I hope to offer you some support and friendship today, as we are, once again, facing heartbreaking truths. Can we feel our common humanity and face this together? Each of us has our way to do so. Today, I want to encourage you to remember that while you use your strategy to find your way, you also make an effort to feel the breadth of humanity struggling along with you, each in our own way.
Our human habit is to seek stability, something consistent, so we can feel safe and let down our nervous systems. In this letting down we can recover, heal and renew our vigor for the next challenge. Warriors must have rest days, like the riders in the Tour de France. Real life is constantly changing, so we develop a strategy, as an infant, to cope with the unknown. This hardens into our very nervous system and shapes who we become. In times of uncertainty, our bodies are often already presenting our habits before there is any awareness of our actions: we physically prepare to fight, flee, freeze, or submit. The physical shape of all of these responses is similar – a contraction.
Whatever your nervous system response is, today we’ll call that the Worrier. Take a moment to feel for your Worrier. Imagine you just got word from your bank that you’re overdrawn. Are you already reaching for the phone to call the bank and demand they fix this (fight)? Are you cueing up your favorite distraction or lacing up your shoes to go run (flight)? Do you experience brain fog, the inability to respond (freeze)? Do you just give up and await the bank’s punishment (submit)? No response is bad or wrong, but without awareness, your strategy is a reaction, like a reflex, without freedom of choice.
To transition from your Worrier to a Warrior, that first step is awareness, or waking up. The Bhagavad Gita tells us that we have already chosen the path of action by being born human. In the story, Arjuna, the reluctant warrior, is coached by Kriśna to find his way to participate in the battle, where both opposing forces include his beloveds. He seems to have the “freeze” response in his nervous system and cannot act. Kriśna wakes him up.
I can relate to Arjuna, and feel the suffering of humanity today. I want to act but I am not sure how to do this. I feel my responsibility to do something, from my place of privilege, but what? How do I muster my courage? How do I connect with my inner warrior?
Here are three steps I’m trying now: they are subtle and I feel like I’m doing something.
First, I get still. This stilling was suggested by my meditation teacher and seems to be essential for me to make any changes in my life. I need a firm foundation to build this warrior-self.
Second, I acknowledge my place of privilege: my race, education, economic status and other things I don’t yet know.
I have to accept the not-knowing part and practice getting more comfortable with this reality. I have to wake up! The yoga sutras teach us that ignorance, not-knowing (avidya) is the first kind of human pain. Avidya can also be called forgetting. For example, I forget that people are struggling every day for access to healthcare, likely because I have my healthcare needs met right now, my children are safe and I am healthy. I need to remember every day about my fellows. I have to override my habit of noticing my well-being and then moving on – I have to learn to step over myself and see everything else. Part of this is humility. I have unconsciously caused suffering in the world.
Third, I let myself feel the pain. I don’t feel like a fighter, but I am a champion crier! I try to cry every day. I want to run away from the world’s pain, the wretched behaviors, the uncertainty, every day, but believe that “feeling it” is the best way to cultivate true compassion. I cannot walk in my sister’s shoes but I can open my heart to her suffering and do my best to stay with this. It takes practice to stay with this pain and I believe it is worth it. I also have to notice if I slip into a place of helplessness, a victim rather than a warrior. My willingness to stay cannot be destructive to me. I include myself in the human club, acknowledging my own suffering and not increasing it. This is that pain vs suffering situation.
These steps can be incorporated into āsana practice, or yoga postures. You could use traditional poses or make up your own. You might consider those poses named Warrior I, II or III.
1. Stand or sit or lie still.
2. Acknowledge all the things your body can do – you are alive, notice this. Then do something that’s uncomfortable, maybe abdominal exercises, balancing on one foot or holding your breath. Try a Warrior posture. Maybe you do something you’ve never done before, so you might be really bad at it.
3. Feel this discomfort. Become willing to be uncomfortable, to the degree it works for you, so that you can taste the world’s pain. Notice that you have a choice about whether or not to stay in this discomfort. Others do not. This might make you cry, or make you angry or make you feel overwhelmed. Return to step 1.
Well folks, I hope this is helpful. Please join me and other 3 Oms teachers this Saturday for a benefit 90-minute class. The studio will match donations up to $500 and send them off to Color of Change, an organization that is committed to making things better. I am pleased to have something I can do to try to be the warrior I want to be.