Thursday, February 17, 2011
Copyright Lance Kinseth, Way Of The Heart/Doshin, 2011
TYPICALLY, WE LOOK at a practice like restorative yoga as offering a number of positive physical health benefits. It is different from exercise and fitness that intentionally stresses the body for controlled periods of time. We may distinguish this practice by describing how brain activity is manipulated to regulate physiology [reducing heart rate and blood pressure] as well as to relax total body physiology to restore the body. We may note possible positive effects on mental states such as anxiety and depression, but even these are largely attributed to body physiology.
Overall, we may point out that the strong mental emphasis really makes this a “body-mind” practice rather than a body practice, as with other exercise, but, even here, we tend to describe the mental effect that provokes health in physical terms.
We may miss perhaps the greatest benefit: We tend to see our lives as something that happens to us, as a pathway from birth to death, of trail and error, with triumphs and loss. But we miss the key pathway that we, ourselves, forge. In a body-mind practice that prioritizes quiet and calmness, we have an opportunity to cut deeply through the chatter of the everyday to the deeper internal chatter that subconsciously directs our actions. Listening there, we may begin to profoundly affect the choices that we make and enhance the quality of our lives and others. Because of the sustained calmness and quietness of the practice, across time, we can look deeply at our life journey—what it is for which we are living.
Poet John Keats admonishes us:
I compare human life to a large mansion of many apartments,
two of which I can only describe. The doors of the rest being
as yet shut upon me.
The deep chatter may guide our life to be self-limiting and even self-destructive. From our positive and negative experiences, we have a subconscious life plan—how long we might live, how long we want to live, what we might expect from life, how we imagine and then treat our bodies, how we describe or define ourselves in terms of specific roles and vocations, etc. This can limit us.
Perhaps our greatest fault is, as Nelson Mandela suggests, not an issue of overcoming our limits but rather a lack of recognition that we do not have limits. We have passions and dreams that are more open-ended and often integrated and harmonious. They reflect a preconscious plan that has been with us since birth. There is an inherent drive in us toward “psychosynthesis” that aspires to bring the pieces of our lives together in harmony. Each person uniquely expresses it. It might be reflected in superficial things like a favorite book or movie or events that attract us or memories that stay with us out of all of the myriad possible memories that have somehow touched us deeply, because they resonate with this path that we are on. Why this book or movie? There is a theme that we are likely pursuing, but it is often subconscious. These passions and dreams are the “bones” of a rich pathway of “that for which we are living” that can be optimized, if discovered, and then more consciously expressed.
Our “exercise”—be it unabashed exertion or gentle body-mind—that seems health-oriented can reflect limits. It may be driven by a sense of anxiety that has been scripted long ago. It may be defensive and oriented more toward survival than toward thriving and growth.
However, even with no conscious intent to cut through the chatter, regular body-mind practice that is quiet and calm may begin to transform us more than we had anticipated. We may begin to relish the calm, and so, aspire to “live this calm” beyond the practice session. Long-term body-mind practitioners typically move beyond describing physical benefits as primary. They have continued in these practices because they experience improved psychological and social and spiritual health. And they can begin to describe these changes in very concrete terms. They might describe living the everyday in a calm state: being less reactive, more in touch—opening/listening, having more of a sense of humor, and having a deeper sense of meaningfulness in a broader range of experiences and a deepened sense of appreciation and gratitude. They feel more engaged in life.
They may increase a sense of harmony between the different aspects of everyday life so that they different aspects begin to nurture each other. In vocations and avocations [passions], they may begin to see how that for which they are living is personally expressed. For example, a teacher may see how a very general subconscious theme of peace is specifically expressed in all of the facets of her work with children. And artist may find a subconscious theme of harmony expressed across the oeuvre or body of his or her work. This growing consciousness of one’s life plan can both optimize the quality of everyday life and move one’s activities from a sense of leading a half-life to a sense of life becoming more authentic or “real.”
As the theme splays out into more and more aspects of one’s life, life can be experienced as having become richer. Compassion, specific experiences of awe and wonder and grace both in one’s own experiences as well as in the observation of the larger world can be specifically described and repeated and supported in others. Metaphors such as “integration” and “harmony” and “wholeness” enter language and do not remain “lofty” or “exclusive” or “special.” These attributes may increasingly become “normal” and “inclusive”—less defensive and more outreaching and giving to a degree that supports others and encourages these attributes in their actions.
Quietness and calmness form the architecture of an eloquent gateway to this deep way of the heart.