There are moments when it all seems so easy. Things fall into place without effort. You seem to float. Only later, when it's not like that at all, do you start to wonder what it is you did to make it so easy. Where it is you lost track.
The answer is usually, nothing. You did nothing. It just happened.
The middle of winter, the turning of the year, the newness of the moon, social upheaval and exhaustion around us do not make for smooth sailing. I've always wondered at how - at why - the new year should be such a collective time of goal setting. Of longing to start over. Why we should collectively ask for resolve, just at this juncture.
I think it comes from being uncomfortable with where we are.
It's an uncanny transition. It's clearly time to let go and move on. But we don't know where we're headed. It's chaotically uncertain. When the festivities of the year past have ended, going back to work is unsavory. When New Year's is finally run in, there's a kind of discontent in having months of winter left to go. We're stretched thin between the physical and emotional strain of the past and scattering our selves all over the place moving forward.
We're flailing. Flailing - this determination to list things, change things, rearrange and grab or finally and emphatically renounce them - is a symptom of feeling lost and drowning. Flail is opposite of float.
This year suffered enormous losses and deep social strain. We're going through a collective grief. We're trying to say goodbye to the Obamas. We're trying to wrap our minds around a United States operating in ways the United States have never, ever behaved before. It's hard to wrap our minds around this.
After a moment - the ringing in of the new year, the flipping of a calendar, or the inauguration of a new president - we tend to lose the poignancy of reflection and slide into the mundane. I think it's important to realize that the clarity itself came from a deep dark place, rather than a fresh springtime one. We work with intention exactly when times are hardest. Intention only means anything if it works with our barriers. It's culling patience and skill in working with obstacles. It is a level, honest way to address things as they are. We have to direct ourselves exactly when we feel most lost, ground when we feel most vulnerable, and move when we most feel lethargic, uncomfortable, and unable.
Over and over again I'm hearing how deeply lost people feel. We have lost hope, lost direction, lost connection with where we were going or why. Relentless work or moving on or dealing with the next crisis and week are fair enough coping techniques. But they aren't effective healing.
In previous weeks I've been leading deeper practice through some work with intention. The tradition calls this Sankalpa, or intention that arises from the depths. Sankalpa is direction that arises from the unconscious, from the body itself, from experience and stillness. It is not about goal setting or ultimatums. This isn't productivity boost so much as it is a discernment process. With that discretion, force and impetus arises. An energy sourced from a deeper well. Sankalpa is direction that arises naturally from the heart of awareness.
The thing about resolutions - New Year's or any other kind - is that we tend to set the same ones year after year. We have the same problem areas, sticking points and bad habits circulating through our lives like an undertow. Over and over again we approach the same problems, have the same experiences, feel the same feelings. Cue cycles of shame and resentment.
What if we were to inquire into the deeper urge and get to know it, rather than endlessly - and meaninglessly - work for superficial change? When we do, we gain bright honest knowledge of the obstacles and ever greater skill in working with them.
I'm bringing us back to our intentions for the new year in this week's practice. To be effective we need to work with them consistently, more thoroughly, with a resolve. To re-ask a question from a different light illuminates the structures below. Clarifies the obstacles. Shows, with a steady and sane mind, that the obstacles are riddled with our own dysfunction. The obstacles resolve themselves to the underlying clarity, like a camera lens coming into focus.
Physically, many of our dysfunctions tend to be in the upper trunk. We experience chronic tension in shoulders, upper back, and neck and have a great deal of difficulty balancing strength with range of motion. From a subtle body perspective, intention and personal obstacles are also upper torso phenomena, a kind of miscommunication between our pumping vital capable body and our feeble flimsy neurotic mind. We end up trying to power our way through things or overthinking them, never able to smoothly sail betwixt the two in symphony.
People who have practiced with some consistency for a while tend to have more of a problem with this than neophytes. That is, while the neophyte tends to be completely disconnected and unaware of upper body, a yogi tends to have driven dysfunction deeper with the way he or she practices. As we start bearing weight on our shoulders, elbows, and wrists we develop tension areas we never had before while feeding a craving for more movement, more strength, more postures, and more sensational feats. We're feeding our craving/disgust cycles rather than quieting them. We get addicted to arm balances or have a very complicated and intervention-worthy relationship, with them. (Read, we might summarily dismiss them as ever being possible).
I've been working with upper body strength with some consistency for weeks: this time of year means compromised immunity, gunked lymph, hunched shoulders, raspy breath, and layers and layers of clothing against the elements. Upper body strength asks for a unique cardio-vascular and respiratory charge - a boon to midwinter - and is a reclamation of more natural and expansive ways of moving in our bodies. Psychologically, this tends to be more of a slap to awake than a stiff espresso.
Upper body strength is a kind of spooky, complex initiation. For many, it's simply not a thing we've ever felt. Strong. For those of us who have leaned on our strength our whole lives, it demands a subtlety and mastery, a kind of flexibility and refinement, more challenging than brute strength. And behind all this is a question: can we and should we be able to go upside down? I'm flirting with 'inversions' in these recent sequences: if you are a headstander or handstander feel free to take the whole of the pose. I'm cautious about teaching 'inversions' in an online format. You should learn to headstand with a teacher nearby. But the skill sets I'm teaching are the groundwork for the postures - they are the grammar out of which inversion language can sing and write poems. And they are the skill sets - the basic grammar - that most yogis brag with and bitch about without being able to really command.
This wheels back to a concept of float - of being able to suspend judgement, worry, obsession. To linger in potency, tap the root of deep urges and pulse. To feel for a moment that we aren't, actually, lost. We can let this weird space be transitory, rather than forcing a change.