Cleaning out closets — physical and mental (in which opinions and judgments count as ‘stuff’)

 

Graph of cost of too much stuff

Graphic credit: Carl Richards via The New York Times

The New York Times yesterday posted a piece titled “You Probably Have Too Much Stuff” by a certified financial planner. (I probably wouldn’t have seen it, except Bristo Yoga School posted it on their Facebook page, and that showed up in my newsfeed.) Readers of this blog know I’ve been working on unpacking my patterns of excess during my recent move, so I was interested in reading this column. What impressed me most, other than the very clean and striking graphic that I’ve posted above, was that this financial planner acknowledged the emotional price you pay for having too much stuff:

When we hold on to stuff we no longer want or use, it does indeed cost us something more, if only in the time spent organizing and contemplating them. I can’t tell you how many times I have thought about getting rid of that tie (for instance), and every time I went to choose a shirt for the day, I would think about the few that no longer fit.

. . . .

It can help to think in terms of, “Do I have room—physical, emotional, mental—to bring one more thing into my life?”

It has taken me a long time to realize that my opinions and judgments — of myself and others — count as “stuff” that needs to be constantly cleared out. (Better yet, not brought in in the first place.) What makes this kind of excess worse than the piles of unnecessary whatevers that may be laying around the house is that it travels with you — it’s not something you can avoid when you’re not at home. I think most of us know people so chained by anger, resentment and grudges — so addicted to personal drama — that they can’t even see how much friendship, good will and respect from others they have lost. These packets of anger, resentment and grudges that get stockpiled can color every conversation you have and affect every relationship you enter. It can cause you to push people away and it can keep people from wanting to be closer to you. It saps a tremendous amount of energy and it’s toxic. Is there a higher personal cost than that?

Two sides of the same coin

In many cases, anger and the like are byproducts of too intensely liking someone and being disappointed, right? In The Heart of Yoga: Developing a Personal Practice, T.K.V. Desikachar offers up a simple little drawing of a tree (p. 11) that I always think of when there’s yogic talk of ignorance. The caption underneath the tree reads, “Avidya is the root cause of the obstacles that prevent us from recognizing things as they really are. The obstacles [branches of the tree] are asmita (ego), raga (attachment), dvesa (refusal), abhinivesia (fear).”

At a recent Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor retreat, Angela Jamison talked about Yoga Sutra 1.33, which I’m referring to here using this translation:

Maitri karuna mudita upekshanam sukha duhka punya apunya vishayanam bhavanatah chitta prasadanam. In relationships, the mind becomes purified by cultivating feelings of friendliness towards those who are happy, compassion for those who are suffering, goodwill towards those who are virtuous, and indifference or neutrality towards those we perceive as wicked or evil.

I don’t remember the retreat dwelling on it, but I scribbled in my notebook that the last of the four discussed was equanimity, which Angela noted included “not getting attached to preferences in people.”

That’s such an interesting one — and I realized that I was recently confronted with this. During the months of my wedding planning and after the wedding itself was held in May, I had been quietly holding on to hurt feelings. I had a few friends who meant a lot to me and who, as a result, I expected to somehow demonstrate their reciprocity by, at best, being excited by the wedding and, at worse, at least acknowledging the event. But as with any wedding, there were people who didn’t so much as reach out with a post-wedding “hey, congrats” or a “sorry I blew off your invite, I was x, y or z” or whatever. Their silence was deafening to me. The fault was entirely my own, though: I should have not have expected anything, because expectations create baggage. And did it matter what the reasons were? Everyone who was invited to the wedding was someone whom my husband and I felt had given us a gift of friendship at some point; that was enough.

As a post-script, I have to say that I somehow shed a lot of these feelings — along with other holds I’ve been carrying for a long time — during my honeymoon in Maui. Part of it was the magic of that island, and much of it had to do with the fact that my wedding showed me just how much I had to be grateful for — I have so many good people in my life, and can you ask for much more than that? I felt so light as my wedding weekend came to a close, and that feeling has stayed with me.

