There are many times when the going seems unclear. Sometimes the path seems to split, or to be obscured by fog or confusion. Sometimes it seems there are enormous roadblocks put right in the way, by others or of our own design. Sometimes we find that we are simply playing out a pattern that is becoming all too familiar, and just cannot seem to switch it off, or step out of it. My students bring me such dilemmas, hoping that I will turn on a stronger light, sweep aside the doubts and debris, or clearly mark the destinations for each fork in the road. Yet, in what may be an irritating way, I tend to play the mirror in those moments... reflecting back what is being shared, so that my students have a chance to take another look from another point of view.
Often the dilemma is related to avoidance. It's a familiar feeling. Sometimes we have a deep awareness but we just don't want to do it. Perhaps it's fear of the unknown, or distrust of what we know. Perhaps it is being unable to project the outcome, and not having enough confidence in our own flexibility to make the best of whatever the outcome might be. So we tend to put in place a whole host of counter measures. Maybe we put a roadblock or conflict in the middle of that path so that we are shunted from it, or stopped in our progress. Sometimes we obscure our understanding so that it no longer looks like the way to go, just too murky. We also invite others to stand in the way, maybe through emotional flares or just by pushing them in front of us so that our steps must go around rather than directly down that way. We cause ourselves pain, and sometimes even blame others for it.
A friend recently asked if I thought it was okay to give up practice for a few weeks since he was in such physical discomfort. He had been keeping a schedule of taking daily classes and pushing himself to the his "edge" in every one. I ask about this edge, letting him explain to himself (and me) how he is straining and grasping for some shape that meets the criteria of each asana, meanwhile he is tormenting and twisting his internal self. No peace there, and no space for the breath either. His physical flag is being thrown on the play to get his attention. The first step he took was to stop action. Perhaps learning to soften into the breath is much harder than muscling into the posture? A few quiet minutes of allowing himself space to breathe as he first gains awareness in the morning -- those moments when you realize you are waking up -- might be a good way to practice for the next few days. It is not a matter of giving up the practice, but allowing the practice to take its natural shape. He said rather sorrowfully, "but you go so deep, and I have only been practicing a year or two." I smiled and asked if he was breathing, to which he answered, "of course!" We can work way too hard to avoid what is already there. We don't accumulate frequent flyer miles for each time we show up on the mat, and when we truly show up, there is no one there.
Maybe we resist making the reservations, or putting on the gear, perhaps its struggling to stay quietly on the cushion, but whatever it is, best not to pretend there is a way around it. Sooner or later, one or another flag is thrown. My experience has been that staying with it is the way through it. Sometimes the thorny stuff can actually be left by the side of the path as you go along. Sometimes we make snakes out of the coiled rope just to scare us out of the room, only to find our hand is reaching for that very rope to free ourselves.