21 May 2011 4 Comments
Saturday, May 21: the zombie apocalypse is coming – or so the rumor on Facebook goes. Maybe it’s the rapture. Anyway, something really big and major (and presumably catastrophic) is supposed to be happening Saturday, but I’m not changing my plans. Call me irresponsible.
All this talk about zombies has me thinking about what’s really behind our fascination with them. Carl Jung might say that zombies really represent the shadow, the parts of ourselves which we’ve rejected and are still largely unconscious. That is to say, we’re not consciously aware that we have certain characteristics and we tend to see – and judge - these characteristics in other people. Think of an apparently upright politician who campaigns against equal rights for gays while carrying on an affair with someone of the same sex. To Jung, our task in life is to get to know these disowned parts of ourselves, to bring them into our awareness and accept them. Only then do they stop having so much control of us. Of course this is a difficult and sometimes disturbing process, but Jung noted that what is in our shadow is a lot more powerful when it’s in the dark. A well-known example of this is being chased by a monster – or let’s say a zombie – in a dream. The dreamer runs frantically away from the zombie until s/he gets to some sort of dead end and has to face it. When the dreamer turns around to face the zombie, it turns into a kitten. Or something equally nonthreatening. Facing the shadow is like that – it’s scariest when it’s still unknown and chasing you. When you face it, you accept it, and it loses a lot of its power over you.
According to Wikipedia (that scholarly source for all zombie knowledge), zombies are “bereft of consciousness and awareness, yet ambulant and able to respond to surrounding stimuli”. Often zombies are portrayed as undead – they just won’t die. These are the parts of ourselves that we try and try and try to kill, but just keep coming back. You know the ones. Sometimes they are even hungry for human flesh or brains – they going beyond being annoying and become destructive, or even fatal. Think of an addiction. It’s only when the bright light of full awareness is shined on these parts of ourselves that we realize how serious the problem is and get help.
Zombies are also scary (if only in movies) because they highlight our basic vulnerability. As humans, we can’t predict the future, and we don’t really know for sure what’s ‘out there’, so who’s to say what might descend upon us? Zombies can represent our fear of death, our inability to accept the impermanence of life, and the unknown. Scary stuff!! I believe it’s our basic human vulnerability – or rather, our inability to accept it – that’s behind most of our suffering, our neuroses, and our problematic behavior. But that’s another blog post.
So what in the world does any of this have to do with yoga, anyway?
Yoga is all about increasing our awareness. We start by getting to know ourselves better ‘on the mat,’ and soon find that we get to know ourselves better as people too. And because we’re encouraged to shine that light of awareness on ourselves with kindness and acceptance, yoga helps us learn to accept those disowned things about ourselves, and to accept life on life’s terms. It helps us learn to relax, and coexist with the fundamental anxieties and uncertainties of life, even if it doesn’t take them away. Ultimately, the only way to deal with the zombies is to get to know them and accept them. And bring them to yoga!
Or if you prefer the psychedelic kind: Zombies
02 May 2011 4 Comments
Patience is a virtue? Not one of mine. I’m what one of my clinical supervisors used to call a “flower tugger” – meaning I would tug at flowers to try and make them grow faster. And I would, if it worked. Patience, to me is the mental equivalent of upper body strength – not something I come by naturally. But I work at both, and make progress. And it’s worth the effort. Being patient and strong definitely beats the alternative.
I used to think that patience was something a person either had or did not have. I didn’t realize that patience is more like a muscle that gets stronger the more you use it; in other words, it’s a skill you can practice. So how do you do that? Start with awareness. Catch yourself in the act; when you find yourself feeling impatient, simply acknowledge it – ‘oh, I’m feeling impatient.’ Observe the thoughts you’re having about the situation. Ask yourself if there is anything you can do about the situation; if not, remind yourself that getting impatient (or furious) doesn’t help.
There is a construction site near my house that seems to get more chaotic every day. No matter how early I leave for my 5:30 yoga class, I always seem to get stuck in traffic. I get to the intersection, see the traffic backup, look at the clock, and feel my blood pressure start to rise. It helps if I acknowledge my impatience, and the fact that it will not help the situation at all. What will help is staying calm and keeping a sense of humor about the situation. And I try to remember that this whole situation really has nothing to do with me – I just happened to be here. The universe is not really conspiring to piss me off. Being patient requires that we accept that we do not have total control over the situation. We have to respect the fact that everything and everybody else in the universe has its own process and doesn’t follow our agenda. Darnit!
To stay calm, start paying attention to your breath. Observe where you feel it in your body. Let your exhalation lengthen and slow down. Count your breath for a while if you really need to refocus.
In your yoga class, can you breathe and stay calmly in Warrior 2 while the teacher goes on adjusting someone for an eternity and your thigh is on fire? What do you stand to gain? Physical strength. Mental strength. Equanimity. Just as I have much to gain by keeping my cool on the way to that 5:30 class. Nobody likes a yoga teacher with road rage.
Find something – or create something – positive about the situation. Stuck in traffic I usually bust out a CD I love and listen to some good music to make the most of the situation. It seems as soon as I’m really rocking out to “Black Dog” traffic starts moving again.
Impatience with ourselves and our perceived lack of progress/ability/etc can also rear its ugly head in yoga class (or anywhere else). We may feel that we’ve been practicing handstands for so long, we should be able to do them without the wall by now. We may get down on ourselves or push ourselves into something prematurely out of impatience – which can lead to injury. The thing is, there is no should in yoga (or really, in life). Every body is different. We just try to remind ourselves that the practice is in making your best effort, then letting go of the outcome. There’s no perfection and no end in sight; it’s really your effort that is the point. If you’re really stuck in a plateau of progress, ask for some outside input, or try a different tactic.
Sometimes despite our best efforts, we’ll be left feeling impatient – which is a basically uncomfortable state. Yoga teaches us how to stay put and stay calm in uncomfortable situations, though, so remember what you do in Warrior 2 – breathe. Try to observe your thoughts and feelings nonjudgmentally and let them go, returning your attention to your breath. Repeat ad nauseum.
If all else fails and you are truly, fist clenchingly impatient, ask yourself if you can lighten up about the situation: will it matter in a year? Can you have a sense of humor about it? Will it make a good story (or blog entry) someday?
In the end, all we flower tuggers can really do is give the flowers of our lives plenty of sunshine and water and let nature do the rest. Unless we have a nice organic fertilizer….