I have a really wonderful table I bought several years ago. It’s a heavy wood table with knobby legs and a leaf that pulls out. I got it in Rockport at a yard sale. I am not really the “yard sale” type but I was sightseeing and I saw the lawn with all the trinkets, toys and appliances displayed and I was in need of a desk. It looked like it had heart, told a story and I was drawn to it right away. I wasn’t sure that it’d fit in the car but the man helped me unscrew the legs and load it in the back. We put the seats down and it fit just fine. I remember as I was reaching up to pull down the hatch, he patted the car and said, “We’ve had a lot of good family dinners around that table; a lot of good memories. Take good care of it.” And I looked at him and there was genuine emotion in his voice and in his eyes. I looked around the lawn, and there were some young girls running around and a dog and I could see his wife, packing up some plates for another ‘customer’. This was his dinner table, and now I’m taking it home to be my desk. The story of these girls growing up, the family dinners by the sea, the joys, the sorrows, the laughter shared around this table must have been numerous. I thanked him and drove off, but I honor that table and the energy contained within it every time I sit down to do work.
Our bodies are just like that table. We store countless pains, sorrows and joys in our bones. We tell a story with our bodies and don’t need to speak a word to convey so much of who we are. I often think as I teach yoga class, and I look out among the students as they take their first downward dog, that they are saying so much but yet the room is silent. It’s beautiful in a way, to be able to tell a story without words; they’re over-rated really. But to tell a story, to speak through your body language can be a beautiful thing.
But it’s not always like that. Sometimes our bodies fail us. We get sick, we’re injured, we move and act out of habit and not out of consciousness and presence. We have a perception, an expectation, a desire, and because of that, even though we’re not ready, or able, we forge forward anyway. Yoga practice is the great reveal though, because on our mat, through the simplicity of breathing and moving, with nothing other than maybe a block or a strap as ‘accessories,’ we come face to face with our whole life story; the challenges, the struggles, the desires. It happens to me when I run as well, and the runners reading this will relate as well as the yogis. There is something truly powerful about the meditation that comes when we run or practice yoga, or “be one” with nature on a hike or a beach walk. We find that in those times, we’re open to listen to our bodies and feel things on a deeper level than when we’re in our heads and moving about the tasks of our daily lives. On one of my recent runs, I came upon a toddler learning to walk by pushing his stroller from behind. The mom and dad were jumping up and down, to the child’s delight, as they mock ‘raced’ the little boy a few feet. I slowed as I happened upon them and started ‘racing’ the little boy as well. His eyes opened wide as he realized I was participating in their little competition and we all laughed and continued on, cheering him for his ‘good job.’ I carried forth then, with a wave good-bye, and after a few steps found my eyes well up with tears and my breath labored as I started to just become overwhelmed with the sweetness of that moment. The joy in his little face, the bond of their family, their willingness to let me, a stranger, participate and cheer on their son as he demonstrated the joy of growth and life; it was priceless. I truly believe that if I happened upon the same scene as I was driving that same way home from work in a different frame of mind, I would not have had the same reaction. Being present opens us up to new perspectives, emotions and growth. It allows us to see clearly, to see new ways of being, to see joy; to feel clearly and deeply as well. When we’re closed off, we miss opportunities for growth, and growth is often found in new ways of thinking. Being closed off is one of the biggest challenges we face as we get older. We have established patterns of thinking; like the rings of a tree, they have been born over years of doing things a certain way.
One of the hardest things to do is stay open to new ideas when facing a challenge or trying to do something new. I remember in one of my first teacher trainings, trying to learn something, and being completely ‘stuck;’ I couldn’t move my body the way the teacher was asking and each time he tried to show me, my body kept moving the way it had been accustomed; it wasn’t that I was unable, it was that my brain was just used to moving my body in a certain way. Finally, both of us a bit exasperated, he said, ‘let’s move on.’ It wasn’t a giving up; I was just not ready to really “hear”.
Our instinct and patterns are powerful things. They are born of our heritage, our environment, our family upbringing, our successes and our failures. When you’re trying to make a decision and someone says, “Oh, just trust your gut” do you find yourself wavering? Do you trust your gut or do you find yourself looking for new ways of thinking?
I have most recently been fascinated by my own patterns of thinking and have been challenging myself to stay open to different ways of approaching problem solving. We have all learned ways of doing that have served us well; and these are the techniques we employ when we want to solve a problem or reach a goal. The people we choose to share our problem with; our families and friends, these people also have their own stories, their own patterns of thinking. Did you ever find yourself, when in a stuck place, calling that “certain someone” you knew would say just the right thing to make you feel better? But is that really what you need? Sometimes we need to reach out to the person we know will help us stay open to new ways of approaching a problem, because in those new ways, we can find options that we might otherwise have never considered. For many of us, our families: our mothers, fathers and siblings, form our closest network. But on some level, the patterns we have are a result of the patterns they have and to truly see things differently, we need to step outside the ‘norm’ and look for new ways of being. This is in no way a criticism of family and a message to discourage reaching out for support. But it is a call to stay awake, to be aware of how responses and feedback, while from love, can also reinforce existing patterns that may be contributing to our current ‘stuck’ state.
The challenges of life are many. The transience of life is constant. According to yoga theory, this forms the basis for our pain and sorrow as humans; we refuse to accept the transient nature of life and struggle to keep things as they are. But like the tides, things rise and fall and shift and ebb and flow and as we become more aware and more grounded in faith, we find that we become open to accepting the transient nature of things. Not because things have changed, but because we have changed. Our perceptions have changed. We no longer have an attachment to stability because know that as soon as things stabilize, they will start to shift again. The more we can practice meditation, be it through yoga, running, being in nature or just sitting on our cushion, the more we will develop a connection to the present moment that will give us the strength to withstand life’s challenges.