Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Purnatva = Knowing When to Stop

Question of the week:

Q:  What is the rarest thing?
A:  Knowing when to stop.

I’ve been asking my students this week to identify areas or aspects of their lives that they have trouble practicing when to stop.  Some of the common answers were:

when to stop eating 
when to stop talking and to listen, especially when it’s a challenging conversation or argument
when to stop perseverating an idea or thought pattern that is distracting you from living your life
when to stop nagging your kids (including adult children) and just let them make mistakes and learn the lesson for themselves
when to stop worrying

Everyone was very forthcoming with their thoughts on excesses, but there are also times when we stop too soon.  In Tantra, one of the 6 attributes of the Divine is purnatva, which means wholeness or fullness.  As innately divine beings we live in a state of purnatva, a place of wholeness and perfection...and yet, as my friend Danny Arguetty says, if we spent our lives just basking in that wholeness all the time life would be stagnant and unproductive.  We are born from perfection into perfection…and yet we are alive, and being alive means growing and changing.  The possibility of expansion is always, always there. 

I’ve been playing Ravel’sBolero in my classes this week.  It starts with a beautiful melody played by the flute, accompanied by a steady, quiet drum beat.  He could have chosen to just leave it at that – a beautiful melody in an of itself, like Mozart’s Ah! vous dirai-je, Maman (the melody that we sing Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star and Baa, Baa, Black Sheep to, among other things).  But Ravel keeps building on a beautiful melody, adding another instrument at a time, until the whole orchestra is participating and the piece builds to a beautiful, inspiring crescendo.  He also knows when to quit – let’s face it, the same thing over and over again could get annoying (spoken by someone recently returned from Disney and the It’s a Small World ride…).  So we see there is always room for expansion, and yet we have to know when to quit.

I recently read about a study of young children’s eating habits.  The children in the study were asked how they knew when their meal was finished.  Most of the American children answered “when my plate is empty.”  Most of the European children answered “when I am full.”  We have external markers and internal markers for knowing our capacity for fullness.  When we practice yoga, we become more attuned to our internal cues so we know more clearly when it is time to stop and when it is time to keep going. Knowing “when to stop” is knowing both ends of the spectrum.

On the mat we can always be reaching to expand our poses.  That doesn’t necessarily mean doing the wildest most advanced form of the pose (although sometimes it does) – as Jan Jeremias reminded me on Monday morning, sometimes expanding into  pose happens energetically as we imagine ourselves moving beyond perceived limitation, or emotionally as we let go of our attachment to the pose looking “perfect” and just feel the joy of being alive and able to practice in whatever way we are able to. 

Here are some more ways to embody purnatva on the mat:
Open to Grace: Breathe deeply and feel your inner body expand with a brightness and fullness, connecting with your own innate sense of purnatva. Feel the perfect fullness of yourself today, right now.  Yet with each breath feel your capacity for that fullness to grow – your awareness, your mindfulness, your self- confidence and self-worth.  Each breath opens us up more for the next breath to come.
Muscular Energy: Draw in to the feeling of purnatva that you already are.
Inner Spiral: From the place of fullness, open up to more and more, expand beyond your limitations, whether real or perceived.
Organic Energy: Flow out beyond the limits of where you've stopped before, recognizing that every pose has the capacity for your experience to expand beyond where it reached before.

And an off the mat practice, also suggested Danny Arguetty:
What is one area of your life where you feel particularly full?   Can you see how it might still expand and grow and become even more full?