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Lions Roar : March 2007
But intermediate yogis, who easily do handstands against the wall, start to crave balancing off the wall. They will jump up and fall back so many times they get in a bad mood. Here’s what I say to them to help them shift their process: “If you hear a big boom when your feet hit the wall, you are using too much ef- fort! Find out what is too little. Kick up, but don’t touch the wall. Get familiar with the feeling of less. When you learn what is too much and what is too little, you can find just enough.” This is a revelation! When they were beginners they needed to kick hard to get even slightly airborne. With more strength and courage, their balance will come from tighter mental focus and looser physical effort. Things have changed! Without waking up to what is happening right now, yogis will literally continue to bang themselves against the wall. With the discovery of a middle path the practice really begins, because that sweet spot of stability is elusive—it won’t be the same tomorrow. It is tempting to want to establish a permanent balance point. But a reliable point of stability, or the amount of effort required to hold a handstand, or fairly manage your employ- ees, or consistently discipline your children, will be different every day. In the Yoga Sutra, Patanajali advises us, “The asanas should be practiced with steadiness and ease.” Doesn’t that sound like a good recipe for life? Obstacles as path: touch & go ACTUALLY, FROM ONE point of view there is no such thing as a path. We may have the feeling we are making some kind of journey and that it has shape and direction. We are going from here to there, with some specific idea of where we have been and where we are going. But this approach is based on an idealized version of our experience. In reality, our journey is unfolding as we go along. Learning to bring our full attention to that journey could be called “path.” So, as many dharma teachers have pointed out, “the path is the goal.” That means that what we experi- ence as “obstacles” along the way is usually just a sense of our own expectations falling apart. These same obstacles can be viewed differently, as the basis for re-engaging our attention and working through whatever arises, whether it is a sense of purpose and satisfaction, or boredom, resistance, or a feeling of futility. Work with whatever arises. DAVID: Going further on our path, sometimes we will experi- ence resistance to the practice itself. We may encounter strongly entrenched habitual patterns and it might feel difficult to move beyond them. Depression, resentment, anxiety, laziness, frivolity—to name a few—can make us feel there is no point in continuing to cultivate mindfulness and awareness. A revolutionary approach we can take is to see that the obstacles can actually become the stepping stones of the path. Our irritation, boredom, emotional upheavals, and wander- ing mind are the basis of the meditation practice itself. With- out them, there is no meditation practice, just some kind of gooey, vague, and highly suspicious sense of well-being that lacks any real strength or foundation. We are just trying to pacify our mind in a superficial way, without working with ourselves as we really are—emotional, speedy, tired, anxious, spaced out, or whatever arises. By touching in on these difficult aspects of our experi- ence—really tasting them, and then allowing them to exist without judgment or manipulation—we are tuning into a new kind of spaciousness that is refreshing and creative. Here we can think of another slogan: “Touch and go.” When we are trying to pay attention to our breathing and notice we are off in a daydream, nightmare, or drama of some kind, we simply label that “thinking” and come back to the breath. There is no need to judge or evaluate the thoughts further. We simply let go, which is actually very profound. We do not need to repress or ignore the thought—that is the touch part. We can touch in on our thoughts and emotions and become more familiar with the patterns and movements of our mind. This exploration will of course include the ripples of “nega- tive” thoughts and emotions that can sometimes grow into a tidal wave of resistance to the practice itself. Whenever our re- sistance solidifies like this, it can be helpful to remember why we started with the practice in the first place, and simply lean again into our effort. CYNDI: People are always telling me that they don’t do yoga because they are too stiff. No problem! Stiff bodies are perfect candidates for yoga, as is every other kind of body. No matter who you are or what yoga class you take, you’ll find that some postures come naturally and some are beyond the realm of your current capacity or comprehension. Typically, when we hit a yoga glitch, we try to identify an external reason: My arms are too long or too short; I’m too fat, too weak, too old, too short, too tall. Yet somehow those same arms are just the right size for that other easier pose. Hmmm...perhaps these obstacles aren’t so solid after all. I help students explore this through a pose called Utkatasana, nicknamed Awkward Pose. A “perfect” Utkatasana requires 3 Obstacles are the stepping stones of the path. Our irritation, boredom, emotional upheavals, and wandering mind are the basis of the practice. SHAMBHALA SUN MARCH 2007 55