People sometimes break down in yoga class. They fall apart. They shatter.
It doesn’t happen a lot, but it happens regularly enough so that I have to be prepared for it.
When people shatter, it’s usually because their “container” isn’t strong enough to hold whatever emotion detonated within them. They don’t see it coming. They get blindsided.
They come to class perfectly happy, perfectly okay, all, “Let’s do some s-t-r-e-c-h-i-n-g and get this old body moving, shall we?” And then BAM, out of nowhere, they are in a fetal position on the floor, a quivering mass, not knowing what hit them.
This is certainly not what I want to happen. I want to get the dosage right. I don’t want to lead a person in a practice that is going to break their container, but it’s really hard to know sometimes.
They might be physically strong in their body, but don’t have enough endurance. Or their inner focus or self-awareness hasn’t been cultivated to a high enough degree yet. Or maybe it’s the case that they have an energy leak somewhere that I can’t see, or possibly know about.
But me? I have a very strong container. I can hold a lot of pain. I can endure. I have practiced enduring and holding and witnessing and not making a story out of it, for years. “I have been churned,” as my Pranakriya t-shirt says. I can’t believe I’m not butter.
But last month, on my birthday, I shattered into a million pieces. And what broke me, what shattered my container was not pain, but love.
Here’s what happened.
For the 19 days leading up to my birthday, I got up to find a little wrapped present on my placemat every morning. Little things: Pick-Up Sticks, a yo-yo, a DVD of cartoons from my childhood, PopRocks. The picture below shows them. One morning I found a Pogo Stick. Another morning, I found that PhotoShop had been installed on my laptop. It was crazy! It was amazing!
But on the morning of my birthday, there was no wrapped present, just G’s laptop with a bow on it. I opened it, she pushed “Play” and I watched, stunned, then a little tickled, a movie of my life.
She had rummaged through old, forgotten-even-by me pictures: pictures of me as a baby, as a young child, as a teenager, as a college student, as a mother, as a yoga teacher. She had learned IMovie, and scanned all these photos into her computer, arranged them, and put music under them.
At first my reaction was, “Oh God! You have got to be kidding!” I cringe-laughed at my young-self, with the ridiculous bun high atop my head, the old school pictures of me in my Catholic school uniform and clip-on bow tie, but as the movie proceeded, it slowly began to dawn on me what this was really about: this was about love. Her love for me.
It became clearer and clearer as the movie progressed that this project had taken weeks of research, and a lot of care and attention to detail. This wasn’t just a movie; it was her way of showing me how she saw me. I didn’t recognize, nor could I accept this me. My container began to leak, then the fissures got wider and wider until by the end of the movie there was nothing I could do.
I simply broke. I completely shattered. I could not breathe through wracking sobs that seemed to have no end.
I did recover, though. We laughed, and I regained my composure.
That night, she held a little party for me at the local brewpub. There were little fondant yoga people on cupcakes, there were coasters with pictures of me in various “eras” of my life. She thought of everything.
A lot of my favorite people were there.
And I loved it, but even now, almost a month later, when I think back on that morning watching that movie, I can still feel the echo of that pain, that shatter reverbing in my bones.
I keep wondering: What does it mean that I can contain physical and emotional pain, but I can’t contain the weight of love?
I know how to design a yoga practice that will help me (and my students) strengthen the container for pain; I know how to befriend and witness discomfort. But love?
I can’t figure out for the life of me how to design a practice that will increase my capacity to accept and contain the amount of love that is offered to me on a daily basis. Most people fear pain, but it seems to me that love is so much more volatile, and scary, and enormous than pain, and I don’t know how to “train” to “contain” it.
You’d think by now, living with this wonderful and loving woman, that I could bench-press a lot of “love weight,” that I’d be in shape for this Olympic-quality love, but I crumple like a soda can under it; I almost can’t stand to look at it. I feel unworthy in its presence.
When my yoga students “lose it” on the mat, my advice is always to take a step back, to start to build from a place of established strength. Stay there for a while, and begin to approach the edge gingerly, with curiosity, with openness, with genuine interest in finding out. I suppose this is the way to strengthening for love, too. Start with a dosage I can handle and gradually “up” it over time.
This is going to take some time, but it will be time very well invested.