A few days ago…
I taught a New Year’s Day class, and I of course wanted it to be special. It would be the first yoga class of the year for my students, and seemed a potent opportunity to offer a practice that could set the stage for 2016. As I pondered a creative theme, I kept working with various versions of “in with the old, out with the new.” I thought of how breath work offers us the opportunity to take in nourishing air with every inhale, and to release the air which no longer serves us on the exhale; maybe a pranayama (breath work) focus would be interesting. Perhaps we could focus on aparigraha: non-grasping, or we could create a san kalpa (deep intention) not just for the daily practice, as we often do, but for the year. But, in the end, none of these ideas felt right; I could sense that I was missing something important.
Then in a discussion with my dear husband, I realized that this more Western notion of “out with the old and in with the new” has it mostly wrong. While a new year (or week, or day…or moment) is certainly an opportunity to do something different—it can be a nice marker for our linear minds—there is actually no “out with the old.” A better adage might be simply “in with the new.” I got to thinking about my yoga therapy teacher (and developer of Integrated Movement Therapy) Molly Lannon Kenny and her teachings about “integration, not exorcism.” True healing is not about cutting out parts of ourself. Change requires many different skills other than sheer rejection. At different points along any healing journey, we must be with what is happening, working with acceptance. We must see things honestly and clearly. Perhaps we have apologies to make, anger or sadness to feel, reconciliations of some kind to build. We have to learn the skill of understanding the cyclical nature of most wounds, and the things that tend to “trigger” it. We have to learn also about how our struggles have actually served us—what particular strengths we have developed in the face of them.
A poem that a student recently shared with me comes to mind:
“The Cure” by Albert Huffstickler
We think we get over things.
We don’t get over things.
Or say, we get over the measles
but not a broken heart.
We need to make that distinction.
The things that become part of our experience
never become less a part of our experience.
How can I say it?
The way to “get over” a life is to die.
Short of that, you move with it,
let the pain be pain,
not in the hope that it will vanish
but in the faith that it will fit in,
find its place in the shape of things
and be then not any less pain but true to form.
Because anything natural has an inherent shape
and will flow towards it.
And a life is as natural as a leaf.
That’s what we’re looking for:
not the end of a thing but the shape of it.
Wisdom is seeing the shape of your life
without obliterating (getting over) a single instant of it.
This powerful piece of work aligns so beautifully with the notion of “integration over exorcism.” I respect it so much for it’s bold honesty. What may also be bold and honest is to say that our cultural sensibility around the New Year is a bit off. Maybe this is why the holiday has never been a favorite of mine—something has always seemed to me to be glaringly absent from our traditions of new years resolutions, high heels, and alcohol. If we instead had the tradition of looking more soberly at the end of each year at what things might still be in need of integration—what things are still trying to find their place in the shape of things—we would achieve a richer, deeper acceptance of ourselves and therefore of others. We would be nurturing things like awareness, acceptance, and compassion and reducing things like shame, guilt, and judgement.
Simply witnessing is the first step towards working with this idea of integration—be curious about what thoughts are pecking and which emotions are swelling. Particularly on the yoga mat—a practice of mindfulness much more than a practice about poses—we have an opportunity to note with curiosity and non-judgement all that arises. Sometimes the hard work of a strenuous pose, the flushing effect of a twist, or the fear of arm balancing or inverting can bring forth interesting “data” about ourselves. Quite often, the openness and relaxation experienced at the end of a yoga practice ripen our ability to see and to be with. Yoga philosophy as well offers us many teachings about our own wholeness, our divine center which is unstrikeable, and the power of surrendering to what is rather than fighting it.
Alas: the cheer for 2016—in with the old and in with the new.