Every so often, I discover something so enlightening that makes me want to forgo the usual niceties of a blog – the hello, the introduction, the how-are-you-doin? – and get straight to the good stuff:
I have found the key to equanimity on YouTube. You know, the wise website dedicated to spiritual growth?
I should back up a moment….
I have spent thousands of dollars on therapy over my adult life. Thousands. And in about nine minutes, a (free) video succeeded in shifting my perspective more effectively than hundreds of hours of therapy.
Make no mistake: I am not dogging therapy at all. I am a better person for it, and can honestly say the time spent on my therapist’s couch was more than helpful –life changing actually. But. I always had this niggling feeling that I was missing something big.
In hindsight, I’ve realized that what was missing was that most of the work we did was All. About. Me. We’d discuss at length my needs. How I’d been wronged. Ways in which I could ask (nicely) loved ones to change their behaviors to make me happier.
God, I was so sick of myself.
Fast forward to four months ago and I come across David Foster Wallace’s “This is Water” graduation speech; I think on Heather Falkin’s Facebook page.
I’ve included a link to his work of genius at the end of this post (we also have it on our Facebook page), but the bottom line is that I was alarmed to identify with a character in the video. I WAS that person in the grocery line; pissed and irritated that I had to wait because people were getting in my way.
So NOT yoga. And I teach this stuff. Damn; sometimes you need a gentle nudge. Or a baseball bat to the head.
From my study of the Sutras, I knew this, at least intellectually: Most of our – and the world’s – problems stem from self-centered thinking. And once we switch our perspectives from the fear-based, everyone-is-getting-in-the-way-of-my-needs, thinking, the potential for happiness opens up.
But we (and by “we” I’m really referring to “I”) don’t always Get.It. It’s not the big stuff that makes us miserable. The tragic, knock-us-for-loop things we can generally handle with enough time, support and grief. It’s our response to the little things that keep us in that continual, endless suffering: the day to day trenches, the grind, the traffic, the perpetual idea that our own needs are the most important.
According to Mr. Wallace, our natural, unconscious default setting is, “I am the center of the world and my immediate needs should determine the priorities of all.”
Case in point: The (always maddening) call to a wireless (pick one, any one) customer service number. The endless hold times. The overseas call center. The two or three transfers to “the correct department.” More hold times.
Last year, I attempted to “right the wrong” of a $300 charge for five international texts sent from India. Rarely is one successful against the Verizon God. For He has the power to turn off your phone. But here’s what I was successful at: Holding on to the deep wounds of the experience and at spending far too long feeling stress and anger over the perceived injustice. Because I thought my needs should determine Verizon’s refund policy.
That’s rational. Jeez.
Sometimes it takes a few moments of hindsight to be able to reflect on your thoughts and actions with equanimity. Or a year. Or never.
Here’s freedom: To decide to operate with awareness, away from our deeply ingrained, unconscious default patterns.
Am I successful at this all the time – or even half the time? Do I handle all situations with patience and compassion?
I can think of at least three scenarios from the last week that I’d gladly take a redo. But suffering stems from wishing things were different, so I try not to stay in the “what-if” loop too long.
In less than ten minutes, David Foster Wallace’s message summed up what we try to impart at Twist Yoga: How can we apply the ancient practices of yoga to be better at being us?
Because the aim of yoga is not to change the world, but change our own minds.
This is why I keep coming to the mat, because I do know for sure that the lessons I learn there better equip me for to handle day-to-day life with equanimity and compassion.
Peace and Namaste friends. See you at the studio.
These nine minutes are worth your time: “This is Water.”