People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within.
– Elisabeth Kübler-Ross
Recently in a yoga class the teacher remarked that yoga is a good practice for getting to know yourself under pressure or stress. He instructed us to really focus on the thoughts that come up while holding difficult poses. So imagine, you are in a hot and humid room, you are sweating, your legs and arms are shaking from fatigue, and the teacher is saying “three more breaths”. Not an easy-peasy situation to be in. So, how does your mind react?
I will be honest, there have been classes when I am so uncomfortable, so tired, so sick of being there, that all I can think in my head is how much I hate the teacher for making me do these things. I have gotten more aware over the years of such emotions and thoughts and am now much better at letting that stuff go or quietly laughing to myself about them however, there have been times when the hate has been palatable. When I think about it in retrospect, what an odd reaction for my mind to have. I put all of my stuff in my bag, I showed up to class, I rolled out my mat and got on it, I chose to follow the instructions for poses, and I chose to stay for the whole class. So how is this anyone else’s fault?
Well that’s just the thing isn’t it? The human mind is very adept at passing the buck. At blaming others. At playing the victim, even in situations which are clearly our own decisions and based on our own choices! It’s all a bit silly when you think about it, and the realization of this silliness is basically what I am striving for on a regular basis.
Here is another scenario. You are in the grocery store and are trying to get a can off the shelf while another shopper, who is completely unaware of you standing behind them, is blocking the shelf from your reach. My reaction most of the time, if I am being honest with you, is “ugh! Can this person just get out of the way?! How rude!” Silly, no? They have no idea I am there, there is no harmful intention in their action. They are not standing there purposefully blocking me. And yet, the mind becomes frustrated. There are lots and lots of other situations like this I could describe that I think we are all familiar with. And these are just small everyday occurrences. What about the big stuff?
The beauty of mindfulness/meditation/yoga is that these practices exercise your mind in a way that is ultimately getting to the goal of not letting your mind get to this frustrated, angry, blaming, “poor me” victim place. They teach you to acknowledge these thoughts/sensations but not be ruled by them while additionally teaching you how to better react (or not react I suppose) to these thoughts when they arise. It wasn’t until my yoga teacher talked about this specific connection between yoga and everyday thought/behaviour patterns that the light bulb in my head turned on. The collection of essays about the connection between Yoga and Buddhism, which I am currently reading (Freeing the Body, Freeing the Mind edited by Michael Stone), is also helping me understand these links further. It is very powerful and fascinating stuff!
Two more quotes I have recently collected which I think relate nicely:
Where does the body end and the mind begin? They cannot be divided as they are inter-related and but different aspects of the same all-pervading divine consciousness.
— B. K. S. Iyengar
We should not forget that the mind, whatever turn that we want to give it, is very flexible. To the extent that we train ourselves, we create a habit and the mind accepts the crease that we give it.
— Bokar Rinpoche