A few days ago, while preparing the room right before class, a woman entered the studio, checking the place with a great amount of curiosity and no intention to mask it in any way, she insistingly scanned the room before even acknowledging my presence. It felt she was looking through the ghost version of me. I broke the silence and welcomed the nosy investigator by asking if I could help her with anything. My question clearly brought her back from wherever she was mentally vacationing at that moment.
She starts asking all sorts of questions about yoga and classes and schedules, still without ever looking me in the eyes. “She is too scattered and borderline rude and just plain annoying, I don’t have the time for this” I caught myself starting to think…
Almost simultaneous with that negative thought, the infallible magic of yoga kicked in. I remembered our focus of the week and the Dharma talk I was getting ready to give a few minutes later, I remembered my soft spot and connected back to it, which allowed me to finally succeed in commanding her attention and getting her to engage truly. I must have said something along the lines of: “How can I really help you?”
I love these moments where you can actively shift a conversation or a situation and turn them a 180 degrees around… and this is exactly what happened. She looked at me like she could finally see me and trust me and then asked: “Is it OK to practice yoga when you are overweight?”….
The question felt like a slap because not once did it cross my mind that this woman was embarrassed to inquire about a personal problem, I just thought she was here to take away from my time prior to class and annoy the hell out of me.
I felt like hugging her, but refrained from it to avoid being perceived as too mental. I gave her a big reassuring smile instead and told her yoga is for everybody and every body, that the only judgment is the one we have toward ourselves. I told her it is the one practice where you are encouraged to accept yourself as you are because you are perfect as you are. Anything that makes you feel or think less than that is just the pure product of the tricky mind. I passionately rambled on and my few solo moments before class were suddenly of no importance anymore, I just wanted to seduce her into going past her self judgment and start understanding the potential of the practice. I also hoped deep in my heart she would come through that door again one day to take class and be part of the wonder.
There is a very powerful word and principle in the Buddhist tradition called “Boddhichitta”. Chitta means mind but also heart or attitude. Boddhi (same root as buddha) means awake, enlightened or completely open. Boddhichitta is the completely open heart, the awakened mind, the enlightened attitude…mix and match the different meanings any which way you want, and you get to the same place. A place as vulnerable and tender as an open wound commonly referred to as the soft spot. The hub of our ability to love everyone. It is that which humbles us when we are arrogant and softens us when we are unkind. It’s what kicked in and prompted me to show more compassion towards another soul as soon as I remembered I was one of those too.
When we feel pain or are living in some kind of fear, we start to harden and build walls around us to protect ourselves, until we loose the ability to connect to that soft spot. Luckily, this same ability to love unconditionally and care no matter what, is like a crack in these walls we have built. With practice, we can learn to find these cracks and with furthermore practice perhaps turn a crack into an opening and allow more light and more love to come flooding through.
~ Inspired by Pema Chödrön, The Places That Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times
“Rather than going after these walls and barriers with a sledgehammer, we pay attention to them. With gentleness and honesty, we move closer to those walls. We touch them, and smell them and get to know them well. We become familiar with the strategies and beliefs we use to build these walls: what are the stories we tell ourselves? What repels me and what attracts me? Without calling what we see right or wrong, we simply look as objectively as we can. We can observe ourselves with humor, not getting overly serious, moralistic or uptight about the investigation. Year after year, we train in remaining open and receptive to whatever arises. Slowly, very slowly, the cracks in the walls seem to widen and, as if by magic, bodhichitta is able to flow freely.”