Recently, I was driving in my car when an unwanted memory took over my brain. I’d been having a perfectly wonderful afternoon with my kids, and had just dropped them off to have dinner with their dad while I went to teach a class. We were laughing as they got out of the car, and I still had their wet lip-prints drying on my cheeks from where they’d left their big kisses. In the two minutes from the time I dropped them off, to the time I drove three blocks to pull into the studio garage, I suddenly noticed my shoulders were up around my ears, my jaw was clenching and I had an overall feeling of dis-ease in my body, and emotionally. Why was I suddenly feeling crappy on such a nice day, when nothing unpleasant had occurred? I realized the song on the radio was about being stabbed in the back, and without my consent, my mind had taken me on a little journey down memory lane, to a place I’ll call Betrayal Alley.
We’ve all been betrayed; sometimes we’ve betrayed ourselves and our own truths, and sometimes other people have disappointed us. When these things happen, it never feels good, because it calls our own judgment into question. How could we have failed to heed the voice of our intuition, and how many times will we need to get burned before we listen? Or, how could we not have seen that this other person did not value us, or more specifically, herself or himself? A person who purports to care about you, but then lies to you, or does not consider your feelings before acting on his or her desires, is a person who is not respecting herself. In order to feel good about our reflection at the end of the day, when we’re brushing our teeth and looking in the mirror, we have to feel our integrity is intact. If we don’t, it’s because we’re in some kind of darkness, we’re fueled by selfish desires, we’ve decided “F&ck it! I’m grabbing some happiness for myself, and I don’t care about the rest of it!”, or we’re so desperate for relief we just aren’t thinking clearly. When we stifle the calm, clear, knowing voice of our intuition because our mind is jumping around with reasons about why it isn’t important or doesn’t matter, we’re heading for a brick wall, and some pain. It’s important to examine what’s happened when we move through these experiences; they’re markers for growth if we stop and explore. They’re signposts that let us know we’ve gotten lost, and they show us how we can get back on track. But they are not a scenic overlook, they are not places where we need to hang out, nor do we need to go back and visit or obsess or sit down for a beer; we do not need to send postcards from this edge. Once we’ve learned the lesson, it’s time to move on.
The thing is, we can make ourselves sick with our thoughts. Every thought we have creates a chemical reaction in the body. If you replay an upsetting conversation in your mind, your nervous system will not differentiate between the memory of the event, or the event itself. In other words, you can raise your blood pressure just by thinking about something that’s upsetting. There are times when it makes sense to replay a conversation or experience; if you’ve said or done something you don’t feel good about, it’s productive to examine what went wrong, so you can make a different choice next time. If there’s another viewpoint you want to consider, excellent. Beyond that, you’re just spinning your wheels and creating turmoil for yourself with no positive outcome. I had to laugh when I pulled into the garage. The mind is so nuts. There’s nothing more for me to learn about the crappy thing that happened years ago. I wish all parties well; one of them I would like never to see again, and that’s okay. You can forgive people without wanting to have them in your life.
One of the reasons I’m so grateful for my yoga practice is that I lost two minutes of available peace in my present, by dwelling on something lousy from my past, instead of two hours, or two days (and years ago, I might have lost two weeks). Every pose in yoga has a focal point, a place where you rest your gaze. They’re called “drishtis”, and they train the mind to do one thing at a time; they’re a tool that helps develop concentration. Culturally, we’re encouraged to multi-task, and if we don’t gain any mastery over the mind, it will pull us into our past, or take us on an imaginary trip into our futures, often with fear or anxiety. Have you ever worried about something that never came to pass? Yeah, me too. That’s time we don’t get back.
The other thing is, because we have a finite amount of time and energy, it’s nice to be able to decide where we’re going to spend those gifts, and upon what. In the physical yoga practice, we do “sun salutes”, a sequence of poses that build heat in the body, and start to open and strengthen every major muscle group. They aren’t called “sun salutes” just because they heat the body, though. We’re reaching for the sun in acknowledgement that we would not be down here if the sun were not up there. It’s a remembering practice, and we humans are so prone to forget. We forget it’s a gift to wake up in the morning. We forget it’s a gift to have a healthy body, to take a deep breath, to feel the breeze on our faces. We forget to remember the people in our lives who mean everything to us, in the midst of a busy day when we have so many “important” things on our to-do lists. We forget easily, so it makes sense to develop a practice of remembering. It’s a muscle, I think, or a way of being you can practice until it becomes ingrained. It’s a life-changer, and it’s one I feel grateful for every day. Right now, right this minute, I remember that it’s amazing to be here, even if everything isn’t “perfect”. It’s amazing to be in a body, and to see the white curtains in my office swaying in the breeze, and to hear my dog incessantly pacing around (will he ever turn in three circles and settle?!), it’s amazing that I have two beautiful, healthy children and a family and friends I treasure and love. It’s amazing I know all of you, and get to reach out to you in this way, and it’s amazing that you reach back. I really think remembering is what changes the world, and reminds us what a gift it is. If you want to practice remembering, you can join me here (I practice every day, because it’s so easy to forget!): https://yogisanonymous.com/videos/vinyasa-flow-the-complete-workout-ally-hamilton-2738
Sending you love, Ally Hamilton