"Tis not contrary to reason to prefer the destruction of the whole world to the scratching of my finger."
David Hume, A Treatise on Human Nature
I had a moment during practice this morning when I actually preferred the destruction of the whole world to the interruption of my practice. Yeah, crazy, right? How unyogic is that? I'm definitely not proud of it, but hey, it happened, and since this is supposed to be an Ashtanga blog in which I talk about things that come up in my practice as honestly as I can, I decided I'd share this here anyway. Maybe some of you out there will be able to relate to this, maybe not. Or maybe this means that Ashtanga is slowly turning me into a psychopath, and I seriously need help (like, maybe go to an Ashtanga-holics Anonymous (AA) meeting somewhere.) Anyway, you decide.
What exactly happened? Well, here's what happened. At the beginning of my practice this morning (I think I was at the fifth Surya A), my fiancee left the apartment to go down to the coffeeshop to get some coffee. A couple of minutes later, as I was completing my first Surya B, the door buzzer rang, startling myself out of my yogic blissed-out state and also startling the cockatiels whom, I was sure, were experiencing a "contact bliss" as a result of being in the proximity of my great yoga practice.
"FUCK!!! She must have forgotten her keys again. WHY DID SHE HAVE TO INTERRUPT MY YOGA PRACTICE?! FUCK!!!"
With this thought, I reluctantly got myself out of Utkatasana, walked over to the buzzer, pushed the intercom button, and murmured "Yes?" in a rather irritated tone. "Let me in. I forgot my keys." Came her voice over the intercom. Damn! Just as I thought! If I get a dollar for every time I have to buzz her in because she forgot her keys, I will be such a wealthy man by now. I buzzed her in anyway (like I have a choice), and stalked back to my Mysore rug in an angry state of mind. I don't know why, but there is something about that combination of the loud obnoxious sound of the buzzer ringing, my having to interrupt my practice, and (in my opinion) the very stupid reason for having to interrupt my practice that got me really, really mad. I got so mad that I almost wanted to pound the counter with my fist, but stopped myself at the last moment ("Don't waste energy! And besides, do you really want to get a yoga injury (if you can even call it that) from breaking your hand on the counter?" Said my more rational self.).
A couple of minutes later, as I was in downdog in my second Surya B, trying to anal-breathe away my angry state of mind, she came in the door. "You really should remember your keys before you leave the apartment." I couldn't resist murmuring from the depths of downdog. She said yes, she should, and then proceeded to look through her purse (which she had left the apartment with) again, just to be sure the keys weren't actually in there. And guess what? They were! In her own words, they were "in some other corner of the purse that I seldom look at."
DAMN!!! So I basically buzzed you in for nothing! If I had ignored the buzzer and just went right on practicing (like I could, anyway, with that loud obnoxious ring...), you would have found the keys and let yourself in! Damn! I thought to myself. And then I had this really, really nasty evil thought:
"WHY IS THE WORLD SO FULL OF STUPID PEOPLE, PEOPLE WHO DON'T EVEN KNOW WHERE THEIR FREAKING HOUSEKEYS ARE?! WHOEVER'S RUNNING THIS BIG COSMIC JOKE THAT WE CALL THIS WORLD NEEDS TO END THE WORLD RIGHT THIS VERY MOMENT. YOU KNOW, BRING ON JUDGMENT DAY OR WHAT-HAVE-YOU, PUSH THE RESET BUTTON ON THE UNIVERSE, SO THAT A WHOLE NEW WORLD--A WORLD WITHOUT STUPID PEOPLE WHO DON'T EVEN KNOW WHERE THEIR FREAKING HOUSEKEYS ARE, AND WHO WON'T INTERRUPT OTHER PEOPLES' YOGA PRACTICES JUST BECAUSE THEY DON'T KNOW WHERE THEIR FREAKING HOUSEKEYS ARE--CAN COME INTO BEING IN ALL ITS DIVINE GLORY, SANS THE ABOVE STUPID PEOPLE, OF COURSE."
