Falling Off the Mat: Permission to Practice

Let me simply say that I didn't just fall off the mat. Recently, confronted with life on life’s terms, I plummeted, plunged, and wildly tumbled, losing all foothold to the practices that give me perspective and trust. There is good news in this tale though I found my way back relatively quickly. But, in this breach, I endured much self-inflicted struggle and pain.

This story is canine-related. My dogs, Lucy Kay Doodle and Zac Joey Doodle, are gifts of love and growth for me. In their fuzzy, larger-than-life Muppet-ness, they bring me such lessons.They are shiny mirrors into which I see my behavior, recognize my strengths and growth, and see beyond my old patterns of limited thinking. Simply put, my dogs are my teachers. They help me grow.

Whenever one of them is at risk physically, I have the opportunity to embody my practice and let go of my fear. Zac is a strong, young, and wildly accident-prone fellow, while Lucy is older, and more willing to eat the delicious inedibles she finds everywhere (such as Aunt Mary's Clonapin, the plastic Starbucks coffee lid discarded at the side of the path, and the yummy tube sock awaiting her in the woods), I have had plenty of opportunities to practice take action and let go of the results. Thanks to my dogs.

So this I know, and this I practice with wild imperfection: Living in the moment is the antidote to my catapulting fear... and I fell off the wagon last week.

It started with an innocent-enough little lump in Lucy's ear. A trip to our vet, Dr. T., for assurance, ended up with our normally placid doc avoiding my eyes (or so it seemed), and deeming, in a voice taut with seriousness, "This is pink AND raised. We must get it out for a biopsy as soon as possible."

Those were the words she said. What I heard boils down to the seven words every canine parent/caregiver fears: LADY, YOUR DOG IS GOING TO DIE.

I don't know what happened. A surge of fear took over  like a tsunami. I know that my fear is a harbinger, signaling me that useless thoughts and self-centered distortions are a-comin'. Much of the time, I’m able to notice the fear, honor it, and begin dismantling it.

But not this time. Perhaps because I was tired, or because of our upcoming vacation, or perhaps the physical reminders of Zac's brush with death (yes, really) in May, I was defenseless. My fear became real.

My mind took charge—never a good turn of events.

The next 24 hours were a blur of worst-case scenarios surging through me. But what about the vacation we were going on next week? What about my wife's birthday celebration? How do you celebrate with a dying dog lying next to you?

At 2:00 am,, lying in bed, I found myself planning Lucy's funeral, despite her being content and very alive snoring on the floor next to me. At 3:00 am, in a burst of positivity, I was mentally scheduling her chemo sessions at Tufts. By 5:00 am, I was bleary, shaky with worry, and feeling good for nobody/nothing.

The day dawned. As I stumbled toward the mirror, I saw who was looking back at me—a haggard woman, baggy-eyed and pale, believing the worst about life. In that moment, I made a decision: I would practice believing the best about life, about me, about Lucy, and us all. I would get back on the mat, the mat of trust and partnership with life. I would practice being in this moment, just this single moment that life gave me.

The moments ahead would take care of themselves. This moment was all I had.

Resolved, I rigorously immersed myself into my morning practices, typically over-compensating yet righteously focused, with 35 minutes of dog-walking, accompanied by prayer and mantra repetition. Then, home to yoga nidra, followed by my delicious meditation practice. Off to work, with mantra on my lips, recognizing the fear as it seeped toward me, warding it away with the amended prayer of surrender from my Twelve-Step program, "I offer Lucy Doodle to You, to build with her and to make of her as You choose."

And the day unfolded. And balance was reestablished. I was holding perhaps a tad too tightly onto the balance, but holding, nevertheless. So 48 hours later, when Dr. T's more cheerful voice proclaimed, "It's benign," I was able to put down the phone, sob for five straight minutes, and go home—to walk the dogs, my teachers and guides, to pack for the trip, and to get over myself.

Moral of the story?  Reality, in its relentlessness, will unfold however it does. As I am able and willing to stay in this moment, it all becomes manageable. As I leap ahead, drawing my own (usually worst-case) conclusions about what is up ahead, I lose a profound partner. Call it Life, call it Grace, call it God, call it the Moment, call it Nothing—when I hop ahead and take over the show, I am alone and ill-prepared for managing the entire universe.
When I stay here, when I give myself permission to practice, I am freed.

I chuckle at my own forgetfulness. Forgetting and falling off the mat is part of the process, for certain. But staying on the mat is surely more comfortable.

I will continue to practice. Life is just easier that way.

© Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health. All rights reserved. To request permission to reprint, please e-mail editor@kripalu.org.

Aruni Nan Futuronsky is a Kripalu Yoga teacher, life coach, and Legacy Faculty member for Kripalu R&R and Kripalu programs.

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