by Anna Norman
If only I were a yoga teacher, I thought to myself a few days ago. Not so I could actually teach, but because I was so ready to give my first dharma talk.
I attended the evening meditation with Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche at Mala earlier this month, and of the many wise words he spoke, one analogy stuck with me. He compared a mind weighed down by thoughts that don’t serve us to a computer filled with useless applications. The mind equivalent of clicking the “select” button on an unnecessary computer file, he said, is simply seeing a thought and saying, “There it is.”
I had my own “there it is” moment the following week. I’ve recently jumped into freelance writing, and a piece I wrote was scheduled to go live. That date came and went, and no matter how many times I clicked the refresh button, my article didn’t show up. Instantly, I felt myself heading down the familiar path of self-doubt and negativity. “They must have hated it. I can’t write,” I told myself. And then those thoughts spiral further into “I suck and I’ll never work again,” and then suddenly there I am living in a cardboard box on Court Street.
But rather than just spiraling down the hole and wallowing there in the dark, I was able to see myself going down this dangerous path. I realized that once I recognized it, I could change it. Or at least just recognize it. Sure, maybe this particular publication didn’t like my article. That doesn’t mean they don’t like me. It doesn’t feel great, but it’s not the end of the world, I told myself.
These storylines in my head certainly show up on the mat, too. I attended “practice camp” at Mala last summer, where we spent two weeks focusing on several poses including handstand. I was convinced that my body would never float up into a handstand like the other yogis in the room. I mean, I was always the slowest one in P.E. and spent high school in the yearbook room rather than pursuing anything athletic, so of course this very physical goal would be unattainable. Sure, I’d been committed to my practice for a year, but I didn’t let that trump the negativity in my mind. So I would hop when instructed to hop, but I knew my heels weren’t going to make sweet contact with that wall anytime soon.
As we were working on the pose one morning, Steph came over, looked me in the eye, and told me simply, “You’re strong enough.” I didn’t believe her just then, so when she helped me up, the fear took over and I let my arms buckle to the ground. But “You’re strong enough” stuck in my head, and I began repeating it to myself whenever the pose showed up. And one day not long after, up I went. By recognizing the negativity and telling myself a different story, the new story came true.
And that article I wrote that I feared was terriblehorriblenogood? It showed up online a few days later, just a little behind schedule.
While I still find myself walking the mental path of self-destruction from time to time, I can recognize it now, which is something I wouldn’t or couldn’t have done in my pre-yoga days. Seeing my thoughts, looking them in the eye, and having the ability to change them feels powerful, even if my heels don’t always make it to the wall.