“When we protect ourselves so we won't feel pain,
that protection becomes like armor,
like armor that imprisons the softness of of the heart.”
― Pema Chödrön
In my yoga classes I always lay out two ground rules: "1) Pain is not necessary. There's enough pain in the world and the asana practice is not the place to get cozy with it. 2) Discomfort, however, is your greatest teacher. The second that you want to come out of a posture is the second when you really start to practice yoga."
This is such a profound concept because it's delightfully simple decidedly challenging. In my opinion (at this point in the game), it's the most perfect way to explore balance away from the mat. You really want to go back through the Indian buffet again (and again and agin...) but you know that will ruin the rest of your day. You limit yourself to eating the appropriate amount of food, thus avoiding pain. You find yourself in situations in life that make you deeply uncomfortable (read: any transition throughout life) but you know that you are ultimately going to learn a great deal from the experience. You must sit with the discomfort. Sometimes there is simply no choice but to ride the waves until the shit is just over. When the challenge ends, its's like you get to come up for air and untie your wrists. The relief is nothing shy of glorious.
Then there are those times that you ride the challenge and sit with the discomfort, open to the lessons, surrender to the greater good for so long that you actually begin to cause your own pain. This is a hair-thin line and it can be remarkably tough to find. If we were in a yoga class right now, I'd say that the second pain begins, that is your body's way of saying "STOP! GET OUT!". Away from the mat it's just so much trickier because painful emotions and thoughts are much more subtle than physical pain. You might not realize that you're discomfort has turned into pain until you explode! And you know what, if you explode, you can forgive yourself for it and move along.
But then what does "move along" mean anyway?! It means to make a choice to either continue to sit in the discomfort, if that's the healing thing to do. Or maybe the choice is to recognize if it was pain that caused the explosion. The ego is a fragile but necessary thing. It gets such a bad rap for being the ultimate doer of evil in the world but it is also a tool for good: it is the ego that says, "OK! Enough's enough with this pain business. Time to wrap it up and get on with life." And, just like that, you feel the chinks in your heart's armor begin to loosen and you can live with a bit more clarity and love.
Sometimes, just sometimes, it's ok to call it quits and stop being the flexible one, the agreeable one, the reliable one, the helpful one. Sometimes it's a radical act of love to say, "This stops now."
Yoga Teacher. Thinker of things.
Sometimes I just need to empty the contents of my brain into words.