Saturday, October 2, 2010
Inquiry or Grasping?
Reaching for your toes, pulling on your hip, twisting your neck more to move that shoulder, bouncing on your feet to throw your legs towards the wall in an inversion.... Are these actions explorations of how the body works, about how the energy moves, about where the foundation really rests, or are they striving for that goal -- that shape -- that affirmation of self. How do we shift from the mind set of grasping into one where the goal is no longer the driver of experience? How do we allow the practice to move more freely from the dictates of the judging mind?
For me the grasping seems to come from a set of sources: Either I am challenging ideas of whether I am able or unable, which can also be seen in terms of judging whether I am good or bad; or I am responding to inhibitions based on fear. Every time I practice yoga I am faced with discomfort somewhere along the way. It might be in my hip joint on that first deep internal rotation. It might be in my mind in the form of disappointment as I release my attachment to Padmasana (Lotus) in Sirsasana (headstand). When discomfort arises, I watch my desire rise and take note where it is pushing me: to escape or to push through, to applaud my attempts or exaggerate my failures.
The pattern set by grasping is either holding on tight to something I don't want to release or of reaching beyond what actually is in an attempt to get somewhere else. What the practice teaches me every day is that I can see that pattern and not fall into it, nor do I have to react to it. I can nod at it and proceed to breathe up through my core into my upside-down self or make space around my racing excited heart. I might apply Ujjayi breath (ocean-sounding breath) to support me and search my body for clues as to where the resistance has really taken hold. Where there is desperation, I see it and acknowledge it. Where there is sadness, I see it and acknowledge it. Where there is determination, I see it and acknowledge it. These are aspects of myself and I do not reject them, but I begin to ask a new set of questions about them. How can I use that energy to open more fully, to see where the energy leads, without striving towards an end point?
The inquiry is a source of continuous growth no matter what the condition of the body. This is part of the magic of the yoga practice. My heart goes out to those students in yoga classes, desperately throwing themselves again and again in an effort to find an inverted posture. The support in the body is not available when jerked around by grasping. It is the release of the goal, the deepening breath, the softness in the foundation, the lift in the core, the open space between the collarbones, the clarity in the mind's focus of attention. It is the letting go into the twist, the inversion, the cross-legged position, the arm balance, the stressful meeting, the standing-on-the-platform-when-you-miss-the-train.
What I am doing there on the mat is the same thing I am doing off the mat. I am exploring. I am seeking a balance between discovery and failure, between being set in my ways and limitlessness. The practice of yoga offers the opportunity to explore what there is beyond the grasping, the striving and the judgments. It keeps me aware of my goal-setting tendencies, and helps me see the context in which I am driven to set those goals. It helps me see the goal as a marker of my own measuring, judging self, and that there is much more than that for me to experience, share, and enjoy. Nothing prevents the discomfort, but it is not so uncomfortable if I can see it for what it is.
This reminds me of breaking in new shoes. The practice goes little by little to stretch and shape around the truth of the foot, supporting and changing the foot a bit as it goes, until the exploration is free and natural. And when the shoe fits well, there is no end to where the foot can go.