How are you feeling? Can you notice how you feel in this moment without attaching a story to it?
Here's what I mean: So often, our brains do not simply observe how we feel, they observe and then attach. And it happens so quickly it doesn't feel like you are noticing the emotion, instead, it feels like you are the emotion.
For example: I feel angry. I shouldn't feel angry. I'm supposed to be a good person. Why am I angry? I'm enraged. God, now I'm angry about being angry.
Or: I feel sad. Damn it, I'm always sad. It's not only sad, it's pathetic. I'm sad and pathetic. I'm thirty years old, and still so sad all the time. Do I have no perspective? When will I stop being sad?
Those are just two negative feeling states, but the same can be said for most negative emotions: the judgements we attach to the initial feeling can be more damaging than the feeling itself.
We can feel angry that we're angry, sad that we're sad, frustrated that we're frustrated, upset that we're upset, disappointed we're disappointed, and on and on.
A dear friend recently sent me this quote and I can't stop thinking about it:
"Observing without evaluating is the highest form of intelligence."
This quote, I believe, comes from Indian philosopher Krishnamurti, and my friend read it in Marshall Rosenberg's book Nonviolent Communication.
I often think of the power of observing without evaluating when I'm practicing or teaching yoga asana.
For new students (and I did this for years), it's very common to spend the entire yoga class worried about what others are thinking of you.
Is everyone able to balance in this pose except me? Is everyone's bridge pose higher than mine? Is everyone's forward fold deeper than mine? Am I the only one who can't do crow?
This is an exhausting way to practice. So most people reach the point where they either stop going to yoga class if they can't break this habit, or they stop obsessing over what others may or may not be thinking of them during class.
But the next hurdle in asana practice to observing without judgement—a harder hurdle, I think—happens in your own mind. Can your mind observe where you are, right now, today, and not attach a story to it?
For example, instead of the mind doing this: I don't understand why I can't hold warrior 3 on my left foot today. I did it yesterday at home but of course now I'm in a class and I keep falling over like a loser. Why could I balance on my right foot but not my left? It makes no sense.
Can the mind do this: I'm having difficulty balancing on my left foot right now.
I consider this the pinnacle of yoga practice: noticing where you are, without judgement. Without a longwinded story. Without making it all into a problem and swirling and swirling and swirling in your mind. Keeping your peace in all circumstances.
And, of course, since yoga always extends well beyond the confines of the mat, the same goes for emotions.
Can you say: I feel angry right now. Or, I feel sad right now. And leave it at that? Can you drop the string of stories you've attached to those emotions?
In one of Rumi's most famous poems—The Guest House—he encourages us to take it a step further with our emotions. He says:
"Welcome and entertain them all!"
"Be grateful for whatever comes
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond."
I think acceptance (welcoming your emotions) and gratitude (being grateful for whatever comes) can have transformative properties. As they say:
What you resist, persists.
If you keep resisting sadness, you'll get more sadness. But if—perhaps counterintuitively—you accept your sadness and are even able to cultivate gratitude within your sadness, you might just find a path to peace.
Observe without judgment, observe without evaluating, just observe—and then see how you feel.
with Love and with Light,