Somebody’s Boring Me.

Somebodys-boring-me-IThere are times, usually when I’m feeling particularly vulnerable or depleted or tested, that I wish I had a flip-top head. So I could just open it up, and pull my brain out, and wash it off or wring it out, or hold it up to the sun so there would be no way to forget. No way to get lost in obsessive thoughts or worries, no way to waste precious moments. This is the point of the yoga practice–to quiet the storm that rages in the mind when it is left unchecked. To master your mind so it’s your servant, and not the other way around. And this is important, because so much of what we think about is utterly meaningless. I say this to you after twenty years of yoga practice, and I don’t just mean asana. All eight limbs, and a lot of time with my asana on a meditation cushion, too. The mind can be so beautiful when it’s working for you. But it can be a total nightmare if you don’t have the reigns. And we call it a practice because you’ll never be done. It gets a lot easier. In yoga, there are so many analogies for the mind-it’s like a wild horse, or a monkey jumping from branch to branch. And where your awareness goes, your energy follows. If your mind is all over the place, you scatter your energy and deplete yourself. A lot of the practice has to do with training your mind so you can direct your energy. So you can choose one thought over another. So you can be present. But if I don’t get enough rest, or I’m scrambling with two kids and a teaching schedule and a business and a blog (:)), I can spin as well as anyone else. Catching yourself is the thing. Recognizing that you’ve gone somewhere else so you can bring yourself back and breathe into right now. This is why, again and again, I’m so grateful for my yoga practice. Yoga chitta vritti nirodhah: When you’re in a state of yoga, all mental misconceptions, disturbances, ups and downs (vrittis) that can exist in the mind (chitta) disappear or cease (nirodhah). Yoga is a process of wiping your lens clean so you can see clearly.

When we spin we lose ourselves and we aren’t living. We’re missing the present, and mucking it up with old tapes we replay about whatever. Ways we’ve been wronged, fears about the future, scenarios we play out in detail, that may never, ever come to pass, daydreams or fantasies or obsessions. The mind will do mental gymnastics over the same course countless times if you don’t take a stand and say, “Enough!” Because it IS boring. All those redundant thoughts and sad stories and old anger and worries about the future that we stoke and feed. It’s dreadfully devoid of light or inspiration, and it’s debilitating and unproductive. Thoughts that weaken you and make you feel sick, or anxious, or disappointed in yourself, or furious with other people, are not going to get you anywhere good. You have twenty-four hours in a day. Maybe eight of them are spent sleeping if you’re really lucky. So you have sixteen hours that could be beautiful, even if everything isn’t perfect right now. In fact, even if everything is falling apart right now, even if you’re suffering a piercing loss, you could open to the beauty of having loved so deeply. Or you could open to despair or fear or grief or rage, if it’s current. There’s no point trying to push away from you anything that’s real, that’s happening. You cannot bend reality to your will. You can only respond to what is, or distract yourself with old tapes.

Since you can’t open up your head and massage your brain, you might as well explore techniques to quiet it. It’s essential if you ever want to experience peace. I define peace as the space between your thoughts. You know what lives in that space? Awareness, gratitude, grace, strength, your intuition, connection and understanding. Living without those things is living in darkness, it’s like walking into walls. Do you know how people recoil at the idea of their thoughts being projected onto a screen for everyone to see? It’s because so much of it is chatter. Judgement. Lies. If you want to change your life, clean up your mind. When the old songs start playing, pick up the needle and change the record. Tune in to right now. There’s absolutely nothing boring about it. Sending you love! Ally

Come Back, Come Back, Wherever You Are

worryingDo you ever “boil yourself”? Obsess over a conversation that’s behind you that didn’t go the way you wanted it to? Or worry endlessly about situations that might or might not come to pass in the future? When we look back at a set of circumstances around which we feel unsettled, or sad or disappointed, it’s so tempting to try to rewrite history in our minds. If only I’d said this instead of that. If only this person had wanted X and not Y. If only I’d stayed home instead of going out. Thoughts create a chemical reaction in the body. There’s not a lot of difference in the way the nervous system responds to events we’re concocting in our minds, versus those challenging interactions or circumstances that are actually happening.

I think we get fixated when we’re feeling vulnerable, or depleted in some way. When we’re tired, or overwhelmed, or feeling hurt. Those seem to be the times the mind latches on to something painful or unsettling, whether it’s real or imagined. So there we are, folding the laundry, except we’re not. We’re in some imaginary conversation about something that hasn’t happened and might not ever happen. We’ve imagined our worst-case scenario, and we let our minds run wild. So there we are, folding that t-shirt, but our shoulders are up around our ears, and our breath is shallow, and our brow is furrowed and maybe our jaw is clenching. If you work hard enough at it, you might even raise your blood pressure or get an adrenaline rush. And meanwhile, you’ve missed the chance to practice a little Zen and the Art of Folding Laundry. Maybe you missed hearing your kids laughing in the other room. Or you didn’t see how the sun was setting right outside your door.

Left unchecked, the mind tends to head into the past or the future. But it’s sad because there’s no potential left in the past; it cannot be rewritten. I’m not saying there isn’t a time and place for examining and understanding in what ways your past might be affecting your present. I’m simply saying there’s not much point in using up too much of today looking backward and trying to do it differently. It already unfolded the way it did. And when we race into the future, we often do that with anxiety. Playing out our worst fears, thinking about what we’ll say or do, making ourselves literally sick with worry. There is no predicting the future. And most people spend way too much time upsetting themselves over things that never come to pass, anyway.

There’s a real power in being able to pick up the mind and bring it back to this moment. Back to this little t-shirt, or sunset, or laughter in the other room. Your breath is a great tool for that. Your inhales and exhales happen in the now. You can use them to arrive in the moment and open to it. Life is full of pain sometimes. You don’t have to create it in your mind. It’s also full of joy. But you can miss it if you’re somewhere else. Sending you love, and the hope that you’ll experience a little zen and the art of breathing. Ally