Well, now you know that I am really not the enlightened sounding Ashtanga Fundamentalist that I have pretended to be thus far on this blog. Oh well, I guess it's still not too late to stop reading, or to "un-follow" yourself from this blog. As I said, I'm not proud of what I was thinking, but it really did happen. I'm even less proud of the fact that I remained in this angry state of mind for all of primary series (I did full primary this morning); the anger only started to subside when I got to the finishing backbends. Come to think of it, if even the heart-opening effects of backbending could not wash away the anger, I don't know what would; in which case, I would really be a serious whackjob who needs to go to an AA meeting right away.
But actually, from a purely physical point of view, the anger wasn't all bad, either. I think I actually had more upper-body strength and bandha control because of the anger. For instance, halfway through jumping through into Triangmukhaikapada Paschimottanasana, I suddenly remembered that I was jumping into the pose the wrong way: As you probably know, you're supposed to jump with your legs positioned so that they kind of slide conveniently into the pose rather than do the standard cross-legged jump-through. I remembered that in mid-jump-through, and actually managed to reverse my body in mid-jump all the way back to chaturanga, and then jump again. Not to brag or anything, but that mid-jump-through reversal back into chaturanga was simply priceless. I wish somebody had gotten it down on video; I'm not sure if I would have been able to pull that off if I didn't have all that extra angry energy to boost me. So yeah, I guess this shows two things: (1) It is possible to do primary series in an angry state of mind, (2) Sometimes, an angry primary series can be quite spectacular, asana-wise.
As I said, I'm not proud of all these angry destructive thoughts that went through my mind this morning. But here's something from an Elephant Journal article that Tim Feldmann wrote a few months ago that may be relevant to my experience here. Tim writes:
"Recently I have had several students approach me with a particular question about the presence of strong negative emotions in their practice and their lives.
Sometimes the practice of yoga triggers deeply seeded behavioral patterns and brings them to the surface.
For example, you sometimes find that when you practice yoga you may actually feel increasingly more aggravated than before. When you leave yoga class you may even find yourself barking at the people closest to you, such as your children, co-workers and loved ones.
When you practice you may even find that the irritation increases and you might be wondering what is wrong with you and your practice if it takes you to this “un-yogic” place."
Hmm... sound familiar? But there's hope. Tim continues:
"But have faith, this is exactly what the practice is meant to do...
Yoga is here to bring us closer to reality, closer to what is really going on inside and outside of ourselves.
Yoga aims at bringing light towards what really is and to find the courage to see clearly and the peace to accept whatever arises without the necessity to remove or change it. If grief is there, if anger is there or if pride is there, our yoga practice is sure to slowly strip away the layers of subconscious veils in a timely fashion, appropriate to what we can handle.
Methodically, like a surgeon’s scalpel we uncover years of psychological armor, escapism and denial and by doing so we slowly reclaim a life beyond it all."
I think Tim's words here are very wise and insightful, and sheds much light on my experience this morning (and maybe, for some of you out there, yours too). And where does asana practice come in? Tim has this to say:
"The next step is finding a vessel to help us move through the darkness towards the light tower. And, this is where yoga’s asana practice comes into the picture because the practice is the vessel. Yoga’s asana practice gives us the opportunity to shed some of the layers which ‘protect’ us from feeling, seeing and perceiving what is really happening on the decks below, by cultivating awareness and sensitivity in body and mind, by submitting to a method grander than ourselves and by sticking to it.
It is often also at precisely this moment we begin to feel that the practice is not working as it sparks a sea of negative emotions to which we were, perhaps, previously not experiencing.
It is here that we begin to doubt the good within ourselves and the good of the practice. It is here that self-deprecation peaks its head up and we want to drop out and return to our previous way of living. But that would obviously be throwing the baby out with the bath water. Instead Patanjali calls upon our courage and endurance, sometimes called ‘the path of the spiritual warrior’, to navigate through this icky, vulnerable and scary places along the path...
By doing so you can turn your troublesome experience into a true act of self exploration and reap the wisdom from such a personal exploration – and that is what the yoga practice is about, the knowledge and wisdom gained from the direct and personal experience of living."
So we can say that the asana practice serves as a sort of safe space for us to confront, explore, and eventually "melt away" the ugly things within ourselves that we would otherwise rather not confront. But we need to confront these in order to see ourselves for what we are. And we need to see ourselves for what we are in order to get anywhere on the spiritual journey of yoga.
So yeah, maybe I'm not such a whack-job after all...
P.S. I hope my fiancee never reads this post.