by Kara-Leah Grant, Musings from the Mat
Living my yoga means a constant awareness of my state of being. It means checking in with myself to see what’s really going on below the surface of daily life – of parenting, working, practicing yoga, looking after the house, spending time with friends and family.
Lately, I’ve noticed a lack of joy or fun in my life, even though on the surface, everything seems to be going from strength to strength.
I successfully moved from Glenorchy to Napier and found the perfect house to live at – with another single parent. Her support means I’ve been going to three yoga classes a week (Mysore-style Astanga with Peter Sanson) for the first time in four years. ie. since my son was born.
The house is a beautiful old farmhouse and we’re surrounded by fields, yet only ten minutes from downtown Napier. There’s all day sun and in the morning the light streams into my room – which used to be the lounge so is massive. I have an enormous bay window that looks out over an over-grown rose garden.
We even have a pool, which Samuel has been loving. Plus he has two other kids to play with – albeit older than him, but still more company than just me.
My work is going well – I’m more than halfway through a second book, Forty Days of Yoga is now available internationally in print, the website is doing well, I’ve been asked to teach two Vinyasa Flow classes a week at a local yoga studio and there’s interest in one-on-one yoga sessions.
I’m making new friends, and getting to know older friends better. Plus I still have regular contact with all my old friends from around the country, and world.
Despite all this, there’s something not quite right inside me. When I first arrived in Napier, despite everything effortlessly falling into place, I experienced a week or so of depression. As always, I paid close attention to how I was feeling and what I was thinking. I asked myself what I needed, and I went with that. Getting back into regular Mysore-classes helped enormously.
That depression is mostly gone. But there is something else there and I’m not quite sure what it is. It would be easy, were I not a committed yogic practitioner, to bury this slight unease or dissatisfaction under more work, a few drinks at the end of the day, a relationship, TV or shopping.
But I don’t.
Many years of hard-won insights have taught me that no matter what the distraction , the very act of avoiding looking closely at what’s going on creates suffering.
Last night I finished a book called Shrinking the World – The 4000-year story of how email came to rule our lives. Brilliant book. And it made me take a serious look at my own email habit. Yes – I would call it a habit.
Because I work online, I used to have strict internet-free times to avoid falling into bad habits around living in Information Space (as opposed to physical space…) Those strict internet-free times went south last year when I didn’t have any childcare and needed to grab any spare moment I could to keep up with work.
However, that’s shifted. I now have childcare and I realised that I’m still in my atrocious internet habits. Often I check my email when I wake up in the morning and before I even get out of bed. At night, it’s the last thing I’ll do before I turn my phone off. I’m online all day, every day.
I don’t know if this why I feel the way I do right now… but I suspect it might be helping hide why I feel the way I feel.
Over the years, I’ve noticed that issues in the psyche have a natural journey.
First, they’re hidden away completely and we have no idea they exist. Then, something begins to disturb us in our lives. We feel unhappy or upset for no apparent reason. Other people or situations may cause us to feel upset out of proportion to the actual event. We may feel depressed, anxious, out of sorts, not our usual selves.
This is a critical moment.
We usually make an unconscious choice here – we usually try and bring ourselves back into balance or happiness by reaching for our favourite distraction. That distraction can be anything from drugs and alcohol to TV and the internet to shopping and work. Sometimes we can even use our yoga or meditation practice to distract us.
Whatever was trying to get our attention has failed – we’ve succeeded in distracting ourselves and avoiding looking at some small truth that was ready to come into the light.
Habitually act like this – reach for distraction in the wake of discomfort – and bad habits form.
Those habits can last a lifetime and we can go to our graves never having faced the truth of our lives. In more extreme circumstances, those habits can become addictions and cause us so much pain that we’re finally forced to deal with the addiction.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t always mean that we finally get to examine that small truth of our life that was trying to get our attention. Sometimes we turn our addictions into a new story and that fight with addiction distracts us for the rest of our life.
Sometimes though, we’re fortunate enough to realise that the distraction that became a habit which become an addiction is only a symptom of something else going on. Then we follow the trail all the way back to the root and finally face the truth of our life.
This is not an easy journey.
It takes great courage to sit with discomfort, it takes great courage to face the deeper truths of our lives and be ok with them. Very few people take this route, unless forced to by external circumstances.
I was one of those people who was forced to face herself. My external circumstances become so untenable that the amount of suffering I was experiencing meant I was willing to do anything to feel better. Over time, by noticing when something was attempting to get my attention, and noticing when I was distracting myself, I’ve learned to stop the distraction and create space.
