No, this is not the title of a cheesy love song. These are the three words that perfectly sum up tonight’s Hayloft Yoga class at Double S!
I was thrilled to have been joined in the hayloft by some friends from Big Lake Stables! Sue & Tom’s exchange student from France also joined us, and in addition to a few other familiar faces, the hayloft was full! What a sweet sense of community.
The birds were especially vocal today, and they sang to us throughout the entire practice! The horses chewed their hay, the cows grazed outside, there was a single hang glider riding the wind off Blanchard Mountain in the distance. As the sun began its slow descent across the summer sky, the hayloft was alive with color. I couldn’t help but think that I have landed in the most perfect moment I could imagine as we began class.
In tonight’s class, we considered the difference between judgement and observation. In yoga, judgement involves the ego, like when we think our breath is “too shallow” or “not full enough,” or we how attach to what we think a pose should look because we saw a picture of a bendy person in a magazine, or when we criticize ourselves for having a busy mind and not being able to relax. Tonight, we collectively set the intention to leg go of judgement and instead honor our power of observation. When we observe rather than judge, we soften. We don’t have to be so hard on ourselves. We notice what is happening in the body, whether it is a sensation or a physical limitation, or the quality of our mind, and instead of attaching to it, we simply watch it in the pose. If there is pain, instead of getting involved in the story about where the pain came from or how we think it should feel, we simply acknowledge it, and see if we can get into a position that is happier and healthier for the body. If there is a busy mind, we watch the thoughts come in, acknowledge their presence, and then let them pass, like watching a leaf float down a stream. If there is limitation in a pose, we go to the point of sensation and breathe with intention into the space that is feeling tight, consciously releasing tension on the exhale.
“…imagine what would happen if you started feeling tremendous love for all creatures, for every plant, for every animal, and for all the beauties of nature. Imagine if every child seemed like your own, and every person you saw looked like a beautiful flower, with its own color, its own expression, shape, and sounds. As you went deeper and deeper, you would start noticing a phenomenal thing–you are no longer judging. The process of judging has simply stopped. There is just appreciating and honoring. Where there used to be judging, there is now respecting, loving, and cherishing. To differentiate is to judge. To see, to experience, and to honor is to participate in life instead of standing back and judging it.” ~Michael Singer in The Untethered Soul
We can go further and take this practice off our yoga mats, into the saddle. I think of a time when I was younger, riding a horse who had a history of being terribly barn sour. I was determined to make this horse carry me on a trail ride (ego!). I started calmly, turning her head side to side, giving her all the rein I could, clucking, squeezing, and leaning forward. When none of this worked, I kicked her in the sides. This backfired and she backed up instead of moving forward. Frustrated, I redoubled my efforts to make her do what she was supposed to. Instead of recognizing that I had exhausted all the tools I had at the time, ego kicked in. I am embarrassed to say I kept wailing on her, even using the ends of my reins to force her to move forward, and she just kept backing up toward the corral where her other horse friends were. She backed up so far (with me still on her, flailing my legs and arms and at this point, even yelling at her) that her rump was touching the fence. And me, so involved with my ego’s idea of how things should be, kept kicking and clucking and getting nowhere. It finally took another person coming over to me and saying “maybe it’s time to get off and take this to the round pen,” for me to give up on trying to make it happen. I was so embarrassed: it was the first time in my life I’d beet told to get off a horse. And even then, I was reluctant to give up. I’d thought I had failed at riding, and instead of working with the horse in the roundpen, a new tool for me at that time, I un-tacked her and put her back in the corral, frustrated that she had “won.”
If I hadn’t been so invested in the way I thought things “should” have gone, I might have created an entirely different experience. If I’d had the mind of observation rather than judgement, I would have noticed that I was having trouble dealing with this horse on my own, and observed that I needed help. This would have changed the experience into a learning opportunity! I could have asked for assistance (later that summer, we realized that if someone hand walked this mare away from the barn, just about 50 yards, she was fine). I could have engaged in a roundpen session under the guidance of the person who suggested it. I could have gotten off and hand walked her away from the barn. This could have been a transformative experience for both me and the horse, but because of judgement, I’d shut off that possibility.
At the core of this teaching: be honest with where you are. Balance effort (sthira) with ease (sukha). Notice rather than judge.
I think if we all followed these guidelines, our inner lives and the world we create would be quite a bit more peaceful. What do you think?
“The essence of bravery is being without self-deception. However it’s not so easy to take a straight look at what we do. Seeing ourselves clearly is initially uncomfortable and embarrassing. As we train in clarity and steadfastness, we see things we’d prefer to deny–judgmentalness, pettiness, arrogance. These are not sins but temporary and workable habits of mind. The more we get to know them, the more they lose their power.” ~ Pema Chodoron
At the end of class, when we’d all rolled up our mats and headed down from the hayloft, the sun-setting sky greeted us with a fully formed rainbow, just outside, perfectly arcing over the barn! With the sunset painting half the sky and storm clouds darkening the other, we celebrated joyfully under this symbol of promise.