All posts by Shannon Mayhew

Grace in the Muck, part 2

Make time for it, Carly!

In part 1 of this series, I asked how it is that yoga helps us to nurture the kind of peace that we tend to experience in nature, like my discovering the lotus flowers on Lake Inspiration.

Lake Inspiration’s explosion of lotus flowers is no small deal to a yoga teacher.  In yogic philosophy, the lotus flower often symbolizes the beauty that can arise out of the murkiness of confusion and suffering.  There are so many ways to apply this lovely metaphor, like the way people come together in times of crisis, or those individuals whose childhood challenges have inspired them to become great humanitarians.  The mud nourishes the flower.  Struggle fosters character.

Lotus flower photo by shannon mayhew

But today, as I take in this contrast, these bursts of pink and peach dappling the murk, I am thinking about a more bodily sense of nourishment.

In my yoga classes, we have been working with the idea of allowing, rather than fighting, different “feeling states”, whether they seem positive or negative.  So this includes things like anger and pain.

You may be thinking, with the voice of Carly Simon in your head, “I haven’t got time for the pain… Haven’t got room for the pain…”* (Bonus points if you remember the 1980’s Medipren commercial, which shows women who haven’t got time for the pain of menstrual cramps because they need to ride horses.)

Humor aside, of course there are times when medicines are an important part of the healing process.  But I would like to offer a radical idea.  Our so-called negative feeling states, like anger, sadness and pain, are in some ways nourishing to our wellbeing.

We are so accustomed in our society to dis-allowing our difficult feeling states (both emotional and physical), that we can miss out on our bodies’ messages and intrinsic mechanisms for healing. Teachers like Tara Brach, whose methods have helped so many, including people suffering from trauma and drug addiction, show us the profound healing that is made available when we practice allowing our difficult feeling states.

She encourages her clients to men­tally whis­per­ an affirming word or phrase when a challenging feeling arises.  Tara notes that “even the first gesture of allowing, simply whispering a phrase like ‘yes,’ or ‘I consent,’ begins to create a space that softens the harsh edges of your pain.”

In part 3 of this series, we’ll explore how current neuroscience research may give us a clue as to why experiencing our pain, rather than walling it off, works.  And we’ll see just how this science aligns with wisdom from comedian Louis CK.  See you tomorrow!

*(Actually Carly Simon’s lyrics tell us that, since she learned to open her heart and quiet her mind, she hasn’t the need for the pain.  Maybe she was practicing yoga?)

Grace in the Muck, part 1

This morning my dog Casey and I walked around Lake Inspiration in the Kentlands.  This is where, thirteen years ago, David and I used to walk, holding hands, discovering our new neighborhood together.  A few years after that, I huffed around the partially wooded loop, nine months pregnant, having contractions.  I pushed a stroller, and then a double stroller, along the dirt and rock trail, and held pudgy-muddy little hands on this walk too.

But I guess it’s been a while since I’ve been there, because, to my great surprise, today almost half of the lake was covered in lotus leaves!  With flowers!

Lotuses on Inspiration photo by shannon mayhew

Is it nice?

This is what Lake Inspiration used to look like, below.  That’s my older daughter, then around four years old.  She could have sat on that rock for hours.  Although she may not have known the meaning of the word “inspiration,” she knew the feeling.  She understood in her body that somehow, watching the top of the lake being nudged by the wind created ripples that extended beyond the water, into her heart.

Is it nice photo by shannon mayhew

“Is it nice?” she asked me one morning, when we stopped our stroll to gaze at the water.  She was not quite two years old.  Now, we playfully ask each other this question whenever we have that feeling of wonder in our hearts that can’t be easily articulated.

The grace that nourishes

That picture always reminds me of one of my favorite poems, “The Peace of the Wild Things” by Wendell Berry.  I love the part of the poem where he says that “wild things” like the wood drake and the great heron “do not tax their lives with forethought of grief.”  Berry suggests that being in the midst of the peace and stillness of nature allows him to “rest in the grace of the world,” rather than let worry overcome him.

It’s such a gorgeous message, and a powerful practice.  If only we could hold Lake Inspiration in our pockets and take it into the world with us, to the office, to the parent-teacher meetings, to bed with our should’s and to-do lists.  Or, inwardly, to the places where our hearts hang with quiet grief, to our anger-scorched cheeks, or to the pains that drain our strength.

In yoga, we experiment with discovering a kind of repose within ourselves, practicing breath- and movement-based methods to give us access to a deep, healing sense of calm.  I think we all can accept that getting more oxygen into the body, along with stretching and strengthening, are healthy practices that can lead to feeling less stressed.  But what is it about yoga that truly opens us, as with Berry’s moments with the wood drake, to the grace that heals and nourishes?

Tomorrow, when this series continues, we will consider how Carly Simon, the lotus flower, and the art of allowing help us to answer this question!  Check back, or if you wish, you can subscribe to this blog to receive tomorrow’s post by email.