Sometimes what we think we know prevents us from seeing clearly. In “Making a Friend of the Unknown”, a talk by one of my favorite poets, David Whyte, he shares about how he studied marine zoology before he dedicated himself to writing full-time. He went to the Galapagos Islands, and got in the water with the fish, and he said he was very disappointed to discover the animals had not read the same books he had, and that they had “lives of their own.” Awesome, right?
Our ideas and opinions and frame of reference color all of our experiences. We like to think we have things figured out, we have certain people “pegged”. Did it ever occur to you that your mother has a libido, and this is one of the reasons you exist? I’m not suggesting you have to dwell on your mother’s sexual drive, I’m just saying, do you think of your mother as a complete woman, with a life and feelings and mysteries all her own, heartbreaks you may know nothing about, secret hopes, dreams, longings, or do you have her in this box labeled “mom”?
We make snap judgments all the time, and let’s get clear on this–judgements are not bad; the mind is a tool of judgement. You pull up to a red light and make a judgement to stop your car. It’s pre-judging that gets us into trouble, and yet we’re so used to categorizing everything. We’re taking in so much information all the time, but we’re also missing so much. Maybe we see someone with a yoga mat slung over her shoulder and we think, “She’s like me”, or we notice someone’s cool tattoo, or their smile, or the way they’re carrying themselves and we think, “confident”, “charismatic”. Do you know a lot of sociopaths have those characteristics? I’m just saying.
I’ve been teaching so long at this point, mostly the room is full of people I know, with new faces showing up all the time, and I love that. It’s rare for me to deal with a room full of people I don’t know, who don’t know me, unless I’m traveling to teach a workshop somewhere. Sometimes in those instances, I can feel the energy in the room. The withholding, the resistance, the pause before the judgement. “Am I going to like this? Am I going to be happy I chose to spend my afternoon this way? Am I going to sweat? Is it only going to be about whether I sweat?” The mind is constantly pulling us out of our experience so we can make decisions about the experience we’re having, but the minute you label how you’re feeling, you aren’t feeling it anymore, you’re thinking.
My mother today is not the mother of my childhood, and my father today is not the same father I grew up with; people change and things change but sometimes our ideas do not change along with them. I’m not the same teacher I was ten years ago, nor do I want to be. We’re always learning and growing, and hopefully we’re allowing life to open us and strengthen us so we have more to give, but we stunt that process when we place our ideas and opinions all over everything. It’s like a grid or a screen we can’t see through. We’ve decided things have to be one way, and we reject anything that doesn’t match our vision.
There was a time, years ago when I’d first moved to L.A., when I took over the classes of a very popular teacher at a very popular gym. For a few weeks, I had to deal with that resistant and withholding energy in the room, until everybody decided it was going to be okay, and I had made the grade, so to speak. Except for this one guy who always stood at the front of the room, rolling his eyes at me throughout class, or shaking his head, or sighing loudly. It was clear to me that he couldn’t stand me, but that he was there because the time slot worked for him, and he liked the workout. This went on for months, and though I wanted to speak with him about it, he always came right on time, and left right after.
One day I ran into him on the way to class, and I said hi. We spoke for a few minutes. He seemed shy, maybe a little aloof, but not like a person who despised me. Nonetheless, the eye-rolling and huffy breaths continued, as did the head shaking. Then, one day he asked if we could go for a hike, and it turned out he’d been shaking his head at himself. The things I was saying were hitting a nerve, and resonating with him, and he had been rolling his eyes because he couldn’t believe he hadn’t been dealing with his deep need to heal. So this whole time, I’d thought he couldn’t stand me, and it turned out he followed me all over L.A. to take class, even after I left the gym and moved to a studio in Santa Monica. He’s since moved away, but once in awhile he’ll surprise me and show up in class. He’s my oldest regular, this guy who couldn’t stand my guts.
The more you can drop what you think you know, and just open to things as they are, the less you’ll struggle. Moving through life and interacting with people with curiosity is such a great way to go. We aren’t here to peg people, or to compete with them. We’re here to see, to share, to learn, to understand, to grow, to celebrate, to cherish. Life isn’t about surviving, it’s about thriving and shifting and opening. A lot of the time, we get in our own way and become our own obstacles. Drop the stance, remove the blinders, try not to cling to a picture in your head of how things should be or how people should be. Don’t be so sure that you already know what someone will say. Do not assume you’ve gathered all there is to know about your partner, even if, and especially if, you’ve been together for years. Try not to make snap judgements about people based on one conversation, one interaction, no matter how wonderful or miserable. Get in the water and swim and observe all the animals having lives of their own.
Sending you love,