Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Patience and Anger

Practice has mellowed out some since early Fall. The same old obstacles are there and will probably always be there in some form- Ashtanga, always the moving target- but my reactions to them have softened. I've come to a place of … acceptance? … acknowledging that some physical discomfort has landed and decided to stay. The stiffer winter backbends, the pain in my right shoulder, etc. I've shifted my focus on the breath instead. The mind follows and remains calm, for the most part. I am being assisted in drop backs again, which has helped tremendously. The physical discomfort is still there but the panic response is not triggered. Overall, practice has been steady and without drama.

I find this interesting because some of my reactions to work situations have run counter to this. We have a shared project among 10 people or so, and trying to get some sort of organization off the ground is next to impossible. More frustrating, we have a couple of opinionated alpha-type folks who are taking credit for much of work, without having actually, well, done much at all. An email exchange at the beginning of the week left me fuming. I became aware of the physiological responses to the anger in my body that morning: my chest felt tight, my stomach uneasy, and my breath shallow. I glared at an undergraduate student in the office clattering about while making a cup of tea. She chuckled nervously and apologized before leaving the room. Now, one would hope that the skills developed on the mat would help in such a situation, but it's been very hard. I am bothered by how affected I am. Reading Pema Chödrön is always a good place to start. In an interview with Bill Moyer, she commented "There's something delicious about finding fault with something," and that it's easy to become hooked in an escalating cycle of aggression. The first step is to acknowledge that the anger is happening, only then can one explore the root of it. Chödrön then counsels us to meet these sensations with patience, or waiting awhile before doing or saying anything that might cause additional harm. 
When you practice patience, you’re not repressing anger, you’re just sitting there with it—going cold turkey with the aggression. As a result, you really get to know the energy of anger and you also get to know where it leads, even without going there. You’ve expressed your anger so many times, you know where it will lead. -Pema Chödrön
We know this is difficult. During practice, my teacher has been trying to get me to isolate a particular muscle in my shoulder. She'll place her hand on my back and instruct me to push into her hand with it. Usually, nothing happens. "It'll come. Just start out with that intention," she'll say. I will try to apply the same intention to the cultivation of patience as I work on this project. It's not going to happen immediately, but something to work towards. 

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