body let the pain go. When the teacher finally called us back: the sadness, the pain, the grasping was gone. There was no need, no suffering, no want. It just ‘was’.
Some hours later, the pain and the thoughts – less urgent this time – begin to ebb back into awareness. So too, however, does the reminder of impermanence – that all things pass, including joy and pain. They are a part of our human existence. As the Buddha taught, the only reason we suffer so is our grasping for joy and aversion to pain. When we let go of our attachment to these feelings and thoughts, reworked into forms as real and sharp as tempered steel: only then do we let go of suffering.
Even as I long for the mastery to let thoughts and feelings flow through me, and not attach labels to them of “good” or “bad”, I create yet another layer of desire, another potential source of suffering.
Becoming enlightened is no easy task.