I had an experience the weekend before last in which I saw the beautiful example of me being very human and the influence of my practices of Yoga unfold. To set the scene; last Friday night I found myself in discomfort after a full week of teaching a sequence inspired by the Bhagavad Gita. The practice was not the cause of my discomfort but the timing of the dis-ease and the subject matter for the week was a remarkable concurrence that would trigger a bit of reflection during a long day at the A&E and a few days of recovery afterward.
By Saturday morning the discomfort increased into upper abdominal spasms which were as intense as birthing labour and came in waves like contractions. Every 2-3 minutes my stomach would roll in a wave of sharp intensity which would double me over into the foetal position for the next 24 hours. Finally, my husband convinced me to go to the hospital and be seen by doctors who assessed from an X-ray that the probable cause of my dis-ease was a narrowing of my small intestine in two places. This, possible twisted gut, had caused blockages in my bowels resulting in a spastic stomach. It also gave my husband, Christian, more fuel for his persistent teasing on the subjects of my Yogic lectures often lovingly accusing me of being “full of shit.” However, as I reflect and experience a deeper insight into the weird synchronistic ways our lives weave and try to teach us deeper lessons that point to the universal answer, this experience became more and more apropos.
A little over five years ago I was at the same hospital. My late husband, Adam, was diagnosed with cancer at this hospital, he had chemotherapy at this hospital and this past Sunday, the 8th of January, was the 5th anniversary of his death. Five years ago to the day I was in that hospital, doubled over in excruciating pain, slowly becoming aware of parallels and relevance to this week’s subject matter in yoga class (not so full of shit after all!) Instead of the planned day with the children, helping my girls process the loss of their daddy on this anniversary I was in the A&E facing my humanness, physical vulnerability, and projection of suffering that my girls would face if I wasn’t okay. I was processing thoughts and questions: What if I die? What if there is more pain? What if my life changes dramatically? What did Adam face during his experience, just as many other people who are in the hospital now? However, behind this ripple of thought and emotional disturbance was a peaceful content, knowing that whatever happened, that it will be okay.
I didn’t share this with Christian, however I know he was aware of the strange correlation of timing. I had an urge to share this with the nurse who wheeled me to the x-ray department, I didn’t. What stopped me was that clarity I had and understanding that it was my ego wanting validation, attention and identification. I sat with my humanness as a student of this Yoga practice and studied myself. I was curled up in a little ball observing a familiar detached awareness I have practiced with during my asana. With each physical wave of pain, I sensed myself saying “I am the one witnessing my body experience the stomach spasm.” Even as I fell into a sleep (almost like yoga nidra) I was still aware in a lucid way of the physical sensations and mental thought that was woven with the emotional thoughts, and the questions that arose. As I acknowledged those questions and acknowledged my lack of answers a wave of deep compassion for all of us swelled in me, I was aware that we will all face the inevitable; change, ageing, disease, illness and death. These experiences in life hold a mirror up for us to see how vulnerable and ignorant we are in masking the reality. No amount of money, clothes, friends, validation, pain, bliss, numbing of feeling or corrective surgery is going to save us from the inevitable. Distracting ourselves with the pursuit of these things nurtures that ignorance.
How do we balance being very human (with our imperfect bodies, thoughts and emotions) and being a seeker of this Yogic state of pure being? The answer: practice. Coincidentally, as I have been lying in bed for the past few days, I have been revising a text from Patanjali sutras for an upcoming workshop and the first 4 sutras were experienced in perfect performance.
If I don’t practice getting myself into the state of Yoga, I become identified by the mental-emotional fluctuations of all my experiences. That I am my pain, I am my fearful thoughts, I am my fearful emotions, I am the projected suffering of my children and husband. This becomes my reality, the delusional sense of who I am. Identified by things that are changing all the time; thoughts, moods, physical sensations and social identities.
1.3 tada drastuh svarupe vasthanam:
The next skill is to then choose to turn to the Perceiver within, that experiences abiding in the state of fundamentally what I am; pure awareness. Which I experience as a felt sense of joy, contentment, serenity and liberation from this humanness.
I found moments of stillness during my ordeal at the hospital as I have done before in practice. Through years of cultivating self-awareness and understanding my conditioned mind-stuff-filter, I learned how to create clarity in that filter. I can just be held in a state of intimacy, of is-ness or being. Words I find minimise this experience and cheapen it as it is a personal awakening to this spontaneous revelation. Yoga is the result of practice, not the practice itself. And only when experienced, this unsurpassed stillness state of consciousness, that the traditional teachings of yoga, (1.1) atha yoganusasanam (the final sutra) can begin.
A week after my ordeal, I am relieved, I am no longer (literally or figuratively) full of shit, my bowels are finding their normal rhythm and a beautiful insight has been learned from this shitty experience.
Those who know me will find amusement at how ironic this is as I am the one who will laugh far too loud at any bodily function or topic of toilet humour. I offer my story of a stuck poo to teach the deeper meaning of why we practice Yoga and to remind us all that it is the path and the experiences that make us, not so much what we are full of rather how we have reacted to that fulfilment. Happy New Year and here’s to free flowing bowels!