Photo: Law Keven
Autobiography of a Yoga Practice
Finding Center, Or, in Praise of Jealousy
Emotions are reflections that are teachers in disguise.
BY MAGAZINE COLUMNIST CHRISTOPHER CLOUGH
In every yoga posture, for me, there’s that “sweet spot,” that balance between being active and being at rest, tension and relaxation, holding and letting go. The only way to find that spot, though, is to feel my way in to it. First too much tension in the legs, and I get rigid and tip over, and then not enough strength in the base and I wobble.
The point is, I can’t think myself in to that middle place, even though I know intellectually where it is. I have to find it through practice.
This is a fairly straightforward practice physically, and mostly involves micro-movements as I play the various edges of an asana. The real challenges for me, though, in finding that sweet spot, are mental.
On the mat, I am watching others
and my mind is providing running commentary. I am measuring all of the ways that I don’t measure up, and noting all of the ways in which I lack. Off the mat, I notice how my clothes and shoes aren’t quite the “best” (whatever that is), that my waistline could use some work, that my arms aren’t quite… you get the picture. Cars, clothes, houses, I compare.
And yet, that’s not what I came to Provincetown for.
My comparison and jealousy have me way off center.
For quite a long time, I thought the solution was to push away these feelings. After all, we are told that jealousy is petty, and that those who are jealous are somehow less evolved spiritually. (NB. jealousy is the emotion that I associate with my habit of comparison). It wasn’t until I heard Tara Brach, the wonderful dharma teacher at IMCW (the Insight Meditation Center of Washington), that I began to understand
My jealousy could be both teacher and guide.
Brach teaches that in Buddhism, we are locked in to our suffering when we “shoot the second arrow.” We all make mistakes, she says, but it is in making ourselves bad for making mistakes that we really suffer.
I think of this as disowning our human-ness.
So, now, as twinges of jealousy arise (on and off the mat) I do not push them away. I breathe in and make space for them. And then I ask myself two questions. First,
What does this person have that I want?
Asking this question stops my thinking for a moment and gives me a chance to pause and reflect. Most of the time the answer to this question is “nothing.” I was simply drawn off center, and pausing, and breathing led me back.
Occasionally, though, there is something there I want, and jealousy can become a powerful catalyst to action. A catalyst that would have been overlooked if I had just pushed away an emotion that is “not so spiritual.”
The second question, then, is the one which can be uncomfortably challenging.
“Am I willing to do the work to get… (six pack abs (no), a better job (yes)… etc.)
The real joy in this practice, for me, has been a
much simpler life
one in which many of the things I have are the same as the things I want.
Who are your “teachers in disguise”? What are the emotions that pull you off center? Jealousy, fear, pride? I look forward to hearing from you.
Author’s Note: Tara Brach is the author of the wonderful book “Radical Acceptance”. Her dharma talks, given at IMCW, are available to download free at iTunes. I cannot recommend them highly enough.
We may publish any content, comments or ideas sent to us.
Name may be withheld by request.
© 2011, The Magazine of Yoga, LLC.