Thursday, July 10, 2014

Mirrors and Spiders, Lessons in Mindful Awareness

My youngest son, Rakhi, is the age (almost 2) where he parrots back to me everything I say, almost always in exactly the tone of voice I say it in.  Needless to say, it is VERY revealing.  Since he is so little I am very aware of how I interact with him directly, but he is with me most of the time and so is hearing all my exchanges with my older children, my husband, on the phone with the cable company after the internet has gone down for the 2nd time this week and I’ve been on hold for ½ hour, slow waitresses, drivers of other cars, etc., etc.  And he is absorbing all of it into his little, impressionable brain - every action and word is being watched and recorded and repeated.  Although I think I am fairly calm and together most of the time, and try to speak and act respectfully to those around me, when he mirrors back behaviors or words that have come out of my mouth I often cringe (sometimes I laugh….but more often cringe).

We all have innate tendencies, developed from our own genetic code, our upbringing, and the people and environment that we choose to surround ourselves with.  A beautiful part of spiritual practice is bringing these predispositions to light, becoming aware of our patterns without judgment, and then making changes to move more into alignment with the person we aspire to be.  What helps us with this practice is mindful awareness.  I know that when I am unaware or unmindful I slip into old reactionary patterns, patterns that I don’t love about myself, and that I would rather not pass down to my children by modeling less than ideal behavior or speech. 

I think the hardest thing about being a parent (or any loving relationship for that matter) is that it puts your life under a microscope.   When we really love someone it inspires us to be a better person.  In my life I try to be more kind, tolerant, empathetic and even tempered, because I love my family so dearly and I want to demonstrate that love through my actions.  I want to inspire my children to interact with others in a similar way.  I recognize that the periods of time when I am having a harder time holding things together, those around me seem to be having that same hard time, most especially my children. During those times I often read, chant or meditate on this prayer:

Prayer of St Francis of Assisi:

Divine One, make me an instrument of Thy Peace;
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.

Oh Universal Spirit,
Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console;
To be understood, as to understand;
To be loved, as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive, and
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned.

This prayer inspires me to be, as Mahatma Ghandi said, the change I wish to see in the world. To align with my highest regardless of what I am facing.  When we practice yoga we cultivate awareness and mindfulness so we can respond rather than react.  We connect deeply to a calmer state of being, and we come to know the most elevated and divine aspects of ourselves and bring them forth into the world.  When we are mindful and aware we can feel the moment where we start to feel anxious, angry, or frustrated and instead of letting those feelings grow or knee-jerk reacting, we can take a breath and respond from a place of deep alignment with our highest self and choose the way we act in any given situation.

It’s always fascinating to me that Universal Spirit/Source/God always presents a lesson at exactly the right time.  I teach at Shree on Monday mornings, and this Monday, after thinking and meditating on this theme and the qualities of mindful awareness and equanimity, I arrived at Shree to see the biggest spider I have ever seen scurrying across the floor only to settle under my meditation blanket on my mat.  It sent me into a state of utter fear and aversion – honestly, I was freaking out.  I tried to formulate a plan to catch it but the sight of it paralyzed me and I ended up waiting for students to arrive and asking one of them to deal with it.  The first two students to arrived were as freaked out as I was, when finally a brave soul showed up to trap it and move it outside.  

I swear it was this big!!
When I was speaking about my theme, the beloved student who had caught the spider started laughing, as she had just witnessed me completely lose myself over an insect.  It was rather ironic…but I don’t believe in coincidences.  I was speaking with her after class and saying things like “I just can’t do spiders” and “I just panic and freeze when I see a huge spider like that”.  She looked at me and said, well, the first thing you have to do is stop saying those things and convincing yourself you “can’t”.  It is said that we always teach what we have to learn. I’m sharing this story because it was such a great lesson for me to deepen this teaching.  When we find ourselves in reactive patterns the first thing we often do is reinforce those patterns by continuing negative thought patterns about the behavior. Once again, mindful awareness can help us stop this cycle.

So whether it’s a huge spider, or any other trigger you might have, before reacting, before freaking out, take a breath and be aware of how you are feeling.  Ask yourself how you’d like to respond and then do just that.

Off the Mat:
My husband and I took a parenting class a couple of years ago and one of the best pieces of advice she gave us was to pretend that she was in the room when we were faced with some situation with our children we were about to fly off the handle over.  It totally works.  One way to practice mindful awareness is to pretend you have a 2 year old with you at all times, and be aware of the behavior you’d like to model in front of them.   If you’d like an actual 2 year old to practice with, Rakhi is available for babysitting.

On the Mat:
In my classes this week we worked on hugging the midline to connect to our highest self, the one we wish to respond in any given situation.  This gives us strength to respond rather than react, and helps us into poses like Bakasana (crane) with straight arms, and Adho Mukha Vrksasana (Upward Facing Tree, or Handstand) with awareness and equanimity.

Open to Grace: With each breath wake up to your innermost divine self.
Wake up to the person you aspire to be.
Be aware of even the subtlest of sensations, emotions, and feelings, then take a breath and soften before responding.

Muscular Energy: Hug the midline, the place of inner awareness.
Hug into a calmer state of being, your highest self.
Awaken and firm your inner thighs to awaken to your inner self.

Inner Spiral: Widen your inner thighs apart and make space between yourself and knee jerk reactions.
Spread your sit bones back and apart widening your awareness of yourself and the way you wish to respond

Outer Spiral: Sink your tailbone into mindfulness.

Organic Energy: Light up the pose with your highest intention to respond rather than react.
Let your pose shine with all the divine qualities of your heart, love, pardon, faith, hope.