I’m doing one of Norman Blair’s Yin Yoga workshops soon so I was browsing his website and reading some of his writings. The one that struck me was his reflections on his experience of acute appendicitis and the recovery after surgery. He had difficulty allowing himself to be ill — continuing to teach a workshop even though he had to leave to throw up part way through, needing his partner to convince him to go to hospital. But once in recovery mode he reported a wonderful letting go of expectations and the need to control, and simply allowing things to be. Finally he reflected on the role of his partner (and the NHS!) in helping him:
Calling for assistance is not a sign of ‘failure’; it shows that we are fallible human beings. And in our fallibility, there is the beauty of this being… Too frequently we are these moorhens: seemingly serene on the surface of life but beneath the water, paddling desperately to stay afloat. Instead, we can learn from the geese: by flying collectively, this increases their efficiency by 70%. If a goose has to go down to the ground, then it is accompanied by another one. No goose is left on its own.
I could learn much from this, from this quiet acceptance and settling into what is. A wiser, more mature way of relating to what is happening.
I could also learn to be more open to showing weakness. I so much hate asking for help. It’s a lifelong habit, deeply entrenched as a reaction to years of being ill and often incapable of looking after myself. The days when I was too weak to wash and clothe myself, never mind fix up any sustaining food, were humbling indeed. Well-meaning people tried to help by distracting me and organising trips (to ‘take me out of myself’ whatever that meant). The time when I was left in the middle of a field on a country walk because I couldn’t keep up, couldn’t keep going… the memory still grieves me. And grieves the person who did that. My protector and nurturer, a brutal caregiver.
And this week I’ve asked my teacher for some help with my practice, wondering how I might work with some of the persistent blockages I create for myself. I don’t know if he will or can or even if he should. The asking was difficult, but I’ve learned something from that already and it was cathartic in its way. So cathartic that I cried my way steadily through class that evening, feeling into my vulnerability (my imagined vulnerability?), into the tangled emotional web of guilt and anger, and the frustration that joy and the lightness of being seems so often beyond my grasp, residing somewhere in the next breath, the next āsana, the next practice… And the frustration that comes from recognising my own role in the perpetuating of these emotions, that the more I push myself to escape old narratives the more stuck I become. I feel definitely more mud than lotus flower!
But I am not alone in the middle of that field anymore — I am stronger than that now. These days I think the work is in softening my new-found strength. I don’t need to hold myself so tightly that I can’t breathe. My mat would be more a playground for joyful exploration than a difficult battlefield if I just left the armour off more often. Every breath, every āsana, every practice — each one an exploration, not a fight.
I need to go out and play. So bring on the Yin! I wonder what I’ll find there? I think I’ll be in good hands. I won’t be a goose left on its own.