Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Observe Don't Disturb

My son is very observant. He is always pointing out bugs, camouflaged animals, unusual plan-life. Observation leads to curiosity. Curiosity can lead to squished bugs, fleeing animals, and plants no longer connected to the ground. A saying I have adopted, and my son has responded well to is: Observe Don't Disturb.

We learn when we observe.  We see patterns, we gain understanding.  Things happen because that is the way they happen.  When we disturb, when we interfere, we are placing our ideas first.  This bug looks gross <squish> I want to pet that turtle <snap! ouch!> Instead of learning, disruption leads to attachment (this flower looks great on the table) and aversion (squish).

This axiom forms the cornerstone of our yogic practice.  If yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind, before we can consider attempting to cease those fluctuations, we must first observe the mind and the fluctuations which occur. Once we do make it to the point of employing practices aimed at cessation of the fluctuations, we still observe.  There is an ongoing cycle: apply technique, observe results, adjust as needed, apply, observe, adjust, repeat.

Where we get into trouble is that we tend to combine observing and disturbing.  We try to DO instead of watching. We believe, quite incorrectly, that if we are not DOing something, especially some sort of active masochistic, sweaty practice that leaves us sore for days, then we are doing nothing.

Both Swamis Sivananda and Vivekananda liken the mind to a monkey, drunk and stung by a scorpion.  If you try to bring the monkey under control, it will fight you with all its might.  If you give it some space, eventually, eventually, it will settle down.

Let's take asana.  Asana is a wonderful place to start our practice.  We are forcing ourselves to pay attention to two things we do constantly: move and breathe.  We are purposefully putting ourselves in difficult situations to see how we deal with being in difficult situations.

All to often, instead of observing, we find ourselves disturbing. Does this sound familiar:  OK, legs straight, toes together, grab the big toes, wait, is my back straight? I think my greater trochanter is not internally spiraling correctly. I could do this yesterday.  Do I need to pick up milk? Why aren't my legs straight? Push a little further. OUCH! That's it! I'm (Jesusjesusjesus) DOing it!

To make matters worse, the teacher comes over in the middle of this little monologue and "adjusts" you by forcing your body to a place where is shouldn't go then tells you you're doing a good job.

Here's the truly difficult part of asana: observing.  If we could just for one minute forget all the BS that yoga teachers tell us about the proper alignment in this or that pose, that "advanced" means you have to be a puddle of sweat with a popped hamstring and a heal behind your head, and just learn to observe ourselves without judgement, our practice would become much more fruitful much more quickly.

Yes, we don't want to get hurt, so there is something (not much, but something) to be said for alignment.  We need to have our knees pointed in the same direction as our toes so we don't have to deal with the fluctuations caused by a trip to the orthopedic surgeon, but we do not need to focus on creating a 23.56479 degree medial spiral of our spleenoid process as a measure of success or failure.

Try this. During practice, notice if you are building a pose like you are building a model (set A here, rotate B, align C...) and if you are chastizing yourself for not being in a certain expression of the pose.  Notice if you fall over, are you mad, laughing, or indifferent.  Then, here's the most important part:

Go onto the next pose.

Just becoming aware of the monologue is the first step.  With no judgement.  Without trying to stop it.  In time, with continued observation, it will stop.

Observe, don't disturb.

No comments:

Post a Comment