I have friends who know the intention I set for 2017: to practice non-attachment as “best” (ha!) I can.
They ask me from time to time, now that it’s May and we are more than 1/3 into the year, how it’s going.
I tell them, “it is what it is,” and laugh. Because that’s all there is and yet, there is so much more.
My beloved older brother and I were together in February on a 75˚ sunny day that made us feel like we were in Florida in February — when the angle of the sun is so distinctly “winter” that you know the experience is novel — when we weren’t. We were running an errand and I drove with the top down. I was thrilled to have him all to myself for that special hour. He’s a busy man, husband and father and we were all together as a family again to celebrate our “Second Christmas” because we are all in different places on actual Christmas.
We started talking about life in a way we hadn’t in years. It was just us. We got around to “new year’s resolutions” and I spoke of my new year intention. He is a really smart guy and he’s read a lot of amazing books and philosophers so he’s willing to go down the rabbit hole with me at times and I love those talks. I summarized up saying that “non-attachment” feels like a trap because I end up wondering if I’m “doing” it right. “Like, how do I know if I’m doing it the right way? If I try to stay in my own zone and let go of shit my kids or other people do, isn’t that like not caring about my own standards and personal space and boundaries? Do I stop caring about my family and dogs and just let them figure it out on their own? What if my not caring about something means that someone could get hurt or be negatively affected? Say, if I see a toddler walk into the street, of course I’d stop my car… when is non-attachment not good? Do I just keep driving and say, ‘well, he had it coming…’…”
I continued as rainclouds gathered above us on our way home and I wondered about whether I should close the top but decided to keep it open… it’s just rain… I can always pull over…
“Am I good at non-attachment??” We laughed.
Then I said, “Ah, fuck it.” We laughed louder and the rain began to gently fall around us amidst a sunny sky, and we were moving fast enough to stay dry.
The truth is that it’s hard. It’s hard to be soft when the world wants you to be broken instead. It’s hard to be aware when the world seeks to numb you. It’s hard to be open when you would rather clam up and turtle yourself in.
I have the true gift and blessing to host a “restorative / yin” yoga practice. This class centers and restores me in a way NO physical practice can. I have to be centered, or near-centered in order to give it fully. Sometimes that is easier said than done. I’ve been caught up in traffic or arriving on the heels of a disagreement with someone.
“Fake it ’til you make it.”
My therapist once mused about 10 years ago when I spoke of the crushing feelings I had about my mother and my father; about my childhood in spite of being a mother myself. A family event was on the horizon and I was a bit raw from the Work he and I had been doing in my head and heart. I didn’t want to attend but he said “fake it ’til you make it…”
I so dislike that phrase. I can’t fake it until I make it, because what if I never “make it”? And then, of course, what if I’m already there? What if the “what if?” is really “so what?” Because I dislike that phrase, teaching restorative classes means I can’t share what I don’t have, so I have to “rally” to let go. I realize it’s as much for me as it is for them.
I begin by inviting everyone to sit and to “soak” in their space. I propose a slow breath in. I suggest a flowing, peaceful breath out. I suggest an awareness of the heart rate and a connection with the energy in the room… after the first two minutes, I’m centered. I’m present. I’ve made it.
In those restorative classes, I talk about the poses and their effects on our bodies’ systems: circulatory, immunity, digestive, pulmonary, lymphatic and more… I read poetry, quotes and essays by Rumi, Chodron, Emerson, St. Francis of Assisi, Thoreau, Mother Theresa, Buddha, Lammott, Brach, Jesus… sometimes the stories are ancient and sometimes they are contemporary. Sometimes the readings are fresh to the class and sometimes they are repeats.
My sense of “non-attachment” means to me that it doesn’t matter if the quotes are the same, because every time I read them, it’s a new day for the listener and for me. It’s how our day shapes up which leads us to how we hear what is being read. For some people it might be the first time they’ve heard it and for others it could be the sixth. The point is, that life throws us experiences that shape HOW we hear those readings.
I remember going to Mass and being irritated by having to hear the story of Lazarus or Jesus Calming the waters, or of his curing a blind man by spitting in the mud that he rubbed in the man’s eyes, or of the woman at the well, or … or … or … until I realized: oh… this isn’t about repetition… it’s about lessons. For me, now in retrospect, it was about choosing to be irritated or choosing to NOT be irritated and listening.
