I used to cry e-v-e-r-y time I went to yoga. It became sort of a half-funny thing between my girlfriends and I. They would find opportunities to get me out of the house while I was single so even though I always saw yoga as a waste-of-time workout, I’d go along. I finally told my therapist this was happening and she wisely said “why don’t you stop thinking about whatever you’re thinking about. Think about yoga.” Amazing we need people to tell us these things right?
Buddhists are into shrines, something I haven’t gotten far enough in the teachings to learn much about. The first time I walked into the shrine room and saw all this stuff on an alter, I heard my mom’s voice in my head saying “cult.” I learned very quickly that the shrine simply uses a number of images and symbolic items to represent qualities inherent in ourselves and our lives. I can get on board with that, the idea that what we do and what we put out to the world is a reflection of what’s going on inside of us. So, I decided to create my own version of a shrine that I can carry with me all the time. I wear necklace every day with a number of symbols. It has a penny pendant, something I found at a boutique on a break from a Shambhala class. It was attached to a card saying something about using pennies as a gratitude practice. Every time you see a penny, say an ‘I’m grateful for” kind of thing. It also has a silver pendant with a flaming chalice, a Unitarian Universalist symbol. And finally, it has the silhouette of a cross legged Kwan Yin.
Jodie put Kwan Yin next to me during an acupuncture session. Like most things Jodie does I was like “this is weird but whatever works.” I figured if she was going to sit with me I should know a little more about her. I assumed she was a fertility goddess. I was right. Sort of. Kwan Yin or Guanyin is like a goddess in Chinese and East Asian religious traditions, but a goddess compassion. They believe that this quality, compassion, along with mercy and love, make her inherently motherly. This really made me pause. The symbol of motherhood, the root of our fertility… is compassion…
Right now my Saturday Cafe group at the Shambhala center is reading “When Things Fall Apart” by Pema Chodron. Compassion for others, she says, is a reflection of compassion for ourselves and requires total openness and acceptance of every aspect of ourselves, good and bad. We need to fully see and accept who we are, people as they are, and things as they are, without holding on to our own idea of what they should be. This is what causes pain and suffering. Categorizing good or bad, blaming, these are are all signs that we are lacking in compassion.
This whole process of trying to get pregnant has put a magnifying glass on so many parts of my personality, so many patterns in thinking and behavior. It’s like some cosmic bartender put me in a giant martini shaker and has been shaking that bitch for a solid year now. Looking at what I want, what I need, who I am, who I thought I was all while having to go to work and interact with people and, you know, do life continues to be a journey that I expect will go on a long time.
In an earlier chapter on “hopelessness” Pema writes about the inevitability of difficulty, without blame.
“Without giving up hope-that there’s somewhere better to be, that there’s someone better to be- we will never relax with where we are or who we are.”
The difference between theism and nontheism is not whether one does or does not believe in God… Theism is a deep-seated conviction that there’s some hand to hold: if we just do the right things, someone will appreciate us and take care of us…Nontheism is relaxing with the ambiguity and uncertainty of the present moment without reaching for anything to protect ourselves.
The first noble truth of the Buddha is that when we feel suffering, it does not mean something is wrong. . . .Suffering is part of life, and we don’t have to feel it’s happening because we personally made the wrong move. . . .As long as we are addicted to hope, we feel we can tone our experience down or liven it up or change it somehow, and we continue to suffer a lot.
Hope and fear come from feeling that we lack something; they come from a sense of poverty.
It is not our fault we are suffering. It’s not anyone’s fault. It is the nature of the human condition.
Now that Lake Michigan is almost certainly below 60 degrees until next Spring, my last swim of the season is likely behind me. I’ve conveniently forgotten to tell my dream team that I’m running a marathon in a few weeks but have cut down my running to the bare minimum needed to finish. Yoga is really the only exercise that is ideal for our efforts to get pregnant. This is tough. Not sweating, not feeling that total physical exhaustion, not feeling that burn and fatigue, my default is to see this as some inferior form of exercise. Especially when so much of the language just sounds like bullshit euphemisms. “sits bones” bleh “root into the ground” bleh “only do what serves you” barf… I am trying to accept this fact and see it as an opportunity. I’m also trying to allow myself to really embrace this in a similar way that I have other physical challenges and intend to practice 4-5 times a week.
I’m also seeing that this resistance I feel, this impression I have of yoga as inferior, weak, “bullshit”, is directly correlated to my experience of it being “softer.” It’s not about how much you can lift, how fast you can run, it’s not about physical straining strength. It’s about letting go, quiet calm control, peacefulness, knowing understanding of the limits of our own body. I’m not very good at any of those things and I suspect it’s because I have always looked forward to what is next, what is better, than to simply stand in the right now. As Pema predicted, it is and has caused a lot of suffering. I still cry at yoga sometimes, probably because when I stop the business and the rushing and the pushing I get this glimmer of softness. It comes out when we are doing our shavasana at the end of class, literally just laying there not doing anything. “Whatever you’re doing, do less” the instructor said. Even in the stillest, quietest moments there’s an opportunity to do less, let go more, get softer still. The softness is also part of me. I need to accept that part too. I want to be better at seeing it, acknowledging it, and caring for it. I thought being awesome at my job was, in part, because I already was pretty good at being thoughtfully compassionate. I’m now reminded that there will always be a threshold in my compassion for others if I can’t first be compassionate with myself. So, Kwan Yin, I’m gonna keep working on it.