I know that many people have the perception that just because I teach yoga, or because my energy is calm on the outside, that I must be at total peace - always and forever - on the inside. I often get asked the question after a yoga class- "Amy, do you ever get angry?".
Spoiler alert - I do!
I do get angry, I do get jealous and judgemental, anxious and nervous, I do get moody and grumpy and I do occasionally go into child-like meltdowns when something hasn't gone 'my way'. These are all very human qualities, and believe me - even the most dedicated monk will also have these feelings bubble up from time to time. Perhaps less and less, but it's not about being able to eradicate our 'humanness' in a quest to become enlightened. Becoming enlightened, as far as I have interpreted and understood it, is the ability to bring into light our darkness (our humanness) so that we no longer react with fear or suffer from this darkness, but we instead can make peace and be at ease with that darkness ( our humanness).
So while yes, I do experience all the emotions available to anyone, my practice has really and truly made the world of a difference to how I deal with and process them. ( * most/some of the time. I am still VERY human).
The best way I heard it explained recently was in a conversation with Madeleine Black, she described it as being a swan - very graceful and effortless on the top, yet underneath the surface, those little legs are still kicking like mad to keep everything afloat.
What has been the transformational practice for me has been to bring awareness to my emotions, I bring light to the darkness that creeps in. So, if I am beginning to feel anger, instead of just allowing that anger to explode through me, making me react, fight or defend, I take a moment to really feel that anger and try to understand it. Where is it coming from? What does it need? Is there something I can do about it right now to bring peace? Or, can I make peace with the fact that I am feeling angry? Can I forgive what or who triggered this anger? Can I forgive myself? Sometimes we can change a situation, improve or correct it, and other times we have no control. Even in moments where we have no control, peace is possible. Peace is possible because peace is a choice.
The thing is though - making peace with what is, is probably the most difficult choice of all. It takes courage and strength not to react to our emotions. It takes discipline and a lot of self-restraint sometimes. It feels good, for that moment, when we lash out and release whatever it is that is building up inside of us, usually transferring it onto someone else. We temporarily feel better when we can transfer some of our discomforts elsewhere, but this isn't actually getting rid of the pain or the problem. It's like taking pain medication to alleviate the discomfort, it works for a few hours, but when it wears off, the pain is still there.
Recently I got a real-time opportunity to put this into practice. I was recovering from an operation and was experiencing a lot of discomfort and pain. Not only physically, while yes that was very obvious, there was also the emotional pain too as this was a procedure for infertility. So not only was the procedure itself invasive to my body, but I was also dealing with all the fear, disappointment, and frustration that a woman experiences when they are told they can not easily have children. On top of that, working for yourself makes it more complicated to take time off. The wheels of the bus keep turning and someone has to be there to drive or else accidents happen.
So I was lying there in bed, feeling a whole spectrum of discomfort and I wanted nothing else but to escape it! I even for a moment wished I was back in America where for sure they would have given me some sort of heavy narcotic that would temporarily incapacitate my ability to experience reality in its, what seemed to be, unbearable totality. However, I was in the national health system of the European Union, which as fantastic as it is, doesn't hold the same beliefs on heavy sedative use in hospitals as their across the sea neighbors. So I lay awake post-op, eyes wide open, feeling it all.
And that's exactly what I did, I felt it all. I knew of Jon Kabat-Zinn's work with mindfulness and pain management and thought this would be the perfect time to put it to the test. I breathed deeply into the pain around the wounds on my body, really noticing the sensations I was experiencing. I let my mind become like an investigator, to become curious and let it explore. Not only did I pay attention to the physical sensations, but also to the mental constructs I had around the sensations. I noticed sometimes I expected pain, but didn't find any, or the pain changed once I began to notice it, or changed my breathing around it. Unfortunately, I can't claim it took away the pain completely - but what my body scan did do, was help me make peace with what I was feeling. I suppose it makes you feel like you have a bit of control again over something that is out of your control. Instead of just being the experiencer, I could be a participant also. I could soften into the tension I was creating around protecting the healing sites, even if it was just a little. By noticing it wasn't as bad as I thought, my mind and nervous system also relaxed a little more too.
Then there was the making peace with the emotional side of it all. Making peace doesn't mean that we are oblivious to how bad it is, it just means that we choose to accept that as it is and find more ease in it. Infertility sucks. Period. I am so blessed to have a great friend who has already been on this journey for a couple of years now and we have beautiful conversations acknowledging just how totally crappy, unfair, painful, and exhausting it all is, then we laughed until we cried, and cried until we laughed again. She said, " this journey is like an onion, it has many layers". I said - "yeah, like an onion because it burns, it gives you indigestion, it makes you want to cry but you endure all that in hopes you're going to make something good in the end"! and then laughter rolled in once again. To me, this is making peace with what is. Can we change our situation? We are trying, but we also accept that a lot of it is out of our control. Does it still hurt? Yes. But by being able to find the humor in it, shows that there is still a possibility for joy, and joy is synonymous with peace of mind. Is this another temporary fix then? Well, of course, this example is a moment of release which brings relief - and I expect more waves of frustration, pain, and sadness to come in again once and a while, but this is the practice - to practice making peace with what is again, and again and again. The difference between this, and let's say an escape mechanism of choice is that when we choose to face 'what is' and courageously make peace with it, our capacity for peace gets greater and greater. However, when we choose that temporary distraction of choice, like taking pain medicine to alleviate the pain, our dependency on that external source of relief gets greater and greater.
So my friends, let us not idealize perfection as the only place peace and joy can exist. When are things ever really perfect anyway? We can choose to make peace, again and again, even within
the darkness. The most breathtaking and most beautiful moments in the day are the sunrise and sunsets, where light and darkness merge.
"Make Peace with yourself frequently, you will never go to war with anyone more than yourself. Make peace with what you can't control and what eludes your grip. Make peace with where you are planted currently and stay rooted in hope. Make peace with yourself frequently". -Bill Chapata,Iambrillyant