To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest. To live fully is to be always in no-man’s-land, to experience each moment as completely new and fresh. To live is to be willing to die over and over again. From the awakened point of view, that’s life. Death is wanting to hold on to what you have and to have every experience confirm you and congratulate you and make you feel completely together. So even though we say the yama mara is fear of death, it’s actually fear of life.
Pema Chodron, When Things Fall Apart
PERFECTION IS DEATH
All my life I’ve been told to stop taking things so personally. I thought I was too girly or not tough enough or maybe because I’m a middle child. I never understood why it was bad to feel intensely about, well, everything. I have felt bad about a person moving mats in the middle of a yoga class, a person in a hurry after class not saying hi to me, an instructor not noticing my amazing work in my downward dog. In graduate school, I was teaching an intro writing course and my advisor who was observing brought up a situation with a student who I found to be snarky, rude, and deliberately disruptive. My advisor took me aside and said the student was not intentionally disruptive, that his behavior had nothing to do with me personally.
In the lesson of Buddha getting attacked by the forces of Mara, I find a similarity. I wish that in graduate school I would have been able to see my student’s behavior as flowers instead of weapons. I wonder if I could have been a better instructor at the time had I been able to see the student’s issues as an invitation for me to help. I tried to do that later as an eighth grade teacher because we learn as we live, or rather get to continually face the same lessons if we don’t quite get them the first time around. I’m not sure if I succeeded, though I did feel the weight of my students’ behavior differently, it seems, than my peers, and I rarely if ever had a negative behavior issue that required much attention. Of course, I am not perfect and I think in general I’m glad to keep learning this lesson as to find perfection really is a death of sorts.
I don’t mind re-learning this particular lesson, especially as I see now how I can take the time to consider why someone moves a mat, doesn’t say hi, moves a class to a different pose, doesn’t need me to correct his or her behavior. Instead, I can keep practicing all it takes to smile in life and maybe just notice the feelings of intensity streaming through me instead of diving in after them. There is no perfection in this lesson for me, and somehow the time I am given to keep learning it feels like I’m actually being given a little more life.
I find this issue of taking things too personally not just in classes and everyday life, but specifically in my medical life. After fourteen surgeries, radiation, and countless tests, you’d think I could have a medical test and not feel it as a personal attack of whether a good person would need such a test. These tests constantly touch upon my fear that I don’t take care of myself well enough, that I’m not worthy, not good enough, that I may die, the yama mara.
I had a questionable blood test recently. It could be nothing, an anomaly, or it really could be not so great at all. I must wait two months to re-test to confirm or negate the diagnosis. In the meantime, I’m playing with Schrodinger’s cat (sounds smarty pants, but I learned it on Big Bang Theory). In other words, as I wait, I am both with that diagnosis and free of that diagnosis at the same time. In considering nonaggression and the yama mara, I am reminded that I have been in this situation many times with countless blood tests and their odd results. Each time, I start tiptoeing delicately and then find myself barreling down the dark path, tracing the spiraling grooves of the same emotions around and around like Alice cartwheeling down the rabbit hole. Each time, though, the result is something manageable (eventually).
I suppose my question about my blood tests shouldn’t be, what if I die? Always it should be, how will I live? What if I am healthy and I live? Just typing those questions shifts my whole body and I find myself in tears. I am “continually thrown out of the nest” as Chodron says and yet, I allow gravity to pull me into the negative questions. What if this time I let the wind catch me, and not fall into myself with the question, What if? Instead, I could float on the air, open that heart chakra that hurts and fears so much and watch all my arrows turn to flowers. How do we accept the lessons we are given, knowing the next lessons may be even more difficult, all while opening our hearts and bodies to the joys of life in its everyday, small moments?