This has been an extremely difficult week. My dog, Puck’s, was diagnosed with Lyme Disease and kidney failure last week. He hasn’t been able to eat, drink or walk since last Tuesday. We were actually preparing to have him euthanized yesterday, but we took him to see another vet first and she is trying some different treatments and he seems to be responding to them. I am starting to hope that he will be staying with us for a while longer.
Like everything else in my life, the effects of emotional roller coaster I’ve been riding with my dog have started showing up in my practice. Each morning I’ve been waking up to a body that is sore and stiff. My energy is less accessible. I am feeling a little fragile and tired. All last week I felt like I was on automatic pilot during my practice. I was numb, or more accurately, I was trying not to feel the pain and loss and fear that was there. Avoidance. I was in very dangerous territory. Injuries and burn out happen when you continue to do something a demanding an rigorous as Ashtanga without being fully present. Before anything like that happened I had to examine both why and how I’ve been practicing.
David Garrigues, my teacher, often refers to asanas as being like a Koan (a puzzle-like question or story designed to help one attain enlightenment.) The asanas are there to help focus our energy. So I am contemplating the foundations of each posture more thoroughly to bring my awareness back to my breath. I am using the postures in which ever series I am working with (and on many of these difficult days it has been Primary) to redirect my focus inside. I am offering the most sacred thing I have to offer: my focus. My undivided attention. Presence. That is the “How.”
But what about the “Why?”
Whatever you do – what you take, what you offer, what you give, what penances you perform – do as an offering to me, Arjuna!
(The Bhagavad-Gita, Chapter 9, verse 27)
A very wise friend and fellow student shared with the her idea of loving someone as building a temple. It’s true, I have been building this temple for a long time by sharing my life and love with my my often-sick dog, but it had been a really long time since I’d made an offering with an unburdened heart. So I’ve been sharing my practice time with him. Every day this week, after I teach, I’ve been coming home and laying my mat out in my house, instead of staying at the Shala. I’ve been practicing in my living room, to be exact, while Puck lays next to me, drifting in and out of sleep. My offering has been real presence in my practice, allowing myself to inhabit everything all at once, the pain and loss and fear, along with the profound love and gratitude I feel. That, I realized, is the “Why.”
Cultivating the ability to extend this attitude of making my actions an offering into my every day life is the “Why?”.
When I carry my dog up and down the stairs from sofa to bed, I am placing flowers at the alter. On the mornings when I don’t want to wake up and trudge out into the dark and the cold and I start feeling sorry for myself, I remind myself that giving my focus and energy and care to the students who come to practice is just as powerful an offering as lighting incense. When I want to scream and throw a temper tantrum because the dishes aren’t done and the house is a wreck and I am tired, I have been trying to be less rigid, making my patience my offering. I am also trying to allow myself to be more honest with my friends, family and my husband, even though I feel raw and defensive. It scares me to show other people the layers of of fear and hurt running through me, so I am trying to remind myself that I am not alone in this, and that it is okay to need help. I am trying to make my vulnerability my offering.