Breathing Space


By Susan Whitaker "Yoga teaches us to cure what need not be endured and endure what cannot be cured."B.K.S. Iyengar

I got a call from my mother from the emergency room. It was the morning of a day I had planned to go Christmas shopping, but I dropped everything and zoomed over to see her. All was well, it was a minor infection, but she was left weak and confused. We brought her home for the weekend, and that was that. I couldn’t help but notice, however, that I was resentful of the changes I had to make in my weekend, shifting from my plans into the role of caretaker. Even though it was only for 2 days, thank goodness, I had to cook and clean and check with her constantly to make sure she was getting enough to eat and drink and enough rest.

What finally snapped me out of my resentment was the thought, “This is what’s before you now. This is what you need to pay attention to. Nothing else matters.” It was the fruit of my yoga and meditation practice in action. I felt a true relief to know that she needed me, and relaxed into the tasks at hand. I could help her in so many ways that were really easy for me, and meant everything to her. So, I took several deep breaths and exhaled into the new rhythm before me. I began to allow a sense of  “lovingkindness”, both for myself and for my mother. Things softened.

One of my favorite meditation teachers, Sharon Salzburg, calls lovingkindness “a coming back, a relaxing into our natural state of mind. It’s a way of seeing that arises when we free ourselves from our normal mental habits that create barriers.” Sharon practices what is called Metta, a kind of meditation where you send the thought “May you be happy” to yourself, your loved ones, and then to all beings everywhere. When you practice this daily, it takes you out of the rigid, judgmental mindset that is so easy to fall into when we're surprised by what confronts us.

Life so often interrupts and distracts, especially when a major illness appears. We can feel affronted, inconvenienced, and downright angry when our plans get pushed aside.  We forget to be kind to ourselves in fear that we might allow too much self-pity and drop into depression. Moving our bodies through yoga and sitting in reflection of how our pain connects with the pain of others can provide a way of understanding and take us into a more open way of thinking. Even if it’s just for a few minutes a day, that’s something. Over time, it adds up and gives us an option in responding, rather than reacting to our circumstances.

Please join me for the yoga class on Tuesdays at 4:00 on Oak St. We practice befriending the body, deepening the breath, and allowing for more spaciousness in our lives. We call it yoga, but it’s really lovingkindness.