When I was taught Mindfulness techniques, one of the practices we did was with a partner. We would take take turns to talk and to listen, within strict time limits, on a particular theme or experience. During this alternation of speaking and listening, I always experienced the same thing — at some point during the practice we would fall silent. During such times we were encouraged to hold the eye of our partner and simply be together.
Sound uncomfortable? Yep, that’s certainly how I found. Especially the time I was partnered with someone who had said something spectacularly rude and upsetting to me in the previous session. I suspect this was a deliberate act on the part of my wise teacher, though of course I didn’t appreciate it at the time!
And here’s the paradox: that something that started off so toe-curlingly uncomfortable, where I could feel my mind squirming to get away and all the instinctual parts of my being were screaming at me not to look him in the eye ultimately came to feel rather wonderful. The feelings of aggression, hurt, mistrust melted away in the patient space we held between us.
Although it happened a few years ago now, I’m reminded of this experience today, as I read Richard Freeman’s explanation of vairāgya (non-attachment) in The Mirror of Yoga: “Once we see patterns within the mind, rather than trying to change, fix, or alter them in any way, we simply allow the patterns to be; that is vairāgyam. We do not ignore the patterns; we do not ignore them nor do we perpetuate them by engaging with them. We give them support and space without interference so that they are allowed to play out their natural course and dissolve into their background.”
I guess that’s a description of my experience.
In my āsana practice today I found myself similarly squirming away in mind and body from various feelings. Interesting to watch. And if I’d had the energy today it would have been fascinating to have lengthened my practice, looping back through movements and turning to face these feelings again, perhaps dissolving or at least softening them as I moved over them and through them. But today’s a low-energy day, so a long āsana practice isn’t suiting my body.
Sitting in meditation afterwards brought a certain peace and some sense of acceptance of what is. When I opened my eyes I could see the beautiful ash tree outside the window, still sporting some leaves even after the strong autumn winds we’ve had recently. And although I feel sadness at bare deciduous trees, I have faith that their leaves will return again in spring. And this inevitable continuity, the indomitable power of nature is somehow comforting. In my small life there are cycles too, and I am learning to swing with them, riding the ups and downs. Having faith that the next upswing will come quietly comforts me and helps me to be as I am today, trying to practice vairāgya. Toe-curling and squirming are temporary states to entertain without judgment.