Welcome to winter. This morning it was only 9 degrees above freezing! First, a reminder – this weekend (November 3rd) we will have our Saturday Sangha again. 10% off all store merchandise all day, plus a time to sit together and talk about our practice from 5:00 to 6:30 pm. Please join us! The studio is warm, and the sangha time is free and open to all. This month Cinema will host a discussion on compassion, and how it works in our lives.
Here’s what has been on my mind lately… While I was on retreat this month, I had a very disturbing realization – I am not perfect. What’s even worse is that I never will be perfect. I’m sure that sounds obvious to everyone reading this email, but I think I was still operating under the delusion that if I tried hard enough, meditated enough, did enough yoga, then at some point I would stop making “mistakes.” I would no longer be the “kind of person” who got angry, jealous, sad, and frustrated. Oops.
While I was sitting through my 6th day of complete silence, into probably my 40th hour of sitting meditation during those 6 days, I was feeling pretty blissful. I had overcome my hip and knee pain by finding a more comfortable cushion position, and had even managed to quiet my mind to the point where I only anticipated the end of the 45-minute sitting meditation period for the last 5 minutes, instead of the last 30 minutes. So I was pretty much on my way to nirvana.
The weather during the retreat had been cool and rainy, and I hadn’t brought appropriate clothing, so I was feeling chilly a lot of the time. During the sitting periods, I had a yoga blanket wrapped around my legs, and a shawl around my shoulders. I had reached a temperature just right for my body. A perfect yogi.
Then something happened that rocked my world – one of the other yogis got up and opened a window. Now that probably doesn’t sound like much to you, but before I felt even one waft of cold air, I was furious. My mind suddenly filled with rage… “Why does he think he can just get up and open the window??” “I’m freezing here!” “He’s so selfish!” and on and on and on. My body contracted, my teeth clenched, and my mind raced through ideas about what I wanted to do to that evil yogi.
When awareness returned some minutes later, I felt the anger boiling inside of me, and it felt terrible. I had the clear insight that this anger wasn’t something that I was in control of. This anger was a physical reaction based on my own mental associations, past experiences, etc., but that it wasn’t something that I could meditate away. I realized then that I still was the “kind of person” who got angry. And what was worse was that, because I wasn’t controlling the onset of the anger, I would always be the “kind of person” who got angry. Until my dying day, I would probably get angry. Heck, I might even get angry ON my dying day. I’ll probably get jealous, sad, frustrated, and furious for the rest of my life. And that realization didn’t make me very happy at all.
While I sat there in the meditation hall, I experienced a huge range of emotions. After I felt the anger in my body, and it had quieted down, I began to feel sad. I was sad that I would never be a person who didn’t get angry. I felt hopeless. No matter how hard I tried, I would never be able to be a perfect yogi. I felt despair. I crawled inside the sadness, sank deep, feeling a huge disappointment in myself and a feeling of “why bother”. Many tears later, I got to the bottom of the sadness. And when I got to the bottom I was surprised to find something there… self-acceptance.
For the first time in my life, I truly felt like I could accept myself just as I was. A person who got angry when some poor yogi tried to get a little fresh air. A person who was jealous of another yogi who asked a really good question. A person who woke up cranky for no reason at all. And all of that was OK. My practice allowed me to see that it was all just emotion. The anger was just an emotion, the disappointment and despair were just emotions, it all just IS. And when I see that it just is, I don’t take it so personally. And so I don’t have to respond in a violent or mean way, I can sit with my feelings as they are, without blaming myself for them.
I wanted to share that story with all of you, guessing that you might know what it’s like to want to be perfect, and to find it difficult to accept where you are right now. My wish is that that each of us is able to find some measure of acceptance for where we are right now. For the “kind of person” we are right now, including all of our difficult feelings, our anger, and our pain. The more we practice mindfulness through yoga, the more we can find the compassion and deep acceptance for ourselves. And that is true bliss.
With love for who you are right now,