Don’t Bite the Hook: A Lesson in Working with Anger

As some of you guys know, I’m on a Twitter/Facebook/Social Media diet. This month, I’m only checking whats-the-haps in the world once a week, on the weekend.

Today, as I had *just* signed on to Twitter, Waylon Lewis, the editor of Elephant Journal, sent out a tweet about the Yoga Eco Nissan ad featuring Tara Stiles. I wasn’t thinking. If I was, I wouldn’t have clicked on the link, because it reeked of controversy, or something that’s redolent of Things That Jerk with Your Emotions.

The article is written by a blogger (a yoga teacher too, it turns out) named Brooks Hall, titled: Slim, Sexy Yogini + Car, and what the heck are we sayin’ here at Elephant? In her article, Brooks is fair and balanced, speaking with logic and rationale.

In this post, I just want to write how I’ve sat here and worked with my emotions about this. I don’t want to comment too much on the bigger picture of advertising and how it affects us and blah blah blah. I’ll leave that to the commentators with sociology, psychology, and political science degrees.

What follows here is only what’s true for me and how I attempt to bring in the things I learn from my yoga practice in something that I’m guessing is familiar with most people: anger.

“You can see a lot by observing” – Yogi Berra

Here are some observations as they arise in me:

+ Bodily sensation: tingling, tremors
+ Physical body: tightness in the chest, short breath, held breath, stomach unsettled, dry mouth
+ Posture: hunched up, head forward, chin and forehead tight, gripped jaws, cold, sweaty palms
+ Mind: frantically flipping through web pages, distracted, thoughts dashing everywhere, self-judging “I shouldn’t think this, I shouldn’t do that, etc.”

I keep telling myself: Don’t bite the hook, don’t bite the hook, don’t bite the hook. It’s a mantra from the lectures of the same title by Pema Chodron.

I thought that I can just not bite the hook by ignoring it. But the sensations stay, and the afflictions in my mind stay. Okay, what else can I do besides just intellectually telling myself to not be angry?

I’m taking big gulps of breath in and releasing them slowly. I’m looking away from the computer screen, out at the mountains surrounding the Puget Sound on this really nice day in August. I’m blinking my eyes (so they wouldn’t bulge out like a cartoon character). I’m releasing my lower jaw and taking a swallow to let saliva flow to the dried part of my mouth. I’m observing myself. I’m writing.

Judith Hanson Lasater always says: “Ask what is true for you? Ask what is essential?” I’ve learned, lately, to be really curious and ask, “What is happening? Why is it happening? Why am I acting or reacting this way?”

“I’m against picketing, but I don’t know how to show it” – Mitch Hedberg

Quite frankly, I don’t really know why I’m so upset at the Nissan Leaf ad. I mean, intellectually, I kinda do know, but I don’t really know *know*. Maybe it’s the way I slept last night, maybe it’s the way I didn’t sleep the night before. Maybe it’s some deep-seated angst having nothing to do with anything.

I will only say what I know is true for me at this moment:

+ As a young woman interested in Health and not screwing the environment to hell, I am all for products that reduce our carbon emission. Kudos to Nissan for that. (Mark Wahlberg’s The Happening, no matter how godawful it was, does give a warning of what it’s like when Mother Nature strikes back. And besides, I like trees.)

+ I can’t speak for men or other women, but I know, for myself, I have had all sorts of body image issues. I don’t blame them on anything or anybody in particular. I just know I’ve had them and worked with them. Messages like: “best-ever body” and “get slimmer, blast calories” have not helped.

+ I have spent far too much money and energy in products that promise “a new body”, a better version of me,  while developing a dysfunctional relationship with myself and my body. Yoga has been the only place that I’ve learned to live in my own skin, and I am *still* learning, every day.

+ Chanting: Yoga is not about chanting, you don’t ever have to chant a single vowel if you do yoga. Chanting, however, is a technique to still the mind. I used to not know that. I used to be allergic to chanting. I used to think it was cultish and weird and creepy. I now know better. I would never ask anyone to chant if they aren’t comfortable with it, but I would tell people what it is and what it’s for. Once you know what the intended goal of something is, you have choices, and you have more information to make them. I am not against not chanting, I am against the illusion of choice.

+ Hard-to-pronounce names: I love Sanskrit, but I know very damn well not everybody does, and most people cary on and go about their lives just fine without ever uttering a single breath of Sanskrit. And in fact, there are many pleasant non-Sanskrit-speaking humans and some real jerk-hole Sanskrit speakers out there.  The issue is not whether I or you say the poses names in some old dead language. The issue is if we dismiss things we don’t immediately understand. The issue is if I beat myself up and call myself a stupid failure because I ate too much, or if I sit down and reflect on what my real hunger is. Where is the yoga in choosing to not be curious?

Calling a spade a spade

In my trainings with her, Judith Lasater talks a lot about connecting with oneself. “You have to connect with yourself first before you connect with others,” she’d say. Another favorite saying from her is, “I’m not telling you what’s right, I’m only telling you what I know.”

I think, after writing all this out, what I know is I have began to discern moments when I’m not mindful, not curious, not making conscious choices (there are LOTS of them). I *know* no one needs to be saved, and change starts, as MJ said, “with the man in the mirror.” So, it’s not that I want to “save” the masses from these kinds of ads and messages. It is that I know my own suffering often results from moments when I act merely out of habitual patterns, addiction, and conditioned-thinking.

To me, the Nissan Leaf ad and others like it, do not work for me. They reinforce the habitual patterns of a self-harming diet-obsessed culture, and then sugar-coat it with the environmental aspect. You can’t be kind to others, the environment included, if you can’t be kind to yourself. Yoga, above all else, is learning to be kind to ourselves. I don’t know about you, but I’m blocking my calendar out for the next several lifetimes to do it, because it will probably take that long.

Anyhow, the big point of this post is not really about advertising or Nissan or what should and shouldn’t and is and isn’t. It’s about how I’m trying to take what I’ve learned into “real life.” It’s about me not denying, escaping or suppressing difficult emotions, and calling out things as they are. It’s me learning to see the difference between blanket statements such as “This is wrong” or “This is right” versus “These are the thoughts and emotions that are happening for me right now”, and articulating them without getting hooked or caught in the drama.

And now that I’ve sat down and written this all out, breathing, examining my anger, I’m happy to report the sensations aren’t there anymore. I think the anger has passed. Happy driving. :)

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