As mothers and yoginis we seek, but really….. our work is to learn to stay. To stay in the places that are sometimes dark, gritty and often confounding. To stay when our loved ones need us. To stay when it’s painful. To stay we’re filled with grief and sorrow. To understand life and the nature of impermanence is to stay, not to transcend. For me, it is the force of apana reminds me that I am able to stay. To stay and breathe and wait for space and wisdom to come. – Jenn Wooten

I have some real struggles with stay and as you might guess, a lot of it is tied up in this divorce thing that I’m not over, haven’t found peace with and still cry about…a lot.  I’m pretty skittish when it comes to other people+me+stay these days, so Jenn’s words stirred up some feelings for me this week.  And I’ll tell you some more about me and stay.  There are two things that I tend to do; I stay when maybe I shouldn’t or I don’t stay when maybe I should.

I’ve noticed that in life, we get some mixed messages about stay and we don’t get a whole lot of practice at it.  If there is someone you don’t get along with, do you stay and have that awkward conversation about what’s not working or do you cut your losses and just quit returning phone calls? If anger or sadness or shame bubbles up, do you stay with that emotion or distract with food or music or work or happier thoughts? If your teacher has you in utkatasana for a really long time, do you stay ‘till it’s over or fold on out when the quivering of thigh muscles kicks in? When a relationship, a pattern of behavior or a job is taking more energy than it is giving you, do you stay?  There isn’t any right answer here. Individual circumstances will influence our actions, right?  It is important to pay attention to our patterns and our motivations.  Noticing why we do what we do is as important as what we do.  Bottom line:  Stay is a tricky thing.  There are times when we need it and times when we don’t.

So how do we figure out what to do with this thing called stay?  “You gotta know when hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, know when to walk away, and know when to run.”  Sing it, Kenny!  If a gambler or a yogi knows when best to apply each option, either individual could reach her or his version of Samadhi (win lots of poker or reach enlightened bliss). For most of us, learning to decipher when to stay is a big part of our work. Gamblers have their techniques, and for us yogis there is the 8-limb system of yoga that can help guide us through the process of coming to understand where and how to direct our devotion, faith and patience toward the work we need to do.

Patanjali’s yoga sutra 1.14 * gives me great comfort. When I think about the work of staying I think about this:

Sa tu dirghakalanairantaryasatkaradarasevito drdhabhumih

It is only when the correct practice is followed for a long time, without interruptions and with a quality of positive attitude and eagerness, that it can succeed. 

Staying isn’t about making some big-flashy Hollywood stay-scene where we throw the door open and then embrace and kiss with mascara running down the face.  It isn’t about stubbornly crossing arms and legs and plopping on the floor and refusing to move.  It may not actually mean that you stay in a marriage that isn’t working.  Stay has qualities of patience, passion, devotion, attention and faith.  It has a long-term view.  It asks that we practice returning to the intention to stay true to our deepest Self even if we don’t really want to. Stay asks that we know ourselves (habits an patterns) well so that the mind doesn’t find ways to shimmy out of the deal when stay starts to feel hard.

And let’s be honest, sometimes stay is really hard.  It can be painful, even.  We can stay with a difficult emotion and feel it fully so that we can come to know it and accept it.  Maybe to stay is to let ourselves have space to feel.  Maybe we stay because growth can come from it.  Sometimes stay is what someone we love needs from us, someone in pain, someone hurting, someone sick, even someone pushing us away.  Stay can offer some really beautiful, deeply connected and meaningful experiences.  Stay can also be the experience that connects us more deeply to ourselves.

Check out this shining star in the distant night sky (in the form of a sutra)…

 Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra 1.16*

Tatparam purusakhyatergunavaitrsnyam

When an individual has achieved complete understanding of his true self, he will no longer be disturbed by the distracting influences within and around him. 

This is what stay can offer, and it sounds pretty awesome, right? “No longer be disturbed?” awes-ommmmmmmmm.

*Both translations of these sutras come from The Heart of Yoga  by T. K. V. Desikachar.  Love that book.


2 thoughts on “Stay

  1. First, that album cover is a work of art. Second, I’m not sure whether to apologize or be glad my words were grist for the mill.

    About staying…..the idea, for me, is that if we live and love long enough – we will someday find ourselves someplace that we’d rather not be, but where there is no place to go. And we have to stay. This is not to say that we don’t use discernment about the things we let into our lifes, the work we do, the relationships we have. And to stay doesn’t mean that our lives will work out just fine without drastic action. And sometimes, to stay means to go.

    You could really substitute the word ‘stay’ for ‘show up’. Like in the Gita – Arjuna is standing on the battlefield in total desperation. He is called to fight in a battle in which he’ll have to kill his own family members (cousins, I think). He totally wants to bail. He prays for Krishna and Krishna comes to him and tells him that he must fight. That action is required to navigate deftly through this life and that no effort is ever wasted. Over and over Krishna tells Arjuna he has to show up. Show up and fight this unfathomably diificult war, show up through fear, anxiety, sorrow and grief. It doesn’t matter whether he wins or loses, but he must do his duty. Nothing else is as important in life as showing up. Though it wouldn’t have become the great epic that it is if he’d used these words, basically Krishna is telling Arjuna “dude, you’ve gotta show up.” Epic in a nutshell.

    And so it is with us. In the spirit of Kenny, I’ll quote that other great epic Coward of the County, “sometimes you gotta fight When you’re a (wo)man.”

  2. Jenn, you are so awesome. Did you really quote Kenny Rogers, The Bhagavad Gita and reference Dharma in your response? Yes. You did.

    It’s so great to be alive in this day and age when we can live to be 90+ because Discernment, Dharma (the work of staying/showing up to perform our duty even when it is a drag or downright terrible), and deft navigation of this life can easily take that long to master. Though, actually, I don’t think we ever really figure it all out. Perhaps the work of life is more like the asymptote where those two lines on a graph get closer and closer but never actually touch… which means no matter how old we are, life will continue to be interesting (and there will always be a reason to practice yoga).

    As for the grist, I may complain about the hard business of being alive, but I love it. I love the challenges (most of the time) and the delights and all the stuff in between, so thanks for sharing your thoughts, once again, and for teaching such a great class week after week.

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