The Day I Did “Real Yoga”

I have had a really hard day of traveling, starting off with a mobile boarding pass crashing, some poor planning on my part, some technology failure, long lines at the airport, missing a flight, working with the general anxiety of the consequences of running around worrying about the potential fees I’d have to pay, wondering when I’d be able to come home, all the plans I had made based on a flight depature and arrival time, etc.

Two weeks ago something similar happened. I was having a really difficult morning, driving to a part of the city where I didn’t know there was going to be a huge street fair, where you had to wait and sit in long lines of people and cars for hours just to move two inches. It was not a big deal, in the sense that nothing really tragic happened, no one died, no one’s house burned down. It was just me sitting in my car wanting to be somewhere else, not wanting to be stuck, thinking of the things I coulda shoulda woulda done to not have ended up here.

That day, and today, are the days I do “real yoga.” It’s often said that yoga is about becoming one with the divine. I think that yoga, or at least the test of my progress in yoga, is what happens when things “go wrong”, or in other words, shit hits the fan. Pema Chodron says that we’re always working with our “potential to be bothered”, the times when we don’t feel all that “light and love and the source of truth in your heart.”

All there is, or was, is a sense of tremendous unease, discomfort, a frustration, a nervousness, restlessness, rage, impatience. When I was stuck in the street fair and desperately wanted to be elsewhere (the World Cup final), every time that I had to put my foot on the gas pedal, I wanted to step on the gas pedal twice as hard. This morning, I wanted to scream at all the people in front of me at the airport, “stupid technology”, and my stupid phone. Everybody was stupid and everything sucked.

Well, almost.

For sure, I had those moments and thoughts. I also had moments of catching myself throwing what the authors of Buddha’s Brain call the “second darts.”

“First darts are unpleasant to be sure. But then we add our reactions to them. These reactions are “second darts”–the ones we thorw ourselves. Most of our suffering comes from second darts.”
Rick Hanson with Richard Mendius. The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love & Wisdom. Page 50.

When I became aware of what was happening, I called it out, “Oh yeah, this is fear, this is being frustrated as hell.” To me, this is what my yoga practice is really becoming about. It’s about the ability to go through really uncomfortable situations differently than if I didn’t do yoga at all. It’s not so much about ecstatic bliss and melted heart and unbounded love, the kind of love that soft drink commercials speak of.

Years ago I randomly picked up In Buddha’s Kitchen at a library sale, a book about a woman’s experience cooking in a Buddhist Monastery in Northern California (of course, right? ;)). I remember a line a lama in the book said, “Anger is when someone shoots a thousand arrows at you, and angry is when you pick them up and stab yourself.”

I know I have gotten super good at stabbing myself, not just with an angry arrow, but with guilt, fear, judgement, impatience, etc., the whole enchilada, really. So yoga, however deep its roots or intricate its philosophy, however “real” or watered-down some of us debate about, really boiled down to something pretty simple for me today: can I stand in a long line at the airport not knowing which flight I could get on, and know that I’m breathing in and breathing out?