It’s All Yoga. A tale of road rage and redemption.

Tonight I lost it. My cool, my center, my common sense all in a matter of seconds. It was admittedly not my most yogic moment. For those of you who need not the gory details, I commend you. Skip down to paragraph 3. For the rest of us, here’s how it went down:

I have a persistent habit toward road rage and tonight my demon reared his ugly head. Again. I was driving home from work, but not on my usual route (not that that is of any real significance or excuse). As I left the office I called in take out and I was on my way to retrieve it. My delicious and much anticipated paneer tikka was awaiting my arrival, and I was praying my love wouldn’t grow cold. Much to my dismay traffic sucked, and I was clearly in the wrong lane if I was going to make the most of this unfortunate situation. So, I signaled. I am sure the woman in the other lane saw me. She flinched. She took a second, and then she decided. Not to let me in. I sped up a bit, with my blinker still blinking, and still she refused my entry.** So, I made her. I got far enough ahead of her to squeeze the front end of my car across the line and I dared her, “Let me in you witch, or else hit me!”. Needless to say she didn’t like my ultimatum one bit, and she made her dissatisfaction duly known. As if my behavior up to this point had not been bad enough, I proceeded to yell something like, “You SAW me!! I had my damn blinker on!!!” For added effect (since I was aware enough to know she couldn’t hear me), I proceeded to engage my blinker in this fashion: rightleftrightleftrightleftrightleftrightleftmyblinkermyblinkermyblinkerrightleftrightleftahhhhhhhhhh. Somewhere around that point I started to calm down. Then it hit me. That was ugly. That was embarrassing. That was dangerous!

As the incident wound itself down, I began to notice myself compiling a laundry list of reasons why I was justified. She SAW ME and she DENIED me. I couldn’t let her get away with that. I have TANDOORI to pick up dammit! All very sound and justifiable reasons for cutting someone off in rush hour traffic. Right? Wrong. Why had I done that? What is this slip up all about? I’d been doing so well managing this! I’m a yoga teacher for cripes sake!! Then I remembered a blog I posted on my Facebook page about the the guru principle and misunderstanding about the role of the teacher and I remember what my own teachers, Laura and Cat said just this weekend, “Everyone is always doing yoga all the time; practice comes in when you are aware and skillful. Everyone is on the path.” And so since the yoga had clearly already begun, I decided to put on my big girl panties and take a look at why I’d fallen off the wagon and straight onto my ass.

I had to get honest. First, to admit that I was wrong. I was wrong and she was right less wrong. I was angry with myself for not taking advantage of choosing the quick route when I could, and admitting I missed it because I wasn’t paying very good attention to begin with. Humph. Now why might that be? I was playing with my phone (insert sheepish look here). Traffic was bumper to bumper and I wasn’t really being that negligent, but that’s beside the point. If I’m going to be truly honest this isn’t the only area in which I’ve been less than mindful this week. My house is a mess, I’ve been sleeping later than usual, I’m wasting time at work, and not only am I not trying to meditate I am actively and with full awareness ignoring the voice in my head that is telling me to “sit down and shut up”. Double humph. Triple humph. Shit.  I haven’t been very engaged with my yoga.

So, here I am. Turning my gaze upon awareness and engaging as honestly as I can. I am confessing to you as a means of holding myself to the highest accountability (and hopefully I will give you something of value to receive). Getting on my mat isn’t enough. Not when I’m escaping into negligence of my other practices. I wish I could apologize to the woman I cut off. I hope she was engaged enough with her yoga to let it go. We are all human and perfectly imperfect. Completion is unattainable, and it isn’t the goal to begin with. The goal is recognition and the expression of that awareness. I may always struggle with a tendency toward road rage. If I’m skillful enough to remove it from my path, I can rest assured that there is something else waiting to engage me underneath. Tonight, I’m hitting the reset button. I will clear my house of the clutter, and resolve to wake with the alarm in the morning. When my inner voice says “sit down and shut up”, I will take my seat and I will breath. AUM.

It isn’t whether your are right all the time that matters. It isn’t important that you always be perfect or even always good. It is about paying attention, listening, and being honest. It is about putting that awareness and knowledge into action, and forgiving if what you discover disappoints the grandest illusions you hold of yourself. Be kind. First and foremost to yourself. Don’t be afraid to look at the parts of you that are ugly. It’s all yoga, and we’re all on the path.

**Let me just take this brief aside to air a little gripe. Women, you do this. You see people with their blinker on, and you pretend not to see them, and you don’t let them merge into your lane. You do. Don’t deny it. I see it all the time. Not to mention the thousands of times I myself have done the same (I’m working on it). What’s the big deal anyway? So we let someone in. It doesn’t make us pushovers. It makes us considerate. Think about it.


Meditation 101: Calling a Spade a Spade (or in this case a vritti)

I am a consistently inconsistent meditator. I’m not sure why this is. I feel noticeably lighter, calmer and more aware and receptive after even a brief meditation. So, what gives? I recently taught a yoga class around the 5 types of thought. There are only 5, did you know that? Only 5 different ways your mind turns, and lately I’ve been considering that perhaps my idea of what constitutes “real” meditation is a bit limited. Maybe, just maybe, I mediate more often than I’m giving myself credit for.

Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, the first known text on yoga, states that yoga is the cessation of the waves of thought. In sanskrit these waves are called vrittis. Patanjali lists 5 forms of thought, and all thought (no matter the subject) fit into one or a combination of these 5 categories: 1) Correct knowledge – seeing something correctly, as it actually is. We acquire correct knowledge through our direct experience, our intuition, and insights from the wise or information from experts. 2) Misunderstanding – seeing something incorrectly. 3) Imagination or Fantasy – daydreams, “rehearsing” conversations or dreaming up scenarios. Imagination is one of our greatest tools of survival. It allows us to problem solve and formulate goals. 4) Deep sleep – the absence of the other four vrittis. This is easily confused with the absence of thought. In deep sleep the mind is focused on a void, on nothingness. This is not the same as the absence of thought with the presence of awareness which is the goal of a meditation practice. 5) Memory – the recalling of past experience, voluntary or involuntary.

So, each thought you think, all of the thousands of thoughts that cross your mind in a day are really just one of these 5 vrittis. The Yoga Sutra explains that when we identify ourselves, when we derive our sense of being, from these vrittis we experience suffering. Each of our thoughts can have either a positive or negative affect on our present state. Each is either colored by our experiences and our beliefs, or it is uncolored, standing alone without any projections upon it. Buddhist philosophy says: All is suffering. Your experience either feels bad and you suffer or your experience feels joyful but doesn’t last and therefore leads to suffering. Yoga takes a similar perspective. Patanjali says that when we perceive ourselves to BE our thoughts, when we attribute these turnings of the mind to our identity, then we suffer. However, yoga teaches us that when we are able to stop the turning of the mind, when the vrittis are quieted, then we are able to see our true nature. We are in union (yoga) with our true Selves – pure spirit, consciousness, bliss and joy.

So, back to meditation. Meditation is the focused practice of not identifying with thought. It is NOT the absence of thought while being aware. That is samadhi – the mind is still and one pointed, the being is aware, the seer and the seen merge in blissful union. The purest joy is attained. That is the goal, not the practice. If you are like most non practicing meditators then you might think that in order to properly mediate you have to sit on a cushion with your legs crossed and clear your mind of all thoughts, at which point you are free to totally bliss out. That’s a pretty tall and easily discouraging order for a busy modern mind. Here is what I’ve noticed:

In one single day, I have a million and a half opportunities to clear my mind. For every thought I think there is an accompanying moment to choose to be quiet. This is the meditation I think I’m not giving myself credit for. An example: I have IED, intermittent explosive disorder (commonly known as Road Rage). It’s a problem. So someone cuts me off, or goes too slow, or does some asinine thing or another in their car and I lose it. I get mad. I get raging mad. And who suffers the slings and arrows of my discontent? The other driver? no. ME! I do. Occasionally the unlucky person who happens to be in the car with me experiences an unwelcome energy shift too, but mostly it’s just me. My heart races, my peace is disturbed, my blood pressure rises, my eyes bulge…you get the picture. What good does it do me? None. It’s not a release. It’s a disturbance. The offending persons go on about their merry way not knowing or caring or being otherwise affected by the very colorful and eloquent string of carefully selected curses and insults that pour from my otherwise sweet and genteel self (ok, maybe genteel is a bit much). I’ve been working on this for the last year, and I am proud to say that I am getting much, much better! So when the offending action appears in my experience I take a breath. I focus my mind on slow and steady breathing. I take a time out. I arrest my rage before it arises, and I keep that focus on just breathing until my mind drifts off into some unrelated thought. At work, at the grocery store, whenever I notice my mind reacting to something I don’t like I try to remember to do this. When I catch myself wallowing in self pity or being despaired of my own emotions, I take a time out. Sometimes I do it just because it occurs to me that I can. I focus on my breath, and I breath. I let my thought drift away on my breath. Isn’t that meditation? So, I’m not sitting on a cushion and doing this for 20 minutes at a time, but it’s a start. Don’t get me wrong, I think sustained meditation is incredibly beneficial and I continue to aspire to it. Even five or ten minutes of sustained practice has an amazing affect on a person’s state of being. Sustained meditation leaves me feeling like I’m existing in another dimension when its over. I just think there are a thousand opportunities to experience the immediate benefits of meditation in every day that feel more approachable and accessible.

The result of watching my thoughts in this way, of taking those small moments when I’m left waiting in one line or another to focus my mind on my breath and not my thoughts is that I’m more calm, happy and responsive (rather than reactive). Recognizing that I can quiet my mind anytime I want is liberating! I don’t expect it to stay quiet forever. Truth be told if there is such a thing as a bad meditator then I’m probably one. Except, I don’t believe there is such a thing. I don’t think anyone can be a bad meditator. Some are practiced and some are not. That is all. Our minds are designed to think – to produce thought. That is the function of the mind, and without it we would all be in a big ole heap of trouble. But here is the secret – You are not a victim of your thoughts. You are not the atoms in your body or the activity within your brain or your nervous system. You are a conscious being. You are in a constant state of connection with your highest Spirit, God, Supreme Consciousness, The Divine, The Force – whatever you want to call it is fine because – YOU ARE A PART OF IT. That is the gift of meditation.  Each time I take that moment to choose to be still and experience that I DO have the ability to stop my mind, even if it is for the briefest moment, I become more in touch with that higher Self. It becomes more and more apparent to me that I am not this body or this mind. The more I take those small opportunities to practice that awareness, the freer I become.

I say often that if everyone practiced yoga the world would be a better place. I’m not talking about the exercises, although I think every body can benefit from them. The real juice, the real might of yoga is in the art of noticing. You don’t have to stand on your head. You just have to believe that you are good and worthy of attention. Then you have to give that attention to your Self. That’s really all mediation is I think. Taking a little time to notice yourself, to see your mind and your body, but also to see that you are much, much more than that.