Do you ever feel like "doing the posture" is an incredibly lofty goal? Do you ever want to laugh in the teacher's face when they say, "One day you will touch your forehead to your toes!" Not in this lifetime, right? (Those of you who can do this, well... I guess I'm not talking to you ;-)
What force entices us to undertake these seemingly impossible challenges again and again? It seems like inside and outside the hot room, challenges we've seen time and time again are placed before us. I think of 'em as "Deja vu Obstacles": The frustration I feel in the balancing series, the claustrophobia that sets in during the floor postures, the heart-pounding head rush of Camel pose. And don't even get me started on stuff in my personal life. Boy, have I been here before.
I've been thinking a lot about these patterns lately. I feel like I've been stuck in a certain sticky cycle--one you'll have to buy me a burger to get me to open up about--for quite a while now. I get out of a tough situation, and I breathe a sigh of sweet relief. Then, I notice a pretty trail open up before me. I happily toss my stuff into my wheelbarrow and skip down it, thinking, "This time it's going to be different." Almost immediately, though, I can see it's not. The trail is as well-trod and worn, and before I know it my little wheel has slipped right back into the same rut.
What compels us to sign up for more of the same?
To answer, indulge me in a little detour into my grad program. One semester I took a seminar on William Faulkner. The teacher, a grumpy PhD who was itching to retire, assigned me a presentation on his short story, "Red Leaves." Part of the story centers on a slave (known only as "Negro"), who has been assigned to live and work with an Indian chief. (Criticism of this white Southerner's problematic portrayal of Native Americans and black slaves is duly noted.)
When the Indian chief dies, the nameless slave panics, knowing that it is his fate to be buried with his "master." Although he has been prepped his entire life for this hard fact, the slave runs for miles and days, trying to outrun his fate, saying, "Ole, grandfather. It is that I do not wish to die." At last, though, the slave gives in and is caught, led back to the village to meet his death.
When I was to present on this story, the only instruction I was given was to be prepared to tell the class why the nameless slave ran. I read and reread the story, thinking there must be some magic sentence in the text to help me answer the professor's question. Finding none, I stumbled nervously on the day of the presentation until she asked me the question outright. "Why did the slave run?" "Uhm, because.... ah, that's Life," I managed to spit out. "Human beings are compelled to live, and no amount of conditioning can take away our desire to live."
I think this is the same force that compels us to take up that trail again in the hopes that it's fresh and untrod. Or perhaps it's that we take up the trail in the hopes that we'll have the strength to propel ourselves out of the rut in the hopes that we can continue marching toward our goal. We may know deep down that it's our fate to fail to touch our forehead to our toes, but that doesn't stop us from unrolling our mat in the hot room day after day. No amount of neurotic conditioning should rob us of our will to attempt improving ourselves again and again. Find that pretty trail. Get your wheelbarrow ready. Try, try again.
You can read "Red Leaves" here.