This morning, I had a lot of trouble waking up for my 6am class. Between work and moving, my schedule has been non-stop and it’s starting to wear a little on me mentally and physically.
I got to the studio and saw a dead hornet on the floor and my fatigue thought, “Eh. I’ll pick it up later.” But then I forgot and stepped on it. That woke me up.
First, there was only pain. But then I started to focus on my breath. The pain didn’t become less, but there was more space around it. I was aware of something other than my pain. There is a story about a monk and his apprentice: the apprentice is always complaining so the monk gives him salt to mix into a glass of water and has him drink it. The apprentice notices it tastes very bitter. The monk then takes him down to the lake and pours the same amount of salt in the water there and has him drink from it – the water tastes sweet. The lesson, he instructs, is that the pain of life is just salt and the amount of it is always the same. What matters is the size of the vessel in which we put the salt. When in pain we have to stop being a glass and become a lake. So it is when we breathe through difficulty – we become connected in with something other than the hurt, something bigger and more timeless.
By the time the students had shown up and it was time to teach, the bottom of my foot was totally swollen and I couldn’t put weight on it. I mostly teach without demo-ing, but I still move around the room. Today, I sat in a chair and I taught. And that took me out of my comfortable routine enough to have some interesting insights. I found myself thinking the students might judge me for sitting down even though that’s probably not true since they knew I had been stung. Ah – there you are, my old workaholic tendencies, my fear that I need to be matching or exceeding everyone else’s efforts in order to be worthy. When teaching, I hide my need to be worth it by pacing around.
And then there was the thought that I needed to be DOING something, keeping busy, somehow ‘acting like’ a teacher. Ah – hello, Fear-that-I’m-not-enough,-just-as-I-am. We meet again in striving to achieve or be something in order to teach a good class. I am pretty good at watching my students and really SEEING their practice, but until I had to cut out all movement and rest entirely in stillness, I hadn’t realized how many details my own movement can still keep me from truly seeing. Today, I had to be still. And I noticed how much more aware I was. It was still a powerful class, even when I sat in a chair, leg throbbing the whole time. Did the pain magically go away, as I shifted my awareness even more deeply to my students? No, but it didn’t stop me from caring about them either – which busts another self-destructive myth of mine that when I am hurting I am only able to be selfish. Like anything else, whether I isolate and wallow or continue to reach out in love is a choice I make.
Which brings me to my final big awareness and something we talked about in class today: accept it like you had chosen it. Things happen and they’re not always fun or convenient, nor do they always feel good. But we choose whether we receive them as obstacles or challenges/opportunities for further growth an awareness. So I choose stepping on a hornet because it forces me to slow down a little bit today, which my body needs. And it forced me to step out of my teaching routine – it literally shocked me awake and gave me a chance to look at my day from a new perspective – less tired, whiny victim and more connection to breath and an alert stillness. And, you know what? I’m actually having a better day for it.