While reading Pema Chodron’s book “When Things Fall Apart – Heart Advice for Difficult Times”, I was pulled into her chapter on the eight worldly dharmas that keep us attached to our stories of who we are and how we believe we are expected to BE in this lifetime:
How might subjective reality trigger mental or emotional reactivity? We are the creators of not only these reactions, but the internal dialogue that stimulates the reaction in the first place. It is our choice to notice our triggers and investigate the importance of allowing their presence in our world. We can start to see that most of our triggers are only vibrations. Words or actions that stimulate a memory of how we should feel angry, offended, or critical in that moment. A transitory molecular vibration that could affect the rest of our day, week, or even a lifetime if we remain asleep to our own power of presence and choice. *As I write this, I am acutely aware tha
t there are metabolic, biologic, hormonal and traumatic experiences that can override what I am about to discuss. It is important to take care of our mental and physical health with appropriate medical interventions along with advancing your understanding of these yogic philosophies and tools.
In yoga we seem to be asked to “let go of what no longer serves” while in movement, or while in the stillness of meditation. What if we decided to embrace and feel kindness for what we deem unnecessary? I have always had a hard time truly understanding how to determine what no longer serves. If we are to believe that everything, we experience in life whether that be pleasure, pain, praise, blame, fame, disgrace, or gain and loss is here for a reason; then how do we sort and sift what no longer serves?
What if while on our mat, meditation cushion, or walking about in life, when confronted with sensations of the listed eight dharmas, we were able to pause…breathe in deeply and mentally step back as the observer to our own life? What if in this pausing, we began to recognize how fleeting the praise will be, or the sense of loss? How freeing it might be if we developed a sense of kind, intimate nonattachment that allowed us to be in the full presence of these dharmas, and yet feel a sense of ease in our bodies and minds as we breathed in our sense of
pride, and breathed out our knowing of its fickle nature?
Thanksgiving morning I experienced something that has continued to open me to these teachings. I had just finished teaching my Thanksgiving Day yoga offering and was also dog sitting. The morning was sunny and warm and was proving to be a glorious day to give and receive thanks for so many things. To say I was feeling buoyant would be an understatement. As I was preparing to take the dog out for a walk before heading over to my parents for our Thanksgiving Day gathering, I bounded down the two steps into the garage to grab my sunglasses from the car, and completely rolled my left ankle! Oh the shock was undeniable as I sat on the bottom step assessing my situation. My left shin ankle and foot were buzzing with the unexpected stress to all the tissues, nerves, and muscles…maybe even bones. I thought for sure I had broken something. My fabulous day had been waylaid into this moment when I could cry, get angry, feel sor
ry for myself, or criticize myself for not being more careful. What I did next surprised me. I just sat and breathed. I allowed the tingling to subside, I allowed myself to pause and internally scan my body to assess what damage may have occurred by wiggling toes, gently rotating my ankle, moving my knee. I allowed the shock to have its way with me and sat there while my breath helped regulate my nervous system. What a shift! This is not my normal reaction to trauma or injury.
I slowly got up and tentatively walked to the car, got my sunglasses, and took the dog for a short walk. All the while breathing, assessing, staying present with any sense of blame or shame in “being so clumsy”.
The day evolved with family, ice packs, Tylenol, and my mother’s nurturing (which I still look back on with gratitude). My foot is almost healed now, but the memory of that moment when I had a choice of moving into anger and negativity or opening to kindness and compassion remains. Is this something that no longer serves? This memory of trauma, and pain? Maybe. If it is, I guess I’m not ready to let it go. It continues to serve a purpose. I believe its purpose was to show me how a shift from reactivity to responding allowed me to be more present to what was happening, and maybe has allowed my body to heal a bit more rapidly as I didn’t become rigid and inflammatory in my response.
Yoga invites us to pause in our daily lives (on the mat or off) and use our breath as a tool to transformation. Feeling the inhalations provides a sense of revitalization, potentiality while the exhalations provide a relaxation, grounding release. Slowing down the breath and releasing tension in the abdomen as we inhale stimulates the diaphragm more and allo
s the muscles and tissues around the abdomen, pelvis, and low back to relax. This relaxation t
ends to activate the parasympathetic nervous system which encourages our bodies to be more present and our minds to observe instead of condemning our situations.
As these eight dharmas show up in your life (and they most surely will), can you connect to this idea of being the witness instead of the hero or victim? Can you use your breath to allow in emotions of pride, criticism, or loss, yet exhale the desire to grip or hold onto the fleeting sense of them? Can you practice the simple act of compassion on yourself, and then spread it to the world around you?