- photo: flickr/Joe Shlabotnik
Want to make the Universe laugh? Tell it you want to slow down but you’re “too busy.”
I’d like to say when I open my eyes in the morning, the first thing I do is give thanks. I’d like to say I brush my teeth and head straight to my altar for some meditation and reflection before the rest of the day begins. And though I strive to do these things relatively quickly on as many days as possible, they are rarely the very first things that I do.
Instead, I wake up and my brain goes straight to thinking about everything I need (want) to get done that day, how to schedule it all as efficiently as possible and, oh, wait—let me take a quick peek at Facebook or text messages to make sure I haven’t missed anything that needs to get added to the list!
Now I have precisely 43 minutes and 27 seconds to breathe, meditate and chant before rushing out the door for my 13 minute drive to my 75 minute power hot vinyasa class. You can imagine how relaxing and rejuvenating my morning seated practice is under these circumstances.
(Full disclosure: I’m cringing at myself a little as I type this. The truth isn’t always easy to hear, least of all when we tell it to ourselves. Now back to practicing non-judgment!)
I try hard to be a ‘be here now’ kind of girl and live in the present moment. Trouble is, I am more of a planner, which means I am a forward thinking/consider-the-future- organize-and-execute kind of girl. If there is a free hour in my day, chances are my mind is figuring out how to fill it. If there is a big event to be planned, chances are everyone is already figuring that I’ll be in charge, because I usually am.
I don’t do slow, still and passive very well. I like to drive and I prefer a high-speed, bobbing and weaving kind of action when I do.
The thing about tending toward activity and productivity is that it is widely celebrated in our culture. I’m considered capable, if at times controlling, because I can take on the task of getting everything and everyone sorted out. I’m a problem solver. I’m reliable. My bosses love me because they never need to look over my shoulder (not that I could stand for that anyway) and my loved ones are so used to me taking charge that it’s as if the earth has tilted off its axis a bit if I don’t want to step up to the plate on some rare occasion.
Lately there have been more of those occasions, or at least I’ve been feeling the need for them. I find myself craving more solitude and silence instead of my usually boisterous and busy existence. I find myself thinking how nice it would be for someone else to take charge and for me to be able to relinquish some of that prideful control. I find that though vinyasa still gets me high, the really sweet, nourishing moments come to me in more yin-style asana and bhakti yoga practices.
It’s like I know in my head what is good for me, yet I can’t seem to fully act on it all the time; I’m speeding along and won’t really hit the brake. And that would be because thinking and doing are not the same thing. Though our thoughts are immensely powerful, it takes a lot more than thinking it into existence to change aspects of our nature that seem so deeply ingrained. It takes a lot of effort, force and pressure even, to break a habit that no longer serves you.
So we send thought vibrations out to the Universe and then what? In my case, you tear a ligament (not practicing asana incidentally), end up in the worst pain of your life and literally have no choice but to sit still and rely on others. I have come to think of it as The Divine Emergency Break.
See? The Universe does listen!
This injury has been an immense blessing. It is possibly one of the greatest chances I’ve had to deepen my practice and go further down the spiritual path I endeavor to follow. Rather than prostrating at my altar asking for more patience and compassion, I have been handed an opportunity to practice them in the ‘real world’— starting with myself.
Right now my body simply cannot do what it normally does. Never mind fancy yoga poses, twice-weekly power sessions with my trainer and hopping on my paddleboard—I can barely walk! Something as fundamental as going to the bathroom, showering or getting dressed was more than I could comfortably manage alone the first couple of days as I relied on crutches and a wheelchair to get to and from only the most essential places. There was no forcing it.
There was only accepting where my body was in those moments, breathing through the pain and celebrating the fact that even with this injury, I am beyond fortunate to have such a healthy, strong, intelligent body that can withstand and rebound from these circumstances.
Perhaps more profound was the chance to cultivate greater compassion and patience toward one of the people closest to me, my mom, who has been by my side as much as I’ve possibly needed her throughout this ordeal. That alone is huge because she and I usually have quite a role-reversal thing going on. I mother her way more than I ever let her mother me. It is actually difficult for me to receive that kind of energy from her, and yet here I have been given this incredible opportunity to soften toward her, and she the opportunity to support me, something we both clearly needed.
Instead of holding her to expectations and standards that I might hold myself to, I have focused on embracing and celebrating all that she is and does in her own way. I can barely express my gratitude toward her right now because I literally couldn’t have gotten through the first couple of days without her. This has been a bonding experience for us both.
Then there is my yoga practice. As much as I like to consider myself a bhakti yogi, and take great joy from chanting mantras, asana is a tremendous part of my life; it’s my regular practice and my ego-driven identity. If I don’t get on my mat at least five times a week, if not daily, something feels out of place. I love to sweat. I love to challenge myself. I love to execute a tricky standing balance pose or inversion and feel the satisfaction of exploring the edges of my body’s ability, edges I constantly nudge further along.
I know this isn’t all yoga is about and looking cool in a posture is certainly not what makes me a good person or yogi. But I love it all the same, and it has been a big part of my existence for many years, so to suddenly have to let it go, if only for a while, is huge!
Right now simply sitting in Sukasana (easy cross-legged pose) gives me joy. Gradually working my injured leg into Supta Eka Pada Rajakapotasana (reclining one-legged pigeon pose) is sweet physical relief and conjures the same edge-exploring satisfaction of my ‘regular practice’ I’ve grown to love. I can’t imagine I’ll ever look at my asana practice the same way after this experience, and I am so glad.
This amazing chance to step back and slow down has been just what I needed. While not all that much time has lapsed since this sudden shift, I already feel the effect of it. I now do my morning mediation unhurried and find it so much more rewarding and invigorating. I’m not as quick to lose patience, and I feel grateful for the chance to appreciate the people in my life as I let go and let them do for me instead of being the boss.
I have a new awareness around relationships; I realized that I’d been expecting something specific instead of just being open to what is.
I’m now still and quiet enough to hear my inner voice chime in when needed to keep me calm and steady in a very ‘be here now’ fashion. I’m really seeing that the identity I’ve created for myself is nothing more than a temporary illusion, and self-limiting.
Why place a limitation on something that is boundless and beautiful? Yet we do this all the time. We define, judge and limit, or I certainly do. And to what end? Truly there isn’t one, or a good one anyway.
If we can allow ourselves and the people around us to simply show up and just be, if we allow life to unfold and flow without trying to direct every detail, then the true magic happens. And what is life if not pure, Divine magic?
Jessica Avila is the founder of Ocean Om standup paddle yoga, as well as a Sivananda and vinyasa yoga instructor in Fort Lauderdale, FL. For her writing, like yoga, is a practice in spirituality, self-discovery and self-healing. Reach her at [email protected] and visit www.oceanom.com for more on yoga or jessavila.blogspot.com for more on what she has to say.
Editor: Jennifer Townsend