Friday, April 22, 2011

Embodied Attention

*Body(s) by Da Vinci (1452-1519)

Yoga teacher training has been an interesting mix of confirmation, ah ha moments, and "oh, my god, I have no idea" experiences. I have felt kind of dumb and boneheaded fairly often, something I didn't anticipate happening. So, I really enjoyed reading this story about another guy's experience with yoga teacher training. Neal Pollack writes about his preparation for, and expectations of the training before he goes. And then, less than two weeks before the training is supposed to start, he pulls a hamstring that impacts his practice the entire training. Almost everything he had expected was thrown off by the hamstring pull, but it seems to have offered him a window into something greater. He writes:

It occurred to me that all matter, thoughts, and emotions are united under some sort of unknowable eternal consciousness. That perception, I thought, is the essence of yoga. But I had also experienced that perception before, and in greater depth. Frankly, I was a little disappointed that I hadn’t encountered it more fully or more often at yoga school. I paid my money, I thought. I deserve pure consciousness.

But the truth is, I don’t “deserve” anything, and that was one of the most important lessons I eventually drew from yoga school. Just like you can’t depend on your body to always be able to do the asana you were capable of when you were 25, you also can’t depend on your brain to constantly exist in the divine realization of pure awareness. When I came home, things were much the same. My kid still howled when his socks were uncomfortable. My Boston terrier still peed in the back room. I still had financial problems. People still cut me off in traffic. And all that stuff still annoyed me.

But I also found myself walking through life with a much greater sense of calm. I had certainly heard about non-attachment, to both positive and negative experiences, but now, suddenly, I began to put it into action. If I felt myself getting angry, or jealous, or otherwise mentally troubled, I would observe my feelings, even cradle them, as a famous rinpoche once instructed, but not let them rule me. For the most part, without even trying, I found myself feeling kinder and friendlier and more generous. Subtly, slowly, and by very gradual degrees, yoga was changing my very nature.

One of the things I have noticed in myself is that from the increased focus on paying attention to bodies, my own and others, I'm much more attentive overall. Feeling my way into different alignments for poses. Watching others do the same. Offering adjustments. Being adjusted. Remembering to breathe. Seeing how I stop breathing. Feeling that stopping. Seeing others stopping and starting. All of this is leading to a more embodied attention, something that didn't seem to come as easily when I was focusing primarily on zazen. In fact, when I have been doing meditation, it feels more organic and less pressured - as if I'm responding to the rhythm of my life instead of an artificial schedule.

I'm also getting to face another layer of perfectionism, which resonates well with Neal's point about the ever-changing quality of body and mind. My mind was really cloudy during last week's core class, and I responded rather confused and irritatedly to the intense yoga teacher doing the class. This week, with a clearer mind and piles of energy, her intensity didn't bother me much, and I just enjoyed myself going with the flow of class. And both of these experiences are fine.

Learning occurs in different ways at different times. And some days, you're just in a fog. It's all part of the process...

No comments: