Caring for the Self: Selfish or Selfless?

“The work you are doing on the mat is a gift to everyone you love because it will make you strong and supple and allow you give the best of yourself to the world.” So many yoga teachers have offered this sort of encouragement and I have drunk it in greedily during many a long shoulder stand.

My cynical little shadow laughs that teachers who want to fill their studios at dinner time have to say such things in order to convince the class that it is better to focus on breath and form rather than whip up some pasta for the kids. The rest of me that understands the essential truth: we must nurture ourselves before we can ever offer authentic comfort to anyone we love.

Many of us have internalized this wisdom and understand its weight and worth. It brings us back to the mat and to these blogs and to countless other sweet habits that sustain us every day. To talk about these things in a space like this is just so much preaching to the converted.

At the same time, we constantly encounter those who do not make the choice to care for the body and the spirit. They don’t see that correlation between tending the self and being able to support for those we love. For me, “these people” who constantly put business and housework and the needs of others before their own are not disembodied, rhetorical devices: they are many of the people I live and work with every day.

I think it is obvious which path I believe is most effective, but I do not mean to stand in judgment over this other camp – they are doing the best that they can with the tools that seem most obvious to them. The dark circles under their eyes and their mysterious chronic pains are proof of their dedication to being all things to all people. All people except themselves, that is.

When I dodge out of work a little early to get to the chiropractor even when I know my colleagues suffer from much deeper back aches than me, I can’t help but wonder at how my choice may be perceived. Am I a self obsessed hypochondriac who puts her own spine before her career and getting dinner together? Am I judged for my weakness, for being a childless flibbity gibbet who spends her time and disposable income on new agey foolishness?

For the most part, I realize that analyzing actions that I know to be vital and necessary through such a cruel, hypothetical gaze is a useless game that serves no one. I just worry because I know my path is not the commonly accepted approach. It is often challenging to stand against the “do it for profit, do it for security, do it til it hurts, there’s no crying in baseball” American way, especially when family and friends seem to subscribe wholeheartedly to that maddened creed.

I suppose all we can do is dedicate ourselves to self healing that is free of selfishness.  I think this is only possible when such deep work is not focused strictly on the individual, but is dedicated to the good of the community and the good of the sacred within us all.

Rather than simply pitying or becoming exasperated by those who don’t understand the idea of slowing down, of investing in the power of deep stretches and even deeper breaths, perhaps we can think more about how to share the inner peace that we are cultivating. How can we figure out how to make pure-hearted attention to the Self an epidemic that everyone wants to catch?

Courting Chaos, Contemplating Completeness

It is difficult to commit words to the page when I feel as if I am spinning in constant cycles between chaos and completeness. Every tempest is my own creation and a sense of solace is always a few deep breaths away.

photo by Samuel EichnerPerhaps because creatures trapped in perpetual motion attract one another, I know I am not the only one who manufactures her own state of flux. I have had countless conversations that start “look at us, we are so lucky, but how can we keep catapulting ourselves into such misery with all this over-thinking and self-obsession?” More than a few late nights have been spent discussing why one friend or another and I have hyperactive minds and restless spirits that make us refuse ourselves the permission to settle into daily routine It’s as if we have an aversion to “life” with a lower case “l” as we force ourselves to constantly ponder the capital “L” questions of “Life.” At such moments we imagine it would be nicer to watch John Cusack movies and discuss recipes and shoes and curse our radioactive brains, even as we know we would never give up the internal debate.

I think that all of this ferment makes me feel more evolved; a soul in this much upheaval must be on the route to a truly amazing breakthrough. Plus, it is an excellent excuse for why I cannot settle into a steady meditation practice. Sure, I am aware that meditation would quiet the whirling dervish within and that you don’t wait for perfect serenity to close your eyes and seek stillness, but who has time for such wisdom when one is so busy, well, seeking wisdom.

I’m reasonably certain that this addiction to spinning in circles is a response to a culture that tells us that we can never get enough and that perpetual motion means you must be moving up the ladder. In such a banal maelstrom it is nearly impossible to cool the chaos and realize the Eastern ideals of living without attachment and desire. I am learning that an existence free of attachment does not sentence one to an ascetic cell without sensual pleasures, but is instead about accepting rather than reacting to situations. Happiness is infinitely more attainable if emotions are permitted to pass right on through rather than constantly getting trapped in the body and clouding up the mind. It seems, however, that the more relevant and perfect I perceive such philosophies to be, the more scattered I become.

To my own detriment I have equated contentment with complacency for far too long and have feared stillness and acceptance. As soon as peace seems too palpable or I really consider embracing the person that I am and the way life flows around me, I seem to veer off into another drama of my own devising. It’s like constantly chasing my shadow because I have confused the false outline of my being with my true self.

In some ways I hesitate to even put such thoughts on the page because to discuss them is to give this perpetual game a sense of power and reality, but I dare to hope to name chaos is the first step to its undoing.