Taking a short break from our journey through the 8 limbs today, let’s talk about embracing the totality of our experience, including both the delightful and the difficult parts, as Pema Chodron encourages us to do in today’s quote. This of course relates to several areas of yoga philosophy, such as non-attachment and contentment, or learning to find our happiness and joy even when things aren’t going exactly the way we would like them to. This is a hard pill to swallow, but such an important one, in that it trains us to not allow our life circumstances (which inevitably change and sometimes really suck) to direct our inner experience, our state of consciousness, our bliss. Too often we allow that outer experience, or the way we perceive that outer experience, to ruin our mood, to block our ability to see the beauty all around us, to obscure all the things for which we are grateful, to interfere with our happiness, and to cover up our true state, that deep inner sense of peace and bliss. Who wants to go around like that??!
I know at least that I do this, because I’ve been doing a quite a bit of it the past few days, and especially today. I’m writing this blog to help pull myself out of it. You all know that I am an avid yogi, and have been practicing yoga for many years. My practice is strong and full, and while I can’t do everything I’d like to be able to do, in general I am very happy and fulfilled by the state of my yoga practice. I feel like my body is strong and resilient, and perhaps in as good a shape as I have been in for many years. For some crazy reason, I decided that I would sign up to run a 5k through a cancer support group that I love, called SheStrong. I hadn’t gone on a run in over 5 years, though I do walk and hike a little bit here and there. In the past (like in my 20s and 30s), I used to run now and then, but whenever a breast cancer run came up (like the Komen or others that were annual things in Tucson), I would just go out and run them without any real preparation. This year, I gave myself a little over 2 weeks to prepare for this 5k, thinking that should be ample time. I started out slow, and ran 1 mile, and then a few days later 2 miles. Then on my third run, I decided to try a different pair of shoes (which I now realize wasn’t too smart), and overall felt a little stronger running, BUT I finished the run with some moderate pain in one ankle (I think it’s an Achilles tendon issue). At first, I thought it was just the shoe, and that it would resolve quickly. I did the usual, ice, ibuprofen, rest. The pain got a little better over the following few days, though never resolved completely. This morning I decided to go try to run again (in my original better shoes), knowing that I might have to go slow, or even stop a few times throughout the run. Sadly, I couldn’t run at all. Walking was ok, but every time I tried to run, or even jog at the slowest possible pace, the ankle pain really flared up. I wondered whether I ought to just keep going and push through the pain. But I decided that wasn’t smart, and that I might make the injury worse if I did that. But I felt pretty dejected, frustrated with my body, disappointed that I will probably have to walk, not run, the 5k (which is in just 1 week) if I can even finish it at all. My usually strong and resilient body doesn’t feel quite so. 🙁
However, as I was walking back from my failed run, I was lucky enough to be able to look out over the ocean, breathing in a nice warm ocean breeze. I took a few nice deep breaths and I realized how silly I was being. Is it really that big of a deal if I can’t run the 5k? I mean, my dear friend just started chemotherapy this week for recurrent ovarian cancer, and she is staying positive and strong. Surely I’m not going to whine over this ankle injury and let it ruin my attitude and my day. So I came back to everything I’ve learned through yoga philosophy AND through my own cancer experience. Here are a few of the important ones:
- Patience. I know the ankle will heal and I’ll probably even be able to run again someday if I just give it the time it needs to recover. If you’ve read my prior blogs, you know patience is NOT my strong suit, but boy does having cancer give you a big dose of it. I guess I just needed another dose this week. Thanks Universe.
- Ahimsa, or non-harming, in this sense toward myself. I must listen to my body and really hear what it needs, rather than force my will and desire to complete some task on myself and end up worsening my injury. I must not let my ego result in self-harm.
- Contentment and gratitude: Even though I couldn’t run, I was able to go for a short walk and breathe a little ocean air. I am grateful that my body is as healthy as it is, and for all of the other things I am able to do, including my yoga asana practice, which isn’t really limited by the ankle injury. I recognize that so many others have more difficult problems than I do, and I am really fortunate in so many ways. A minor ankle injury really isn’t that big of a deal.
- Non-attachment. What is the big deal about running this 5k anyway? It really isn’t important,except to my ego. Just let it go.
- Self-study, what can I learn from this last week? I learned that, while I am very strong and capable on the yoga mat, other forms of exercise tax our bodies in different ways, and I need to be a little more cautious with my body. After all, I’m no spring chicken (as my mother recently told me LOL), and my body has been through a lot in the last 4 years. I learned lessons in patience, ahimsa, contentment, gratitude, and non-attachment as above. I learned that I have some control over how I respond to things that happen. I can choose to be upset and frustrated and feel dejected and weak. Or I can roll with the punches, brush off that negativity, remember how much progress I’ve made in my recovery in other areas, be kind to my body and allow it to heal, cultivate self-love and compassion, and find the joy in today, whatever that looks like.
So that’s my story today. I’m working on developing inner strength, inner peace, equanimity, and unwavering joy, by embracing both the delightful things and the difficult things in my life. But I’m not perfect by any means. That is why I continue to practice, continue to study, continue to learn, and continue to grow. So that I might be the best human being I can be. Yoga helps us do that. Running, I’m not so sure about (LOL, just kidding! I’ll try again once I am healed).