Tuesday, February 19, 2013

After the Ecstasy, the Suckiness #365Yoga

English: Masala Chai, Masala Tea, Spice Tea
English: Masala Chai, Masala Tea, Spice Tea (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Part of yoga's transformational power is its ability to shift a person's perspective until that person's default thought is something like "life is good." Generally this is a positive change. Those who have made the swing tend to hang out together, sipping chai in a nearby bistro after yoga class and sharing stories about all the good things happening in their lives. And because positive energy is contagious, the group usually grows and local sales of comfortable t-shirts with happy messages skyrocket.

Maybe you've seen it happen. Maybe you're even part of it.

I sure am. After many years of practicing yoga and occasional t-shirt buying, I have come around to thinking that life is good. And for the most part, it is.

Except when it isn't.

There are times when life, in fact, sucks. No matter how many hours I spend on my mat, people I care about continue to pass away, illness still affects me and my family, car accidents happen, homes need repair, money stops coming in, and so on. Often these things pile one on top of another.

During the pre-yoga years I had refined the art of wallowing in self-pity so much that even now I sometimes can't see life past a hangnail. I'm not proud of this, but another sneaky yoga transformation is self-acceptance and a tendency to wallow is part of that self I'm accepting. In the middle of a good pity party the wanting-to-be-happy part of my brain reminds me to get on my mat, because my asana practice has a way of lifting my spirits. The wallowing part's response is usually "f*ck that, and who invited you to this party anyway?"

The wallowing part wins sometimes. After all, who wants to leave a good party? Unfortunately, the win usually comes when the suckiness has started piling up and I need my practice more than ever. And sometimes that means things seem worse than they are and difficulties get dragged out longer than they need to.

There is a book by Jack Kornfield called After the Ecstasy, the Laundry which explores, from a Buddhist perspective, how to deal with the suckiness that's still there after discovering that life is good. It's been years since I read it, and I probably should again because the details have faded. The title has stuck with me, though, reminding me that yoga doesn't end human suffering, just like it doesn't end chores. And, being an imperfect human, even a yoga teacher may blow off her practice and choose the pity party for awhile.

Does that mean I'm out of the positive vibes and chai club? Maybe. But there's another club after the ecstasy fades to wisdom. We sip chai and tell our stories and, when life sucks as it sometimes does, cry on each other's shoulders and drag one another to yoga class so we can get on our mats and rediscover that life is good. You'll recognize us by our well-worn and often stained t-shirts...with happy messages.

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