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March 31, 2020

Stop Running: Radical Self-Acceptance in the Times of COVID-19.

Elephant’s Continually-updating Coronavirus Diary. ~ Waylon

~

When I was 17 years old, I ran away.

There were a variety of factors at work—teenage hormones, my parents’ divorce, budding addiction—and these factors coalesced in a moment involving a mad dash down the block. My friend picked me up and I hibernated for a few days, refusing to go to school or check in with my parents.

What was I running from?

I felt trapped, confined, stuck. When I left home, I experienced a sense of freedom, for just a moment. A kind of ungraceful shedding, an unraveling. I smoked a lot of weed in a grey basement in the next few days. Soon, I found myself in the same predicament from which I had tried to escape: in that dingy house, surrounded by people I didn’t particularly care about, who didn’t particularly care about me, and I felt stuck again. I ran away to feel free, and I felt worse than when I thought I wasn’t.

There’s a saying in 12-step fellowships: you bring yourself with you wherever you go.

The more I chased a feeling of freedom, the more entrenched I became in the attitudes, actions, and lifestyle that weren’t working for me—the same kinds that had been pushing me to run away. Running was easy. Accepting what is was the only new territory that could actually offer me escape.

Millions of people feel stuck right now. And while millions of them are not dysregulated teenage girls, I am sure everyone can connect with that feeling of confinement, dread, and hopelessness. As the knowledge of a month without my usual connections and convenience crystallizes in my mind, I remember the wisdom I gleaned in the difficult adolescent period of my life. I bring myself with me wherever I go. There is nothing in the external realm that can solve an internal problem.

Acceptance begins with me. I have the power to commit to where my feet are planted, to take a deep breath when my skin feels too tight, to pause when I reach for the automatic short-term fix button. When I withdraw my energies inward instead of chase after what I am convinced will offer me pleasure and happiness, I reclaim my true seat—the seat of the self.

The Yoga Sutras, a text that codifies the practice of yoga, discusses the radical act of taking the seat back. Sutra I.23 discusses the work of īśvara-praṇidhānā, or the “perfect aligning of attention in īśvara,” as Vyass Houston writes in The Yoga Sutra Workbook. What is īśvara? The seer, the observer of the field of consciousness, the true Self. While consciousness possesses a mirror-like, fluid quality, reflecting the contents that fill its container, and moving where the Self directs it to move, the Self is steady and eternal.

The Self is limitless potential. Since it is not identified with anything, but exists as a force situated entirely in itself, the Self can hold a multitude of experiences, thoughts, sensations, and feelings within the field of consciousness that it supports without becoming attached to them.

In other words, our true nature is the ability to witness and experience, without getting stuck.

As we all face the common experience of feeling stuck in the times of social distancing, we also face a unique juncture in the evolution of our individual and collective consciousness. For me, the growth that has been the most valuable was the work I initially resisted. Right now, no one wants the work we are tasked with, including me. I would like my social gatherings and Starbucks and shopping sprees back, please.

But this juncture offers something convenience and pleasure cannot: freedom.

Today, despite any interruptions to my routine, despite any worry about my loved ones, despite the confining feeling of social distancing, I can engage the practice of īśvara-praṇidhānā—I can restore myself to myself. I can sit within this experience and watch my thoughts, follow my breath, and feel my feelings. I can move into this experience, remembering that this experience is not me, it is just one experience of an infinite amount that my consciousness is holding.

All of us have access to this practice. This is the work, the real yoga. We can continue to stay stuck, or we can move into this juncture with the strength, grace, and wisdom of the Self.

Ultimately, I found that what I was running toward was actually always seeking me. I simply had to be still and discover it within. It’s still inside of me. It never left, and it never did not exist. It’s still inside each of us—we all have access to it, even now, perhaps more than ever as we adopt stricter social distancing precautions for a longer period of time.

What you have yearned for is seeking you. Stop running. Pay attention.

~

Relephant: 

 

 

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Sarah LaFleur  |  Contribution: 1,875

author: Sarah LaFleur

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Editor: Naomi Boshari