Why am I harping on repetition? . . .Wait for it. . .
After a recent restorative practice, I was told that a new student loved it, but that the readings were the same as the week before. I got the impression that it felt stale to this person. It didn’t affect the same way as the first time.
NON-ATTACHMENT BREAKDOWN. BITCHY DEFENSIVE YOGA TEACHER BREAK-IN.
What is ironic is that I was also told by another student that what I read in that very same class was EXACTLY what was needed. People tell you things in these spaces. They feel safe in their vulnerability. A marriage was dissolving. Sobriety was new. Children were raw and wary from years of hurt and neglect. A rebirth was taking place right in that studio; right on that mat; right before us all in a private, silent, and beautiful way. This student found the readings both soothing and buffeting and it was all very needed.
As an adult child of alcoholics, I could identify with the children this practitioner had injured. I rested my hands on my heart and bowed to this yogi who is boldly stepping into the light, no matter if one reading is exactly the same as the week before. No matter if one pose is repeated.
The whole point of a yin practice is to “get down” with who you are. To get close to the discomfort of being in your own skin and letting the feelings well up and breathe them out so we can let them go. The whole point or a restorative is to let stuff ride through you and try to practice non-attachment, to truly BE “it is what it is.”
So the conflict: Do I change what I do to please the one person who itched that night when I’ve been doing what I’ve been doing and people tell me this class is like their church? That they wait all day for it? That they count the minutes until class? That it’s a form of body prayer for them? That it’s their sanctuary from the world? That it lets them go soft when the world insists they stay hard? I’ve been teaching this type of class this way for three years and I’ve never heard a “it was great, but…” and maybe because that’s people are too nice? Mmmmmmmnnnnope. Not around here…
“It’s not me it’s them.” Isn’t that a fun line? The truth is, it’s all of us. The insight for me, however, is that I’m keenly aware of my own shit and that any reaction I have to anything is mine, including this person’s reaction to what I did. Carl Jung said basically that when we don’t like something or someone, to pay attention to it because it gives us insight into ourselves. I used to really dislike that concept because it was right. It means “work”; it means we look in the mirror and parse out what we are and grow up and stop being little babies.
Are we judgy? Are we reactive? Are we irritated –in a restorative yoga class?! REALLY?!– breathe, molly . . . by a repetitive reading SO MUCH that we are going to talk about it, or are we going to do some digging and wonder why we are so irritated…? So attached? What are the expectations of this person? Levitation?
NnnNgnnn. Breathing. . .
I love feedback and I am all for mixing things up, and frankly, some of the readings have felt repetitive for me. That said, I feel strongly that I must be guided to read what I read; that if I “preselect” what I’m going to read, that it’s not authentic, it’s “planned” and when is life ever really that way? As a yoga instructor, there are times when you think you have the best idea ever and then you get to your place of practice and you “read the room,” and your initial idea vaporizes. The moods of the people or the events of the day or the week DO NOT mesh with what you had in mind at all. That happens more than I’d like. In that way, I have to be responsive.
I remember a power vinyasa class I was preparing to teach. I had a whole line up all set. And as the people streamed in, the mood was SO unlike what I’d prepared to experience. I had to think on my feet; I had to find a way to ease into the place I wanted to bring us because while the tone of the room might’ve been heavy, the truth is that people come to that class to revive and to work, so I had to steer the ship.
But I’m attached. I don’t like what I heard about that restorative class and the readings. Do I say “fuck it” and do what I’ve done? Not if you know who I am I won’t. I will roll up my sleeves, do some digging about my reaction and serve the class to the best of my abilities. I could decide to blend both my worlds: write my own essays for the class that I teach, and maybe that has traction. I could write essays based on a reading and that would blend it all together. It’s a consideration. It’s got legs, actually.
And so RIGHT NOW, as I previewed this post, I find myself bowing in gratitude to this person who spoke up. I find myself utterly awake: I can change this, I can write up thoughts. I can share myself in a way that will never be experienced again. Why buy or read other writers’ works when I’m a writer myself…? Why not share me? Weave me into the readings?
My prescription for non-attachment: lean in to what chafes you. Roll in it. Get its stink all over you. Decide if it’s worth learning from or letting go. There is no right or wrong answer, and my experience has been that if I can’t let it go it’s because I’m supposed to grow from it.