Real Life is Real Yoga
Would my gardener’s bindweed strategy work for intrusive, negative thoughts?
BY MAGAZINE CONTRIBUTOR ALISON ROGERS
I was on the phone with an old friend making some humorous self-deprecating comment when my neighbor rang the doorbell.
“We have a wonderful person helping us with our garden and I wondered if you might like some help with yours?” I told him I would come over in a bit and find out more. I made sure I had one more laugh at my own expense and said a warm goodbye to my friend.
I walked out the door, down the path through my front yard toward my neighbor’s house. I looked down as I walked and noticed something growing like a vine up the stalks of the sage, pine and just about everything else. “When had that come?” I wondered.
A dire diagnosis
My neighbor was sitting on his porch across the street. “I guess it looks like I need help over here, doesn’t it?” I said, beating him to any judgment he would or could make about me as a gardener and homeowner.
“No, no, let me explain, “he said “there is this wonderful gardener who wants to work more hours in the neighborhood, so we are hoping to get as many neighbors as possible together to patch together full time work for him.”
Oh, that sounds like a nice idea. I needed to think about my garden a little, take a look around, and let him know. “In the meantime,” I asked, “what is that vine growing up around everything?”
“Bindweed,” he answered looking every bit the surgeon making a dire diagnosis. “It is very invasive. Its roots spread under ground up to 30 feet and its seeds can live for 70 years. If you pull it up, it just keeps popping back up. It uses other plants to grow on, like scaffolding, then it strangles them.”
The constant gardener
It was suddenly beginning to sound eerily like something else I live with all the time; those constant negative thoughts that can grow up around contentment, strangling it until the negativity has taken over and there is no room for much else.
The little bindweed flowers that are prettily deceptive are like my self-deprecating humor. One or two are cute but they become invasive if left untamed.
Hmm. Could I work with the bindweed in the garden and learn about my bindweed of negative self-talk, I wondered? So I started some small experiments based on the advice of an expert organic gardener.
If you think about it, what is the difference between a master gardener and a master yogini? They are both keen observers of what is, and careful about not exerting too much control over what they see.
Here is what she suggested.
First look and notice where the bindweed is growing. What are the conditions? Are there places that it doesn’t grow? What is different about those places?
Start with one place it has colonized, don’t try to get rid of all of it everywhere.
Once you begin to pull bindweed, do not leave bare ground. Plant something else that will that will put down strong roots. Best of all plant something toxic to bindweed, like Lambsquarters.
It takes patience and perseverance but over time there will be fewer and they will be weaker.
The bindweed strategy
OK, now I have an idea how to work with bindweed. How does this help me with negative thoughts that have, over many years, grown habitual and invasive? Lets apply the bindweed strategy.
First, just notice. It didn’t take long for me to find a patch it had colonized. I decide to work on what comes up during yoga. Although yoga means union and Kripalu means compassion, there still seem to be many opportunities in yoga for feeling inadequate—I mean just to start with, here in Boulder, most of my fellow yogis and yoginis are half my age and incredibly fit and beautiful. And the mat is such a perfect place to practice noticing. It is safe and I have the anchor of breath and movement and sensation to ground, yoking me to the “observer within”.
Every time a self-critical thought came, I just noticed at first. There was enough to keep me hoeing and planting for a good long time. “I can’t keep my focus on my breath for very long, I am duck footed, I am thinking of everything except yoga….” and on and on, like a veritable mile long train of negative self-talk.
Displacing the intrusive with the chosen
The first week I just noticed with curiosity and returned to breath, movement and sensation. I realized that simply noticing could take some of the punch out. Then I noticed I was particularly critical of how critical I am. That is the so-called ‘second dart’, our ability to add suffering to pain.
I considered, if I were the master gardener would I get angry every time I saw a weed, making weeding into a battle? Or could there be a more matter-of-fact approach – just notice, love the soil, and the gardener, replace with compassion and gratitude? The Lambsquarters of the mind.
It is hard, if not impossible for negativity and self-imposed suffering to exist in a field of acceptance, compassion and gratitude.
As a matter of fact, with care and gently planted compassion in the place of negative self-judgment, I find that rather than being the “piece of frass at the center of the universe” as one of my teachers refers to it, I can join everyone else in the universe of imperfectly perfect beings.
Compassion comes up everywhere
Now, I hear myself saying to myself, at times, “Of course your mind wanders, that is what minds do,” or “look at that, my feet like to point out a bit,” or “ Oh good, I noticed thinking, back to the breath, now, again.”
My mat is becoming an even friendlier place to be, and surprise of surprises, so seem the people all around me. I spend less time imagining other people as the Greek Chorus to my self-criticism. It turns out, we are all somewhere on the road to self-acceptance.
My neighbor walks by one day when I am crouched in the garden in the middle of bindweed practice. He asks if I am ready for help yet. “I sure am”, I say with a smile.
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© 2011, The Magazine of Yoga, LLC.