How We Practise Is How We Move In The World
By Scott Johnson
“The weight of the world
Under the burden
under the burden
the weight we carry
– Allen Ginsberg
I’ve just talked my eldest son out of his first panic attack.
During those moments, I remember when I held him for the first time as he was born 17 years ago. He had looked at me then with those newborn eyes that cannot grasp what they’re reaching for in this new world.
Back then, there were no identifiable things he recognised. I was an unknowable image. His eyes now, though, choose not to look at me; his internal state not wanting him to be seen.
A panic attack. A first breath. 17 years between. These two things are deeply connected.
He’s on a yoga mat on the floor, where I suggested he lie down for a few moments. He’s finding it hard to breathe as he contemplates his upcoming exams that feel too much to bear. He can’t relax, his legs and fingers restless as he unconsciously deals with the stress that life is holding over him. I suggest to him that he follows his breath. I look at him with such love and pride. I tell him that. “I love you. I’m proud of you.” He disagrees.
I gently guide him to be with the knot in his chest he says is there. To allow it to be there. To feel it. I say that it’s okay to feel this way. It’s a part of life. We talk. He listens and I to him. I watch his body relax and his eyes soften, like he’s just seen me for the first time. We hug closely. We acknowledge the moment we’ve had. Then, with a deeper understanding between us, he gets up. And he begins again…
He begins again.
We both begin again…
A moment of clarity
At near enough the same time that I was helping him, I had been holding a picture of my grandfather (my mum’s father), taken in 1943. I was looking at his face clearly for the first time in my life. I had never met him and sadly neither had my mum. He died at the Normandy landings in the Second World War when she was just a baby. The photo my mum had just sent me was so sharp, as if taken on a smartphone and given a filter. He looked like a beautiful man.
I had never seen him with such clarity before and I felt deeply moved. And then here I was, having a moment of intimacy with one of his great grandchildren and I couldn’t help feeling the great expanse of time. I again felt deeply moved. The ripple of him, in the ripple of us. We are because of him…
A compassionate outlook
I think the 10 year anniversary of SYL has shifted something in me. The turning up again and again to meet people in a deep way has connected me into looking at how we move in the world as a response to contemplative practice over a period of time. I have seen over the years that meeting yourself again and again in a way that captures the spirit of your life is so rich. That’s why I feel the method of embodied yoga practice that I teach, that is deeply personal to the practitioner and their experience, is so effective. And when aligned with a compassionate outlook it forms a highly contemplative approach to changing our lives.
Contemplative practice is a groove that we can weave into the fabric of our worlds. There is no point in our lives where we can’t not learn to be kind, to ourselves or others. We practise yoga and mindfulness so that we can see the habitual turnings of our minds. Through ethical behaviours, such as the yamas and niyamas, we create compassionate grooves that can turn and shape our lives. This helps us to work with the grooves that have always been turning.
How we practise
How we practise affects how we move and every practice can be held with such reverence. Such love. We can create a meeting place for ourselves to drop into that turns us towards ourselves in a deeply held way. We can chant, become still, notice the birds or the gentle soft flow of our breath. If we meet our practice from a place of curiosity, compassion and kindness we can nurture these qualities of attention. These qualities can then become how we move.
The world is changing. With all its vulnerabilities, its tenderness, its violence and its love. It feels so imperfect. Yet we are here and it is all so beautiful and how we meet it is so, so important. How we find ourselves contemplating it. Understanding our place in it. Yoga and mindfulness are about navigating all these intimate relationships we hold in our lives. With ourselves, with others and with the planet. These practices reach through the essence of our lives and can offer deep contemplation on what it means to be alive.
Responding to choices
So, my eldest son is now back upstairs, with his books open and a renewed energy (for the moment) for his studies. He created a new groove to get him moving and now has it in his toolbox for the next time he needs it. How we get up and move is so important. The intricate nature of this flow of life in us can be difficult to navigate. We all make choices. Then we respond to those choices. How we respond to those choices is how we respond to life.
Knowing it’s a process
Interestingly, this is the first time I’ve worked with any of my children on how they’re wrestling with life. It used to be me, wrestling with mine. Sometimes it still is. But the ongoing timeframe of life offers us the opportunity to reflect. To see how we are doing. It always allows for that dance.
When I look at my three sons now I can’t really separate the different aspects of their lives as they have grown. I see them all as a process of life, as an ongoing way of integration into life as it unfolds. I held them just after they were born, I hold them when they need me again. Perhaps they’ll hold me. But what we hold each other with is love. For me, parenthood is the ultimate in being compassionate and the ultimate way to see how I myself have grown.
And when I look at the photo of my grandfather, who I never knew, I again feel the wisps of time playing out. That at some point perhaps I’ll be the image in that photo and someone whom I’ll never know, but am deeply connected to, will have a deep feeling of love that has been carried through the ages.
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