A few years ago, I had a yoga teacher who would constantly tell us, in EVERY class, to “make space” for stuff. Unfortunately, she wasn’t very specific, and being told to “make spaaaace” within myself without knowing WHAT I was supposed to be making space FOR or HOW to do it, left me feeling anxious and confused.
I also kept hearing stuff like “yoga is a mirror for your own life”, and “yoga is a journey into yourself”. At the time, I really didn’t get any of it, but kept going to my classes anyways because my body was looking better than ever, and cigarettes tasted reeeeally good after a lung-opening hot yoga class.
Making space, letting “goooo”, gazing inwards and all that yabadabadoo seemed like total bullshit from the yoga phrasebook, which made teachers seem superior so that inferior-feeling students like myself could keep coming back for more, in our quest for enlightenment.
There wasn’t a specific point in time, a magical pivotal moment when my practice started to trickle off my mat and into the rest of my life.
I don’t know exactly WHEN I began looking inwards, or seeing parallels between my reactions ON the mat and those in “real life”. But, somewhere along the way, the way I practiced changed, and my focus shifted from the purely physical into a mindful observation and awareness of what was really, truly happening within and around me, both on the mat and off.
Increased time spent in Savasana, and a daily practice of meditation alongside my physical yoga practice led me to become more introspective, calm and aware. I sat in a place of relative detachment and observed my reactions to things and events in my life. Reading books about the power of the mind (for good and for bad) helped me gain control over my thinking patterns, and I gradually began to modify the ones that were hurting me.
As I made some drastic outer changes in my life (such as quitting my job and going freelance), other bad habits lingered, despite my justifications that I had learned to “moderate” them.
Despite the fact that I was eating well, had a solid yoga and meditation practice,and was generally more peaceful, my vices remained entrenched in my lifestyle.
Patterns of “la joie de vivre” such as dinners with friends and 2 bottles of wine per participant, followed by post-wine cocktails inevitably led to cigarettes (no matter how many times I officially quit), to guilt, hangovers, fights with loved ones, loss of productivity, more guilt, and finally, promising myself I’d never drink or smoke EVER again.
Then I’d go back to a bout (days, or sometimes even weeks) of a healthy, smoke free, guilt-free and therefore happy lifestyle, sans alcohol, and therefore sans cigarettes.
In fact, after a week or two free from cigarettes I felt I felt SO good and “in control”, that I’d convince myself the addiction was over.
At my next after-work 5 à 7 I would allow myself a glass of wine or a beer, and the cycle would start again. (I don’t mean at EVERY outing, but often enough to see a pattern).
To be honest, I can go weeks without even thinking about a drink, but cigarettes are my Achilles heel.
Cigarettes are the reason I drink; if I haven’t smoked for 3 weeks, I tell myself that I’m allowed ONE with a glass of wine, just because I’ve been so good. And then that glass turns into 5, and that ONE cigarette turns into ten. I drink because I want to keep smoking.
On my quest for the next cigarette, when I cross that fine line between drink number 4 and 5, all kinds of things can happen, fun or otherwise. Most recently though, what seems to come out are things I’ve apparently hung on to for dear life for years, even though I won’t acknowledge them when I’m sober. Things like resentment, anger and blame which go way back to my childhood.
The problem is that all these patterns are so intertwined (alcohol, cigarettes, emotional purging, guilt,etc) that one cannot exist without the other. The most ironic part, however, is that I CHOOSE to repeat the cycle, telling myself that THIS time, it will be different.
What’s even MORE ironic than the most ironic part is that I’ve come to realize that this is a form of self-sabotage that doesn’t NEED to happen. I’m not an alcoholic. I’m a cigarette addict. If I don’t drink, I don’t smoke.
I have control over drinking, but I CHOOSE to drink, knowing it will cause me to lose control over my smoking. The worst part is, at the moment, cigarettes and hangovers are pretty much the only things that cause me angst in my life. Yet I keep pulling the trigger on myself.
Somehow, the holiday madness seems to amp up our destructive patterns, and we plough through them like it’s 1999, telling ourselves that we’ll fix it all as soon as that New Year rings in.
But isn’t it funny that most of the resolutions we make, year after year, go unresolved, and we find ourselves just repeating our nasty habits over, and over, and over again? Only to then make the same resolution? Again?
I was recently talking to a friend who is in a bad marriage with food. Food, for her, has been a life-long comfort zone, an established, trustworthy, “go-to” place of momentary relief. A carb shoulder to cry on, if you will.
Yet her unhealthy relationship with food, and the subsequent food-overs only bring up feelings of guilt and anger, which in turn fuel her unhealthy love/hate relationship with food even more. Food to her is like cigarettes are to me: a long part of our lives, an entrenched negative relationship we can’t seem to shake, even though we really really want to.
Another friend of mine finds herself in a similar spot with her boyfriend. They’ve been together for years; the relationship makes them both miserable, but they are addicted to each other and can’t seem to break free, despite how horrible they make each other feel.
We all have them, these recurring vices we no longer want, but that we keep welcoming in our lives despite the mental torment they reward us with in return.
So what if, instead of making our New Year’s resolutions about cutting out the carbs, tobacco, or increasing our exercise regimen, we get down to the real source of what pushes us to those things in the first place?
If we look back to the start, to the place and time WHEN these bad habits became adopted into our lives, and acknowledged not ONLY the external factors that led us to them, but the internal thought processes that accompany them, might that make a difference?
All I know is that if we DON’T address the thought patterns that perpetuate the things in our lives which “won’t go away”, they never will. We’ll just keep making the same promises we won’t keep to ourselves, year after year. After year.
For example, if deep down, because you felt abandoned by someone in your past, you believe that you’re unlovable, you will never attract or sustain a healthy, happy relationship, no matter how fit you may be. You might keep having the same fight with your partner, find yourself perpetually single, or keep dating the same kinds of people, time after time.
But what if you DO manage to do the hard part, and to identify the source of your inherent beliefs and subsequent behaviour? What THEN?
Well, THEN, you have to find a way to get closure, and let whatever you’ve been holding on to GO. It may seem hard, but tell yourself that no matter how hard letting go of whatever your destructive thoughts, emotions, or hurt are, it has to be easier than what it’s cost you to hang on for so long.
So this year, I will not make my New Year’s resolution about the effect. Instead of telling myself “I will never touch another cigarette again”, I will force myself to release the fundamental source of the thoughts that got me to this place, once I figure out what that is.
Whatever my beliefs surrounding WHY I sabotage my health are, I will face THEM instead of the cigarettes, hard and yucky as facing them head-on may be.
Acknowledging that smoking is (for me) a symptom, but not the cause of my actions is fundamental to my facing whatever I’ve been hanging on to for so long, and my choice to LET IT GO, after all this time.
By releasing the past, I can make space for new things, new thoughts, and new (healthy) patterns. Except that this time, they will come from a place of consciousness instead of reaction. I’m not there yet, but I’m on my way.
I finally understand what that yoga teacher was talking about. And, unlike my initial judgment about her preaching “perfect”, I now get that maybe she was also coming from a place of increased self-awareness, which is an inevitable by-product of yoga. Maybe she, too, was flawed and working on it, like the rest of us.
In the meantime, I’ll leave you with this:
“Aparingraha” embodies the idea of good things to come. Once we realize that we can actually part with whatever it is we have been holding on to – the 10 year old Tshirts with sentimental value, the receipts we never turned in, the clutter of our lives – we begin to understand that we are clearing a space for something better. The past is dead, and we are making room for the living.” (Meditations from the Mat, Rolf Gates & Katrina Kenison
We just have to want to try.