When you are ill, it’s difficult not to see the world through the distorted lens of disease. Suddenly, everything seems unclean.
Crumbs in the kitchen I never noticed before. Piles of stuff that ends up in the junk drawer. It makes me want to dump my home’s clutter on the curb, purging things big and small so I don’t have to deal with them anymore.
But if I did that, there would still be more. There would always be some nook to dust or inbox to make zero. This stuff, all around me, that I never see until I don’t feel well and then the only thing I see is how I want to get rid of it all — my illness included.
But as much as you take vitamin D and sleep and drink gallons of water and intend for yourself to get better, your body has its own schedule.
This urge to clean when I’m physically unable is a pattern I’ve finally figured out. Because I can’t get my body to do what I want, I try to get my environment to do what I want.
It all comes down to control — or lack thereof.
When life gets messy
As I wrote in my Weekly Dharma email last week, I spent last Sunday in the emergency room with a loved one. I’ve been having trouble processing the experience because I got sick shortly after. By the time you read this, I’ll be fully recovered.
We went to the closest ER downtown. We walked through metal detectors. They searched my purse next to a pile of 15 lighters. We were told that some people had waited seven hours to be seen. It almost seemed lucky that we only waited two.
There were several folks whom the staff treated as regulars. Some were listlessly dozing and didn’t stir when their name was called. In the center of an adjacent waiting room someone was wheelchair-bound, hunched over and draped with a white sheet. A nurse changed his or her oxygen tanks once; the figure never stirred.
It’s easy to tell my students that we’re all the same — that we’re all one. Try going to an ER and believing the same thing.
I don’t regularly share space with a young fellow who has a huge bleeding gash in his finger, a tie-dye wearing man who has to be told to “stop wandering around the hospital or you’ll be arrested,” or people who, when you meet their gaze, stare vacantly right through you.
As I type this, I sit in my comfortable living room on my comfortable couch with my affectionate littledog in my lap. There’s a police siren outside that fades into the distance. I never used to pay attention to that sound before.
Depending on the type of life you lead, messes can be incredibly well hidden. In reality, uncomfortable situations are all around us. We just get really good at tuning them out.
Welcoming the mess
In September of last year, I opened a document on my computer and titled it: “I want more.” This is what I wrote inside:
“My life isn’t unbalanced. I am not overwhelmed or over-committed, as so many books and TV shows and advertisements try to convince me. My life is full.
If anything, I want more.
Where are the books and the TV shows and the advertisements in mainstream media about that?
Where are the self-help manuals for people who are looking to become unbalanced? By this, I mean adventure, excitement and experiences that remind oneself every minute of what it means to be truly, inescapably alive.”
Seems crazy, right? Why would anyone actively wish to be unbalanced?
But being unbalanced doesn’t have to be a bad thing. In fact, when we’re unbalanced on our yoga mats, we learn the most about how to become balanced — and how to take ourselves less seriously and enjoy the practice.
Shortly after I wrote that intention, I was given experiences that have unbalanced my life.
I began a committed relationship and introduced him to my family. I traveled to Nicaragua on a yoga retreat with my mom. I weathered many changes in my work and started Happy Momentum.
And you know what? I have no control over any of this. Not really.
Sure, I made decisions that led to the above actions. But I also let go of controlling the outcome. And by refusing to dump each difficulty at the curb, I have been given the greatest perspective on my blessed life.
A life I was reminded not to take for granted while waiting in the ER.
Losing control of your balance (not a bad thing)
In his book Wrecked, Jeff Goins writes, “We are conditioned to believe life is supposed to be comfortable…. History’s heroes know something the rest of us don’t: fear isn’t the enemy; inaction is. What we have to learn to do is lean into the things that hold us back, to move through the pain and push forward.”
Sometimes, we are sick and can’t come to our yoga mats. We can’t sufficiently unclutter our homes and we can’t stall our minds long enough to recharge before the next emotionally-draining event.
But there is something else at work when physical action stops and that’s what’s going on in your mind.
Every time you recognize someone else’s suffering as your own…
Every time you give gratitude for not just the good, but the bad…
Every time you realize that there is healing in the pain…
You’re doing yoga.
So lean in. Get uncomfortable. And let go.
This is the path that will bring you peace.
Try it: Bound Angle Pose, Baddha Konasana
Forward bends can be uncomfortable situation, especially when your feet are pressed together and your hips are tight. But after you practice Cobbler’s Pose for a week or more, you’ll begin to relax. Even practicing it for a few minutes shows you how much comfort can be created in a space once filled with discomfort.
- Prop yourself up on the edge of a blanket or sit on the floor. Bring your heels together in front of you, forming a diamond shape with your legs.
- Press your fingers into the mat on either side of your hips to prop your spine. Take a deep breath and lengthen your spine from its base to the crown of your head. Keep the length in your spine and bring your hands to your ankles.
- Stay here if you feel the stretch in your hips. Press the soles of your feet together to energetically move your knees outwards and down.
- If you’d like to go further, lean your upper body forward on your exhales, extending the spine rather than rounding. Use your elbows and upper arms to gently press your legs down.
- Stay for 6 or more deep breaths, coming out by inhaling back to a seated posture. Place your hands on the outsides of the knees and lift your knees and legs back together.