Michael Stone on the Question, “How Do I Enter My Life?”
After six years of intense asana practice I traveled around the United States asking various teachers how I could truly deepen my practice to undo the momentum of physical and emotional habits that kept me going around in circles. I phrased the questions as: How do I truly enter the practice? Over time I realized I was really asking: How do I fully enter my life?
This question is still the core motivation in my life. No practice is the truth. The practices are only vehicles that help us wake up. So how can I truly and deeply enter my life and by extension, the interdependent life of all things.
There’s a story from the Chinese Ch’an Buddhist tradition about a woman who leaves a monastery after spending time there as a nun. And really not feeling like the formal practices she was learning were deepening her experiences of her life.
… the student says, “How do I really enter my life?” And the teacher says, “Pay attention.” Enter here. Enter this. Enter this very body, this very moment.
Even when we’re caught up in the past, even when we’re in pain, you can be mindful, you can be attentive; you can fully engage pain, you can fully engage grief. You can be sad, and also be complete.
Being awake is not dependent on one particular feeling.
In the yoga community, and with humans generally, because we’re working with the body and working with things we enjoy, we think that waking up means feeling more and more pleasure. But actually this student leaves the monastery after formal practice and comes back with this question, “How do I really enter my life?” And I think we need to give up just thinking about our practice in terms of pleasure, in terms of what we like, and really let practice start to show us the whole spectrum of life.
Actually the paradox of meditation is that it opens the spectrum of what we can notice, where we can notice what’s beautiful and also we can look at what’s really hard to see. And the practice of asana, of working with the body, expands the spectrum of what we feel. We can feel pleasure in increased ways, but we also feel exactly the opposite.
The practice of yoga, the practice of the dharma, the Buddha’s teaching all point to the same thing: of being one with your life. Not one with what you like, but one even with pain, with anxiety, with hurt, and one with joy. Being one with the whole of life. This allows a sense of ease, a sense of gratitude, and a sense of joy to show up in our hearts.