A Life Worth Living
Sometimes the deep longing for understanding and freedom from suffering hits really hard, initiated either by a difficult life situation or by being in the presence of a great teacher. It’s times like those when people sometimes quit their jobs, pack their stuff and go live in an ashram or monastery. They are looking for the most direct route to get out of established patterns of living and thinking that don’t serve them. They’re looking for support.
Sometimes its that little gnawing in the back of your mind, an underlying dissatisfaction or unhappiness that says things must change. In her popular decluttering book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Marie Kondo suggests holding up an object and asking “Does this bring me joy?”, as a way of determining what to keep and what to release. Here’s a way to live your yoga: ask that question about some of your spare-time activities. If you are living on auto-pilot, watching shows because they’re on, spending hours on social media or games because they’re there, start to cultivate the life you want in those little odd moments and begin to invite joyful, awake, aware activities in.
After a while you grow more discerning of how you spend your time because you begin to realize why you suffer:
The drip drip drip you feed your ego all day in a thousand little unconscious ways keeps you imprisoned in mind patterns and habitual living.
When you are immersed in it, you can’t really see it for what it is, but when you start living your life with more awareness, you will look back at your old patterns with astonishment.
Over the years of my yoga practice, it’s become obvious to me that it is infinitely easier to feel an inner peace, to sit quietly in an expansive equanimity, when I stop stuffing myself with insanity and madness. If every time you eat spicy food you get heartburn, you begin to lose your taste for it. In the same way, I turned away from television and much of the mainstream background noise of constant social media and advertising I’d been taking for granted. I stopped paying so much attention to the constant chattering in my mind, the endless stories, comparisons and judgments, and began cultivating activities that supported my practice.
I don’t spend hours addicted to news but I don't live under a rock either. I get my news skimming headlines and reading through stories and articles I decide are important enough for my attention. What a difference that’s made! If I watch a movie it's with a good deal of discrimination that I choose what I want to fill my consciousness with for two hours. Not only has this removed a growing anxiety for all the things I’m helpless to change, it’s freed up a whole lot of time for me to cultivate the real change the world needs: consciousness, peace, and clarity.
Now I fill my free time with activities that bring me joy. Knitting has been meditative (when I’m not working on a complicated pattern or trying to figure my way through a problem). I think that is one reason it is enjoying a renewed popularity. There is a repetitive action, a lot of creativity, and long periods of time spent sitting relatively still and quiet while the world unfolds.
Gardening is a meditation to me. When I’m digging in the dirt, the wind is tossing my hair, the birds are flitting here and there, smells, sounds, and the coming and going of thoughts, sensations, and time continue to unfold before my simple, relaxed awareness. The actual work is like my mala beads, keeping me anchored in present moment awareness. People who don’t garden look at it as so much work, and comment on my diligence when I’m out there for hours at a stretch but for me, it’s food for my soul.
I am a sketchbook artist. That is to say, I’ve been more interested in the process itself than in creating a pretty picture (though I do love it when the finished piece is satisfying!) Rather than tuning out by turning to my smart phone, when I draw I become much more a part of the world I sit in. I hear more, see more, feel more. And then it is so obvious when I’m not being present; when I’m either distracted or feeling anxious or hurried, even if I don’t notice I’m feeling those things, they’ll show up on my paper. So for me, drawing encourages close observation, focus, stillness, equanimity and joy.
An activity doesn’t have to be sedentary to support an expansive inner stillness and a growing awareness. In addition to gardening, I’ve found a great sense of joy and inner peace from other active pursuits like kayaking, walking, running, and biking. Being in nature in general is supportive of my yoga practice.
You don’t have to wait for desperation to make a quantum leap in your lifestyle. Start where you are. Use your whole life as your yoga mat. How are you finding ways to practice equanimity and awareness off the mat? Are there times in your week where you can switch up your activities to become more mindful and include more joyful pursuits?