The Yoga of Every Day Life
The restraint of the modifications of the mind-stuff is yoga. (Patanjali, Yoga Sutras, Pada 1, verse 2)
I am a mother of two and often find myself rushing between kids and tasks, wishing I could catch up, have more time, have more help. When I walk into the kitchen and see dirty dishes in the sink, and have no idea what I’ll prepare for our next meal, and then I hear my kids getting fussy and needy, wanting to eat RIGHT NOW…when I know that there is more laundry to be done and the toilet needs scrubbing, the trashcan needs emptying, the recycling is piling up, there is cat hair everywhere and dried spit up on the couch–I often wish that I had a different life, one that included a maid, butler, and housekeeper. And then there is reality–the house, the kids, what needs to be done, and just me to do it.
Today is Monday. It’s early, 4am. My brain is tired from little sleep, and I will teach a yoga class in just a few short hours. I look ahead in the day and wonder how I will make it through on such little rest, after such a busy day yesterday. I start to feel anxious.
And then I remember how yoga is now. If I want my mind to be still, and not create pain, I need to bring myself back to this moment. Breathe, be at peace. It’s a choice in every moment–will I follow my mind to all of the scary places it inevitably will go, or can I remember to be in my body, in this chair, typing at this computer, breathing, alive?
I meditate for thirty minutes every day, and today is the 436th consecutive day that I have shown up for a moment of stillness. I am grateful for this practice. I haven’t amassed any supernatural powers and I haven’t established myself in a perfectly continuous state of peace, but I have learned how to let my mind be what it is, and draw my awareness back to this moment. I am not able to maintain this kind of awareness all day long, and from where I sit right now, with the challenges I face, that seems nearly impossible. My work is to stretch the spaces of consciousness into longer periods of time, hoping to awaken more and more, little by little, so that the things that bother me today might some day have less of an effect on me. Sometimes it’s really hard to remember to do this work and to be patient with this process.
When I feel overwhelmed by the reality of life with two small children, I can easily get caught up in the resistance generated by my mind–I can’t believe how much needs to be done, and I don’t want to do it! This isn’t fair! Who will take care of me? I’m wanting more time for myself, wanting more rest, more order, more ease, wanting, always wanting. Instead of being in the house with the cat hair, needy children, laundry, and spit up, I imagine myself on a beach somewhere, by myself, drinking a cocktail and reading a good book. The house feels too small. I want a bigger one, with a bigger kitchen, somewhere away from the city so that I don’t have to hear the noise of ambulances, car alarms, and stereos turned up waaaaay too loud. I want quiet. I want time to soak in the bath tub, and knit. I want to get back to rock climbing and go on a spa retreat. Then I feel sorry for myself because it doesn’t look like any of this will be happening any time soon…and an inner dialogue ensues.
Don’t I deserve to rest? Don’t I deserve free time? I would rather be getting a massage or attending a yoga class for myself than cleaning cereal off of the floor and changing poopy diapers.
Wait! Just who do you think you are anyway? There are people who don’t even have homes, who want children but can’t have them, who wish that they could eat three meals a day and have a hot shower and a family who loves them. You should be ashamed of yourself for complaining so much. You have a good life. Just get on with it then, and stop feeling sorry for yourself…
Oh, you’re right. I suck. I’m a privileged white American who has never known real hunger, or war, or true desperation. I need to get over myself. Get back to the grindstone, and by God, I should be cheerful about the cooking and cleaning and childcare. Yeah, cheerful. Grateful. Happy.
But I’m just so tired…
I’ve learned that I have many conflicting thoughts in my head, and the worst thing I could possibly do is confuse them for reality. I sit up in my chair, and I take a deep breath. Here I am now. I let my breath out slowly. Alive now. Breathe in again, and then breathe out. Only this moment.
The thoughts arise, and then they recede, like the waves of the ocean–they come and they go, flowing into and out of my consciousness. I see that every day life provides me with myriad opportunities to be in the middle of it all and still maintain awareness of awareness. One moment I am swept away with thoughts about the past, regrets. The next I am entangled in thoughts about goals, hopes, fears for the future. Then I hold my little son, and I can hear him breathing, this moment, now. I can shift my focus from the abstract to the concrete. Here I am, I’m tired, I’m feeling overworked, the kids are taking turns fussing so that there never is one moment of everyone being happy–but I can witness all of this and breathe. I am feeling annoyed, but I don’t need to change it, I don’t need to make it go away. I can just let it be what it is and breathe. Aliveness. Being.
How does that saying go? What doesn’t kill you will make you stronger. If I didn’t have challenges every now and again, I’d probably be complacent and dull and completely unaware of how much beauty and goodness surround me always. How could I appreciate my comfortable bed and the deliciousness of sleep if I didn’t work hard during the day? And how could I enjoy blissful quiet if there wasn’t noise around me every once in a while? When a family member is visiting and offers to play with the kids so that I can take a shower or run an errand, I can experience true gratitude for their offer and the space it gives me. If I hadn’t known overwhelm, how could I possibly appreciate the calm?
So yes, there is great opportunity in every day life. Opportunity to awaken to this moment, aware of the fluctuations of the mind, finding the strength to focus and refocus, to become still in the midst of movement, and breathe. Thank you life.