That’s all you have to do.
Stop the distraction.
And see what arises.
I did that last year in my relationship when I noticed I was distracting myself by having one or two glasses of wine most nights. I stopped drinking alcohol and within a few weeks, got to the core of an old intimacy issue.
This morning when I woke up, I resolved it was time to stop the latest distraction.
I didn’t check my email before I got out of bed. In fact, I decided that I would only check my email twice a day – at around 10am once I’d done my daily book writing, and at around 2pm to clear whatever had come in over the day.
It’s 1.30pm now and my day has been startlingly different from previous days. I had time to do a short meditative practice before 8am. I had time to do an asana practice at 11am. I took time making my lunch and ate outside on the grass under a tree, watching birds and butterflies.
During this, the same amount of “work” was done. I wrote 1500 words on my second book. I’ve written 1000 words on this article. I cleared half my inbox at the 10am email session.
What’s been lacking is distraction. I realise how often I’ve been going to email as a way of making myself feel better.
Email and facebook are quite literally a drug – checking email or facebook releases dopamine in the brain, just like cocaine. Maybe not as much dopamine… but dopamine none-the-less.
Without the distraction and constant hit of dopamine, I notice sadness.
I feel it around my upper heart and in my throat. There are tears that need to come. Upon reflection, I realise they’ve been there for weeks now. Sitting, blocked, waiting.
When there’s tears that need to fall, joy can’t rise up and be felt. It’s waiting beneath, patiently, for the truth of this pain to be felt.
What it is, I don’t know yet. It will take time, compassion and kindness to feel into it. Part of it is allowing myself to feel this way when on the surface I know I am so blessed. There’s first-world, liberal guilt at feeling in any way depressed, sad or upset when I am so fortunate. There’s something in there that needs to be looked at as well.
Living one’s yoga is a courageous, subtle and bold path. We are complex beings, and our psyches are often murky unknown terrain.
Yet over time, as you bring awareness to your state of being, patterns reveal themselves. Those patterns are like signposts, marking the way, letting you know where you are and what you need to do next.
I’m ok – that’s one thing I know after all of this work. Deep down, at the core of my being, I’m ok. Knowing that gives me the foundation to face into everything else that arises – the guilt, the depression, the sadness, the grief, the sheer difficulty of being a human being.
It means that when I do notice I’m distracting myself, I’m courageous enough to stop the distraction and see what’s there. Yes it can be hard, but the rewards are always great. I’ve learned through experience that the suffering may increase in the short-term, but it decreases in the longterm.
It’s been two weeks now since I shifted my email habits, and it’s made an enormous difference to my life.
That emotion finally surfaced after about three days, and I cried my heart out, releasing an old dream I didn’t know I was still hugging close. The depression which had simmered away since arriving in Napier dissipated completely.
But more than that even, a sense of well-being and presence has pervaded my life – a sense of being right here, of having no where to go and nothing to do except what is right in front of me.
I haven’t felt this way in years. In a decade perhaps.
I’ve spent the last five years frantically working to establish a living doing what I loved – aways thinking I needed to work harder, check more email, do more facebook, stay more connected, chase more opportunities, make more things happen.
Last week, in the wake of checking email and facebook only once or twice a day I was again thinking of all the things I could do to make things happen.
Maybe I could do this, maybe I could do that, maybe I could…
And then a radical thought entered my head.
Maybe I could do nothing.
Maybe I could just sit with what I was already doing,
Maybe I could stop trying to get somewhere.
Maybe I could just… relax.
And the fear that usually rises up when I contemplate stopping… wasn’t there. It felt like I’d been trying to pull the sun across the sky every day and I’d just woken up and realised that even if I didn’t pull… the sun would still move.
The relief was enormous.
I’ve realised, through this process and through the process last year with alcohol, that our distractions are a gift.
They are a signpost, and when we wake up to how we’re distracting ourselves, we wake up to the possibility of excavating those gifts.
This is the terrain of the psyche and of self-realisation. Everything we think, feel and experience on the surface of our lives is connected to what’s going on beneath the surface. Follow the trail down and you will learn things about yourself. You will shed layers. You will unhook and let go of old patterns.
All the suffering we experience, this is it’s purpose. This is how it leads us back home. This is the great gift it holds for us.
All you have to do is… notice what’s going on and be open to change.