Non- covetousness consists in not acquiring superfluous goods, nor desiring them, nor accepting gifts beyond reasonable limits . . . The more one owns, the more one needs to protect it. Accepting more than is necessary and acquiring more and more goods, knowledge, relationships, and mystical states clutters the mind and keeps it from grasping the source of things and the motivations and reasons for life. When the mind no longer worries about acquiring and keeping goods (etc.), we understand where we come from, where we are, and where we are going. We discover the meaning of life.

YS 2.39, from Bernard Bouanchaud’s The Essence of Yoga
aparigraha sthairye janma kathanta sambodhah

I spent the last weekend of October at a massage therapy training, learning how to re-program motor pathways by simply showing the body that something is not quite right. It was a fascinating example of how our perspective defines what we see.

All the time, things happen to our body. When those things hurt, our body compensates – it uses other muscles than the one best suited, to protect the damaged muscle while it hurts and heals.

The body doesn’t like to fail, and the brain likes to be efficient, so the body compensates and the brain doesn’t notice anything is wrong. The hurt muscle heals, but the brain hasn’t told the body that, so the body keeps using other muscles. And because the body appears to be working, the brain doesn’t go back to re-evaluIate.  This can lead to all sorts of chain reactions in the body, of muscles doing work they don’t need to be doing, and causing all sorts of aches, pains, and dysfunctions.  But the brain doesn’t see it, so, even though something is clearly not right, nothing is wrong.

It struck me, more than once, how similar this neuro-muscular reprogramming work is to the work of yoga. The reprogramming consists of simply showing the brain that it something isn’t right, then showing the body that it can do something it thinks it cannot, and making sure the brain observes that action. (Like meditation, it is simple concept, but not necessarily a simple practice.)

In my life, I also have patterns of behavior. My harmful patterns are rooted in fear – fear of failure, fear of something in my environment, or fear something that I don’t want to see in my self. I have patterns I have developed over the course of my life to protect me from these things, even if these things no longer are valid. (Can anyone say, “baggage”?)  And some of the patterns aren’t even really bad patterns – they are simply inefficient for who I am today and I how I want to live my life today. But other patterns have chain reactions – secondary patterns set off by the first that cause all sorts of unwanted dysfunctions.

But what does all this have to do with yoga?

There is something that happens on the mat, when I have a willingness to let go of something I have been clinging to. When I’m not willing, change is hard, it’s a struggle and a challenge and a source of stress. But when I am willing to simply be with whatever is, without holding on to what I want or expect or believe, simply engaging in the practice allows me to see what isn’t working. Instead of immediately fixing it, the practice invites me to simply notice that a pattern isn’t helpful anymore. With some training or practice, I now notice it with compassion – meaning, there is no criticism or judgement, and perhaps there is a recognition of how it came to be, but the recognition is gentle, much like spying a spider or bug inside and catching and taking it outside to be where it belongs. Well, some bugs, anyway.  No one is perfect.

And that simple act of noticing causes the pattern to change. It might not immediately stop – even in bodywork, a pattern held for a long time takes more than one session to fully resolve – but the changing takes place almost without effort. It simply requires two components – an honest noticing, and a willing. A willing to let go, to not clench, to not compensate, to not protect, to not grasp at safety from fear. A willing to trust.

I think this is what grace is: a willingness to trust in the universe, and act out of love rather than fear at each moment, knowing that the universe will provide what I need. Each act of not grasping in my need for control, for security, is one step closer to that space. Personally, my struggle is in the willing.  I notice, but I am not willing, because I still struggle with trust. It’s a journey.

Join me this November for practices that open the heart, that explore gratitude, that inquire about what doesn’t serve you, and that offer a space to let go of what you are ready to, and invite in grace and trust.