Here’s the story of a seemingly ordinary experience that helped me realize one of the greatest gifts yoga has given me.
Rewind to a few months ago….
I was working in my office when I heard my husband come home. Then all of a sudden I heard a crash and something shatter. I ran out to the living room to find a shelf that was on the wall now on the floor and the things on top of the shelf lying broken around it. A vase, a couple of trinkets from a trip to India and one of my Buddha statues. There was glass everywhere from the vase and other things but Buddha appeared to be the least scathed in the whole mess, just a broken ear.
Hubby felt really bad and I’m not going to lie; the first thought I had was of annoyance. Thoughts like “really… how did this happen? Can’t you pay better attention when taking off your coat? Everything I own gets broken.” But I didn’t say any of these things out loud, I focused on my breathing, I processed what happened and sure enough, my thoughts went from annoyance to acceptance. “Who am I to get mad at this accident? I’ve broken tons of things before. It was an accident, nothing more.” Finally when I spoke I told him all these things (the pre and post breathing thoughts) and we cleaned up the mess together. Most things have been glued back together and the shelf is back on the wall.
As Leonard Cohen sang “Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack, a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” I’m learning to see the beauty in cracks in things and myself.
Rewind to about 4 years ago…
There was a similar type of incident with a much different response on my part. My sister and her family were visiting from Alberta. Three children under five were staying in my house, which is not child friendly! One of my favourite quotes is from Ram Dass “If you think you are enlightened, go spend a week with your family.” Amen to that!!
I came home to notice that my beloved African violet from my Grandmother Dwyer had been tipped over. There was soil on the floor and a big piece of the plant was broken. Apparently my 3 year old niece had tipped it over. I was very annoyed and didn’t mind letting my sister know about it. “Can’t she control her kids? Don’t they have any respect for other people’s things?” Of course, a big argument with my sister ensued. It was not pretty and I still remember how crappy I felt after.
The difference? My response.
First time around I didn’t take any time to process my thoughts and then decide what to do with them. I don’t think I realized I could. I was quite sporadic in my yoga practice and really, solely focusing on the physical side of it. My yoga practice has certainly changed in that time, both on and off the mat. Learning how to breathe deeply and learning that not only can I create space in my body through yoga but probably more importantly, I can create space in my head, my thoughts. The idea that “you are not your thoughts” now actually means something to me. I don’t think it’s possible to control the thoughts that come into our heads, I haven’t heard of any meditation techniques that help with that. But what I do know NOW is that we can control what we do with those thoughts. We can decide if we want to act on them and give them power or if we are going to let them go, float by like clouds in the sky. Before we can do that though, we need to find space in our minds. If we don’t have that space, if our mind is crowded with thoughts, then we don’t have the ability to decide what to do. We blurt, we yell, we react.
So how do we cultivate that space?
By slowing down the thoughts that run rampant through our heads. Slowing down with breath work, meditation and our physical yoga practice. It takes practice, no doubt about it… but if I can do it, you can too!! First step is to come to your mat or meditation space and be open. Then keep coming back again and again.
Believe me; I still react instead of process. I get annoyed in the grocery store, in traffic and with my family. However, I (and probably those around me) am happy to report that the words that come out of my mouth and my actions do not represent my thoughts nearly as much as they use to.
So if you are with your family over this next week and they push your buttons, perhaps you can try holding your tongue and deciding what to say before you speak? Practice taking a few deep breaths and finding that space. It ain’t easy or second nature to most of us. You will slip, speak before you should and you will have to keep practicing. But if you can avoid ‘shooting off at the mouth’ just once, it might save you a world of headache and bad feelings. Believe me… I know.