Sometimes the universe sends us subtle messages, and other times the message is very loud and clear. I live in a small town on a dirt road right next to 250 acres of woods about 15 miles north of NYC. I walk my dogs in those woods several times a week. Often during the week I walk with a good friend and neighbor who has 2 dogs just like me. Several days ago we were walking on a trail and I looked down and saw a few small pieces of paper laying in a pile of leaves. I remember thinking “Wow; that’s a bummer– it looks like those may have fallen out of someone’s pocket”. Just at that moment, we encountered another person with their dog. All the dogs began to excitedly play and that distracted me from my task of picking up the trash.
A few days later I was again walking my dogs on the same trail, by myself this time. It was quiet in the woods with no other dogs or people to distract me. When I got to that same spot on the trail I noticed the few pieces of paper were still lying in the leaves. I felt disappointed that in the several days that had passed, no one had picked them up. I decided to pick them up myself and as I leaned over to grab them I began to look a little bit more closely. I realized that I recognized the handwriting on the partial grocery list. It was my handwriting. And as if I needed more confirmation that this was my trash, lying right next to the grocery list was a crumbled up name tag with my name on it. These pieces of paper had actually fallen out of my own pocket and they were waiting for me to pick them up. The message from the universe was not subtle, it was clear as day; We cannot run from our baggage, we cannot hide from our proverbial “trash”. It waits for us until we are ready to clean it up. We may be blind to it but it will not go away until we see.
This message became our practice on the mat this week. I asked my students to explore what they might be hiding from.. both in their physical practice (what is that pose I will “never” be able to do) and in their lives off the mat. We can put our “stuff” somewhere either intentionally or subconsciously and we can ignore it as we pass it by; but it will always wait for us. I shared with them a quote from the book “The Wise Heart” by Jack Kornfield that explained this in a powerful way:
” Buddhism teaches that we suffer not because we have sinned but because we are blind. Compassion is the natural response to this blindness; it arises whenever we see our human situation clearly. We need compassion, not anger, to help us be tender with our difficulties and not close off to them in fear. This is how healing takes place. When the mind is quiet the heart can open and we can tap into this compassion.”
As we warmed up I asked my students to be compassionate with themselves on the mat, to understand that suffering comes from blindness (not seeing the “trash” we need to clean up). We flowed and played with a different type of vinyasa; moving from Janu Sirsana into Star Gazer to access the hips, open the heart and take us out of our comfort zone a bit. Then we moved into more deeply twisting and extending the spine and warming up the hips in preparation for Eka Pada Koundinyasana– twisted arm balance (pictured above–notice one of my dogs :)).
Mobilizing and twisting the spine are quite powerful, they help us access the tightness we didn’t even know was there; help us to get rid of the proverbial “trash” we store in the body. I explained it like a water-soaked sponge; heavy and full when wet and once we wring it out then the sponge is light and spacious. The hips are another place we “store our trash” unknowingly so we paid special attention to them as well with long holds in pigeon both straight legged and with bent knee.
Off the mat we often subconsciously push down the difficulties we don’t want to deal with; we ignore and avoid them with the hopes they will just “go away’ somehow. Perhaps baggage from our childhood or from a past relationship that we may not even be aware of is actually causing us to suffer now. For myself, I realized that if the universe took the time to send me such a clear message, then perhaps I should explore what spiritual “trash” I might be ignoring. From there the practice is to approach those difficulties not from a place of fear but instead with a compassionate heart. When we are blind, suffering occurs. When we see clearly with compassion we are free.
As we moved into a well deserved Savasana I reminded my students that this practice is for the body, mind and spirit. We cannot hide from our baggage, our difficulties, our negative patterns… they wait for us. The journey began by acknowledging and releasing the “trash” stored in the body and now was the time to do the same in the mind and heart. I came back to that powerful quote; “We need compassion, not anger, to help us be tender with our difficulties and not close off to them in fear. This is how healing takes place. When the mind is quiet the heart can open and we can tap into this compassion.”
As we sat together in a final moment of meditation I offered them the gentle reminder to be tender with their difficulties and to find gratitude for the opportunity to quiet the mind in order see the truth in a compassionate way. This is the true path to freedom. Namaste.