Saturday, September 19, 2009

Getting Old Or Aging Gracefully?

Some of the regular readers may know that I'm kind of a split practitioner - a zen student yogi might be the best way to put it. When you take yoga from it's complete practice, and not just as the high buck exercise craze that has swept across North America, the similarities between yoga and zen are many. Which shouldn't be a surprise since Buddhism and Hinduism are close cousins (Hinduism the older cousin), and forms of yoga have been part of both traditions.

So, I was inspired by the comments of a long time yoga teacher, Patricia Walden, in an article from the current issue of Yoga Journal. Yoga Journal is an interesting publication. In a single issue you can move from the absolutely fluffy, feel good talk of self help land, to terribly loud, glossy advertisements, to very detailed descriptions of physical postures, to nuggets of deep wisdom. In a lot of ways, the conflicts in the Yoga world are very similar to those in the Buddhist world, but that is probably worthy of another post all together.

The comments of Patricia Walden have to do with aging, yoga practice, and the spiritual life.

Sometimes I'll wake up stiff and wonder what my body will feel like if I start doing backbends. Then I begin practicing, and I forget that I'm 62.

That first sentence is so indicative of the "small-self" doubt we all experience a.t times. It's so easy to just believe the story that you can't do something, because for one, it allows you to stay in the comfort zone.

And notice how, when she is practicing, she stops identifying with the woman who is 62 - in other words, the "old woman." And what's fascinating is that she does this not through becoming disconnected or suppression, but through completely embodying her life as it is.

As we get older, we have to be careful of the tricks our minds can play on us. Sometimes your mind tells you to be careful for good reason, but sometimes it's telling you that your body can't do something that it can do.

I see these tricks even in my own life, and I'm still a fairly young pup. I've been practicing yoga for over a decade now, and yet I'm still mostly afraid to do inversions like headstand and handstand. The rare times I do actually attempt them, I find that I get into the pose, and then talk myself out of being in the pose. It's pretty damn interesting! I'm upsidedown in handstand and my mind is chattering about how I can't do it still.

And this teaching definitely applies to other areas of my life. The "I can't do it" mantra is so pervasive at times that it can dig its way into everything. And what interesting about this is that, when that mantra is running strong, I find that I am more judgmental and less accepting of both myself and others.

Even though we know it isn't effective, we often try to talk people into what we think they should be doing. That's a prison. It takes time to plant new samskaras (patterns). There is such freedom in letting people do what they want to do.

Think of all the energy wasted on trying to talk people into doing something, believing something. We all do it to some extent, but i think one of the benefits of aging gracefully is waking up to the fact that you don't have to try to control the world. In fact, it's pointless to try and control the world. I'm still working on that one. Some days, I'm pretty accepting. Other days, not so much.

There is such freedom in letting people do what they want to do.

This sentence disembodied from the rest of Walden's comments is troubling. But when you look at everything she is saying, the sentence is pointing at a liberation from needing to fix everything. Sure, if someone is doing something destructive, you might say something, or do something in order to try and jolt them. However, in the end, it's up to that other person to awaken to the destructiveness of their thoughts and behavior. You can't do it for them.

This might be a useful reminder for those of us who are regulars in the on-line world. There's plenty of damaging talk floating about in the relatively anonymous cyberspace, but beyond a certain point, it's really impossible to do a whole lot to change that. I make comments now and then when I think they might be helpful, but otherwise it seems the only beneficial thing I can do is to watch my own behavior, and the intent behind my comments. I've erased plenty of comments over the past year I quickly realized were driven by spite, or a desire to "one up" someone. Sometimes, some of that energy still slips through, but hey, that's why practice never truly ends.

Things can change at a moment. Why not be happy now?

There's a good mantra to replace the "I can't do it" mantra. It's so hard to remember sometimes, but really, why not be happy now. What's holding you back?


Unknown said...

nice post on a few levels.

First off - Yoga and zen are fairly close in nature, I agree. Especially when we come at each as a spiritual tool or as a healthly tool or as something to market. From my point of view this progression goes from best to better to bad.

Secondly - With the relative anonymous nature of the internet we do have the ability to say things that we wouldn't ordinarily say in real life. I try to temper this by realizing that if I wouldn't say it in a conversation (or arguement) I shouldn't say it online. Which has led me to the belief that I may just be an argumentative ass (it has been stated before). I don't agree with the removal of or worst (and sometimes) most honest comments. We learn from them and we learn to argue better or at least to be more accepting of others.

I leave my dirty laundry out in the wind at least to teach me that lesson (when others don't do it for me).


Nathan said...

Hi Jack,

I totally agree that we learn from the messy and nasty comments. I'm not one for censorship, which maybe comes as a surprise to those who might link my political views with that kind of agenda. I routinely go back to the comment the Dalai Lama made about the Chinese being his best teachers. If you try and block out or eliminate from your life that which you most dislike, you're bound to suffer all the more.


dragonfly said...

Nice take on this, Nathan. Stephen Cope has an interesting bit on raja yoga and Buddhism (their parallels and differences) in the back of his book, The Wisdom of Yoga.

By the way - as an aside: since my post on headstand and bakasana, I made it up into both handstand and forearm balance (at the wall) in Sunday's class - to my complete shock! Doing headstand opened the door to my internal knowledge of myself, the bodily instinct that I had the strength and skill to do these poses - and feel good in them - in spite of the tricks of my mind. And then they became possible for me! What other unaccessed potentials are inside?!

Good luck with your practice - on the mat and everywhere. May many things become possible! :)

Nathan said...

"I made it up into both handstand and forearm balance (at the wall) in Sunday's class - to my complete shock! Doing headstand opened the door to my internal knowledge of myself, the bodily instinct that I had the strength and skill to do these poses - and feel good in them - in spite of the tricks of my mind." Excellent! Way to go! I did handstand after reading your post, but didn't stay up too long. And this week has been terribly exhausting, so I've mostly been doing "easy" backbends, and restorative stuff. I'll get back to those wiley inversions soon!