Last week it was time to bathe my dog Pearl. She hates baths and it’s always a bit of an ordeal for both of us. Pearl is 12 now, so I wanted to find some small way to take her anxiety level down a notch. So I decided to eliminate some of her “escape routes” leading off the upstairs landing where the “dreaded” bathroom is. There are 3 doors that represent an escape for Pearl… but I had closed them all, leaving her with only one option- the one open door leading to the source of her anxiety. The bathtub. Having no other choice, with a baby-gate at the stairway, she was more easily and quickly coaxed into the room of dread, cowering and shivering all the way… but still willing to enter and face her fate.
This made me think of Pema Chodrin’s “The Wisdom of No Escape”. Life is sometimes like this for us. There are so many doors to “exit” when we are faced with something difficult or something we’d prefer not to look at. We like to keep these doors open, even if it’s just a crack, in case we decide to bolt. We would far prefer to default to “what’s behind door number three” than face the truth of what is. Yet there are times in life when the winds of fate blow all our doors shut and we are reduced to fewer and fewer options. Sometimes we prefer to just check- out or act-out like cowboys and bust down the baby gate- fleeing for whatever we perceive to be easier or more pleasant or that best keeps the wool over our eyes.
The other choice of course is to stay put, gaze into that open door and see what is truly before us; to stick with the discomfort and look at what is and in this effort find a way to transform ourselves. Pema says, “It’s the only way we finally experience our experience; it’s our only entrance into the self-existing sacredness of the world.”
Over time, we can begin to recognize when we need to do the hard things in a softer way. Over time, with practice we can decide for ourselves to close the doors behind us that we have learned lead to avoidance; knowing that once we get washed clean, we might just end up running through the house shaking and dancing and wanting to play- because it just feels better to come clean and to grow. It feels better to be able to eliminate the options behind door number three before the doors are all slammed in our face because we understand these options are not necessarily the healthy ones. Our perceptions of what “escape” is and isn’t have changed. We can actually “experience our experience”.
Yoga offers this opportunity in lots of ways. I’ve run kicking and screaming from postures like Pigeon, Locust and Camel. Because my tight hamstrings, tight hips and resistant psoas gave me that “anxiety before the bath” feeling; so many parts of me were not ready or willing. I have met these poses with dread. But the beauty of being in this practice is that we are given the opportunity to close those doors, “buck up” gently and with compassion, and allow ourselves to step into that open door, merge with that edge of discomfort, that edge of fear, the edge of no escape. Sometimes it is not the physical postures that make us shiver and quake- it can be the stillness of Savasana that makes us want to kick and scream. Gently stepping or leaning into our edge, is a way of softly clicking a door closed behind us; so that we can merge our way into our edge, so that we can melt ourselves into discomfort. Over time, with practice, we find ways to support ourselves in these postures, to modify and develop them so that next time we can go deeper. Eventually we may stop running from these postures and finally we can actually meet ourselves there at our edge.