Photo: ©2011 Kelly Larkin Conway
Staying with myself, staying with yoga
BY MAGAZINE CONTRIBUTOR KELLY LARKIN CONWAY
If you think you’re enlightened go spend a week with your family.
Funny I only remember this when I am home for the holidays. Today is only my 4th day into my Christmas vacation and already I have never felt further from enlightenment. I love my family, and the town I grew up in is great.
It’s just that everything about this place makes me crazy
In a moment of panic I decide I need to get out of the house. Too early to drink, too cold to walk, I decide on yoga. I storm out of my mom’s house and arrive at the studio in my snow covered leggings.
As I take my place on the mat my mind swims with memories of my teenaged self, storming out of the house. I remember every person I’ve ever been at home; a selfish kid, a loser preteen. I review every fight I’ve ever had with my mother.
The class fills up with smiling people: the kind of people that probably never resent Christmas. As we sit for a centering, the yoga instructor calmly invites us to clear our minds.
“Okay,” I tell my mind, “clear”
My mind screams. A familiar panic sets in. I am transported back to my very first yoga class ever. I am sitting on a yoga mat much like this one. I watch the woman beside me calmly fold her legs into a perfect lotus pose, her lumbar curve perfectly intact, and the outsides of her thighs resting effortlessly on the mat. I try pulling one calf on top of the other. My knees are nowhere near the mat, my shoulders are hunched forward, my spine is rounded. There is no way this is supposed to be relaxing.
I remember how hard it was to just sit- how everything hurt not 30 seconds into the class. I remember watching the teacher, maybe the most beautiful women I’d ever seen, calmly instructing the class to take big deep Dirga breaths.
I remember being unable to breathe.
I remember the feeling of instant failure. I remember pain, and panic. I can’t do what she was asking of me.
And that was the first time I knew I sucked at yoga
Four years later, because my knees now touch the ground when I sit in lotus, people assume I am good at yoga. Heck, I even tell people I am good at yoga. But as I sit on this mat in the town I grew up in I am still unable to do what the teacher is asking.
My mind spins and I am instantly a failure again; I still suck at yoga. I open my eyes to look at all the other obedient students while I scold myself for not being calm. I count the number of times I’ve been to class in the last 6 months.
I review the fight I had with my mom right before I left the house. Not only am I unable to relax, but I seriously hate myself for it. I consider getting up and leaving. I decide the embarrassment of leaving is worse than failure I’m experiencing. I am so angry my face burns.
And then, just like in my very first yoga class tears begin to stream down my face. I feel humiliated.
There are many ways to interpret these little
episodes of mine
Energetically speaking, you could call it a release. Emotionally speaking I made contact with an ego that was beating the shit out of me. Physically speaking I was aware of the tightness in my body. Intellectually speaking I felt like an idiot for not being as good as everyone else.
But all of this manifested as failure for me; “I suck at yoga.”
These moment of pure frustration that end in tears are not uncommon for me. People sometimes watch me cry in class and assume I must be having some Godlike moment. They think I must be reaching new levels of consciousness and acquiring an even steadier mind. They don’t realize that my Godlike moments come as complete and utter frustration and struggle.
And still, they say enlightenment is easy- just don’t compare. Yeah, right. Whoever said this, I think it might have been the Buddha, has clearly never been to Lulu Lemon.
Acceptance and failure on a daily basis
So, it’s not surprising that I still have a ways to go before reaching enlightenment. And because in all honesty I’ll probably never be enlightened, my greatest practice has always been radical self-compassion. I’m talking disgusting amounts of compassion: compassion for my comparisons, compassion for my ego, and compassion for my failure.
The depth of my acceptance practice must equal the degree to which I feel I suck at yoga. This is hard. Yoga is hard.
And, I continue to struggle with acceptance and failure on a daily basis.
A friend of mine once told me, “Once you wake up you never get a day off.” I hate how true this is. If I decide I really want to practice yoga I can’t ignore what’s coming up for me. It’s like praying to Shiva the Destroyer and then complaining when something is destroyed.
I don’t really get to choose what comes up for me
It’s tough to accept the fact that I am still working on the same issues I worked on the very first time I decided to wake up.
It’s tough to admit I’m still fighting with my mom over putting up the Christmas tree.
Sure, I’d like to think my knees are a little closer to the ground in lotus and that I’m not as volatile with my mom during the Holidays, but the truth is I still struggle with these things; I still fail.
I don’t want to be still working on the same issues but I don’t really get to choose what comes up for me. And the only thing to do is to continue to meet my failure with relentless compassion, with no day off in sight.
Kelly is a student, activist, performer, singer, chef, yogi, writer, conversationalist, and poet. She currently works with documentary film makers on the social media campaign Operation Maple.
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Name may be withheld by request.
© 2011, The Magazine of Yoga, LLC.