Did I mention I accidentally wrote a book?
My intention while jotting some ideas and thoughts down at my former job was to get some things off my chest, to vent, to explore possible next steps. It was kind of like a journal for this one area of my life, and the page was where I came to rest. Fast forward a couple years’ worth of entries, and some distance from the job, and the journal pieces pulled together into quite a provocative story.
From day one, the process of writing this book had been relaxed, easy and open. There were no demands on myself for what this might become, no deadlines, it was just a process. But once I started to compile the entries and saw that it was actually coming together as a book, the ease and openness of the story-telling became a project. I could feel a slow-burning pastime transforming, gaining some heat and momentum.
Before long I was itching to finish the first draft, which I did. Then I wanted to complete a round of edits, and another round, then send the manuscript to a couple friends to look it over. I started to imagine an end result and before my eyes my project was becoming exactly the opposite of my intentions when I began writing. This book, which had felt so spacious as a place for me to come and rest, was closing in on me. It was becoming a roiling frenzy, consuming my downtime and my thoughts, permeating my dreams when I slept.
It was one of my therapeutic yoga patients with advanced Multiple Sclerosis who, while practicing from her hospital bed, showed me that I was reaching a boiling point, and got me to slow down. When the nurse at the hospital referred the patient, she warned me she was very anxious and controlling, saying I may have a hard time calming her down. I learned from the patient that she had been a professional dancer and fitness trainer, always keenly aware and in control of her body. She was deeply grieving the loss of her physical abilities.
Each time I asked her to try a new movement, she would start by telling me a story of how she used to be able to do this with ease, and that would flow into more stories of what she used to be able to do that she no longer could. When she tried to move her feet, she strained her jaw, her lips pursed together, her neck clenched and eyes squeezed shut. She strained with every movement, full of stories of judgement and self-criticism.
I called upon a principle I’d been studying over the years in Yoga referred to as Samtosha, contentment. This is not to be mistaken for “happiness”, but refers more to a place of stillness, of quiet. Each time my teacher came over to give me a correction in class, it took years before I stopped moving to correct before he finished what he was saying. He would stop me and say slowly, “Wait. Wait. Just listen.” I learned over time that when I listened and waited before making my next move, I could more fully assess and make peace with where I was, before moving onto what came next.
This turned out to be what the patient with MS and I worked on through our yoga practice. We focused on moving one part of her body without telling herself a story, and without straining other parts of her body unnecessarily, just for that moment. Amy Weintraub writes about Samtosha as, “Being at peace with oneself and one’s life exactly as it is in this moment, a practice that requires self-acceptance.” Any time my patient started to go back to her painful story of loss during our practice, I asked her to wait. To listen. Her breathing would calm, and from that place of Samtosha, she would move what she could.
I left that session with a new outlook on my book. I finished a draft. I needed to wait and listen. I sent off a couple manuscripts. Was there more to do? Yes! Wait.
The Broader Perspective
The nonprofit InstantGoodKarma.org writes, “If you cannot be content then your mind will be filled with thoughts running wildly through your head that distract you, upset you and make it almost impossible for you to function.”
One of the keys to practicing Samtosha, contentment, is to practice it moment by moment. If you’re feeling rushed to make your next move, on the yoga mat or in life, you may find you’ll have more clarity if you first wait. Then listen. Then move.