Posts Tagged ‘gratitude’

On ‘having enough’

In my last post, I wrote a critical piece about yoga teachers and the culture of ‘gratitude preaching’, a phenomenon that frankly makes me wince. I did acknowledge though, that it would be quite wrong to be against the practice of gratitude per se, which would surely be an untenable position. I do actually think though, that somehow, I managed to dwell in that untenable position for a number of years. When I was a younger (less reflective; more stupid?) man I actually hated the word content. I put it in the same bracket as settling (for less). And that wasn’t for me. I was aiming for amazing, perfection and more than. Only a loser would settle for content.

What I have realised, and sadly only relatively recently, is that this quest for perfection or more than is actually something of a thief. ‘Not good enough’ can rob you of feelings of satisfaction, achievement and happiness. Shame is a word I thought I knew, but I actually didn’t;  I never knew that it captured feelings connected to ‘not good enough’.

Paradoxically though ‘not good enough’ for many years acted as a kind of fuel. I was stoked up and propelled by it. I suspect many who have a background in professional dance know it quite well. It is part of our job description to not go wrong and do things right; to perfect movement through constant polishing and refining. More than this, a dance career is brutally competitive and an extremely difficult and gruelling career to do well in and sustain. I wasn’t even that naturally talented at it compared to a great many people I met along the way (in terms of bodily facility and technique), but as a result of being driven to do and be better I probably had a more successful career, based solely on the number of dance companies and projects I was involved in, compared to the vast majority of all the people I trained with at undergraduate level. There is no doubt that being a male helped too.  My ultimate dream was to dance for Pina Bausch’s Wuppertal Tanztheater. Very few dancers get to talk their way into doing company dance class with ‘the world’s finest dance company’. I did. The week I spent with them; doing company class, learning the ins and outs of how the company works and getting to know some of the dancers, was a priceless experience. That week ended though with me being informed I wasn’t strong enough to be put in front of Pina for a private audition. For a number of years, this experience tainted my entire dance career. I felt that all of the other very considerable achievements I had attained were clouded. I wasn’t good enough to reach the pinnacle. How terribly sad. What a shame.

Learning to feel that you are enough or have enough can be a very powerful and liberating thing. But it takes practice. One element of yoga that recurs throughout the ages is the steeping of the microcosm in the macrocosm.  Taking the individual out of their normal ways of interacting with their mundane world and placing them into the larger framework of something bigger. There are a gazillion ways of doing this, which many people would not necessarily equate with yoga practice. An example in popular culture is portrayed in the 90s film Grand Canyon when one of the characters (Danny Glover?) tells us that he goes to sit in the Grand Canyon when he is low to get some perspective on his life. Becoming a part of something bigger made him feel better. For me, that experience can be called yoga. I go for walks in a beautiful local park for the same reason. It gets me out of myself. The feeling of connection (might one say communing?) with something larger makes me feel qualitatively better. Walking in the park is a lovely form of yoga.

On ‘Gratitude’ in Yoga: A Critical Perspective

Today is Thanksgiving Day in the USA (and may all my US friends have a joyful one). This post is not about that though, it just seems like an opportune moment to blog about some thoughts I have had for a while now on the subject of ‘gratitude’. No person could surely ‘be against gratitude’ right? That would be an untenable position. But here’s the thing; I sometimes have to work hard at not audibly groaning when yoga teachers mention the word ‘gratitude’. Does that make me a bad person?!

Let me explain myself; I do actually believe gratitude is a wonderful thing to practice. In my second blog post on this subject, ‘On Having Enough’, I will talk about how I do just that. But today I want to probe into why it is that the word is so seemingly omnipresent wherever yoga teachers congregate. I would happily be corrected, but to the best of my knowledge there is no ancient Indian yogic text that specifically describes a process for the practice of gratitude per se. Equanimity and contentment yes, but gratitude? So perhaps something else is going on. Something sociological. Perhaps like street talk? It seems many yoga teachers like to use the word ‘gratitude’ a lot. Almost as frequently as they use that other word ‘abundance’. It’s part of the lingo. A lingo that others have felt compelled to question and poke fun at with tongue in cheek. Hang around in a yoga studio long enough and you’ll perhaps pick it up too. You’re quite likely to become unconsciously conditioned. And that is surely an irony for a practitioner of yoga.

I came across a great word about the process of this unconscious conditioning last year at Uni. That word is ‘habitus’. For anyone interested in a more academic take on it, (all two of) you might be interested in reading an essay I wrote on the subject in relation to my yoga practice.  The basic gist of habitus is this; in all social contexts one operates there are unwritten and invisible ways of behaving and speaking that individuals pick up and take on. You might look at Prime Minister’s Question Time at the House of Commons in the UK Parliament and think why on earth do they behave and speak like that? Chances are though that if you became an MP, you too would be saying ‘Hear Hear’ when one of your party speaks and be ‘Yah Booing’ the other side within a matter of weeks. Not because any one would tell you to do it, but because that context would pervade you and act upon you. If you want to ‘fit in’ and gain ‘social capital’ you have to play by the invisible rules. Another example would be the taking on of a certain way of walking down the street within a tough neighbourhood. The ‘neighbourhood’ of the yoga sangha (community) is no different. Certain phrases and ways of being get picked up, overused and can become stereotypical. The genesis of my inner groan, I think, might be stirred by an encounter with cliche. It might not be the most elegant response on my part, but I am working on it.