Valentine’s Day got me thinking about ongoing relationships and the challenges of communication between two people. This applies to all relationships; our significant other, parents, children or co-workers.
Have you noticed how we tend to get into habits of responding to issues that get under our skin in the same way, over and over again? We feel it coming. We recognize all the signs. As the issue approaches, we feel contracted, we dig in our heels like sumo wrestlers, taking the protective/reactive stance that is so familiar to us. From there- nothing new happens. The exchange is pretty predictable. We think we are handling things- but in truth we are just reacting impulsively from a stable of emotional behaviors and patterns- which in yoga, we call Samskara. These patterns are deep-seated, starting very early in life. Over time, we may no longer recognize that our emotional responses to life have become habitual.
When we contract around any issue it makes it hard to stay present. We are so busy maintaining our contraction- our tightness, our stance, our particular version of the story, that we can barely hear anything but the polished monolog we are chomping at the bit to unleash. We are so preoccupied with repeating our behaviors based on past experience, that we can’t at all see that there is another way to deal with the “issue” at hand. We can’t see clearly what is actually unfolding. This describes avidya or wrong-perception, one of the kleshas or obstacles to enlightenment in yoga philosophy.
When we are able to stay present in the moment, we can add space to a contracted situation. The Zen master Suzuki Roshi coined the phrase “Beginner’s Mind”. Staying present allows us to meet a situation whose outcome has become predictable with a fresh perspective, beginning again. Creating space in this way gives us an opportunity to breathe and see and listen, instead of reacting. We can put our emotions on pause and at the same time, pause our responses. Perhaps we don’t need to respond at all. We can surrender to the idea that we don’t have to control outcome by using the same unskillful means. In this way we can create a new, positive samskara- allowing the negative samskara to recede. We can actually let go of our role as sumo wrestler.
In our physical practice on the mat, we have many opportunities to identify our “inner sumo”. When we know a pose is coming and we feel the literal contraction in our body and our mind- instead of digging in for what we perceive to be the same experience of that “dreaded” pose, we might just focus on slowing down internally; relaxing physically and seeing more clearly what is actually going on with our body and with our mind. Often the biggest obstacle to experiencing an asana more fully is our mind. When we slow down internally, we are able to notice our habits and learn from them, instead of blowing past our discomfort. We can connect to clear-seeing and make more discerning choices and healthier habits as we practice. We begin to listen to our body with more honesty and sincerity, compassionately quieting the sumo within.