I had one of those big, profound life experiences two weeks ago, and the effects of it are still reverberating throughout each and every day. I had the extreme privilege of watching a baby come into the world here at our home. The experience was beyond fascinating, not only because a brand new human being came into the world, but also because of the immense power that was generated by the mother through it all. There was a fundamental shift in the mother both during and after the process.
The shift I am talking about is hard to explain, but I can say that it had something to do with transcending the limitations that either life, or ourselves, or our culture puts on us. We are capable of massive things, but we have been lulled to sleep in a culture that places inordinate value on rest and relaxation, or more specifically, inactivity, social media and entertainment/infotainment. The movie ‘Wall-E’ is SO brilliant in the way it portrays the humans of the future. They are unwilling to lift a finger and everything is automated, so much so that they stay in chairs their whole life and accumulate exponential fat and gadgetry. We can see Western culture not only heading in that direction; in some ways we are there already
Which brings us to point of this note. I can’t speak for the mom who gave birth to that beautiful little creature, but I can say that the challenge was massive and beyond extraordinary. We give birth to ourselves through our challenges, both through living them and in some instances overcoming them. (It is important to note that these challenges are relative. For example, many of us know nothing of how incredibly difficult it is to experience extreme racism, homophobia, mental illness, physical/sexual abuse, sexism or poverty, among other challenges. Overcoming those conditions is a different and much bigger subject, one that I am not qualified to address.)
Let’s be really clear again about cultural conditioning. The ideal we are provided is that we end up lying on a couch or a beach, or are surrounded by expensive conveniences that make our lives ‘easier’. We get to have and be whoever and wherever we want. Even more seductive is to get there by not doing anything – by winning a lottery or inheriting a ton of cash. It is worth considering that that message is misdirected and that challenges and discomforts can help make us whole. It is when these challenges come of our own will that we can stand up and know that our actions and reactions help to direct us to something greater, something more elegantly shaped and contoured.
Over hundreds of thousands of years, our species has had to work hard to survive. Our nervous system is designed to thrive through the activation of creativity, endurance and adaptability. If we deny this impulse and avoid struggle, we can get soft and lazy. This is true for intellectual struggle as well. In many of our pursuits, we need to lean into the sharp edges and find some degree of discomfort in our practice, our body, our mind and our lives. Our senses and our sense of connection is sharpened by being in nature, by reading books, by a yoga practice, and by being in a community. The alternative to the challenges is to fall into self-obsession and feel as though technology and entertainment is providing the substance and connection in our lives; we look for meaning and affirmation in a virtual world.
What does this have to do with a yoga practice?
In Moksha/Modo yoga classes, we intentionally put ourselves in a heated environment, we balance in relatively uncomfortable positions, and we bring our bodies to edges that inform us of our physical and mental capacity. This is so good, and though many of us talk a lot about yoga practice being the vehicle that brings us to peace, that doesn’t mean that the journey is easeful. When we are bored or distracted in our practice, that is the cue to look deeper, even though that can be difficult/uncomfortable. It is tempting to think that the challenge is in a new yoga pose, a more ‘advanced’ pose, or poses that require more movement. In fact, I would go so far as to say that it is trying to go ‘deeper’ in our awareness and our physical experience of the poses that we already know that we find more wisdom. It is like the proverb that says that you can dig a hundred wells one foot or one well 100 feet. It is the one deep well that will give us the gift of life and wisdom.
Make no mistake though – this is not just about yoga poses. Yoga is our whole life, and we are strengthened by looking deeper into what life has to offer. Maybe your yoga practice is to go for a long hike through the wilderness. Maybe it is to help with a charity. Maybe it is to cultivate a meditation practice. Maybe it is to run a 10k or a marathon. Maybe we take up a new sport. Maybe we learn to cook more creatively. Maybe we love more openly and honestly with our partner or family. Maybe we do Camel Pose with our face and heart wiiiiiiiide open. Our nervous systems and our bodies need us to keep waking up and experiencing our lives, as that is what we are made for. We are a reflection of a wild, creative and endlessly morphing universe. Not separate, but a fundamental part of the movement of all things.
So as this wild, tiger-mama goddess shows us, we can stop obsessing over our pain, our lack of something, and move past the false and destructive message of perpetual easefulness or happiness. On the other side of challenge, some pretty cool things can happen. We might sleep better, or digest better. We may love better, we may see otherness more clearly, and we may create great stories out of our experience. And sometimes we won’t see or feel anything. That is okay, too, as it is part of the challenge of waking up and being fully engaged with the world.
– A Modo Yoga Teacher
Photo courtesy of fouro boros