II.1 tapaḥ svādhyāya īśvara-praṇidhānāni kriyā-yogaḥ
With both of my girls in school this year, I was sure I’d have all sorts of free time. I was also sure I’d be pretty miserable without my kids around so I created a list of some of the long-neglected, adulthood things that I’ve been wanting to learn and improve upon. I figured I could dedicate myself to these pursuits to help stave off the empty nest misery. I made a go to list before school even started with these personal learning goals: 1. regularly back-up and maintain my computer files, 2. ride my bike the mile and a half to work. 3. keep track of my income and expenses. The list continues for quite a while, but these are the top three. I established “money Monday,” I borrowed and tuned up a bike, and I got out the old manual that came with my computer.
Four weeks later, none of this is going as planned. The girls are in school and it turns out, I don’t actually have all that much more free time. I’m miserable, not because the girls are gone, but because I realize how important the computer and financial stuff really is and I can’t believe how much I don’t know. I have a bike sitting outside my door, but I haven’t managed to get myself to ride it. I expected all of these things to take some time and some effort but with my smarts, resources and motivation, I also expected to be able to find the fun in saving gas $, computer savvy and financial wizardry. It’s not fun. I hate it and I’m meeting all kinds of crazy resistance in side of myself.
I can’t seem to find peace or satisfaction in this process. I can’t seem to get excited about any of it, even the biking, because it’s not coming easily. For all of my smarts (ahem) this kind of stuff is actually really hard for me and it’s hard in a way that gives me headaches and leaves me feeling incompetent and frustrated and a little overwhelmed. I’ve been looking for a way out. I’ve been considering what it might be like if I just go back to not wanting to do the things on my list. What if I just go along with fantasy numbers and bottom lines and my fingers crossed that nothing goes wrong with my 6 year old computer. But I can’t. I know I can’t quit. The time has come. I need to do this stuff. I need what these new skills offer. I wish it were as simple as putting on a smile and digging in, but there’s stuff I have to address. I must battle all this resistance and unpleasantness that keeps rising up inside of myself every time I come to my list.
In a yoga sutra class, I remember my yoga teacher, Chase Bossart, talking about how things start to feel hard along this yogic path and they really challenge the way that you see and do things. He describes it like this:
When we begin yoga we are unconsciously unconscious. Our habits and patterns run the show and we don’t give our actions much thought.
Then, we start to practice yoga and we see what we are doing, how those habits cause us trouble and the ways in which we want to make change. This is the hardest phase because we are conscious of what we are doing unconsciously. We can talk about making changes and learning new things, but then we turn around and do that old thing again…and again…and again. All of those unconscious behavior patterns are still in place and still come on through all of the time. Consciously unconscious can feel like the pits.
We are here at consciously unconscious for a loooong time. It takes a lot of yoga and a lot of patience to move through all the unconscious stuff that we do that might not be so helpful. But the promise is, if we stay with the task, we can eventually move toward consciously conscious. Here we make decisions with awareness and intention, less automatic, habitual responses. And, because of our practice, we are able to think and act with focus and clarity. Without all of that unconscious stuff going on, we can have less suffering and we can bring the change we want to see. Beautiful.
When it starts to get hard and we become aware of all of the unconscious behavior and how difficult it will be to make long lasting change, we just might bail. We want to go back to sleep. I thought I understood what he meant and that I had weathered some difficult times. But, no. This thing I’m going through, this is things getting hard. I’m having to learn how to do mundane things that I hate because I see that it’s time and it’s necessary. I’m not doing it with the ease and grace of an enlightened being at all. I’m dragging myself through it and I’m whining and complaining the whole time. I want to bail.
But I’m not bailing. This is kriyā-yoga. Staying with this hard stuff that I want to learn and then hate learning is yoga in action…yoga all the time and in all things. I thought I got it, but now, I really think I get it. Yoga doesn’t always feel easy and good and it’s not just about your hamstrings. It doesn’t have to involve a yoga mat, either. It does ask that we give attention and presence to what’s going on in front of you and inside of you. Sometimes, you’ve got to practice your yoga behind a desk and a computer screen cringing and feeling uncomfortable and dumb. It can require intention and effort and asking for help (tapas). You’ll need self-reflection and awareness of the things that get in the way of learning (svādhyāya) so that you are able to move through this resistance. And it takes humility, patience and trust that this feeling won’t last forever, that learning can happen and that this discomfort just might be part of the process of growing into the person you want to become (īśvara-praṇidhānāni)*. The discomfort just might be part of the process. *YS II.1
I’m not facing any epic challenges here. This isn’t going to be a story of victory that goes down in herstory. These are mundane challenges, however difficult. There is no major outpour of sympathy coming from my corner as I whine my way through computer tasks and piles of financial paperwork. I’ve had to ask for a lot of help and be willing to make changes in how I spend my time. I also have to battle all the self-talk that is really unhelpful, “Amanda, you should know this already. Maybe you can’t actually do it. How could you have missed this really obvious thing for soooo long???” This is my yoga practice these days. Stay. Keep trying. Make sustainable daily effort. Don’t let the feeling to bail out win. Don’t let the old tape recorder in my head keep telling my how hard this is. Be present with what comes up and feed that desire to get better and learn, even though it is difficult.