The geometry of closets

Like much of the population, I tend to stash stuff I don’t need into closets. This forces me to cram stuff I don’t need or even really like into spaces that contain stuff I do need and do like. The end result? The stuff I don’t need pushes the good stuff out of view and everything ends up crumpled. In my emotional closet I’ve started taking inventory of tchotchkes built on resentments, articles fabricated of anger, and boxes storing grudges, and I’ve been pitching as many of them as I can. (I’m also trying to catch myself before I drag in new junk.) It’s less that I have reached that level of zen, and more a reflection of how much I value all the good people and things in my life — I don’t want those dynamics wrinkled by emotional detritus I should have tossed years ago.

Don’t get me wrong — I am human, and I still have way more baggage than I need. But the spring cleaning has begun, and I suspect it will be, as is everything worth taking on, a constant and lifelong process.

Cleaning out

(Graphic credits: Top: Carl Richards via The New York Times. Bottom: The Red Chair Blog.)

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

‘Rarely do we clench just one thing.’

 

X-ray of a mouth

Clenched teeth, clenched mind?

Pattabhi Jois apparently used to say, “Clenched toes, clenched mind.” Especially in standing balancing postures such as utthita hasta padangustasana (extended hand-to-big-toe posture), the toes of our grounded foot may be clawing into our mats without us realizing it — as if digging in will help us balance. It’s quite the opposite, right? It takes strength to believe that letting go of a tightening action will be liberating. It takes strength to trust that if we let go of what we believe is anchoring us, another source of stability — a more genuine source of stability — will present itself.

In his beautiful book The Heart of Yoga, T.K.V. Desikachar tells us:

Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra describes an asana as having two important qualities: sthira and sukha. Sthira is steadiness and alertness. Sukha refers to the ability to remain comfortable in a posture. Both qualities should be present to the same degree when practicing any posture. (p. 17)

Whether we’re dealing with a career or personal passions, family or friendships, there are times when nothing could be harder to achieve than this feeling of sthira sukha. What seems to happen far more frequently than the perfect balance between strength and surrender is tightening up or drilling down.

Hilltop Yoga owner Hilaire Lockwood has for years worked on helping me release the tension in my shoulders and trapezius, the muscle starting at the base of the occipital bone. Even after an adjustment, when I think I have let go, she points out how much more I have held on to, and coaxes my body and mind to let go of just a little more. (For the record, I also clench my butt in postures such as setu bandha (bridge posture).) During very stressful times, my muscles tighten so much I worry if they’ll ever loosen again. But even during less stressful times of my life, those muscles are so trained that they don’t seem to ever truly release. I’m pretty sure it will take still more years for me to relinquish the hold I have over my holds.

I was recently telling Sue Forbes, co-owner of Mindful Movement and Physical Therapy in East Lansing, about all my clenching habits. It’s not shoulders or the gluteus maximus we’re talking about here. I recounted how, at 31, I was told I had so eroded my gums through grinding my teeth that I had the gums of someone twice my age, which required surgery to graft tissue to my gums. (The surgery is about as fun as it sounds.) Sue smiled and nodded. “Rarely do we clench just one thing,” she said.

Yoga is premised on the concept that there is a natural and profound connection between the body, mind and spirit. The clenching that we habitualize — is it only physical? In yoga, we use the body to get beyond the body. We use the body as a way to still the fluctuations of the mind and to tap into what keeps our spirit going. I find it fascinating to start with the clenching I feel in my own body and work inward. Can I trace the tightening of this part of my body to a particular work project that I’m stressed about? Or maybe I can follow the tracing the other way — if I let go of a particular memory about a past relationship, what, if anything, might let go in my body?

And what about beliefs? Is that a type of clenching? The Ashtanga series present posture after posture that seem impossible when we first start to practice. But we learn, over time, that through the guidance of an experienced teacher and through consistent practice, we eventually melt into those postures when the time is right.

Maybe telling yourself, “I’ll never be able to do this posture” is just another form of clenching. If that’s the case, consistently practicing Ashtanga can be considered a counterpose of sorts — what we do to counterbalance a previous pose in order to bring the body, mind and spirit into balance.

(Photo credit: The Full Wiki)